Tags: Celebrities. Famous People. Actors. KENNY BAKER C 3PO Star Wars.
“I’d sooner be a dwarf than a giant!” declares 44-year-old Kenny Baker bravely with vehemence and philosophical conviction that belies his 112 cm (3’8”) frame as the smallest man in England. But what an icon he is! One of the two most famous robots the world has ever known, R2D2, alias ARTOODETOO, stands proudly on a banana crate in my London home, his little legs as far apart as possible for stability, as we enjoy his favourite game: table tennis.
Featured Image(above): Well-matched in size
It’s shortly after the first 1977 release of STAR WARS and Kenny loves popping over for a game, being a neighbour in nearby Bushey, Middlesex. He hops off the crate, has a little lunch and elaborates: “If you’re small, you can get lost in a crowd. But when you’re very tall, you stand out like a sore thumb. You get a lot of backaches, have trouble getting through doorways, in telephone booths and airplane seats, which must be harder to live with than our problem.”
The benefits he lists are mostly illusory, the perky defiance of a man determined not to let a cruel trick of nature get him down. But his lifetime’s experience of being tiny is shared with his 30-year-old wife, Eileen, only 10 cm taller than himself. Kenny’s parents, were normal height, his mother, a pianist and dressmaker, his father, an artist, musician, and draughtsman. And how did Kenny react when sons Christopher, 7, and Kevin, 4, were born? “We were absolutely amazed that the boys were normal.
Eileen too had parents who were normal and we don’t know why we are dwarfs any more than we know why our boys aren’t. But, of course, we are delighted with it.” But it’s when Kenny walks onto a film set, heavily disguised as a fancy tin can, that the elaborate process begins which turns him into one half of the android double act with C-3PO, that makes the incredible STAR WARS into more than just another science fiction movie. Yet Kenny’s stardom must be the most anonymous of all time.
How many of the fans to whom Artoo Detoo is a personality in his own right, realize that underneath the metal tub is a real man – still pinching himself in case he wakes up and discovers it isn’t true after all? “I’ve had over 2,000 letters from kids all over the world,” he says wonderingly. “They just write to Artoo Detoo, 20th Century Fox, England. And the letters get to me. But there are too many now for me to answer, so the Star Wars Department is taking them over.”
Already Kenny’s life has changed considerably. “With the first Star Wars money I bought myself a Japanese car, a three-piece suite, and a fridge-freezer. We could use the rest to buy a bigger house, but instead, it will be a nest egg for our sons’ private schools, as the classes are smaller and the boys will get more attention and so a better education.” Kenny does not let his lack of size dominate his life. Where it causes problems, he finds a way around them, like driving his car. He has the air of a showman, sporting two gold rings, initialed K.B. and his face is seldom without a beaming smile.
“I can drive the car easily. It’s my legs that are short. So, I get over that by having the pedals extended upwards by 9” and I put a cushion behind my back to keep the seat more upright, which brings me closer to the steering wheel. I’ve discovered the more expensive a car is, the easier it is to handle with everything automatic and within easy reach.” As the years go on Kenny will be seen in many other than the Star Wars movies including THE ELEPHANT MAN, AMADEUS, WILLOW, FLASH GORDON, JIM HENSON’S MUPPET SHOW, LABYRINTH and BBC’S THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, to include just a few.
“I’m on a percentage for the next franchise, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, one-eighth of one percent, plus my basic salary. It won’t make me a millionaire, but I think it will be a wise choice in the end.” And even as a robot there are problems other actors never dream of. “I stand inside the robot with my elbows pinned and my hands on the gramp handles.
Originally, I was supposed to slide one foot forward and then the other. But as the robot is twice as heavy as me, I’m only 75lbs, the other one goes automatically backwards and I nearly did the splits. I then rock the robot from side to side, but still can’t move fast. So now they developed a remote control, dropping down a third leg with steering and a motor drive. And it gets terribly hot inside.
In the scene where they are burning the Jawas and I’m standing right next to the funeral pyre, it was so hot I could hardly breathe nor touch anything inside.” And as the Star Wars films continue, Kenny as R2D2 will be in every one of them until in 2015, when he stops acting because of his chronic lung problems.
Instead, he becomes the consultant in THE FORCE AWAKENS, to teach the new R2D2, how to play the role Kenny has been a master of for nearly 40 years. Sadly, in 2016 we will lose Kenny just 11 days before his 82nd birthday. But Artoo Detoo has captured our hearts and will be there for generations to come, remaining children’s and many grownups’ favourite robot.