Weird News: The Wolf Files

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But Barty’s real achievement was getting dwarfs together. Until he founded Little People of America, many dwarfs lived in miserable isolation. Some didn’t even know another dwarf. And many didn’t think it possible to work a normal job, marry and have children.

“Until he founded LPA in 1957, gatherings of Little People were virtually unheard of,” says LPA national president Leroy Bankowski. “We were isolated, often exploited.”

LPA gatherings are now how many dwarfs meet, marry and figure out ways to live normal lives. It’s not so easy using a drive-through automatic teller machine or reaching half of the products in grocery stores when you are shorter than 4 feet tall. But it is possible.

Bankowski, 53, is a 4-foot, 6-inch database manager at Verizon. Like most dwarfs, he is the child of average-sized parents and is the only dwarf in his family. “My three brothers aren’t little people,” he says. “As you can imagine, growing up, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to come to terms with who I am.”

He met his wife Donna, also a little person, at an LPA function and they have been married 26 years.

There are more than 100 forms of dwarfism. The most common form, achondroplasia, is a congenital bone disorder. Such dwarfs have normal-sized torsos but shorter arms and legs.

About one in every 25,000 babies is born with achondroplasia. It is a fluke of nature that occurs more often when the father is older. If a dwarf couple has children, they can pass along the dwarfing gene, but there is a 25 percent chance that the child will grow to a normal size.

Legacy of the Munchkins

As unusual as it might seem, Barty told The Wolf Files in 1999 that The Wizard of Oz served as inspiration for him to form LPA. When the film was made in the late 1930s, casting calls went out throughout the United States for little people to play Munchkins.

“I didn’t work on Oz,” Barty said. “But the people who did realized that it was a significant gathering.”