Eddie Carmel

Active - 1961 - 1963  |   Born - Jan 1, 1936   |   Died - Aug 14, 1972   |   Genres - Comedy, Horror

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Eddie Carmel was a giant-sized performer who appeared in two feature films. He was a well-known celebrity in his time, during the 1950s and 1960s, one of a small, unusual group of actors -- which included the likes of Rondo Hatton and Andre the Giant -- whose careers onscreen were made possible by diseases that ultimately doomed them. Carmel was a victim of acromegalia, the same pituitary gland disorder that afflicted 1940s actor Rondo Hatton. In contrast to Hatton -- who contracted the disease as an adult and manifested enlargements of his facial features, joints, and extremities, making him ideal for monstrous roles -- Carmel developed the disease when he was in his teens; the result was an immense growth of his whole body, to a height of nearly nine feet. Carmel was born in Palestine in 1936, and in 1939 he came to the United States when his parents moved back to the Bronx, NY, where most of his family lived and where they'd originally come from. He was a perfectly normal boy until age 15, when he suddenly fell violently ill, for no discernible reason. His violent fevers settled down, and a series of tests revealed the cause as acromegalia, a rare and -- at that time -- incurable disease, caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. He began to grow at a frightening pace, shooting up several feet in the next few years. In grade school, he was known as friendly, outgoing, and good-natured, but he became bitter as he passed seven and then eight feet in height in his teens. Trapped in an outsized body, he was unable to find a way for himself in the world, or even a job that he could do. Carmel, with his eight-and-a-half foot frame and elongated features (typical for sufferers of the disease), was accustomed to attracting attention and didn't mind it, except when children were afraid of him, or when he was singled out while trying to engage in his private life. He tried to find a productive side to his situation by working for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, billed as "the tallest man in the world," and was profiled memorably on the television series You Asked for It in the late '50s; on that program, he looked far older than his mid-twenties, even allowing for the distortion of his features. For a time, he even worked for entertainment impresario Joe Franklin, answering phones in his office. Like Rondo Hatton before him, Carmel finally tried to take advantage of his affliction -- or perhaps he was taken advantage of because of his affliction -- by going into the movies. By the 1960s, however, there was no organized Hollywood studio system, with its established B-movie units, to offer Carmel even what little dignity that Hatton had found at Universal Pictures. Instead, he went to work for independent producer Rex Carlton, playing "the monster" (as he was billed) in The Brain That Wouldn't Die, shot in Tarrytown, NY -- not much more than his arm was seen in most of his scenes, and the movie was so ineptly made that when Carmel appeared, one could scarcely tell how big he was. He also later worked in 50,000 B.C. (Before Clothing), an independent vehicle built around the work of comedian Charlie Robinson. In neither case did any of the roles involve "acting" as an actor would define it; like Rondo Hatton in most of his movies, Carmel merely had to look menacing, which he could do simply by standing in a room. Indeed, in 1970, Carmel and his parents were the subjects of an acclaimed picture by award-winning photographer Diane Arbus taken in the family's apartment, which showed the frightening contrast between the huge man, bending his head and shoulders and leaning on a cane to stand, and his parents, literally half his size, standing before him. Carmel died of heart failure in 1972 at the age of 36, his height somewhere between 8'9" and nine feet tall.