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‘World’s Shortest Man’ Stands Tall as U.S. Citizen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a short ceremony.

It took less than five minutes Friday for the man who bills himself as the “world’s smallest” to be sworn in as America’s newest citizen.

“This is the biggest day of my life,” 33-inch-tall Mihaly (Michu) Meszaros said. “I’m the happiest man in the world.”

Meszaros, 50, said he defected from Hungary 10 years ago after fighting a lifetime of discrimination over his height--and after an adulthood of battling unscrupulous operators of the Hungarian National Circus over pay.

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In the circus ring where he worked, Meszaros looked every inch the star as he rode in a tiny cart, gaily waving to children taller than he. But outside, he was an outcast who experienced daily what it is like to really be looked down upon.

“Life was very hard for me there,” he recalled Friday at the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse. “The happiest day of my life was when I arrived at Kennedy Airport.”

Meszaros, who was born a midget at 2 1/2 pounds, worked as a featured performer in this country with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus until 1985, when he grew weary of all the traveling that goes along with life under the Big Top.

“At my age, I was getting tired,” he said.

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Since then, he has acted in films and on television, with roles in “Waxworks,” “The Vatican Inquirer,” “Big Top Pee-wee” and “Alf"--where Meszaros has portrayed the dog-like alien creature.

He has invested his Hollywood income in hopes of becoming a land developer. His first project is a four-unit townhouse that he brags will have “the lowest price” in his new hometown of Hawthorne when it is finished.

The construction site is near a street that has been named after Meszaros. “Michu Lane” is about four houses long--"the shortest street in Hawthorne,” said Dennis Varga, Meszaros’ friend and business partner.

Varga, whose family attended the naturalization ceremony, said Meszaros was acclaimed the world’s smallest man in the 1970s by the Guinness Book of World Records. Although a 28-inch man was listed in the 1989 edition of the book, Varga said that man is a dwarf--someone whose body is not proportioned--and that Meszaros continues to claim the title. In his resume and in press clippings, Meszaros is billed as the “world’s shortest man.”

Although he started immigration proceedings as soon as he met this country’s five-year residency requirement, a mix-up over INS paper work during his circus days delayed his citizenship until Varga stepped in to help.

Meszaros wore a miniature tuxedo and top hat for the ceremony. His feet dangled from a wooden courtroom bench as he waited nervously to take his oath along with former South African citizens Arnold and Renee Cinman of Westwood. Immigration officials said the three were among 55,000 who will become U.S. citizens this year.

District Judge Richard A. Gadbois Jr. presided over the ceremony. Afterward, Gadbois, who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, leaned down to shake Meszaros’ hand.

“You’re a nice guy, judge,” Meszaros beamed.

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“You’re a nice guy, fellow citizen,” Gadbois smiled back.

As he walked from the courthouse, Meszaros clutched his new Certificate of Naturalization to his chest.

He danced a few steps in his Size 3 patent-leather shoes as he waited for the elevator in the marbled courthouse hallway. Then he burst into song.

“God Bless America,” he sang out.


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