A premiere London casino with a rich cultural history recently revealed its plan to hire six "door dwarfs" as bouncers. According to an advertisement in London's Metro newspaper, casino proprietors are planning to assemble a team of half a dozen shorter-than-average security guards. In the ad, interested parties who stand less than four feet, ten inches tall are encouraged to apply for a job as one of "Britain's smallest bouncers."
This won't be the first time that the Hippodrome Casino, located on London's famed Leicester Square, has put dwarfed employees on display. The venue, originally built as a circus entertainment hub in 1900, once employed a group of undersized acrobats to dive from the ceiling into a 100,000 gallon water tank at the center of the building. These brave performers remained airborne for approximately sixty feet with each dive.
Simon Thomas, the Hippordome's CEO, said the goal of hiring the dwarfs is to bring a smile to customers' faces while simultaneously maintaining building security. He explained to reporters that his choice was a sound one because "nobody messes with a dwarf," adding that the Hippodrome has a long history of employing shorter-than-average people.
Little Tich and Tom Thumb
Indeed, some famous dwarfs have performed at the Hippodrome in the past. Harry Relph, otherwise known as "Little Tich," entertained audiences there in the early 1900s. Relph was born in London in 1867. The youngest of eight children, he came into the world with an extra digit on each hand and webbed fingers. As Relph aged, it became apparent that he was a sufferer of stunted growth. Reaching a final height of only four and a half feet, Little Tich found his niche in life as a comedian and acrobatic dancer. One of his most famous acts was the Big Boot Dance, a pantomime in which Little Tich clomped around the stage wearing caricature boots that were much too big for him. To this day, people often use the term Tich to refer to an unusually short person.
Circus performer Tom Thumb also worked at the Hippodrome in its earlier days. Thumb, otherwise known as Charles Sherwood Stratton, didn't grow much past his first birthday. At his tallest, the performer stood only slightly higher than three feet. In spite of this challenge, he married and lived to be 45 years old. Thumb's career under took off under the guidance of circus mogul and distant relative P.T. Barnum. The publicity of Barnum helped make Tom Thumb a rich man; under Barnum's management, Thumb sang, danced, and pantomimed on the stage to the delight of numerous audiences.
What is Dwarfism?
An adult person under 4 feet, 10 inches is considered to be a dwarf. The disorder is a medical one that can have a number of different causes. Most causes of dwarfism cannot be prevented, although human growth hormone injections and nutrition therapy may help in some cases.
Living with Dwarfism
People with dwarfism are disadvantaged in some practical ways, but solutions exist to help those of a shorter stature function. Those with the disorder may have related medical complications, but overall, the lifespan of a dwarf nowadays is comparable to that of a person of normal height. Organizations exist both in the U.K. and the U.S. that promote the availability of athletic opportunities to dwarfs (see the DAAA).
Dwarfs in History
Society has historically taken a comical view of dwarfism, as evidenced by the Hippodrome's use of dwarfs as novelty entertainment. Some might view the comical display of dwarfs as security guards at the Hippodrome as disrespectful.
During World War II, Josef Mengele used dwarfs for medical experimentation in Auschwitz. Mengele was considered a Nazi war criminal for this and other deplorable actions, but he managed to escape capture for the duration of his life. He died in 1979.
The Hippodrome: Taking a Risk
Indeed, the Hippodrome Casino took a risk when it recently placed the ad seeking dwarfs as security guards. Some view the move as exploitative toward a disadvantaged population. Others believe it to be amusing and harmless. Thomas clearly sees it in the latter category, saying that there is "no discrimination at all" in this business move and that our world of "political correctness gone mad" views his company's hiring decision too rigidly.
Peter Dinklage, Dwarf Actor
Actor Peter Dinklage, at 4 feet, 5 inches, has had a wildly successful career in Hollywood. Dinklange calls his height "part of who I am" and says he doesn't like it when people are "cautious" and "tentative" around him because of his stature. Dinklage was born with a disorder called achondroplasia in which the skeleton is proportionate but the bones simply do not grow to normal size. Dinklage recently starred in the TV series Game of Thrones as Tyrion Lannister and will star in four major motion pictures in 2014.
Though not a dwarf himself, iconic actor Charlie Chaplin got his start at the Hippodrome. Legend has it that Chaplin was only 20 years old when he made his debut on the facility's stage. The young performer went on to become a world-famous famous silent movie actor in the slapstick comedy genre.
Other Notable Performers
Other notable performers that graced the Hippodrome stage include Judy Garland, Tom Jones, and Julie Andrews. In addition to the human performers at the Hippodrome, polar bears and elephants were also known to appear at the circus-themed venue.
The Hippodrome Today
Today, the Hippodrome is one of the U.K.'s finest and most popular gambling destinations. People visit not only for the 24-hour slot machines and gaming tables, but also for the facility's dining, drinking, and entertainment options. With a cabaret theater and six bars, this place has earned an excellent reputation up to be considered one of the U.K.'s best casinos. Approximately 35,000 people visit the Vegas-style casino each week; 25 percent of these visitors hail from neighboring Chinatown.
Guests at the Hippodrome won't see dwarfs diving 60 feet into a swimming pool anymore, but chances are they will see door dwarf bouncers guarding the casino doors very soon.