The mutant psycho struts across the stage of the Granada Theater wielding a battle ax almost as long as his 4-foot-5 frame. A ghoulish mask hides his face; a skin-tight shirt clings to his lean chest above a pair of DayGlo orange cargo pants. He feints toward the DJ booth, the ax blade cutting the air in a tight arc that stops just short of the turntable. Behind him, the crowd cheers as the soundtrack fades into DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” prompting the masked killer to toss his weapon aside, drop to the floor, and do the worm.
The clip ends. Eddie Zanetti, perhaps sensing my confusion, explains. “That was a launch party for a video game called Borderlands,” he says, leaning back in his leather office chair. He’s a big guy, 6-foot-2, with a stylishly tousled, graying shock of hair and a tiny soul patch stamped in the middle of his chin. “CJ was dressed as one of the characters.”
He nods toward the kitchen of his apartment, a spacious bachelor pad decorated with sports trophies and neon bar signs, where CJ Moore, an intense, mustached 28-year-old, announces he’s going out for a smoke. In the doorway, Kenny Bingham, a handsome 4-foot-2 sales rep who acts a little on the side, throws Moore a wry smile.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” Bingham deadpans. “It’ll stunt your growth.”
This is the kind of humor you get used to when you spend enough time with Zanetti. For the past five years, he has helped promote the acting careers of 17 dwarfs in North Texas. When somebody wants to hire a dwarf for a party—often around St. Patrick’s or Valentine’s Day—they call Zanetti. Many of his friends and clients have nicknamed him, simply, The Dwarf Guy.
On the couch behind Moore and Bingham sits Jeff Brooks, a 4-foot-5 accountant who once played B.J., the yellow dinosaur on Barney & Friends, and Karie Robinson, a 4-foot-7 actress who has appeared on Jerry Springer and performed with a cover band called Mini KISS, complete with a diminutive Gene Simmons. Standing beside them is David Marshall, a 4-foot-6 redhead who played an evil elf on Ozzy Osbourne’s A Night of Merry Mayhem tour and the Chucky doll from the Child’s Play horror-movie series at private parties, among other characters. Earlier in the week, he tells me, he danced for a bachelorette party at the Gaylord Texan.
“Got $200 for 10 minutes’ work,” he boasts.
Club owners, however, make up the biggest share of Zanetti’s clientele (not brides-to-be), followed by private parties and special events like the Borderlands gig. The dwarfs have also starred in low-budget movies such as Midgets vs. Mascots, a mockumentary shot in Dallas starring the late Gary Coleman. Zanetti waves off critics who see this sort of thing as exploitative.
“It’s hard for a lot of little people to hold a regular job,” he says. “A lot of them have a hard time getting around. They can’t last long on their feet.” If the alternative is working a couple of hours at a party for a week’s pay, and having fun while doing it, he says, they see it as a good thing.
Zanetti earns very little for his time. An average gig pays his clients $150. Zanetti earns less. His living expenses are covered by other ventures—booking bands, selling beauty products, a little bit of family money. If he’s going to continue doing this, he says, he might need a little more of a return on his investment.
“I can’t keep promising jobs and working so hard for so little,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just too much. If this is going to succeed, it’s time we try for something bigger.”
===“It’s hard for a lot of little people to hold a regular job,” he says. “A lot of them have a hard time getting around. They can’t last long on their feet.”!==
Judging by TV Guide alone, it is a remarkably advantageous time to be working with dwarfs. In September, TLC premiered season six of Little People, Big World, a reality show about a family of dwarfs who live on a farm near Portland, Oregon. TLC also recently added The Little Couple, about a pair of dwarfs in Houston. In January, Animal Planet premiered Pit Boss, which follows a dwarf named Shorty Rossi who runs a pit bull rescue agency. Around that same time, the Discovery Health Channel ran two documentaries, Little Parents, First Baby and Dwarf Adoption Story, while the National Geographic Channel aired The Science of Dwarfism.
Zanetti’s most ambitious plan is to revive his own stalled pitch, a reality series called E-7D, short for Eddie and the Seven Dwarfs. He’s shopped it around before (no takers) and still maintains a website with profiles of the handpicked cast. One such entry features Katie, a curvaceous blonde who wants to be the first dwarf to pose in Playboy.
If he’s at all worried about the saturation of dwarf-centered reality shows, Zanetti doesn’t let on. He dismisses the competition with a frank retort. “Our reality is way more fun than theirs,” he says. The way he sees it, a show, if it were to succeed, would enable everyone to work full-time as an entertainer without his support. This is his dream.
He’s aware of what he’s up against. That Zanetti could even assemble a cast of dwarf entertainers in a city like Dallas already defies big odds. Though nearly 200 different genetic conditions are classified as dwarfism, only one in roughly 10,000 people is affected. (Others peg the figure at one in 26,000.) Dwarfism is not tracked by the city or county, but if that statistic held up, it would mean there are only 240 little people in all of Dallas County. Not that Zanetti is looking for new talent. Outside of his MySpace page, he does not advertise. Word spreads almost exclusively among the little people, who trust him like a benevolent, if somewhat eccentric, older brother.
This, more or less, explains how he fell into the business. About five years ago, he received a call from a friend. “Eddie,” she said, “I need a dwarf to strip at my husband’s bachelor party.” She’d heard he knew people. Zanetti was a little taken aback but said he’d ask around. He called everywhere—strip-o-grams, talent agents, the works. “I don’t have anyone,” the last agent said. “But there was somebody who applied the other day.” She passed Zanetti’s name along.
A few minutes later, Karie Robinson called. She’d never done a striptease, she told him, but it sounded fun. She drove all the way out to a biker bar in Rowlett, got up in front of everyone, and danced (while keeping her clothes on). The crowd loved her. Zanetti stuck around until she was back on the road, figured that was that. The next day, Robinson passed Zanetti’s name to her dwarfism listserv.
“Suddenly, I’m getting calls from all over the country,” Zanetti says. “‘I heard you’re the dwarf guy! You work with little people!’” Soon, he was booking gigs all over the place, just rolling with it, enjoying the unexpected turn of events. But he also started demanding a certain level of professionalism. He prefers his clients not to do strip shows. “I just don’t like doing those gigs. I start sweating. I hate it. It’s a weird atmosphere.” He is also adamantly opposed to what he calls the M-word and lectures promoters about using it. “It’s ignorant and disrespectful,” he says. “People who say it just sound stupid.”
Sometimes he’ll use his own events to help drive the point home. Months ago, he set up a fight night that featured dwarf boxing. Before the first event, Zanetti met with the announcer and they agreed to a little schtick.
“I told him to say what he wanted, which was, ‘Are you ready for some midget boxing?’ Then a couple of the fighters jumped into the ring, grabbed the mike, and playfully started beating him. ‘We’re not midgets!’ they shouted, ‘We’re little people!’”
The town of farmersville is about 20 miles north of Zanetti’s home on Lake Ray Hubbard, in Rockwall. A few times a month, Zanetti drives out, picks up CJ Moore, and then drives another 40 miles into Dallas to a club like ROK Republic, where CJ works the door. For this, he might earn as little as $50.
CJ, Zanetti tells me, has had a hard life, and a few weeks ago things bottomed out. He’d lost his job, and the club gigs had dried up. His girlfriend had left him, too—all in the span of a few weeks. That was bad enough. Then came the biggest blow: his father died. Shortly after that, Zanetti got a call. CJ was in the hospital. Pills. He’d had his stomach pumped. He was lucky to be alive.
Today, CJ seems to be doing better. He’s come a long way since the darkest period, but Zanetti still worries about him. “He has so much talent,” he says. “It’d be such a shame if he wasted it.”
We turn down a long dirt road, and Zanetti parks his black BMW in front of the double-wide trailer where CJ lives with his 71-year-old grandmother, Sharon. Inside, the place is spotless and cozy—blankets neatly folded on the couch, souvenir spoons mounted behind glass in a case on the wall,
Seated at the kitchen table, CJ tells me how much he loves the gigs. “Before that, I was just working at the Albertsons,” he says. He clashed with the manager. One day, he mouthed off, got fired. Then he landed at the Dollar General in Princeton. Things went downhill there, too, and he was laid
off. “Now they all tell you to apply online,” he says. “Which is hard, since I don’t have the internet.”
On our way home, I think about the pressure it must put on Zanetti. Though some of the little people are in it just for fun, others, like CJ, clearly could use the money—or the escape. A few minutes onstage in front of an adoring crowd can be therapeutic.
What Zanetti gets in return is less clear. “I really don’t expect anything,” he says. “I guess it’s just my nature. I enjoy seeing people have a good time. I like to help people. I’ve been that way my whole adult life. My mother was never really good at that stuff, so maybe I relive it through other people since I didn’t have it.”
It sounds like armchair psychology, a bit too easy, but I let it go as he parks the car and lifts his 6-year-old daughter Brooke out of the backseat. Her head lolls against his shoulder. We call it a night.
Later in the evening, I pull up one of the clips I’ve yet to see, a music video for “Booty Dew,” the hit single by the GS Boyz. The video follows a simple premise: the GS Boyz are bored, so they throw an epic house party. As the music starts, CJ rushes into the crowded house with three other white guys dressed in matching blue fraternity t-shirts. A minute later, he’s made it onto the makeshift stage, twisting and turning as the lights flash around him. The scene cuts. Outside, a stoic cop and his partner jog up the concrete steps and pause at the front door. It’s Eddie Zanetti, soul patch and all, ready to bring order to the bedlam inside.
Near the end of the song, Zanetti fights his way through the crowd. CJ, dancing alone, does not see him. He’s been there for what suddenly seems like a long time. His cap is turned sideways. Black sunglasses shield his eyes. Zanetti and his partner inch closer. In slow motion, CJ moves to the right, and then to the left, one last time. He smiles as they reach in to carry him away.
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