Sunday, January 31, 2010



In the early stages of my research it became quickly apparent that the information in print or on the web about gorilla suit performers was limited at best.

Both Ray “Crash” Corrigan and Charles Gemora have websites that highlight their careers; Ray is more prevalent in the public eye because of his status as Western serial star and Charley was recently acknowledged on the latest release of WAR OF THE WORLDS for his hand in the Martian construction and performance. The remaining handful of men are known or appreciated by a few. The nature of their profession generally precluded screen credit or public knowledge of their efforts. The illusion of a wild, hairy brute could be undone by admitting there was a man behind the grunts and jungle savagery.
Steve Calvert was a second generation gorilla man, the inheritor of Corrigan’s suit and legacy. Appearing in both film and the evolving medium of television, Calvert was a strong presence in 1950’s entertainment. He had both the ability to horrify the audience and tickle their funnybone.
Steve retired from the business nearly 50 years ago but fortunately for his fans, he was interviewed by writer/director/producer Ted Newsom before he passed away. Ted’s article was one of his earliest journalistic efforts and is possibly the sole account of Steve’s experiences from the man himself. Recently I was contacted by Mr. Newsom who graciously suggested running the article on I happily accepted but also asked if there was anything he would care to add, always ravenous for any tidbit of gorilla man lore. Ted has updated his article with new facts and a host of wonderful anecdotes.
Gorilla Men is proud to reprint the expanded version of “CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD GORILLA” that appeared in FILMFAX 16 back in 1989.

"I Was a Simian Stand-In!"
Veteran Stuntman Steve Calvert was one of Hollywood's most Harried Actors

Article by Ted Newsom

During his 20-year career in films, Steve Calvert wrestled with Superman, Jungle Jim and Lassie, shared monkeyshines with Ed Wynn, Bob Hope and Buster Keaton, and even conquered the world single-handedly. Yet the most bleary-eyed film buffs wouldn't even recognize Calvert on the street for the simple reason that he never showed his face.
A bartender at Ciro's in the evening, Calvert moonlighted - or, rather, sunlighted - as a stunt man, movie double and movie extra beginning in 1937. Close friendship with actor Robert Lowery resulted in his joining the Screen Extra's Guild, the forerunner to his membership in the Screen Actors Guild. Then in 1948, cowboy actor Ray "Crash" Corrigan decided to sell his gorilla costume.

Calvert poses for a gag shot with his wife and daughters outside his home, circa 1953.

Calvert borrowed $1800 for a down payment and headed for the Corriganville Ranch, where the movie stunt man taught Calvert the walk, mannerisms and psychology of the great ape.

"You have to reverse your human instincts and thought patterns", explained Calvert in his San Fernando Valley home. "You don't walk around, you lumber through. You act ferocious - not because you're antagonistic, but to scare the humans away so they won't give you any unwanted trouble."

Calvert studied simians in zoos and on film for six months, aping the apes, basing his characterization on Gargantua, Ringling Brothers' showpiece. He also used those six months to get in top shape to handle the Kong- sized costume, which weighed 85 pounds.

"The temperature inside that suit got up to 125 degrees," recalled Calvert. ”Any longer than five minutes in the headpiece and I'd black out from lack of oxygen."

Just two weeks after buying the costume, Steve chased Johnny Weissmueller through the backlot sets of one of the first "Jungle Jim" pictures. "Sam Katzman hired me at $200 a day for nine days. That took care of the down payment," he laughs. “The facemask was detailed enough to take big close-ups," remembers Calvert proudly. "On JUNGLE JIM they used a 2-inch lens, filling the screen with just my head, and it looked great!"

Calvert's gorilla - with its huge shoulders, oversized teeth and wild, matted fur - was far more frightening than his "gorilla" competitors. Diminutive Charlie Gemorra, through his ape suit was more anatomically accurate, was too small to inspire terror. George Barrows, Calvert's main competitor, had greater size and bulk but maintained an erect, very human posture, spoiling the animalistic illusion.

Apeman Steve Calvert gets a helping hand (actually a foot) from his wife.

Throughout the 1950's, Steve Calvert became the set piece of a number of B-pictures. The realism of his gorilla costume, though, was often at odds with incredible plots.

BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA saw Lugosi as a mad doctor matching wits with a pseudo Martin-and-Lewis duo named Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. In the movie, Bela transforms the Dino-clone Mitchell into an ape (No, he doesn't sing "Gorilla My Dreams").

In BRIDE OF A GORILLA a voodoo curse changed a gaunt Raymond Burr into a werewolf-ape (Calvert again) much to the consternation of his fiancée, the lovely Barbara Payton. Attempting to emulate the Val Lewton style of psychological subtlety, writer-director Curt Siodmak kept Calvert's on-screen gorilla appearances to a minimum, to keep up the facade of ambiguity: is Burr an ape, or just imagining it?

Out of all these movies, Calvert's favorite was Adrian Weiss's BRIDE AND THE BEAST. In this clump of lunacy written by none other than Ed Wood, a big game hunter keeps an angora-loving ape (Calvert, of course) in a cage at home. The hunter's fiancée develops a strange (!) and mutual (!!) attraction to the ape, who also is attracted to her fluffy angora sweater. Calvert's gorilla is shot dead by the brave (or jealous?) husband too early in the film, at which point it becomes a jungle-movie stock shot festival. In the insane climax, though, it is revealed that the leading lady was a gorilla in a past life, and the film ends happily, with the woman setting up housekeeping with her simian boyfriend, leaving the husband to finish honeymoon alone.

"I did a 15-foot deadfall from a balcony in that one," explained Calvert. "Mattresses and cardboard boxes helped break my fall, but the metal framework of the face mask really slammed into me. Whew! Needless to say, they saved that shot in the film for the last!"

Since the script called for two gorillas to appear on screen at the same time, Calvert called his friend Bobby Small, a circus clown and stuntman, to don the second costume.

Along the way, television tapped Steve's hairy, padded shoulders. He played in comedy skits with Bob Hope, Ed Wynn, Tennessee Ernie Ford and even a skinny comic named Johnny Carson. His TV appearances with Hope led to a role in THE ROAD TO BALI in which the gorilla takes a romantic shine to the comedian.

"I took my 18-month-old son Billy down to the set," Steve recalls grinning," and Dorothy Lamour fell in love with him. She'd hold him on her lap, tickling him and playing with him. The A.D. (assistant director) would call, but she'd say, 'Later, I'm having fun!' They were inseparable - until Billy wet all over her sarong, of course."

Calvert found Hope "great fun to work with, wonderful. Bing, though, was a little harder to get to . He didn't like working with animals. We're natural scene stealers, you know."

Then in 1953, Calvert's son Bill realized a little boy's dream when he met George Reeves on the set of TV's SUPERMAN, when Steve did a couple days as the titular character in the "Jungle Devil" episode.

"I remember going into this office and everyone was playing cards," recalled Bill Stevens, Calvert's son. "Like a typical five year old dork, I asked George Reeves, 'Do you really fly up in the air?' And he said, 'No that's just on television.' And I remember that he and the whole room smelled like cigarettes."

Calvert explains some of the drawbacks of the family business to his young son, Billy.

His father, however, encountered some super problems.

"The producers wanted an albino gorilla, so we sprayed the suit and the head silver. That spray deteriorated the rubber and the head started to rot! It cost me $350 to get the head remade, so I just about broke even on the show."

Another Reeves (no relation to George) was beefy B-picture tough guy Richard Reeves, who became Calvert's pal. "We saw each other a lot - mostly in the unemployment line," Steve says.

Calvert got out of the hairy suit and into a tin one to menace Reeves in TARGET-EARTH in 1954. In this film, an army of cyclopean Venusian robots conquer Earth with their death ray. "I was the whole army!" explains Calvert gleefully. "The general, the captain and the private! I'd walk down the street, they'd cut to a close-up of Richard Denning or somebody else and cut back to me walking the other way, supposedly another robot."

He recalled a dicey moment in the cumbersome metal suit when a marauding robot was to crash through the hotel window and step inside onto a table. "The candy glass was shattered all over the table and in those metal boots it was hard to keep by balance on the glass. I slid a little-- didn't fall, but almost."

"I hired Steve because I'd done the Lugosi picture with him," remembered producer Herman Cohen. "He was a good guy, a friend. I knew him as the bartender at Ciro's, which was THE big night club on Sunset. Years later when I did KONGA, he was my first choice to play the gorilla, but he'd retired by then."

Calvert played both a gorilla and a robot in BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (his pal Small joined him when both characters appeared together in the comedy climax), donned a grizzly-bear outfit for bits on BAT MASTERSON and LASSIE and made countless public appearances in the gorilla costume, including a joint appearance with Bela Lugosi at the premiere of HOUSE OF WAX.

The excellent Lugosi biography by Robert Cremer takes at face value an anecdote told to Cremer by Ed Wood about the appearance. Supposedly, Lugosi objected loud and long at having to appear with a guy in an ape-suit and balked en route, refusing to have anything to do with it. "I got along fine with Bela," remembered Steve. "I don't remember anything like that at all. They picked me up on the way to the theater, I rode down with them, and he led me into the theater on a chain. We'd worked together before. I don't know why he'd be embarrassed. After all, he was dressed up like Dracula himself."1

Through it all, Calvert's face was never seen.

"I was always shy," he admits, "so I felt safe behind the mask. As long as nobody knew who I was, I could portray anything. But if I tried it barefaced, I'd just freeze up."

Even on the rare occasions that Steve Calvert received screen credit, he was never identified as the gorilla.

Calvert and ape suit get some special personal attention from his wife, circa 1960

"Audiences were aware of how unmanageable gorillas were, how awesome. The studios kept up the misconception that the gorilla was real, and I never insisted on screen credit. It would've spoiled the illusion."

Many of his lesser appearances have faded from memory, but one stands out from the rest - a skit he did with Buster Keaton.

"It was the best comedy I ever worked on. I forget the picture, but I recall every moment of the particular scene. It's one of those things an actor - or whatever you want to call me - runs into once in a lifetime. There were no setups or rehearsals, we just fell into a bit, and it rolled and rolled."

"Keaton's asleep in the barbershop chair, getting a shave. I lumber in. The barber does a double take, rolls his eyes and scrams out. I pick up the razor, sniff it, then smell the shaving cream, lick it, then finish the shave Buster wakes up, does this droll double take and then calmly strolls to a table tennis setup. He picks up a ball and paddle, looks over at me. I walk over, nod, and pick up the other paddle. Then we start this crazy game of ping-pong.

"It was all ad-libbed and the cameras kept running. Our minds seemed perfectly synchronized. I'd grunt and get surly, then Buster would give me this deadpan disapproving look, then I'd turn away, embarrassed. I'd do a move, and Buster would do a take, then he'd do some business and I'd do a bigger take. Then I'd imitate his business and he'd pull an even bigger take. Keaton was fantastic, a pure pantomime artist. Maybe we were a little alike in a way, in that our characterizations came from posture and gestures - not facial movements. That was the most satisfying performance of my life"

Outside interests and a heart attack led to Steve's retirement from films in the early 1960s. "You might work 20 weeks in a row, then not work for more than a year."

Steve Calvert gave the costume and mask to Western Costume. Over the years, the rubber and hair disintegrated and fell away until the only part left was the mask's metal framework. This "went missing" from Western Costume and ended up in the collection of Forrest J. Ackerman.

In his "retirement" years, he worked steadily as a carpenter for a Los Angeles video store chain. "I wouldn't mind getting back into the business again," he admitted, "but not in the ape suit. I'm too old for gorilla warfare.

Final Thoughts
Ted Newsom knew Steve for almost 15 years, meeting the gorilla man back in 1977. They met through Calvert's son Bill, a friend of Ted's wife and even shared an apartment together when that marriage later dissolved. Ted describes the former screen terror as a "..very serene guy". Their connection went beyond reporter and story. Both men had struggled with alcohol - "Steve was sober for the last 20 some years of his life; I never knew him when he was drinking. AA gave him balance and sobriety, and he introduced me to it."
Ted spoke at his funeral in 1991.

Ted Newsom concluded his article revisions with this recollection:
“I invited him to a couple of sci-fi conventions as a guest, which gave him a lot of smiles, realizing that the work and fun he'd had as an ape had affected to many people over the years. He got a big kick out of the idea that anyone would ask him to autograph photos from his films.”
With Steve Calvert's movies and television appearances readily available on DVD, many of them inexpensive to purchase, his beastly mug will be enjoyed for years to come.

November 16 Update

You can find Ted's latest film on - THE NAKED MONSTER
The IMDB describes it as.. "Using soundtracks and extensive footage from many old movies, this spoof/homage of 1950's science-fiction films brings back many favorite actors from these classic movies, some reprising their former roles, to help destroy a giant stop-motion monster that is threatening to destroy Los Angeles."

In the director's own words (from Cascadia Con): "What began as a summer lark became a magnum opus. Whatever the result, we accomplished what we wanted to do: a sci-fi monster movie with the greatest sci-fi stars of the 1950s.We shot the film in only 21 days by stretching the schedule over 20 years, and brought it in under the estimated budget of $375 million, with state-of-the-art SPFX (circa 1957), presented in Monsterama, a unique new process that makes viewers imagine they are watching a real motion picture"

(1)Ed Wood was a close associate of Bela in his twilight years. One evening Ed was summoned to the Lugosi abode with an order to bring scotch. Arriving around 3:00 am, Ed Wood found the horror icon distraught and brandishing a pistol. Lugosi spoke of wanting to die but was coaxed into relinquishing the firearm. Pressed about what had set him off, Lugosi lamented about his current status.

Passage quoted from the Lugosi biography THE MAN BEHIND THE CAPE
Pg 217– Pg 218

“Some kids wrote to the television station the played DRACULA and asked if Bela Lugosi was still alive.: Tears streamed down his face as he continued: “The kids, they see my old movies. You know, Eddie, the kids are not dumb today like many would like us to believe. They know the pictures are not new. They can add! NO wonder kids ask if I am alive – or dead.” Then growing angry, he said: “What do you think we can do about that Eddie? You are the writer, You are the promoter. How are you going to tell those kids that Bela Lugosi is not dead!”
Ed’s head swam with desperate schemes to keep the spark of hope alive. “How about a personal appearance, Bela? If they see you in the flesh, they’ll know that Bela Lugosi is still here. What do you say?”
“A personal appearance. Hmmmm. Yes! I do it, Eddie!”
Eddie was both relieved and panic-stricken – he didn’t have the slightest idea of where to begin.
Alex Gordon came to the rescue with a proposal from Warner Brothers for Bela to appear at the Paramount Theater’s premiere of the HOUSE OF WAX. Bela was reluctant, but his friends finally prevailed. Alex arranged to meet Bela at his apartment with a chauffeured limousine. Bela climbed in wearing tux and
Dracula cape, but a circuitous route to the theater immediately aroused his suspicion.
“Alex, where are we going? This isn’t the way to the Paramount. Where are you taking me?”
“Oh it’s just a shortcut, Bela. Relax. We’ll get there,” Alex said, doing his damndest to squelch the note of anxiety in his voice.
Moments later the limousine stopped in front of the Mayfair Hotel.
“Why do we stop here, Alex?” Bela asked.
Almost in a whisper, Alex said, “To pick up a gorilla.”
“What do you mean gorilla?” Bela shouted, as he struggled to get out of the car.
“I told you Bela, that this is a publicity stunt. All you have to do is hold him on a chain and walk into the theater for your interview. It’s good publicity.”
With that, Alex jumped out of the limousine. He returned minutes later with a man dressed p in Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s gorilla costume. Bela was drenched in chagrin by the time they pulled up in front of the theater. The searchlights were focused n Maureen O’Hara, Rock Hudson, and Tony Curtis as they moved through the ogling fans as Bela made an unceremonious exit from the limousine at the end of a playful gorilla’s chain, the camera’s immediately switched focus.
Alex recalled the disastrous sequence of events: “I tried to get Bela over to the refreshment bar where he was to be served a glass of milk, but the gorilla was jumping around scaring the audience, and Bela didn’t know enough to let go of the chain. When they finally got to the refreshment bar, Bela thought he was supposed to pull a Dracula stunt, so he grabbed one of the girls and bit her on the neck. She immediately dumped a big glass of milk all over him!”
When Alex got Bela into the lobby, the news commentator, Shirley Thomas, had forgotten her prepared interview. Bela preferred prepared interviews, because he was hard of hearing. When Shirley asked questions at random, Bela answered according to the prearranged order. It was total chaos.


The following statement in the latter part of the Steve Calvert article is erroneous: "...Steve Calvert gave the costume and mask to Western Costume. Over the years, the rubber and hair disintegrated and fell away until the only part left was the mask's metal framework. This "went missing" from Western Costume and ended up in the collection of Forrest J. Ackerman..." Regardless of however Mr. Calvert disposed of Ray's suit, and whatever it was that Mr. Calvert handed over to Western Costume, it was Ray "Crash" Corrigan himself who came to Don Post Studios in 1963 0r 1964 - at my personal invitation - to have a life mask done of himself which we added to our Don Post Private Collection. When Ray came back to see his mask hanging on the wall, and receive a complimentary copy we made for him, he presented me with the armature for his gorilla head. As was very often the case, I donated it to Forry for his collection, and within two or three years it disappeared from Forry's collection, as "FJA" loved to loan, or often outright give, his artifacts to 'adoring' fans. In the interest of keeping the record straight, and with my hunblest apologies to the memory of Mr. Calvert or whomever else took it upon himself to ad-lib that piece of 'data', it is incorrect information. What I am giving you is the correct origin of the Corrigan armature in Forrest J Ackerman's collection



KONG ISLAND is the second disc in Retromedia's boxed KONG COLLECTION and I figured I may as well get this one out of the way before I get on to more promising gorilla suit films. The dvd cover art naturally has nothing to do with this sixty’s Italian cheapie. The tasty brunette and the decent ape suit are nowhere to be found and come to think of it, there's no island in the damn film either! This shoddy, poorly scripted, stock footage heavy pile of dreck elevates the accompanying QUEEN KONG to art house status.
Our tale of revenge and the follies of scientific advancement open with a payroll heist in the African scrubland that goes bad.

Mercenary Burt Lawson is double crossed by his brother in arms, Albert and is left for dead. Unfortunately for Al, he botched the job and a bitter Burt tracks him to Nairobi where he hooks up with an old friend and a former flame, Diana. Disco dancing breaks out and beefcake Burt gives us his best white man's overbite as he boogies with his buddy's daughter Ursula, a fetching Italian redhead. Ursula and her brother are planning to head off in search of the 'sacred monkey' and urge Burt to join them.

He declines, saving his energy for his quest for revenge and fending off Diana's flirtations. The siblings head off for a jeep ride where they smile and point a lot in a succession of tight shots as stock African wildlife footage is intercut. Earlier in the flick it is revealed that Albert has used his ill begotten gains to finance his mad dreams of remote controlled gorillas. As Ursula peels off her sweaty duds before bed, backlit through the tent fabric, crazed gorilla's size up the camp before snatching her up and knocking off a porter or two. Albert's flunky instructs Ursula's brother to lure Burt back to the jungle in exchange for her life. When informed of Ursula's capture Burt is coldly adamant he wants nothing to do with her rescue until it is hinted Albert is behind it all. Returning to the jungle, Burt, bro and the porters are tailed by a mysterious stranger who falls victim to the hard wired apes. Burt tosses a steely glance and a bullet or two, saving the man who reveals that he is an Interpol agent hot on Burt's trail. Burt is offered a pardon and a reward if he will help bring down Albert before his unnatural experimentation menaces the free world. Returning to his camp, Burt discovers bro dying but he manages to confess his complicity in the villain’s plans before choking on his last breath. Burt and agent Interpol carry on towards Albert's subterranean lair laden with second rate Bond villain technology. A tribe of angry natives capture the pair then inexplicably cut them loose, count to five and then let them have it with spears. Interpol man gets skewered but hunky Burt disappears into the jungle. Coming upon a tranquil river, Burt sheds his khakis and proudly displays his chiseled musculature. Splishing away contentedly, the fabled 'sacred monkey' leaves him some jungle snacks before revealing she is a topless native girl who has long hair that drapes across her breasts and an idiotic grin and titter that is borderline simpleton.

Refreshed and recharged, Burt manages to trap our jungle girl and make friends. The film climaxes with a host of double crosses and scraps that leave about half the cast dead! After dispatching Albert's flunky, Burt surprises his nemesis but fails to notice the stinky, mangy monkey's advancing from behind. As he wrestles with the apes, Ursula informs him the giant billboard bearing a crosscut illustration of the gorilla's head with a big blinking red light is somehow the source of Albert's domination over the gorillas. The first shot misses, thus heightening the tension of the moment, yet Burt squeezes off another shot destroying the blinking lens and setting off a chain reaction that destroys the equipment and unleashes some righteous gorilla payback upon Albert. With order restored to the jungle, Burt and Ursula bid farewell to the wild child and paddle back to civilization.

Tough guy Burt is played by Brad Harris, an American fixture in the flourishing Italian cinema industry of the sixties. This is the first flick I have seen him in but with his chiseled looks, strong jaw and rippling muscles I figured he must have been a veteran of the sword and sandal genre. A quick glance at IMDB reveals several dusty entries as well as a number of horror and action films before returning to the US market on television in recurring roles in DALLAS and FALCON CREST. Marc Lawrence is far from gripping as the crazed Albert and also suffers the indignity of having his part dubbed. I am not certain if it is in fact another voice actor or merely half assed post production work but either way it doesn't help. This was not the first gorilla brain surgery film Marc appeared in.(!!!!) Almost 30 years earlier, Marc Lawrence was one of several gangsters menaced by Charles Gemora and his superb gorilla suit in the Universal classic THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL. Marc was typically a heavy, racking up scores of screen credits until the House Un-American Activities Committee exposed his membership in the Communist Party. After naming names, Lawrence found himself blacklisted and made his way to Europe where he continued to work regularly until he was able to return to the US. Marc continued to act well into his nineties, passing away in 2005.

The gorillas in KONG ISLAND are barely worth comment. Most scenes are badly lit which results in the suits blending into the darkness, a small mercy considering how awful they look under scrutiny.
The greatest crime this film commits is mediocrity – there was ample opportunity to ramp up the absurdity of the various roles but it simply plays out dully with momentary flashes of trashy gold. KONG ISLAND will now be relegated to a choice of last resort in my gorilla suit library.

Explore further images from the movie
Here's a YouTube clip that gives you a brief whiff of the stinky KONG ISLAND>

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Long time veterans of cinema schlock can often smell a challenge shortly after the film begins unspooling - for me, I think it was somewhere around 38 seconds into QUEEN KONG. This British attempt to cash in on Dino's plans to reimagine the 'bigga monkey' for enviro-trendy seventies audiences manages to be mostly unfunny but then again I am not British and was not steeped in Benny Hill as a young lad.
Oddly enough I have been chasing this gorilla suit flick for almost two years now, recently coming across it boxed with KONG ISLAND, another steaming ape turd I have no doubt, but I was admittedly eager to fire it up. Info on this bastard daughter of the Giant gorilla film genre can easily be found on most cinema trash websites , yet no words ever equate the viewing experience, for better or worse. A quick aside, I can think only of one other feminine giant, that of Kong's mate in the demented sequel to the 70's remake, KING KONG LIVES. There must have been another around Skull Island to produce the SON OF KONG but she remains both unseen and unspoken of.

QUEEN KONG is an attempt to filter the original giant ape flick through the feminist looking glass, warping gender roles, yet still has a parade of bikini clad jungle girl eye candy - thus covering a wider demographic base: bra burning anthropology college seniors and dirty old men often seen in raincoats in alleyways. It's quickly established that men are simpering effete lightweights and women (well those that are mostly clothed) are aggressive and in control. Early in the film, director Luce (loose) Habit sets off to find a romantic lead for her next picture. Rula Lenska creates a strong willed character without becoming a bull dyke but unfortunately she is given little in the way of decent material to deliver. She discovers her future star in a local market running from a shopkeeper from whom he has stolen the most classy image present in the entire 90 minutes - a poster from a re-release of the original KONG. Ray Fay is a "charismatic" hippie love child - I imagine the script calls for him to have some quality that would attract Luce Habit's attention but damned if I could see it. Under the effects of sodium pentathol I would find it difficult not to admit that the name shuffle for our dude in distress was not somewhat clever. Luce rescues our fair fop from the outraged shopkeeper and proceeds to drug the pothead. After a dreadful musical number about the 'Liberated Lady', the vessel carrying these boobs to Africa, the appearance of the shaggy broad is foreshadowed as native guides chant the name.

JAWS also gets a lame ass nod as a lipstick kissed shark with a t-shirt emblazoned with LADY JAWS appears briefly - not only pointless but heavy handed as well. Arriving at Lazanga, Where they do the Konga ( another brutally unfunny riff that is hammered on again and again and again) Luce, Ray and the jiggling crew encounter shapely white jungle maidens that are lead by the sumptuous seventies vixen, Valerie Leon , future Bond girl and a genuine pleasure to view in a stunning red bikini. Men in the village are seen staffing the child care center and ironing as the alpha females place a man cake atop a oversized table, where a chair labeled Queen Kong sits facing the towering wall separating the village from the jungle. High priestess Val notices our ineffectual anti hero and tries to bargain with Luce for him.Snubbed, she later snatches him under the cover of darkness and serves him up to the beastie we have been anxiously awaiting. To indicate man has been served, Valerie beats upon the 'KONG GONG" as it is labeled for those easily amused by such things. I was expecting more from full frontal giant ape nudity but Queenie was cheated in the mammary department - I am uncomfortable this disappointed me. Fortunately, the giant apes dreadfully styled hair ensures that your eyes are locked on respectable regions. Ray is carried off into the forest as Luce and crew follows, but Queen runs into a finely crafted paper mache T-Rex. A rousing battle ensues but the male T-rex is brought down by swift kick to the Achilles heel, or rather groin. Queenie gets her new boy toy safely back to her cave and before they are menaced by another jungle dino, they engage in some gag inducing flirtation. Even if I went in for other species, I would not trifle with this mangy, under developed monkey. The next threat comes from above, a pterodactyl that inexplicably has a leg shaped like a umbrella handle. Perhaps an Anglo rip on the London weather hit the cutting room floor. Cheered on by her new flame, Queen kicks more Jurassic ass.

Although Ray seems unduly pleased by his new arrangements, flirting furiously with his giant hairy admirer after she turfs the prehistoric aviatrix, he is snatched back by Luce and her girly goon squad. Fleeing back to the village, Queen Kong gives chase and takes out her sexual frustrations on screaming lily white natives and their abodes. Miniature stomping and shoddy matte work momentarily elevate the film to near entertainment. Gas bombs end the shaggy shenanigans and Luce proclaims that the 64 foot ape is heading for London, her royal status diluted because half the men there are queens - a hah hah, ah hah hah...ahem..

A headline montage screams all of London is abuzz with the arrival of the biological oddity but the crowd that attends the county fair style debut barely breaks double digits. Swathed in a toga, Ray Fay responds to questions with a canned speech that indicates the delusion that Hollywood stardom is impending. In another blunt yet weak attempt to raise equality issues, Luce is confronted by a promoter who insists that Queen Kong wear a bra to shield the crowd from her offensive nakedness.
As I mentioned earlier, there is very little indeed to indicate her femininity, other than a poor choice in men. I imagine that the genetic soup that produces giant apes also atrophies their sex organs. What else can account for her inadequate cleavage and King Kong's lack of a noticeable banana? The big show opens with a MC who is a complete dullard but followed by the Orangutans, a rock band clad in tan military fatigues and gorilla masks, belting out another ear grating rendition of the Queen Kong theme song. Luce and Ray finally mount the stage and in the course of introducing the ape, Luce proposes to the clueless man candy thus providing the seed for a love triangle climax. With the curtain dropped, the director and her barely male enjenoue do the konga and incense the lady beast. As Queen Kong breaks apart her woefully thin chains, Ray is forcibly dragged by Luce though the panicked crowds, all the while proclaiming his affections for the monkey. Back at Luce's hotel suite our demented fop accuses his captor with compatibly sized genitalia, of wanting him for only sex while the shag carpeted simian loves him purely. Visions of giant ape/teeny man Brit action almost threaten to pollute the mind but more shoddy miniature work and dreadfully flat humour is thankfully distracting. There is also a diverting nod to the American disaster flick Airport - a passenger jet approaching London is regaled by an aggravating singing nun and also features a pugilist priest clocking a bothersome passenger.Descending into the city the pilot narrowly misses the she-ape but crashes into a building. Rampaging about London, Queen Kong makes merry menace as she seeks out Ray. The typical giant monster moments were a welcome payoff for trudging through the first 60 odd minutes but the relentless drip drip of soggy UK humour may have you begging for release.

Queenie finally stumbles upon her footman and a very stiff giant paw smashes through the hotel window, scooping up the willing Ray Fay. The tour of England's famous burg climaxes with her filching the Crown jewels before settling on a climb up Big Ben. "She's just been misunderstood like all women throughout history!", belts out Ray in the English dawn.. Ray gets on the loudspeaker from a smashed helicopter and rants about Queen Kong as a symbol of womanly struggle and the male's attempt to squash feminine expression. Naturally a city wide protest erupts within moments, complete with placards and clever slogans. Atop the very phallic clocktower, the ape womyn beckons the crowds and Ray Fay claims victory.The male authorities acquiesce to the mightier sex and have the triumphant freak couple shipped back to Africa accompanied by yet another awful musical number. On the deck of the tow boat, Luce Habit longingly wonders if a threesome is possible. Returned to the jungle, nauseating Ray proclaims that Love has found a way....

And the viewer is mercifully released from the experience of QUEEN KONG. All that being said, I have to recommend the film to those collectors and aficionados of cinema trash. And Benny Hill lovers. The British style humour does little for me but those who have enjoyed the CARRY ON films should find something to enjoy here. It is often stunning how completely flat some of the jokes fall - label oriented gags abound and I am still trying to fathom the comic root of a prehistoric bagpipe (no point in explaining, refer to the film if you dare). Director and writer Frank Agrama was a veteran of low budget foreign flicks filmed for the Middle Eastern and European markets. Teaming with Ron Dobrin (now a spiritual healer in Chicago), Frank crafted a script that sticks close to the original formula but without the class and inspiration. In the commentary, he claims to have shopped it at Columbia but eventually secured Italian/French funding and shot the film in less than six weeks from a scant 60 page script. The true drama of QUEEN KONG is not found within the film itself but in the attempt to bring it to British theaters. Film giant, Dino De Laurentis waged holy war on all pretenders to the simian throne, as he was mounting his multi-million dollar remake and wanted to ensure that no production would ride his coattails. Despite that QUEEN KONG is a satire, weak though it may be, a British judge sided with Dino's lawyers when a lawsuit was launched shortly after QUEEN's completion.German poster - possibly from theatrical release
The film materials were ordered seized but back in the olden days when information moved much slower, Frank Agrama had the stones to pick up the negatives from the film lab before they received the court order. Tossing the film in a cab, he bolted for the airport and sent them off to Italy where the law saw the situation differently. Three months after his flight from the Merry Olde England, Agrama's groan inducing epic hit Italian cinemas and drummed up a few lira. A North American release never materialized and Dino proved you can't make a great giant ape film by throwing wads of cash at it. Almost two decades later, QUEEN KONG had an odd revival in the land of the rising sun, but had the ill fortune of opening on September 11th 2001. Fifty prints were circulated in Japan to moderate success. We can thank low budge workhorse Fred Olen Ray for securing the royal visitation rights for us lowly colonists. Fred chats up Agrama on the commentary, taking it easy on the old bird who still finds his picture very humorous. Little is said about the main star - the unnamed body under the custom crafted suit was a dancer, chosen for her ability to emote through movement. This stopped me dead - as a character, Queen Kong has zero depth and I got the impression she was told to move slowly through the undersized scenery cause' "we want you to look like your 64 feet tall". Agrama mentions there was much debate about the size of the gorilla's rack with his twinkle toed star, too big, too small, never just right. Her work schedule in the suit was 2 hours on, 2 hours off. The uniform length of the gorilla hair gives the semblance of carpet and the sculpted facial features are too smooth and simple. Neither effective enough to be admired or demented enough to make you smile.

The songs that pervade the film are jaw dropping dreadful. The opening theme 'Queen Kong' leaves me queasy, compounded by earworm effect that will have you singing it involuntarily under your breath for a day or two. 'Liberated Lady' is fairly innocuous but the piece that closes the film (title unknown) is downright disturbing. Read it yourself and try to blink.


Queen Kong
Queen Kong
Queen Kong
Queen Kong is the chick with all the hair
Queen Kong ,Queen Kong come from I don't know where
Kong (repeat 9x)
Queen(repeat 7x), Queen Kong
She's a genie who ain't teeny
She's the queenie, queenie for my weenie
When I'm feelin' mighty spunky I wanna do it with my honky monkey
Queen(repeat 7x), Queen Kong
Queen(repeat 7x), Queen Kong
All right on Queenie
She's a genie who ain't teeny


Burn your bra, burn your panties
Call your ma and your aunties and ship off on the Liberated Lady
It's the new dance sweepin every nation
And they swing to the beat of women's liberation
Ladies dancing into the fearsome lion's den
Fighting for their rightful places next to men
Grab a Honda with Jane Fonda
Jeer a cheer with Germaine Greer lets ship off on the Liberated Lady
Paris, London, Tokyo and Rome they'll say women's place is in the home
New York, Madrid, Peking and Munich are swinging to beat of the female unit
Swing a swig, fix the rig muck the nearest chauvinist pig
Lets ship off on the Liberated Lady
Burn your bra, burn your panties
Call your ma and your aunties and ship off on the Liberated Lady
Lets ship off on the Liberated Lady


If I were just an ordinary gorilla
We could take that nightboat to Manilla
Clad in the latest pair of Jesus jeans
We could tour around the Phillipines
It wouldn't matter what we saw
Since everything is under martial law
And you would stop your yelling rape
If I were just an ordinary household ape
We would spend our nights in a grass shack
And we would never dream of coming back

Speechless yet? NO? Then I definitely recommend that you borrow, rent or buy this uniquely demented entry into the Kong canon. QUEEN KONG defies the viewer to comprehend that someone went to an awful lot of trouble not only to film it but bring it into our homes 30 years later. It may not be a good film but it often left me stunned by the images that danced across the screen and the music that filled my unprotected ears. Is she the queenie for my weenie? Good lord, I shudder to even contemplate it.

Explore further images from the movie

I also came across a great tribute site for QUEEN KONG that is as comprehensive as one could probably be. I avoided lifting any material from the site so that any readers here could find something else to enjoy there. Spread the monkey love!

Friday, January 29, 2010


It is a good time to be one obsessed with cinema simians! The release of KING KONG in North America has been long in coming. I realize that the upcoming Peter Jackson remake will guarantee more interest in this film milestone that recent generations are generally ignorant of, but it has been a painful wait. I came across a Ted Turner VHS version he perverted with colour back in the Eighties and have watched it every 3 or 4 weeks for the past year or so. Although any film purist has general disdain for what the now respected creator of TCM once subjected classic black and white films to, I must admit to missing a sepia tinted opening credits. The remastered DVD print still has some stretches of grainy and distressed images but the moments of clarity are electrifying. Extras on the double disc edition are gratifying for the Kong crazy - Peter Jackson's input has provided a loving and respectful perspective on what any viewer will come to realize was not only an incredible fantasy film but also a journey into virgin territory not yet explored by Hollywood at that time. The original Blockbuster also gave birth to several technical achievements in effects, sound, and camerawork.

Above all, there is Kong. Willis O'Brien, stop motion pioneer, captures our hearts and minds with his sympathetic beast, delivering a hypnotic performance with foam rubber, metal and moments stitched together one frame at a time. There will always be a part of me that refuses to accept that Kong as an inanimate thing. There is a magic to the brutal and innocent ape that no CGI creation will ever match - something of Obie ( a nickname Willis was affectionately known by) is alive in every frame and truly breathes every time someone witnesses the King of Skull Island battle for supremacy or genteelly nudge Ann Darrow curiously. What will the remake offer? Hard to say but I was shocked by the empathy Gollum elicited in me as I watched LORD OF THE RINGS and I have faith that Andy Serkis and WETA will not let the fervent Kong fanatic, Peter Jackson, be disappointed - after all, he's been aching to get this project underway for years. The trailer has shored up my hopes - the final clips with Kong on the Empire State building gives me a chill every time so far. A giddy giggle bubbles out of me with each viewing. I do find myself somewhat concerned with the running time - 3 and a half hours - ouch, sore butt and no pee breaks! A greater worry is one I've held since the cast was announced. Something about the Jack Black narration in the trailer makes me groan inside - still, Carl Denham is masterfully played by Robert Armstrong in the original and it will take more than a few viewings of the new film to accept another in his place. I have great respect for the contributions of Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot in KING KONG but Armstrong is the most distinct and dynamic presence in the film.

A sidebar here about the KONG tie ins - the toys are shit. I can't bring myself to shell out cash for the poorly crafted TOY BIZ figures. The bright red scars look like crap and the fur highlights are often smeared. Another toy has a molded rubber face and a shoddy fur body that emanates angry growls and roars when squeezed. Truly heartbreaking for this 33 year old child. I was fortunate enough to find a McFarlane Toys Kong a few years ago and it kicks ass. The enraged ape figure is more naturalistic the actual cinematic inspiration, and looks stunning atop the iron girder display, manacles and broken chains dangling (come complete with tiny maiden).

There are a few gorilla men connections to the original 1933 KING KONG that not everyone is aware of. Prop collector, conservator extraordinaire, and the last of the great gorilla men Bob Burns, owns one of the original armatures of Kong. His recent trip to the New Zealand studios where Jackson is filming was recently posted on and worth a view. Traveling with his lovely wife Kathy, Bob brought the armature to inspire and excite the film crew and will also have a cameo in the upcoming remake. Bob is wonderful and warm soul, with whom I had the privilege of exchanging emails with, and it was a treat to see him on the set with Jackson sharing his love of Kong.

Burns also shed some light on a curious piece of footage I had come across of Charles Gemora that has a strange relationship to the big ape. I have not yet delved into the tale of Charley but suffice to say Gemora was one of the great gorilla suit performers who worked in the movie industry from the 20's until his death in the 50's. He was a talented sculptor and effects technician and by all accounts a sweet man with an impish sense of humour. Gemora was hounded by stories that he had claimed to have played Kong and when Bob Burns broached the topic when he met him at Paramount Studios, Charley was bitter about the untrue assertions. It is likely that sloppy entertainment reporting led to the tall tale. Press around KING KONG was misleading - the studio encouraged false explanations of the giant apes performance. How could audiences be properly intimidated by a puppet you could snatch up in one hand? Gemora had a reputation as a gorilla man and it was not much of a stretch to connect him with KONG. During my ongoing research I came across a clip at GETTY IMAGES ( a web image bank) that depicted what I took for test footage of Gemora lumbering through a miniature cityscape in his ape suit, drawing towards the camera and making menace. I was floored. The suit was used in the late 20's and early 30's though was out of use after KING KONG's release. The film appeared to predate KONG - I and a few of my fellow film fanatics wondered if it was test footage for Kong or , just as fascinating, another giant ape project never realized?! Some months after I came across the footage, I was introduced to Bob Burns by artist George Chastain who informed me it was trailer material from 1930's THE GORILLA, a film about a murderous (and relatively short) ape. The city footage was illustrating the grip of terror the beast had on the urban populace. Oddly enough I came across a notation about the film on the IMDB as I was waiting for Bob's reply; the film is considered lost and the shots I viewed are all that remain of it. Charles Gemora has been illustrated by his daughter Diana as a very humble man who was loathe to take the credit he was due, let alone claim to be something he was not. To view the amazing clip head over here and select clip 562-19.

On another Gemora tangent, the re-release of the George Pal WAR OF THE WORLDS has given the gorilla man nods for his creation of the unforgettable Martian in the film. In both the commentary and making of documentary Charles is singled out for his contribution. With his teenage daughter's assistance, Gemora whipped up an alien creature in a single evening when the original one was scrapped at the 11th hour. Working all night long, father and child laboured until shooting began - Diana relates how the prop was still wet and would have come apart if it had toppled during the frightened dash out of the farmhouse!
Diana was responsible for the pulsating veins while Charles worked the limbs from behind the torso. Her enthusiasm for late father and the opportunity to share it with others is abundantly clear on the dvd extra. I share her joyous satisfaction that her dear ol' dad will have his name known by film fans around the world. Please check out her site dedicated to Charles and read in great detail about the night of the creatures creation.

Saddleback Simian

There is a strange connection between gorillas and cowboys in Hollywood. Well before cowpokes tried to rustle Mighty Joe Young (sure they were in Africa but those hired hands came straight out of the Wild West!) a few gorilla men had strong ties to the dusty action pictures. Climbing into a heavy, cumbersome and unbearably hot gorilla suit requires a man of sturdy stock and many western stars had backgrounds in stunt work. Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan quickly rose to prominence in the Three Mesquiteer series during the mid 1930’s but he made regular gorilla suit appearances, perhaps more than any other gorilla man, in films stretching from 1932 to 1948. When I had begun seeking out information on Ray and his simian peers it became rapidly apparent that his career had received the greatest amount of attention both on the web and in print.

Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan was born Ray Benitz, Valentines Day 1902 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During his time there, Ray had ‘learned the cowboy way …by befriending the legendary William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.(1) He spent his teen years in Denver working as a tireman in a local autoshop before moving to Los Angeles with his family in the 1920’s. Once again he crossed paths with another Western legend, Wyaat Earp. Earp had relocated to California after the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and engaged in more mundane activities – selling oil leases on Signal Hill in L.A.(2)
Apparently there was a period of employment with the former lawman that further fueled Ray’s fascination with the Old West. After his arrival in California, Ray Benitz embraced the traditional Hollywood practice of reinventing your name, alternating between Ray Bernard and Ray Benard. Ray’s big break came at the Hollywood Gymnasium where he worked as an instructor. Brushing elbows with celluloid stars, Ray was training Delores Del Rio when he was scouted by Cedric Gibbons of MGM. His four year contract with the studio was far from a breakthrough. Ray was limited to minor roles and stunt work, though his appearance in TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1932) earned him the job of stand-in and double for Johnny Weismuller in the sequel TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934). The first MGM Burrough’s adaptation also marked the first time that Ray donned a gorilla suit. There are several suits in the film; Tarzan’s adoptive family of chimp-like apes and the monstrous gorilla of the cruel pygmy tribe. I have not come across any direct reference to what ape part Ray may have played but I have a suspicion that he may have been the giant killer gorilla. Ray was not a small man, a real oddity in the gorilla suit profession where assuming the wide legged stance and hunched position of a simian is tough on the back.
When his contract expired with MGM, Ray Bernard opted not to renew it, instead signing up for a two year deal with Republic Pictures in 1936. The newly invented name Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan first appeared on the posters for UNDERSEA KINGDOM (1936), a 12 part serial that showcased his physical attributes and finally gave Ray center stage. How he came by the nickname ‘Crash’ is the subject of several tales. There are assertions it was a result of his stunt work background, sizeable physical stature or his questionable horse riding abilities but the most likely and reasonable answer is a commercial one. When Republic released the sci-fi adventure chapter play, the comic strip character Flash Gordon was a household sensation and had just been immortalized on the silver screen by Buster Crabbe. FLASH GORDON was released in the U.S. April 6, 1936; UNDERSEA KINGDOM followed 5 short weeks later on May 30 and no doubt sought to capitalize on any association with the smash hit by having the name ‘Crash’ (read FLASH!) blazing across the advertisements. By odd coincidence Ray actually appears in the Buster Crabbe serial as an alien single horned ape creature and has a thrilling grapple with the golden haired hero before succumbing to the sharp end of a spear. 1936 also saw ‘Crash’ in the first of 24 Three Mesquiteer films where he played Tucson Smith, one third of a trio of roving Western heroes. The series began with THE THREE MESQUITEERS (1936) and concluded with THE RANGE BUSTERS (1940). The cast fluctuated over the series and even included the legendary Duke, John Wayne for 8 pictures.
Ray’s relationship with Republic soured over their reluctance to renegotiate his price after establishing a solid Western hit. He continued to work through 1939 but the return of former costar John Livingston after John Wayne’s departure finally motivated ‘Crash’ to move on.

Ray Corrigan quickly returned to the screen in a format very familiar to his fans. THE RANGE BUSTERS was closely patterned after his Republic series and even starred Mesquiteer alumni, Max Terhune. This time round, however, Crash would not allow himself to go without just reward. Produced by George W. Weeks, the dusty cheapies were distributed by Monogram Pictures and Corrigan claimed to have a fifty percent stake in the profits. This was not the first occasion that Ray had shown that his good looks and brawn were complimented with a crafty brain. In Ray’s own words:

“During the time I was making one of "The Three Mesquiteers" and needing a change of pace, I went on a hunting trip. Always did like to hunt. While on this hunting trip, I stumbled on this picturesque and peaceful spot in the Simi Valley.”

“In 1937 I bought this ranch, all 2,000 acres of it, that is now the Corriganville Movie Ranch. I built my home here and just plain enjoyed the ranch, with time out to star in Motion Pictures. The film companies soon began to realize that the ranch offered such a wide variety of terrain, including lakes, mountains, mines, caves, villages and other attractive facilities.”

Purchased for about 10,000 dollars, the ranch was in operation for nearly 30 years and was used in over 3500 television and film productions. A variety of Western locales were created such as a Frontier town and a Pueblo village and the expanses of undeveloped land were perfect for cowboy flicks. Crafty Crash also envisioned one of North America’s first theme parks. With the availability of the authentic sets and a cast of expert hands and performers, Ray Corrigan welcomed the paying public to ‘Ray Corrigan Movie Ranch’ (later renamed Corriganville) on weekends when productions were closed. Staged performances wowed kids and parents alike and Western icons like Rin-tin-tin could be met in person, or rather canine. The park was sold in 1966 to Bob Hope for 3 million dollars and was subsequently renamed Hopetown. Unfortunately, fires have since destroyed the structures on the property and all that remains of the once impressive sets are weed strangled concrete pads. Efforts have been made to purchase the land and restore this unique chapter of Americana but have yet to produce tangible results.

(1) The Museum of Musical Instruments website ‘The SJ-200: Uncovering the Origins of Gibson's Legendary Flat-Top Jumbo Guitar’ April 1995 by Hank Risan with sidebar article by Bianca Soros
(2) ibid
(3) The Corriganville Gazette Vol. 1, No. 3 Summer Edition reproduced by

Upon a dark horse came..WHITE PONGO!!

When WHITE PONGO arrived in the mail I eagerly anticipated seeing Ray 'Crash' Corrigan in action. I had spent weeks accumulating titles in a gorilla suit film list by combing through any site that popped up in a google search for gorilla. I took the list and headed out to scour Victoria for any of these titles but was more than a little shocked when I could not find a damn thing ( PLANET OF THE APES titles don’t count as gorilla suit films and although I love them, warts and all, they will not be covered here). I went home crestfallen that this poor excuse for a metropolis did not offer the depth of culture a refined man like me was entitled to. Ebay was a natural place to hunt the beasties down and a selection of reasonably priced, public domain films could be had. Along with WHITE PONGO, I had also purchased a Roan Group double feature of THE GORILLA (1939) coupled with NABONGA.

WHITE PONGO was an Alpha Video release and if you haven't purchased one before be warned - the quality ranges from acceptable to unwatchable trash. PONGO is in moderately good shape though the dialogue track is somewhat muffled by background hiss. There are certainly some rough spots – the opening sequence is a bit shaky – but considering this gem will never see a Criterion Collection treatment, it will do just fine.

The film opens with a map of the Dark Continent – a slightly off camera figure gestures to the heart of Africa with a wooden pointer and we are informed that it is there that the mighty Ponga resides. Now mind you, the soundtrack is far from clear but I don’t think I heard the beast referred to as PONGO through the entire 72 minutes. Maybe the producers decided it had a better ring for the promotional material. We are carried off to the rugged jungles and find some poor white bugger tied to a post as ‘Negritos’ have a merry dance around a fire. How Gunderson got himself in this predicament I didn’t catch but another European, Dr. Gerig, apparently has the freedom to stroll about and unties the helpless fellow. When the natives retreat to their huts, Gunderson makes a break for it, diving into the nearby river. As he begins to swim away, he is astonished by the appearance of the mighty jungle beast White Pongo, er, Ponga. The snowy creature attacks a wandering Negrito couple and gives the gent a sound thrashing as the maiden runs off screaming.

Gunderson makes it back to civilization but he has seen better days. Feverish and ranting, he stuns his hosts with outbursts about the white gorilla. Among his things they discover a journal from a lost expedition that had sought to find the Missing Link. The fabled White Ponga was captured by the missing explorers and subjected to the “standard mentality test”, he aced his exam and became the only example of the bridge between primate and man. Naturally, the European intelligentsia immediately mounts an expedition to bring the beast back. Unfortunately, with his role as plot device fulfilled, Gunderson expires.
The party prepares to head off into the Green Hell and our cast of players are introduced; Sir Harry Bragdon, elder scholar and his brash, strong willed daughter, Pamela; the complete wet noodle and snooty secretary to Sir Harry, Peter Van Dorn; the rugged, stoic rifleman Geoffrey Bishop; and the German (1945 – hmmm Nazis??) expeditionary leader Hans Kroegert. A love triangle between Pamela, Peter and Geoffrey is quickly established – Pamela is indifferent to Peter’s advances and Geoffrey just wants to do his job and not be bothered by Pamela’s attentions. As the group makes their way down the river, we are treated to a lengthy sequence involving White Ponga maintaining his distance from the other brunette apes as they feed. In one shot, three suits are visible in the frame – two of them definitely Crash’s, used in earlier films. Ponga’s facial features differ from his earlier suits and has a wilder, stylized look.

During the journey, Pamela attempts to engage Bishop in some witty chatter but Peter won’t have any of it – he’s not a gentleman and has no place talking to such a fine lady. Pamela responds with a little venom and asks Daddy if Bishop can be her personal guard. Bishop doesn’t seem too enthused but he grimly performs his duty. Arriving at the Negrito village Gunderson escaped from, the white explorer’s trade with the natives as Sir Harry and Peter locate the mysterious old man. Ushering them into the safety of his tent, he tells the tragic tale of the lost expedition and hands over the maps to White Ponga’s territory. Armed with a solid lead, they make off down the river as the natives get restless. Keeping pace along the banks, White Ponga has spotted the comely Pamela and he’s not about to pass up the only pale haired biped he knows.

Thinking they have put enough distance between themselves and the testy Negritos, the expedition makes landfall and treks towards the Ponga stomping grounds. The party quickly finds gorilla tracks as well as remnants of a previous settlement created by the lost researchers. In a shockingly brief transition, out of the jungle and shattered remains, a stockade and fort complex complete with hinged doors, furniture and fixtures rises up. Apparently the porters were bearing crates of Ikeas African Jungle line. A gorilla trap composed of collapsible doors and a deep pit is also crafted with blinding speed. The good Doctor is confident he will lure the beast by surrounding the trap with ‘meegum’, a plant foodstuff the hairy brutes adore.

Aching for another peek at the platinum sweetie, Ponga makes his way into the encampment and deftly locates Pamela’s room. Either the heavy breathing or the missing link musk rouses Pam from her slumber, and she lets out a right proper scream that sends the gorilla running and alerts the whole camp. “It was a huge beast with flaming eyes!” No trace of the beast is found and her claims are dismissed as bad dreams. According to her learned companions, gorillas are not climbing creatures – however, Bishop makes note of some tracks near the palisades.
Pamela remains persistent in her attempts to woo Bishop. She corners him alone, all dolled up in flashy nightgown that any self respecting lady would pack for a deep jungle trek. I guess the heat finally got to Bishop – he dives in for a long sweet puckerup but is rudely interrupted by the jealous secretary. Now Dr. Bragdon strolls into the whole sorry scene and Bishop is discharged for his unseemly behavior.
A clanging bell alerts the camp - the trap has snared a gorilla. The eggheads are disappointed to find that an ordinary simian has been caught and a ladder is lowered to allow it to escape. Better luck next time.

Burnt yet again by the object of his desire, Peter approaches the shifty German and offers to throw in with him. A plan to hijack the expedition is imminent with the intent to abandon the Doctor and his associates, and head off for gold fields nearby. With the nefarious agreement made, the innocent research party is trussed up. The traitorous Peter drags Pam off, with the natural assumption that some tight bindings and a forced march through the jungle will make her realize what a catch he is. Once the dastardly villains are on their way, Bishop reveals he is, in fact, a servant in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, prompting the good Doctor to reassess his opinion of the lad. After freeing himself and the others, they give chase.

In no time at all, Pam manages to escape, Hans further reveals his nasty side, and the annoying fop Peter takes a slug in the back. Thanks Hans, where were you 30 minutes ago? Pamela runs wildly through the jungle but has been shadowed by White Ponga. Hans goes stomping off after Pamela but quickly finds himself at the wrong end of a very hairy fist. Ponga gives the dastardly kraut a thorough, brush obscured thrubbing yet still manages to keep his lustrious coat free of blood. Helpless Pam is carried off like luggage as the native porters make the sensible choice to head in the opposite direction.
With his lovely prize cradled in a bed of straw, Ponga patrols the perimeter of his cave and frightens off a pesky lion. Unfortunately for our romantically confused simian, Pam is far from down and makes a break for it. The randy gorilla gives pursuit and in moments comes upon his girl recovering from a spill. Her screams alert both the search party and another gorilla who decides to challenge Ponga. A titanic battle ensues; angry snorts and broken tree limbs are hurled to and fro. While the mighty beasts engage in the time honored struggle for supremacy, the hairless apes in khakis scoop up Pam but remain, transfixed by the clashing behemoths. White Ponga’s adversary goes down for the count and the coup de grace is delivered with a hefty tree branch. Drunk with victory, Ponga spots his gal pal and lumbers towards the amazed group. A rifle crack sounds after the command to wound the ape is given.

Poor White Ponga is trapped once again, caged by chuckling captors who comment that his appearance will startle the world. Lip locked lovers Pam and Bishop close the film with nauseating flare. After KONG you would have thunk that clever apes of the world would be wary of blonds.

Before moving on, a few aspects of this film beg to be ridiculed. Firstly, the wildlife of the wild and lush primeval forests happen to include a number of species that are glaringly out of place. A black bear cub offers some comic relief. Deer and monitor lizards share house with lions and tree monkeys. The stock footage is used to pad out a film and keep production costs down but sticks out like an ugly sister. The racist treatment of the African natives is not particularly out of place in a film of this age but the laziness in writing their dialogue is. The primary black lead Joel Fluellen plays Mumbo Jumbo (!!), head porter to the nefarious Hans. His spoken part consists of the typical broken English a white audience of that era expects to hear but in his final scenes he is inexplicably speaking fluent English.
White Pongo was shot in 1945 for the Poverty Row studio, PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Industry workhorse Sam Neufield directed and had a reputation for cranking out films in 3 or 4 days; easily believable when viewing White Pongo. Sam had shot such gems as TERROR COMES TO TINY TOWN and DANGER! WOMEN AT WORK - a small sample from almost 300 films over a 40 year career. Neufield had worked with the hairy superstar Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan on two earlier films, NABONGA (1944) and THE MONSTER MAKER (1944) and may have been familiar with the multi – talented cowboy from the host of saddleback cheapies he directed through the thirties. Maris Wrixon, the fair Pamela, had also encountered Ray on a previous film, THE APE (1940) but had nary a scene that was as intimate as those in this picture.

If you are still reading this entry perhaps there’s a chance you will enjoy this film as much as I did. Far from a classic, WHITE PONGO manages to hold your attention for the brief hour or so and considering the low budget and insanely brief shooting schedule it performs well as a jungle flick curiosity. Although I am terribly fond of this turkey I would never claim it to be anything other than it is – grade z schlock that at the very least avoids being dull. The cast is perfectly serviceable although none really standout. The stock footage and bizarre audio effects are nerve grating at times but the true gem in this picture is the title star himself. Gorilla suit appearances were often used as a singular gag but a select number of films actually revolve around the simulated simians. From my exceptionally narrow perspective, WHITE PONGO is one of Corrigan’s best films despite the general mediocrity of the other elements. His gorilla is distilled from the fears and dreams of a modern, unsophisticated ticket holder – the beast is a grotesque caricature of the wild man of Darkest Africa. Ponga’s visage appears to have been crafted by a madman in the throws of a terrible fit.

So who is ‘Crash’ Corrigan? And what would motivate a man to sweat in pounds of yak hair and receive no billing? With this entry running on more than I had planned, the story of the gorilla cowboy will have to wait until my next installment. So sharpen your spurs and comb your back ‘cause the ape that could shoot a six gun will be coming at ya before the cows come home.

Removing the Mask

Who are the Gorilla Men? Better yet, what the blue blazes is a Gorilla Man anyways?

First things first – my curiosity about these unique practitioners of a highly specialized craft was borne out of love for comic books. I am a lifetime on again, off again collector and even had the great pleasure of working behind the counter of a local shop. Like any medium, comics have evolved since the popular explosion in their most recognizable form in the 1930’s. Beside the obvious shifts in how they have been produced and presented, likewise, comic book themes and trends have often reflected social shifts. There are also archetypal images that seem to be recurrent throughout their history – the Hero and the Supervillian, Robots, BEM’s (Bug Eyed Monsters), Damsels in Distress and the one that has resonated with me the most, the Gorilla.

The who?. Yes, man’s cousin has been a regular staple of the four colour medium since its’ inception. A menacing, drooling jungle beast rising from the verdant tangle threatens to smite the cub reporter Jimmy Olsen – the early cover of Action Comics #6 foreshadowed DC Comics eventual obsession with the gorilla. KING KONG (1933) represented a colossal landmark in entertainment – the ripple effect of the giant ape would be felt across all mediums. Gorillas were still very much an oddity in the early 20th century. Darwinism and evolution were not universally accepted (a century later and most of the United States continues to refuse that man came from monkeys). The Great Ape was a creature held in awe – fearsome power to rend a man from limb to limb and a glint in it’s eye that hinted at unfathomable depths. Travelogues featuring confrontations with these jungle men in their natural habitat were very popular and Monkey Houses at the growing number of local zoos attracted thousands.

In cinema, the Gorilla offered a unique opportunity to present a fantastic element with an edge of realism that could not be mirrored. Replicating or interpreting gorillas on the silver screen could be achieved with relative ease – audiences unfamiliar with the beast would stare with wonder as the menace carried off screaming white maidens or performed clever, amusing comic bits. However did they get that monster to cooperate? In film well up until the 50’s and 60’s, credit was rarely given to all parties involved in the creation of a picture (the pendulum has since swung the other way, so that the credits are probably more extensive than the bloody script) and there was no indication that the gorilla was portrayed by an actor. Many Gorilla Men also actively sought to enhance the illusion by refusing credit or even going so far as to avoid press that they were involved with a production.

The popularity of film apes led to the natural evolution of the Gorilla Man. There was a demand for someone who could bring not only their very own costume, but the ability to utilize it effectively onscreen. When you see some hack stunt man or stand in trip across the frame with a half assed suit you know it. When Charles Gemora had a close up, you were convinced that his expressions altered, when in fact only his eyes peering out from within the fixed mask apparatus had communicated the emotion. But I’m getting somewhat ahead of myself.

My two year long quest to know the mysterious Gorilla Man was a result of a simple whim. Wouldn’t it be cool to have some gorilla film pics and posters to complement the other material at my website Comic Book Gorillarama. The blatantly obvious focus of the site was four colour simians but I had added gallery pages featuring peculiar ape themed items like plastic toy Smoking Monkeys and Gorilla Beer. Another page with a few KING KONG posters and whatever else I cold dredge up would be cool. God bless Google – a simple entry of gorilla in an image search introduced me to outlandishly costumed individuals that begged further investigation. The IMDB (Internet Movie Database) was another handy device that allowed me to identify there was a handful of men that seemed to populate the darkened houses and steaming jungles of gorilla film. Having the unfortunate affliction of compulsive collecting and a growing fascination with the Gorilla Men and their work, I pretty much abandoned Gorillarama to spend all my spare time dredging the web and Ebay for images and scraps of information. Hunting for facts about them is tantamount to panning for gold. You get the occasional flake but mostly your back hurts. I have had several strikes (which I’ll speak of in subsequent entries) and the thrill of discovery is always compounded by the length of the search.

I had anticipated presenting the material I have gathered in a traditional manner – basically reproduce the structure of Comic Book Gorillarama and slot the info in. The creation of a site in a hierarchical structure demands a lot of goods up front. I have whacks of raw material but synthesizing it into something personal and relatable would take up a great deal of my spare time, postponing it’s appearance on the web. And I have my first child due in October. When I put together my first site I was on medical leave and could sit in front of the computer figuring out Frontpage and wrestling with webspace limitations until the wee hours of the morning. Sleep in, wake up, repeat (much to the chagrin of the wife but hey, it kept the mind busy). This time round I have no such luxury. A conversation with my good chum and technical guru Justin opened my mind to other possibilities than a typically dry presentation of something I felt passionate about. Taking a blog like approach will allow for periodic entries and an expanding, organic library of material and my thoughts. He commented that my journey and excitement about the topic was perhaps the aspect of the research that intrigued him most. Exploration and the quest to peel back the veil has led me to connect with strangers miles away and given me moments of giddy exuberance and crushing self doubt. I am not a professional journalist, merely a curious traveler eager to gain knowledge and apt to make mistakes along the way.

Future entries will relate my experiences, start hammering out the facts I have accumulated and share my joy and dismay about the films the Gorilla Men appeared in. As with many aspects of life, the surface of most Gorilla Men is not half as fascinating as what lies beneath the yak hair and kapok. The galleries under construction should give you an impetus to return when you feel a need to shut out the ordinary and pull on the skin of the beast within.