Every so often, even the most towering of tall tales turns out to be true. Like this one.
Thirty years ago--in January, 1971--the World's Tallest Man spent the weekend in Panama City.
All eight feet, two inches of him.
His name was Henry Hite...at least that was how he billed himself. By the time he came to Panama City, he was already a veteran of some three decades in show business, dating back to the glory days of vaudeville as a member of the comedy team Hite, Lowe and Stanley. The troupe played clubs all over America.
The team broke up in 1963, and Hite struck out on his own. He made movies. Really bad movies. In fact, Hite was featured in one of the best really bad movies of all time. Entitled Monster A-Go-Go, this 1965 epic is so awful it's actually unintentionally funny.
Here's how film critic Phil Morton described the film: "A team of go-go dancers battle a ten-foot monster from outer space, whose mass is due to a radiation mishap. He can't dance, either." Another equally unimpressed movie critic wrote: "Henry was hired because of his height and his apparent disregard for self-embarrassment."
In Monsters a-Go-Go, Hite plays Frank Douglas, a role described by one critic as a"tall, gangly astronaut transformed by radiation into a tall, gangly, oatmeal-faced monster who, for no particular reason, murders every human being that's too slow to outrun him."
If Hite's movie career had its shortcomings, it was the only thing short about him. He wore a size 22 shoe, for example. "I don't have them shined," he liked to say. "I just run them through the car wash."
Hite's visit to Panama City was part of a promotional tour sponsored by the old Sunshine Foods "Sputnik" Store. Norman Griffin, 74, is a retired Sunshine executive who met the World's Tallest Man. "Actually, he was a real gentleman, very normal except for his height," Griffin recalls. "I guess he was used to being in the spotlight all his life."
(In reality, Hite was lucky--for a giant. Few people who experience such abnormal growth survive past their thirties. Although frequently beset by health complications due to his size, this gentle giant lived into his early-60s).
On his three-day visit to the Sunshine, Hite good-naturedly signed autographs and tirelessly explained to incredulous gawkers that both his parents and all twelve siblings were well under six-feet--and that his wife was 5'3".
But to smart alecks who dared ask "How's the weather up there?" Hite had a ready response. "I tell them it's raining," he said, "and then I pour my drink on them."
Panama City News Herald, Jan. 30, 2001