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In 1976, in Shelbyville, Ind., a city of about 20,000 southeast of Indianapolis, a film premiere was held. The picture was Fellini’sCasanova. A highly conceptual Italian art house flick about sexual deviance was not what this audience was used to; the house, nonetheless, was packed. A local was in it, a 21-year-old everyone knew about but whom few knew well. She now sat nervously waiting for it to start, concerned about what her neighbors were going to think of it, of her.
“For his giant work, he even imported a giantess from America,” one news article about the picture had read, a find that had ended director Federico Fellini’s, “worldwide search for an amazon.”
She was credited: “Sandra E. Allen – Giantess.”
In the film, Casanova, played by Donald Sutherland, first meets the Giantess in a chaotic pub, where she is humiliating men one by one at arm wrestling. A loud thud, and cheers, a loud thud. She is made even more enormous-seeming by the camera’s low angle and the large veil she wears.
He finally approaches, and asks, “Who are you, mythological creature?” Sandy’s replies are not her own voice; Fellini dubbed his film in Italian. The woman who voiced Sandy sounded particularly effeminate; Sandy’s real voice was deeper, mannish.
Intrigued, Casanova follows Sandy to her room, where she is bathed in a large wooden tub by two dwarfs. One catches our voyeur and with a wink, continues to let him watch. The audience never sees anything but Sandy’s milky back.
Sandy was a modest girl, a churchgoer. In the darkened theater she grew more and more nervous and eventually rose, and left, though probably not without being noticed. At a little over 7’5”, Sandy held the Guinness World Record for being the tallest woman alive, a title she’d received about two years prior. (She was still growing; her eventual record-holding height would be 7’7¼”.) On one hand, the title meant she would live a life much more glamorous than those of the other residents of Shelbyville — this premiere was evidence of that. On the other, it meant the divide that existed between her and all other people would only continue to grow.
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