Saturday, January 24, 2009

Michael Dunn (actor)

IMDB Entry
Wikipedia Entry

Some actors can't avoid being typecast. Many of them try hard to break through the typecasting, but Michael Dunn knew better. There was one type he was always called upon to play, and he always played it brilliantly.

Dunn was a dwarf. He stood 3' 10" as an adult, and weighed under 80 pounds.  But that didn't stop him from having a very successful acting career -- so much so that, next to Billy Barty, he was the actor people first thought of when the script called for a little person.

By all accounts, Dunn was highly intelligent, and it shows in his acting. He always seemed to bring something interesting to his roles and was never content with just phoning in a performance. Dunn decided quite early on not to let his small stature affect his career.

After trying college and toying with joining a monastery, Dunn moved to New York and started getting small roles* in the theater. He had some success with a cabaret show (Dunn was a fine singer) and got the attention of TV casting directors.

I first saw him when he appeared in the pilot episode of Get Smart as Mr. Big.  But his most notable role was a few years later, when he played Jim West's arch enemy, Dr. Miguelito Loveless, in The Wild, Wild West.

Dr. Miguelito Loveless Loveless was one of television's great villains.  He was a mad scientist, but not one who chewed the scenery at all costs.  Loveless was a cultured man who generally spoke softly and commandingly, but who always seemed to have more going on than the script warranted. Dunn was front and center, a screen presence that made him dominate the scenes he was in.

Alexander A little later, Dunn appeared in his best-known role -- the appearance of Alexander in the Star Trek episode, "Plato's Stepchildren."** Once again, it is a find performance, with Dunn holding his own against Shatner's bravura style.


There was also the TV movie Goodnight, My Love, an attempt at a Raymond Chandleresque hard-boiled detective story, with Dunn as the partner of Richard Boone.  It was an intriguing pair-up -- the hulking Boone and the tiny Dunn. Dunn drove the car, and there was a nice little scene where they left it with valet parking, and the driver had to fit into the seat and pedals modified for Dunn, making a small but significant point about accessibility long before it became the law. The movie was made as a potential pilot for a TV series, but was never picked up.

Dunn continued to work up until his premature death. His physical condition caused heart problems, and he died of it at the age of 38. 

His legacy is important, though.  He was one of the first little person actors to insist on being treated with dignity, and was an inspiration that led to various shorter people to try their luck with acting. But he also deserves to be remember because he was a damn fine actor.


*I refuse to say it.

* Best known for the Kirk-Uhura interracial kiss.


Leona Raisin said...
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Anonymous said...

Saturday, December 12th, 2009
2:45 pm
Book Recommendation: The Big Life of a Little Man

We all know the actor and singer (and Academy Award and Tony Award nominee) Michael Dunn as Dr. Miguelito Loveless from The Wild Wild West. His first cousin, Sherry Kelly, has written a new book about him called The Big Life of a Little Man: Michael Dunn Remembered, using interviews with his friends and associates and her own memories of growing up with Dunn, as well as writings by her aunt (Dunn's mother) and Dunn himself. I just finished reading her book. She offers compelling descriptions of his background, from his time studying to be a Capuchin monk to the mystery surrounding his possible work in espionage for the U.S. government. A number of strange and unanswered questions remain about his unfortunate and early demise, and Kelly sets these out clearly, as well. The book tells a poignant story of the man behind the genius (intellectual and artistic) and how, with courage and varying levels of success, he fought to overcome his disability with the support of his family. The book will be widely available in February, but it can be ordered now directly from the publisher. I thought you might want to know about this new Wild Wild West-related publication!

Anonymous said...

This book, Big Life of a Little Man is absolutely excellent.!!!

booklover54 said...

I have just had the pleasure of watching all the episodes of The Wild, Wild West, including the ten Dr. Loveless episodes. What is remarkable is that these episodes never bore, regardless of how many times one watches them. Michale Dunn was truly remarkable in capturing the essence of the Loveless character -- a brilliant, evil man, with childlike characteristics.

One cannot mention Michael Dunn and WWW without mentioning the other brilliant actor on that show -- Ross Martin, Secret Service Agent (and Jim West's partner) Artemus Gordon. His ability to play any character demanded of him, regardless of gender, was repeatedly put to the test by the scripts that had him disguise himself as other individuals. He, too, is worth aq great but not forgotten entry.

Sunny said...

Michael Dunn was great and now is definitely not forgotten! Google the book title - The Big Life of a Little Man: Michael Dunn Remembered. Did you know he might have been a US spy?!

JIMA said...


Anonymous said...

I liked him in the movie Ship of Fools. Great role and he did it so well.

Anonymous said...

I still consider him one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Great singer, too.

Anonymous said...

I member Michael. I just watched 'Ship of Fool's'. I think he had a beautiful face. Enjoyed his work.

Unknown said...

Ross Martin was one of the most intelligent actors ever, holding various degrees

Unknown said...

Ross Martin was one of the most intelligent actors ever, holding various degrees

Justin case said...

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Dave said...

Your point?

Tami said...

An amazing talent. He brought so much to each role he played. His personality came through. The world lost an amazing person.

Anonymous said...

I remember him from a bonanza episode when i was 10. That show gave me my empathy for the disabled especially dwarfism

powers said...

Michael & Richard Kiel made for a compelling team on TWWW in their episodes together as Dr.Loveless & his henchman Voltaire.

Never understood why the series discontinued the pairing in the later Loveless episodes?

Rose L said...

Michael Dunn was a wonderful actor. I remember him in an episode of Bonanza where he played a former sideshow performer who tried to get a bank job in Virginia City. He was turned down by the small-minded bank manager but got respect later on when he helped rescue a girl who was trapped in a hole in the ground. (This story was retold on Little House on the Prairie when the Olsen's adopted daughter fell in a hole and was rescued by Billy Barty. It was one of many copied by Michael Landon)

Unknown said...

I recently saw the episode of TWWW where Dr.Loveless faked his death and pretended to be his uncle with an uncanny resemblance to the Dr.I t was another one of his memorable performances, such a great talent. Truly Missed