Sunday, February 28, 2010

GORILLA GIRL OF BURLESQUE: THE INDRA

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-04-19

During the course of my recent research efforts into gorilla suits and burlesque, I had the great pleasure of speaking with the striptease artist known as The Indra. There is a long history of Gorillas and Girls cavorting on stage for the amusement of lecherous men but the revival of classic erotic dance has also seen the return of the amorous ape. Performers like the high profile Gorilla X prove that the fascination with sex and simians is deeply rooted and will never fade away completely. Indra puts a different spin on the traditional premise and fires up crowds around North America with a gorilla strip that has made her infamous.




Tell me about your great twist on the old burlesque Beauty and Beast act.

I started doing a gorilla strip about 4 years ago...It was inspired by a scene in "Blonde Venus" where Marlene Dietrich sings "Hot Voodoo"... it's a great song... AND she strips out of a gorilla costume... it was also copied by Poison Ivy/Uma Thurman in Batman...  My under costume is a banana skirt inspired by Josephine Baker... And an enormous afro, inspired by Marlene again... Her's has a lightning bolt arrow through it I remember...
I bought my original gorilla suit about 8 years ago from Oriental
Trading.. then replaced the hands and head... Its so big on me I never wear the feet...


You certainly distinguish yourself from the typical striptease artist and I hope I get the opportunity to see your act one day. Ever come to Victoria, BC?

I think I went to Victoria in 2005 as part of the Fluffgirls tour... Ghah it's all a blur... I traveled 5 months as a performer in 2005 and performed hundreds of times in the UK, Germany, USA and Canada...


Any particular piece of music you perform this act too?

I use a piece called "Jungle Girl" from a nostalgia CD... I looped part of it to make it longer... some versions start with an original song I wrote and perform as a joke... a Gorilla protest song, explaining that you shouldn't eat Gorillas because they're endangered...

What kind of response do you get from the audience?

Massive... I go completely insane during the number.. it's very fun and upbeat. I do some afro-Haitian moves... some goofy 60's moves... crawl on the floor "menacing" people as a jungle girl "clawing" them from the stage growling... at the end I usually scream, "I am thee Monkey!" and give a heavy metal horn sign on both hands and then beat my chest and go "Rawr!"... I started doing that in the UK one night just for the hell of it because I thought it was funny and absurd... I'm a total theater queer so I'm able to project loud enough for just about any theater setting...

Have you performed in a traditional Beauty and Beast act with a gorilla suited counterpart?

In a couple acts I've had guys wear gorilla suit... I sang "Falling in love Again" with Gorilla X once... I made Liederhosen for him... I've had Rocky Roulette wear my gorilla suit when I've sang "Avec" a Josephine Baker song...

How often do you perform this act?

I've performed it HUNDREDS of times... Along with my Marlene Dietrich impersonation the Gorilla Strip is considered my signature act... I've performed it in the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US... All over these countries...




 Has your act gone through any sort of evolution over the past 4 years?

My afro keeps getting Bigger and BIGGER AND BIGGER... I'm amazed at how much hair I can get under the mask... I was doing a gorilla strip in 2004 and got hired to be in the Va Va Voom Room... New York Art Director Kate Valentine added some fun stuff to it... She actually got me to try wearing my banana skirt under the gorilla suit.. something else that I thought wouldn't fit in there... she had me change my costume to be all coconut bra and grass skirt and had me use different music... after the Va Va Voom Room show was over she was cool about me adding the stuff she choreographed to it... and I changed the costume even more to include a Masai necklace and a yellow sequin samba bikini... In the UK in 2005 I bought a really cute pair of pasties from our stagehand Danny... The darling was out there picking up my sweaty gorilla suit every night and even so she made the coolest pasties that matched my micro bikini I wear under my sequin samba bikini... I freaked out and bought them immediately... I still use Danny's pasties for my Gorilla Strip Tease today in 2007!



If you purchased the gorilla suit 8 years ago but began the gorilla strip 4 years ago - what were you doing the suit during the interim?

I used it for Go Go dancing gigs.. parties... I had a Go Go dancing troupe from 1997-2000.. I think I got the suit in 98 for a jungle theme party at a huge club... (My Go Go troupe grossed approximately 100k in 1999..ah the dot.com boom!) I would wear the mask as a hat and strut around wearing a bikini under the suit and high heels.. It was GREAT at outdoor parties... ha! I would put guys in it and sing love songs to them... in 2003 I started using it for Strip Teases...

I noticed you have extensive Butoh experience; have you heard of Don Mcleod?  (Don is a modern Gorilla Man who was also active in Butoh until at least 2004).


I don't remember him... may have met him at some point... I had the butoh troupe for about a decade... I think I stopped in 1999ish... I have some strong and bitter opinions about that dance form now... I use techniques I gained in doing it for so long but I don't 'go there' anymore... ha...


My thanks to Indra for taking the time to stop shaking her behind and answer a few questions. Images are also used with her permission.
You can see more of Indra and her diverse and striking performances at her website TheIndra.com and also at her MySpace page.

KING KONG TONIGHT

 
The Enigma known as Rhoderic Land

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-03-30

In this big ol' world of over stimulation and tightly packaged culture, it is rare to stumble upon some raw gem that speaks to your heart. On MySpace, there is a massive community of the Arts that have an opportunity to let their efforts be experienced by strangers around the globe. In my first couple weeks on the site, a gentleman politely suggested I might find his song to my liking (something to do with the subject matter;-). With a title like KING KONG TONIGHT, I had an inclination it might be amusing but I was unprepared for how completely charming it revealed itself to be. My musical taste runs along many divergent paths (NO COUNTRY!) but as of late, I am enamoured with 50's and 60's library and lounge music. Rhoderic Land's tale of bittersweet romance is created from retro cloth but is tailored with sharp modern wit. I love this tune - so much so that I strictly prohibit myself from sequential plays lest I spoil my ear and grow tired of it (a rule I broke for tonights post).
I have had a few communiques with this mystery man and he recently agreed to answer a few questions about his infectious song and the voice behind it.


Some personal background:

“Rhoderic Land” is an assumed name for my musical work. I otherwise work in finance, I’m British, and I’ve lived in Paris since 1993. 

Songwriting has been a lifelong reflex, although “King Kong Tonight” is the first piece that I’ve really allowed ‘out of the house’. 

“King Kong Tonight”: 
 

The song began about a year ago, inspired on an evening walk beneath a purple moon. There were peacocks in the park and their sunset cries reminded me of apes in a jungle.

And so, back at the piano, “The monkeys go bananas for the moon gone down” got inverted into the opening line and the rest was like taking dictation. It was finished in twelve minutes and not a word or a chord has been altered since. 

Each line suggested the next, and the story emerged on its own.

The recording, however, took six months. For the myspace version, I’m playing all the instruments and singing the three vocal parts.


From listeners, two of my favourite comments have been: 

“It’s the perfect ‘drop-the-computer-and-boogie-round-the-house’ song!” 

and from a young girl in England: 

“It’s actually quite a sad little story, isn’t it?” 

I was very touched by both of these. Yes, it’s happy and fun, but there’s also a sadness for something lost as well; a secondary theme in many of my songs. 

More music from Rhoderic Land? 

Yes, I am working on recording some other recent pieces to put onto the myspace site; some mainstream ballads. 

Ever worn a Gorilla suit? 

No, I never have, but one’s on order.



And with that, I give you KING KONG TONIGHT.




You can also download the song and check out Rhoderic's MySpace page here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A BULL IN MY MAILBOX

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-02-28

On a typical evening of Ebay trolling, I was checking out listings for a Golden Age Gorilla Man who has only 2 known screen credits for suit work and came across an intriguing Ebay handle. Fred Humes was a silent star of cowboy flicks whose career faded out quickly after the transition to sound (more on Fred in the future). He was a significant presence in his day but once he walked away from Hollywood, Fred dissapears from the history books. Occasionally the odd still from LORRAINE OF THE LIONS or CIRCUS ROOKIES (the pair of aforementioned gorilla roles) come up for sale and but generally Hume's ephemara consists of arcade cards and stills from his Western work. A rountine check on an auction revealed a bidder who had the very Humes name as a part of his username - I thought either this person is a big fan or better yet, family! I contacted the bidder and was thrilled to discover that he was in fact a distant relative. Steve Humes resides in Florida and is a musician by trade - he has been a delight to correspond with and recently sent me an arcade for another gorilla man, Bull Montana. It just arrived in the mail, and with my review of Gary's article still fresh, I figured it would be a great time to share the image. I have come across the card in my Ebay travels but it's great to have one to paw over. The scene is from THE LOST WORLD, one of his several ape-man roles. My thanks to Steve for the arcade card and for the Classic Images article about his mysterious kin.
Steve has set up a MySpace page for both himself and Fred Humes. Check them both out!

MARCH 19th UPDATE

Being far from infallible, this gorilla suit scholar was off the mark on the arcade card subject matter. A friendly chap by the name of Tony emailed me about his doubts of my identification but we could not settle on a possible correction. A note from Gary Prange settled the issue - the scene is from VANISHING MILLIONS.

APE FIENDS FROM THE SILENT ERA! MFTV REVIEWED!


ORIGINALLY POSTED 02-25-2007

In my eternal search for information on gorilla suit actors and their films, I have been confronted by the utter lack of serious print coverage from classic horror journalists. When there is a story or two about these films it is usually a top ape film list poking fun at some of the many gorilla suit B-movies; not that I have an issue with that - most of the films are dreadful (and enjoyable for that very reason). Naturally there are exceptions - Bob Burns has spoken to Tom Weaver at length about Charles Gemora and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, providing a first hand account of two premium gorilla men. The surge in special effects fascination and the use of 'Behind the Scenes' coverage to promote film has also guaranteed that post-Dino De Laurentiis’ KING KONG ape films are thoroughly reported on.
Gorilla suit cinema from the Golden Age of Hollywood, however, has been particularly difficult to find information on. Through my Ebay hunting, I have managed to find a 30's article on Gemora's involvement in the infamous inter-species romance exploitation tale INGAGI, but little else on the significant number of films from this period featuring simians.
Before Christmas, I was thrilled to hear of an article in the winter issue of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT that promised to throw a spotlight on this era. Author Gary L. Prange is a cornerstone of the CLASSIC HORROR MESSAGE BOARD and a major genre writer. A two part excerpt from his upcoming book, SYMPHONY OF HORROR: HOW THE HORROR FILM CAME TO BE is featured in MFTV and the article title, APE FIENDS OF THE SILENT ERA had me eagerly awaiting it's arrival in the mail. With my expectations relatively low (rare film research is often limited to plot summaries!) I was floored by what Gary has assembled.


Part One of his article focuses primarily on the 1920 film GO AND GET IT starring Bull Montana as a murderous apeman. The depth of the material on the adventure/horror picture is more thorough than I thought possible and illuminates how significant the film was to 20's viewers. In addition to the requisite plot summary (which is the most detailed I have read), Mr. Prange explores the production and the subsequent impact on the public. Evolution was a major hot button issue when GO AND GET IT premiered, and the audiences flocked to see the gruesome creature that blurred the line between man and beast.

   Critics were also enthusiastic about the film, supported by several period reviews and telegrams quoted for this article. The positive press on GO AND GET IT was certainly aided by the central character of the drama, a heroic reporter who battles not only the horrific beast-man but bureaucratic corruption as well. Special screenings and other clever enticements, near guaranteed a thumbs up from the press.

"All reporters should make a point of going to see it. It is a good [sic] entertainment and excellent melodrama. It has plenty of thrills and the story has ingenuity and originality"
- New York Telegraph



The promotion of the forgotten blockbuster also receives fantastic coverage in Mr. Prange's article, and it is amazing to read of the various intricate stunts and creative efforts to create word of mouth excitement. Mr. Prange recounts the scheme cooked up by theatre manager in Creston, Iowa

"...On dusky evenings, a few citizens began to catch glimpses of a creature described as "half-man-and-half-ape". It appeared only at twilight and invariably was spotted by only a few people, occasionally resulting in genuine fright but no one could get a good description of the beast. Word began to spread, but some citizens would not accept the notion their town was the home of a lurking monster resembling an ape. That changed one evening when the beast "appeared on top of the most prominent building in the city, hung over the edge for just a moment, uttering strange cries and then utterly disappeared." The streets were filled with people that night, and a search for the monster failed to produce any trace."

   When GO AND GET IT opened a few days later, the manager placed an ad claiming to have caught the creature and a promise to display it in conjunction with the regular show. Apparently the stunt was a success with the house filling to capacity.
   Accompanying the article is an assortment of extremely rare photos and promotional material I have not seen elsewhere. All pics that appear with this review are from my files.


   Part One of Gary L. Prange's article contains a wealth of information about GO AND GET IT, a film that is generally relegated to a footnote in other texts I have read. In short, it is a stellar addition to the tapestry of simian film history. To have this information so accessible is tremendously exciting. Knowing the efforts I have gone to personally to hunt for any scrap about the subject matter, I am in awe of the scope of Mr. Prange's research. It is thorough, engaging and free of the superfluous details that usually pad out an article of this nature. Two other productions, VANISHING MILLIONS and A BLIND BARGAIN are explored but do not receive the impressive attention lavished upon GO AND GET IT.
   I eagerly anticipate part two which will cover National's THE GORILLA and THE WIZARD, both of which have had little written about them to date.

   APE FIENDS OF THE SILENT ERA was the hook that persuaded me to sample MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT, but after reading the other features it is clear it is superior to other genre mags I have purchased at the local shops. The layout is a nice balance of style and substance, eschewing a trend I have noticed of 'Chip Kidd'ing material to the point of near visual insensibility. The stock is beautifully slick and presents the stills and other pics in an optimum fashion. I heartily recommend this magazine and encourage all to visit the VAULT site for ordering information. The next issue of MFTV promises to be doubly thrilling for me; in addition to Part Two of APE FIENDS, Tom Weaver will be speaking to Bob Burns about another Gorilla Man shrouded in mystery, George Barrows. My deepest thanks to James Clatterbaugh, Editor/Publisher of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT for providing a venue for this material.

You can also learn more about the history of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT at MySpace.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BUILDING A HOLLYWOOD GORILLA

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-02-22

Here is the first set of work-in-progress photos that complement my interview with Steve Myers, Gorilla Man of the East Coast. Although he is still waiting on some swanky studio shots of his extraordinary suit, Steve sent these off to me a couple of weeks ago but I have been a wee bit green around the gills and have been tardy in getting them up. These shots give you an appreciation of the artistry involved in making a piece of rubber come alive. Hopefully we can see more of the process in the weeks to come. Steve's comments are attached to the pictures. Enjoy!

 
SNEER HEAD'-the sneer mechs attached to the head. No hair.

  
Using a small fan inside the head mold to speed drying time.

  
Early gorilla skins run. Three finished and awaiting paint.

  
The teeth (upper and lower) before installed in the head.

 
Early stage of painting scheme, which is a three stage process. This is process two.

 

Early test hand with hair. Paint scheme is wrong on this, but still looks "fair" at best.

CRASH VERSUS FLASH

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-02-12

When UNDERSEA KINGDOM was released in late May 1936, the public would have strolled past the marque and pondered " Crash? Is he supposed to be like Flash Gordon?". Possibly capitalizing on the moniker association, Ray Corrigan first had the catchy 'Crash' shoehorned into his name with this 12 episode serial from Republic. Over the years it was also implied that the nickname was a result of Corrigan's stuntman background but the timing of it's initial use makes me think otherwise.

UNDERSEA KINGDOM attempted to rival the popular Universal serial FLASH GORDON  with a similar tale of a dynamic, athletic hero taking on a Oriental-type despot. Instead of the planet Mongo, our intrepid adventurer travels to the bottom of the ocean in an atomic submarine with crew consisting of a scientist and his young son, a fetching lady reporter, and trio of other sailors.

Once in the undersea kingdom, 'Crash' faces off against the evil Unga Khan who seeks to dominate both Atlantis and the world above. Fun stuff includes the mechanized landcraft, the Juggernaut and the robotic Volkites (which were later recycled into one of the ROCKET MEN serials). Lon Chaney Jr. also makes a surprising appearance as Khan's chief henchmen but does little to distinguish himself in the role. The serial is moderately entertaining and features some decent action but fails to be as bold as FLASH GORDON.
Ray 'Crash' Corrigan may not have outshone Buster Crabbe as sci-fi serial star, but some months earlier he very nearly killed Flash in the Arena of Death. Appearing as an alien Orangapoid, essentially his 30's suit with a wobbly horn attached to his head, Corrigan had a cliffhanger tussle with the Earthman. The fight scene is well executed and for a gorillaphile like myself, the lengthy, well-lit episode provides a good look at his suit. Reviewing the serial for some image captures I was particularly struck by the way the nostril area pulsated with Corrigan's laboured breaths - whether it's by accident or design, it certainly enhances the performance.
One last aside - early gorilla man Bull Montana also has a role in FLASH as a 'Monkey Man'. Unfortunately, the 'Monkey Man' makeup consists of ridiculous fangs sprouting from his lower jaw.
Here are a few image captures from a dvd set I recently purchased from VINTAGE HORROR DVD. The image and sound quality are decent - naturally there are some flaws inherent in material of this age but this print had few moments that were particularly rough and none that detracted from the experience. The serial is available with or without clamshells with artwork and were sent quickly. It can be difficult to find a small operation with dependable service and material but VINTAGE HORROR DVD has made me a loyal customer. He has an impressive catalogue of classics, rarities and oddities and I heartily recommend you check him out.

FLASH GORDON (1936) Screen Capture
FLASH GORDON (1936) Screen Capture

FLASH GORDON (1936) Screen Capture

FLASH GORDON (1936) Screen Capture

FLASH GORDON (1936) Screen Capture

A CONVERSATION WITH A MODERN GORILLA MAN, STEVE MYERS

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-02-04

Last year I was thrilled to meet a genuine 21st Century Gorilla Man, Steve Myers. Steve had come across Gorillamen.com and it wasn't long before we began exchanging emails about all things gorilla. Residing on the East Coast, Steve is a true entertainer whose skills go far beyond apish antics. From special effects to Santa Claus, this jack-of-all-trades let me bend his ear and ask him a few questions. Steve is an engaging and friendly fellow and I am pleased to present our email interview conducted in late 2006.

We may as well kick things off with an all encompassing question - what's the abbreviated history of Steve in thirty seconds or so?

Since I was 10 or 11, I can remember fooling around with special effects make-up and monsters. Magic, ventriloquism, Haunted Houses and monkeys! Monkeys and Gorillas were always at the top of my list because they were human-like, but still animal. I think that's why the "general public" is fascinated with them too. Gorillas are as close as you can get to being human, and still be an animal. Does that make sense? My Mom and Dad were always supportive of the fact, that this may very well be what I might do for a living someday! I'm now 40 and doing everything I love! My wife Shannon is very understanding too!

Did either of your parents have any background in entertainment? Either in public or just on a very personal scale? What did they think of your decision to spend your hard earned dollars on a gorilla suit (when you were a young teen)?

Mom and Dad have no talent whatsoever! None. My Dad was a manager at a stone quarry and Mom was a housewife. The only "talent" in my family was my Great Grandmother. She played the Banjo. Which I do too, since I was 7, but that's another story. Mom and Dad were always supportive in everything I did. Dad would help me set up the yard for Halloween with graves, black lights, strobes, stuffed dummies and coffins! I miss that.
 
Standard litmus test - five favourite films (not top five, just a few that come to mind, I can't imagine having to come up with a definitive list. Varies upon my mood;-)


King Kong
The Wizard of Oz
Universal's The Wolfman (1935)
Universal's Frankenstein (1933)
One Flew Over the Coo Coo's Nest

When did you realize that you needed to be an entertainer?

When I was getting good at what I was doing! I did paid magic shows all through High School and made a very good living doing shows after I graduated. I still do them, just for a lot more money!

Did you have any professional training in the effects or acting fields or are you pretty much self taught?

 No. I mostly learned sleight of hand from books. They have it easy now, since everything is on video. A lot of "try it and see if it works" on my part as well too! I've been thinking of making my own "How to make a Professional Gorilla Suit DVD" for a couple years now, but don't think it would sell to well due to the limited market. Plus, I'd end up giving everything away, that many pros have shared with me. I cannot see the "give and take" of it. Why should I market and sell a DVD for $50.00 only to reveal stuff that has taken me literally thousands of dollars and countless hours to learn??

When did your interest in special effects turn from admiration to emulation?

 When I was 13, I called Dick Smith on the phone. I was working with Ultracal and Latex. I had a problem and I knew, even though I was only 13, that Smith could help. I swallowed hard and dialed the number. He answered and I stuttered a little, but he talked to me a long time, was understanding and helped out. I wish more people in the Special effects industry were as nice as Dick. I still call Dick from time to time just to kinda "check-up" on him. I still do Special Effects Make-up for the movies every now and then too. You can check out "Vampire Sisters" or soon to be released, "Crawler" that are both independent releases from Timewarp Films.

I had to peruse IMDB to look up Dick Smith - his motion picture resume cuts across a wide swathe of classic films! (SCANNERS would be a personal favourite - I had a Cronenberg phase in high school) Was there a particular reason you sought him out directly?

I was born in 1966, so around the height of Dick's career, I was 13-20...a very impressionable age! I'd watch The Godfather, Scanners, The Exorcist, Amadeus, Altered States, Little Big Man, Taxi Driver and The Sunshine Boys and see that Dick could do "Old Age" and well as "guts." That impressed me to no end. I began searching for books, magazines, TV shows about Dick and his work. I had heard all the while too, that Dick was "approachable" and liked to help. So I thought I'd give it a try. Turns out he was great.

I have a few friends in Vancouver involved in the film industry and can appreciate the sacrifices and hard work the entertainment industry demands. What motivates you to be resilient in the face of obstacles?

I don't really have an answer for that one...I guess it's just commitment and the love for the finished product. You have to be a visionary in this business. You have to see things differently than anyone else. You have to know your limitations. And if your limitations are too much to handle, then learn them too. Try to be "complete" in everything you do. No loose ends. Learn to do something no one else does and learn to do it well.

Santa Claus is a sacred childhood symbol and perhaps the only youthful myth made real by gentleman such as yourself. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised to see you in the red and white. What was the origin of this unique role and how has the experience affected you?

When I decided to be a "Santa", I knew I could look better and be a better Santa than what was locally out there. My hairpieces were handmade in Los Angeles by Charlie Wright, at a tremendous cost. The suit is handmade and custom tailored to fit me. I even wear blue contact lenses. The result is staggering! And it's just what I wanted. I demand a high price for my Santa appearances because what your getting is a true rendition of a Santa that everybody thinks of in their mind. To see the "real thing" standing right there talking to you, just makes people shake their heads. I usually start booking in March. www.santasteve.com

Bowl full of jelly belly - real or padding ;-) Had to ask!

It's all real!
 
On to hairier issues - why gorillas Steve? You are obviously a tall fellow and climbing into a hot heavy suit and stooping about is made all the more difficult by your size - what motivated you to seek out the unusual profession of gorilla man?


When I was a kid, I can remember seeing Bob Burns and Charles Gemora in the movies and on TV. I knew they weren't real gorillas, and that fascinated me. That they were true "Hollywood Gorillas." I went to our local magic shop and bought a gorilla suit when I was about 15. I put it on and "terrorized" the neighborhood every Halloween. It wasn't a professional suit by any means, but I had fun. By the time I was 20, I had been in all the local parades, meet and greets, at fairs, special promotions and on local TV many times. I had upgraded the suit with a better head, hands and feet by then, too. I got married in 1992 and my wife, Shannon said, "You ought to make one of those suit they have in the movies with a opening jaw." That was it! I started sculpting and making molds. After four months, I had a very nice "almost professional" suit. It had been used a lot and was breaking down by 2001. I put the project on hold for a while, as the magic shows took me away from home a lot. Being a gorilla is loads of fun. People seek you out to get a picture. People embrace you, they want to touch you, and pet you. Maybe because they know they can't do that stuff with a real gorilla!

You didn't float the possibility of a 'Beauty and Beast' wedding did you?

No...would have been cool though. Shannon could have been dressed as Fay Ray!

How did you construct the suit and what challenges did you face?

The current suit that I use is about two years worth of labor (off and on) and the most realistic yet. The hair is a fiber type, mod-acrylic. It has a 7-8" nap that is a mixture of white, gray, black and brown. It's from National Fiber Technologies. What makes the hair so natural looking is the fact that it's sewn onto a spandex type material that will stretch over muscle forms. It also has a "growth pattern" and direction.The current head was sculpted by Don Lanning. The Hands and Feet are sculpted by Joe Riley. I made all the latex overskins, did all the fiberglassing and mechanical work. Along with the painting of the skin as well. I came up with a "harness" type arrangement made from brass that will allow the actor wearing the head to open his mouth and in turn the lower jaw opens and the upper lip curls upward showing all lower and upper teeth. It's a pretty mean look, so I don't use it as much unless the job calls for it. I have a second head that just has lower jaw movement. It's a little more pleasant and friendly looking. All the hair is hand punched, one hair at a time, around the face to give the illusion of the hair growing from the skin. Doug Henderson helped me with the paint scheme. Gorilla skin is hard to replicate. Sometimes the same gorilla skin can look black, sometimes dark gray or even blue-ish. It really depends on what kind of lighting was used. After many phone calls and conversations with Doug, I nailed it. Alan Stacy was also a big help. He had made a pro suit many years ago, and just happened to take notes and pictures of everything. Again, Dick Smith helped too.
The most difficult thing for me in making the suit was the upper and lower teeth and tongue. You have to make sure all that stuff lines up correctly when the jaw closes. Installing the springs to keep the jaw closed the return of the jaw, the lips lining up and the gorilla eye/human eye placement. There is a foam muscle suit that I wear under the fur suit too. It fills out the lower arms and my legs. I also wear football shoulder pads under the fur. This fills out the neck area on the sides and back. If you look at gorillas, they don't seem to have a neck. Shoulder pads do nicely for this. Gorillas have very short legs. Nothing like those of a human. So the fur suit was cut and sewed about 8" below my crotch. This gives the perfect illusion of short legs. I also have arm extentions that I sometimes use. These are 7" longer than a human arm. The fingers are molded into a closed fist for knuckle walking. There is a zipper in the back of the suit, with a fur flap that folds over the zipper, therefore hiding it. All told, "Kongo" is about a $17,000.00 suit. But one of the most realistic suits you'll ever see outside of the movies. I'm very proud of it.

Truly an impressive feat Steve! I applaud your efforts and I am inspired by your passion and perseverance. I find it uplifting to know there are still people ready to transform themselves into one of the screen's most awesome sights. The work and monetary investment is stunning - but what of the intangible aspects of wearing the suit. What happens to you once the fur is on? What have you drawn on for inspiration in emulating the great ape?

This may sound stupid, but simply watch and observe real Gorillas! Hollywood has given our great friend, The Gorilla, a bad wrap over the years. They are not fierce, (unless attacked), they don't set out to kill people and they hardly ever walk upright! But that's ok.  I heard Bob Burns once say, that "Less is more when playing a gorilla."  Slow, deliberate movements, no eye contact with anyone....are just a few things to remember. Once I put the fur on, I become Kongo. I'll do things that Steve Myers would never think of doing. I'm a different creature all together.

Are there any gorilla suit performers or specific films that have inspired you?

Charles Gemora was a huge inspiration to me. Here was a guy that literally manufactured the phrase "Hollywood Gorilla." I only wish I could have met him. Rick Baker (of course). Rick has done so much for the industry to make better looking gorillas in the movies. I don't think anyone can make more realistic looking gorillas than Baker. Bob Burns has inspired me too. Bob knows the real secret to becoming a gorilla. Not very many people know that. Gemora knew it. So did Emil Van Horn and Ray Corrigan.
As far as gorilla movies, it's got to be Gorillas in The Mist, The Monster and The Girl, The Rick Baker King Kong, Born to be Wild and the movie Buddy.
 
What are your goals as gorilla man?


I'd like to be as professional as I can be. I'd like to be known for making very high quality suits, helping people like so many helped me in this industry and being respected for my work with gorilla roles and suits. There's this guy no one knows about in Maryland that makes the most realistic gorilla suit................and when he puts on all the hair, foam and rubber.....look out! I can appreciate and sympathize with the guy or girl that wants to make a pro suit. It's not easy. You have to hunt down the right people. Sculptors, mold makers, seamstress, foam makers....and the list goes on. If you have the talent you can do a lot of the "leg work" yourself, on your kitchen table. But be ready for a lot of work! I'd be more than happy to receive an email from someone that's very frustrated and needed help. I'd be glad to give back.




My deepest thanks to Steve for sharing his thoughts with Gorilla Men. Stay tuned for additional photos of Steve's impressive suit in an upcoming post.
You can learn more about Steve Myers at these links:
MySpace page
Santa Steve
Timewarp Films

Thursday, February 18, 2010

THE IVORY APE of my dreams

THE IVORY APE (1980) Print Ad ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 01-15-2007

If I ever submitted myself to a penetrating and thorough psychoanalysis regarding my obsession with gorilla suits and simian pop culture in general, I have a gut instinct that there is one film from my childhood that had a reverberating impact on me.
KING KONG?
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG?
Uh, not quite....I was referring to THE IVORY APE.


Airing when I was only about 7 years old, I can't remember whether I saw it when the film premiered on the ABC Friday Night Movie or some time after. Regardless of exactly when I saw the made-for-TV production, when I began seeking out gorilla suit information, I rediscovered the film. I have yet to actually see the movie again (it is my gorilla suit "White Whale",as it were) but I have hunted tirelessly for any related photos and a copy of the title. I know it had a VHS release, yet in about a year of item watching, none have surfaced on Ebay.
THE IVORY APE (1980) VHS art

Recently, I was fortunate enough to procure a promotional ABC still that pointedly reminded me that we see the world through very different eyes when we are kids. I recall the wild, white ape as a fearsome beast, innocent but brutal - this fellow looks like a Gund stuffy! Still, the silly bugger holds a special place in my furry heart and I will continue to gather whatever I can from the film.

The film is outlined in the ABC PR attachment that was glued to the still:

Steven Keats and Cindy Pickett have both devoted their lives to the protection of wild animals, but the fabled albino gorilla creates a special problem when a savage mob stalks the innocent animal for both profit and revenge in "The Ivory Ape".

Pretty snappy eh? Well, maybe not, but the film also stars the always interesting Jack Palance as a flinty hunter who captured the Ivory Ape in Africa but must hunt him again when he escapes from the boat transporting him to the USA.
THE IVORY APE (1980) Promotional Photo The movie was an odd live action product of the Rankin Bass studio, best known for all those charming Christmas stop motion programs such as RUDOLPH, THE RED NOSED REINDEER and FROSTY THE SNOWMAN. Shot in Bermuda, the film still has a presence in local history and is often mentioned in travel and historical websites.

From Bermuda-online.org:

1980 - Bermudian film and television producer Arthur Rankin Jr. cast Jack Palance in a 1980 made-for-TV film shot entirely on location in Bermuda. Palance specialized in playing villains during his five-decade Hollywood career which began in the early 1950s with Attila the Hun. He spent several weeks in Bermuda cast against type as the hero in Mr. Rankin's made-for-television movie The Ivory Ape. It was written and produced by Mr. Rankin and aired on prime time on the ABC television network. The film featured such local performers as Grace Rawlins, Charles Jeffers, Marlene B. Landy, Jane Bainbridge, John Lough and George Rushe in supporting roles. Palance starred in the film as Bermuda-based big game hunter Marc Kazarian. The plot focuses on a hunt for a rare albino gorilla, recently captured in Africa, which escapes from a freighter bound for New York that's forced to dock on the island during a storm. In a nod to the classic Empire State Building climax of 1931's King Kong, the albino ape is finally tracked to the steeple of Holy Trinity Church, Harrington Sound. The gorilla is killed by a trigger-happy Bermudian before Palance's Kazarian character - who has turned his back on his former career as a hunter can save the animal, a female which has just given birth.

I am a little confused about Rankin's apparently Bermudian origins, as I have seen him elsewhere described as American and his birthplace given as New York.

THE IVORY APE (1980) Promotional Photo
We all have cinematic guilty pleasures but I can't even categorize this film as one yet! As with many gorilla suit films, this elusive beast is all the more desirable because of it's scarcity. Goodness knows, if I ever track it down, I will be wondering why I wanted to see it so badly once the credits roll.

But until then, if you happen to catch wind of a copy or pic available - WRITE ME!!!!!

UPDATE FEBRUARY 18-2010


Please don't write me! I finally have in my possession, my most avidly persued film of the past decade - let's just say the thrill of the hunt FAR exceeded the thrill of viewing it. It's incredible how our youthful impressions are so drastically different from our adult, mature critique of the same material. I have great satisfaction that this rare gorilla suit film now rests among other classics of the genre but I won't be spinning this disc on a monthly basis. I will upload a whack of screen caps to Flickr sometime soon and perhaps write in greater detail about my thoughts about the film in the future. If you wish to add this gem to your cinematic treasure chest you can purchase it here at SUPER STRANGE VIDEO.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

THE PERSONA PAGE: A GORILLA SUIT MYSTERY

 ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-01-15

Persona armature detailWith a few exceptions, many of the gorilla suit actors that populated cinema from it's inception up until the 1950's, are either nameless, or those that can be identified, what is known about them can be summed up in a few lines. Another aspect of Gorilla Men that remains an enigma, are the origins of their suits. Most bearers of furry formal wear came from a stunt man background - to cope with the stresses of wearing a suit that was always cumbersome and extremely hot, you had to be made of stern stuff. Charles Gemora was a breed apart, building his suits and constantly upgrading them. It is likely that early screen apes had their suits provided by a studio, or if they were an independent agent, it was built by an effects/makeup company. Which leads to the next question - who were the craftsmen who built these beasts?

Persona Clown PaintingOver two years ago I was in the early throes of my gorilla suit fascination. I would dedicate hours every night combing the web for anything of consequence. I was dumbstruck when I stumbled upon a unique image of an early suit in an unlikely venue. William Persona was a noted painter whose primary focus was circus clowns - his work is the subject of an interesting site, www.personaclowns.com. Accompanying the artist biography (an interview published in THE MAUI NEWS in 1983) were several pictures of scrap book pages, one of which caught my attention. Pasted together are a handful of images;  a frontal shot of a gorilla suit behind a formal looking gentleman with glasses, a vacant gorilla mask and photos of a metal understructure with an articulated jaw. At that point I had seen only one other example of the headpiece mechanics, the Emil Van Horn piece in Bob Burns collection. I was terribly excited and quickly sent off an email to the site's author, who responded with an email address for Persona's surviving daughter.Naturally, I attempted to contact his offspring in the hopes that she could provide me with a more detailed scan and some background on the pictures. A number of days had passed (as I worried there would be no email at all) when she replied that she had been dealing with a family member’s passing and would get back to me soon. I felt like a bloody heel for my impatience - there is an immediacy to email that leads the sender to assume that a response should be generated almost automatically. When she was able to contact me again, I learned that the images on the Persona Clown site were from a scrapbook that William had created in his later years to document his experiences. Along with the gorilla suit stuff, there were also images of editorial cartoons he had sketched for an Australian newspaper, and photos of scenery he had designed and built while in Hollywood. When her father had passed away and the difficult task of sorting his belongings was underway, she saved the scrapbook pages from the trash. Unfortunately, she was unaware of any background on the images I had inquired about.

PERSONA Scrap Page 1

PERSONA Scrap Page 1

There was, however, another side to the page that was not on display at the clown site. Persona's daughter was appreciative of my interest in her father's work and generously offered to send me the page. I was absolutely floored. My budget had kept me from pursuing many gorilla suit items, like posters, pressbooks and stills, and here was an opportunity to hold something that had a direct relation to source of my obsession. Her package arrived in short order - she resides in the Pacific Northwest, a stone's throw from Victoria - and I was overjoyed to handle the page and examine it closely. On the 'B' side, William had pasted a large sketch of a gorilla's head, jaw agape with anger, another of a gorilla's skull, a photo of a torso and head sketch, and lastly, two segments from a photo of a local monkey house with a pair of great apes at rest in their habitat. Inspiration, exploration, implementation; all captured on a yellowing, slightly ragged scrapbook page. This is the gem of my humble collection, both real and virtual.
Much time has passed between that day I opened up that envelope and today. I had told Persona's daughter that I had high hopes of identifying the film the suit had appeared in and I would relay that information to her. Despite my regular Ebay trolling and emails to fellow suit enthusiasts nothing definitive was ever concluded about the suit and its origins. I was fortunate enough to exchange a couple emails with the Gorilla Suit Godfather, Bob Burns last year and he had this to say about the images:

One of my prize possessions is Emil's metal face armature. It is truly a torture device though. It was made by the same person who made Ray's (Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan) only his was larger. I've never been able to track down who the guy was that made those and since they're both gone I guess we'll never know. It's amazing that it looks very similar to the one that William Persona was wearing in one of the photos on his site. (I later clarified it was another individual in the armature) I'm sending you a scan of Emil's in this email.
Gorilla pal and artist George Chastain had remarked on the striking similarities between the mask features and general shape to that of one used by Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan in DARKEST AFRICA. George recently grouped a trio of comparative photos that demonstrates this point clearly.

Bonga / Persona comparison
With my recent surge in contributions to Gorilla Men, I thought that an article featuring the page and the tale of its acquisition would make for an interesting story. It had been a while since I had handled the page or given it much thought - it has been stowed away in safe spot and parenthood has had me otherwise occupied. As I was chewing over what I wanted to say about Persona and his suit, I came across 3 items on the CLASSIC MONSTERS MESSAGE BOARD that drew my interest. In a thread about National Gorilla Suit Day, somebody had posted some links to tiny pics of a suit, headpiece and what appeared to be arm extensions. I had seen them some time ago but I had passed them over  because of their diminutive size. I am marginally more computer savvy then when I saw them first - I realized that something was off with their link address. In a few minutes I was staring at large images of the gorilla suit that I believed that Persona had built. The headpiece photo was identical to that on my page with the exception that it was not cropped the same. The empty suit was unquestionably the same one. I contacted the source of the post, fellow board member Ryan Brennan. Ryan is a member of the Lone Star Film Society and a regular contributor to THE THUNDER CHILD WEBZINE.

POPULAR MECHANICS article
I was thrilled to see the source of these exciting images arrive in my email inbox - an article from a 1940 issue of Popular Mechanics. On the page it states unequivocally that this suit was recently constructed for the movies by the legendary Max Factor Studios in Hollywood. The photo of the arm extensions with articulated digits also speak to the sophistication of the suit - this is the only example I have viewed in all of my research. Despite my excitement over this new development, I was disappointed the picture it was built for was not mentioned. Subsequent emails to Ryan revealed that he only possessed the single page, so perhaps there are further clues among the Popular Mechanics pages about the suit. With the new information about where the suit had been built, I questioned the level of involvement I had assumed William had in the construction. Reviewing the interview with Persona in the MAUI TIMES and the photos on the site, I now believe that it is most likely that Persona was part of a team. His creative vision and sculptural skills gave the beast good looks and soul, but another gave it flesh and bone (or rather, fur and metal).
With all of this scrutiny I am embarrassed to admit a pretty major oversight I had made about the scrapbook page. I had assumed the fellow in glasses standing in front of the ape, was Persona himself. Looking at the several photos of William Persona on the website was a good slap to the head. They're not the same man dammit! The image looks like a photo op with the gorilla suit for promotional purposes - would it not follow that the man in the foreground was the one in charge? Department heads in the early days of cinema routinely enjoyed the accolades heaped upon a work distilled by many talented hands. By this date Max Factor Jr. had replaced his father who originated the company - the man in the photo could easily be the age of Max during 1940. Unfortunately, I have yet to find an image of Jr. to compare against my image. It is a leap but a logical one at that.
So where does this leave us? In the middle of a movie mystery that promises to be solved one day. History is never complete or static. New facts constantly put former theories on their ear, and it's up to the intrepid and determined to stay true to the path of discovery. I may never know the complete tale of William Persona and his Hollywood gorilla but I will never stop wondering.

UPDATE February 13 2010

A post regarding Persona's suit and it's silver screen appearance will be forthcoming once the post transfers are complete. With the astute observations of a modern Gorilla Man the mystery appears to have been solved. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 2007-01-13

I thought that I would take another avenue of presenting gorilla suit lore here – a scattershot, somewhat random look at recent Web or Ebay discoveries that may not necessarily lend themselves to extended discussion. Unfortunately my paid space is feeling somewhat tight and I will generally avoid packing more images into my gallery site. I do have oodles of other webspace provided by my internet provider so most additional images can be posted directly here or added on linked webpages. It would also be a fun way to spotlight cool new items that might get lost in the mass of gallery pics.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (1929) still

This week I wanted to share a freaky, casual cast shot from SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN. This 8x10 still popped up on Ebay this past week and is rare image from the 1929 dark house mystery. The publicity tag on the back lists the actors as follows: back row - Creighton Hale, Sojin, Nora Cecil. Front row - William V. Mong, Thelma Todd and Charles Gemora as the gorilla. I love the distinctly strange characters – the brooding Asian villain, the kooky fellow in the front row with the mutton chops that threaten to swallow his face, and who pencils on the eyebrows on that wrinkled sourpuss on the right? The gorilla suit is exquisitely grotesque. I must admit to a deep fascination with suits that pre-date the 1940’s. By World War Two, Hollywood had well established gorilla suit performers like Gemora, Corrigan and Emil Van Horn, and their apparel had evolved along with their audience. The movie going public was more intimate with jungle beasts through travelogues, print and prominent circuses like Ringling. Though Corrigan’s ape visage remained extreme (the primary reason I find his flicks so engrossing), Gemora always strived for greater realism. SEVEN FOOTPRINTS is likely Gemora’s third outing in the ape skin and I think it is safe to imagine of his own construction.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN was originally penned by Abraham Merrit in 1927, and was one of two works adapted to film (the other was BURN WITCH BURN!, filmed as THE DEVIL DOLL in 1936). Merritt had a modest literary output; his primary occupation was that of editor for THE ALL AMERICAN WEEKLY, a Randolph Hearst publication.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN Boni and Liveright New York 1928

Here is a brief, innocuous description of the film from IMDB – coming from the mind of   Benjamin Christensen I imagine that the last line in the summary is most relevant. I was introduced to Christensen’s landmark film HEXEN via the brutally surreal and random 30’s shocker, MANIAC. The titular character has moments of crippling hallucinations where images of demons and witches from the Danish docudrama are superimposed upon scenes of mental torment. It is abundantly clear that they are in class beyond this exploitation films’ original material.


A young man of society wants to make an expedition to Africa, but his fiancĂ©e asks him for help about one of her father’s guests shortly before his planed departure. Her suspects about that guest were serious, this man tries to steal one of her father’s rubin, and she and her fiancĂ© are kidnapped and brought to a house, where strange things happen. The whole thing becomes a nightmare under the direction of a mysterious Mr. Satan.


SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (1929) poster repro

The voluminous pages of THE MISSING LINK website have this to say about the early Hollywood effort of the Great Dane:

Daredevil Jim Kirkham, complains when he feels that his life is too mundane, until he and his sweetheart find themselves prisoners in a haunted castle while searching for a gemstone stolen during a reception at her house. The castle is inhabited entirely by monsters, wild animals and screaming victims, but eventually the horrors are revealed to have been nothing more than an elaborate hoax to show him that mundane reality can be as bizarre as any adventure.
A thrilling parade of monsters in a startling symphony of light and shadow, invested with a darkly mocking wit.


That seems a more apt description! I have yet to see the film myself. It was long considered lost until a European version surfaced. Though it is minus the sound effects and synchronized music that accompanied the North American release, the surviving print has Italian intertitles, a recent score, and is available at Creepy Classics. Another item on a long list of gorilla suit must-haves.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (1929) stillAnother rare still - note a youthful Angelo Rossito with the curled shoes, best known for his FREAKS role with horror buffs, also widely recognized for his appearance as the Master in the third MAD MAX installment.

 The cult film guru Michael J. Weldon of Psychotronic magazine (which sadly may be out of print for a spell while they rebound from some distribution problems) had these comments about the classic dark house film. Weldon’s distinctive obituary pages are unmatched in print or on the web – both the obscure and forgotten names of cult and underground film get their due recognition in a few lines of print. The quote below is indicative of Michael’s expansive knowledge and his top spot as the go-to Hollywood grave watcher.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS is overloaded with impressive horror makeup faces, interesting characters and visual surprises. One brief (pre-code) scene shows a naked oriental woman (we only see part of her). Her hands are then bound above her head with leather straps while the gorilla holds her feet! A hairy faced man (William V. Mong) who I think is a werewolf and a bearded dwarf (young Angelo Rossitto) both help the hero. A witch woman in a sexy dress (Nora Cecil) and a club footed cripple with long hair (Sheldon Lewis, who was DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE in 1920) both threaten. Also with the director as Eve’s uncle and Loretta Young (an extra). The director, best known for his incredible WITCHCRAFT 2 THROUGH THE AGES (22), also made THE HAUNTED HOUSE (28) and HOUSE OF HORROR (29) in Hollywood, both also with Todd and Mong, before returning home to Denmark. Todd, famous for 30s comedy shorts, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her car in 35. The Japanese Kamiyama Sojin (also in THE BAT - 26) died in 44 in a U.S. internment camp. Hale, from Ireland, retired after the 40s and lived into his 80s.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gorilla Runs Loose in Californian Classroom, News at 11:00

ORIGINALLY POSTED 01-13-07

My father joined the septuagenarian association last month and the man shows no signs of kicking up his heels and taking it easy. I work with the old bugger and he has no desire to quit the rat race and idly wait for the reaper to arrive. If The Man in Black decides to call upon him during office hours, he damn well better make an appointment. Many of our customers are simply dumbfounded that a man of seventy is still behind a desk.
Although I was well aware that Bob Burns, gorilla man and movie memorabilia collector extraordinaire, remains a very active fellow (he was on the New Zealand set of Peter Jackson’s KONG), I had no idea that he continues to go gorilla. Considering the man is 71, I was shocked (and delighted) to see that he can still do what he does best.
My dear ol’ pops is often quick to proclaim that he has no intentions of hanging it up because of one simple reason – he loves what he does. What a great reason to get up in the morning.
I came across the articles below at the Classic Monsters Message Boards, a friendly and diversely populated forum of Monster Kids , both young and old. I highly recommend dropping by to peruse the voluminous posts on all manners of genre film minutia. The post dated back to the beginning of the year, but I stumbled upon it last month. The first story was posted by Bill Warren lifted from kongisking.net and the subsequent article was posted by another board member from a local newspaper.

Bob Burns visits Californian school kids 12-22-06
Mrs. Cleverly's 4th Grade class at Keppel Elementary School in Glendale, CA celebrated the last day of school before Xmas vacation by having a very special presentation about the Stop Motion SFX of the original 1933 KING KONG!

The children learned about Willis O'Brien, and Marcel Delgado's pioneering work by watching and discussing clips from the new DVD release of the 1933 film, as well as a peek into the 21st century motion capture techniques used today by Peter Jackson for his new film.

The children were then introduced to a real movie star... the original KING KONG himself! The kids were able to see up close, and touch Bob Burns' 70 year old King Kong armature used for the stop motion performance in the '33 film.

After discussing pioneering SFX from the 1930's to the digital techniques used today, the children were told: "Sometimes... when stop motion, or digital SFX just aren't working for a shot... you have to use the real thing!"

At that point the children were introduced to Kathy Burns (from the Gemora Institute for Gorilla Behavioral Research) who brought in a very special guest.... a 500 pound gorilla named KOGAR!

After a little monkey business, (and terrifying a couple of kids!) it was revealed to the children that Kogar the gorilla was none other than Bob Burns himself!

Bob explained to the kids how a performer in a monster suit (or gorilla suit in his case) uses body english and pantomime to create a realistic performance. Bob explained to the children how his mask and suit worked, as well as the history of man-in-suit performers like Rick Baker, and Charlie Gemora (one of the first men in Hollywood to create a realistic gorilla suit and performance).

The day ended by Bob and Kathy taking questions from the kids about SFX. King Kong past and present, Peter Jackson, how real gorillas behave in the wild..... and... a question or two about whether or not the original Time Machine (from the George Pal film) in Bob's basement museum really works...

A very special day the kids will surely remember.

Bob Burns visits Californian school kids 12-22-06

Gorilla theater at local school
Expert gets dressed up to teach lessons in film history to students at Mark Keppel Elementary.


By Ani Amirkhanian, News-Press and Leader

Kogar the gorilla grunted and pounded his chest as he walked, on his hands, into a classroom full of fourth-graders at Mark Keppel Elementary School.

Students reacted with fear and curiosity as Kogar approached them, snorting and reaching out with his hands. Some jumped back and screamed while others waived hello to the gorilla. Little did some of the students know that Kogar was really Bob Burns, a gorilla performer.

He was part of of a Dec. 22 presentation at the school on stop-motion animation.

What does a gorilla costume have to do with animation?

Burns, a film historian and archivist of movie memorabilia and props, and Chris Drake, a film and orchestral music composer, made a special appearance to talk to students about the new "King Kong" movie and the history of stop-motion animation in film.

"I love telling people this stuff, especially the kids," Burns, 70, said.

The presentation began with an introduction by Drake. He spoke to students about the making of the 1933 King Kong movie.

The students viewed footage of the black-and-white film as Drake explained how puppets were used to create the stop-motion animation effect.

The stop-motion animation process requires the puppets to be posed in different positions.

The puppets are brought to life as each motion is filmed frame by frame, Drake said.

"'King Kong' is an important movie as far as special effects," he said. "It was the first time an animated character was a main character."

Drake brought out the original Kong armature that was built 70 years ago for the making of the 1933 version. The armature is owned by Burns, who also collects and displays movie memorabilia in his home in Burbank.

"They used actors and they made King Kong robotical," Nerses Karadolian, 9, said.

Students compared the special effects of the original King Kong movie to that of the new computer-generated Kong. They learned how the armature was used to make the gorilla come alive with the stop-motion animation techniques.

Jihee Chung looked at the gorilla head with hesitation as the furry costume piece stared back at her.

"They made the new one on the computer and the metal thing is over 60 years old!" the 9-year-old said.

"They make King Kong as an armature and then they put cotton, and rabbits fur to make it look like a real gorilla" said Charles Solomon age 10.

Burns answered questions from students as he stood in front of the class in his gorilla suit. Students asked questions ranging from how the suit was made to whether real gorillas grow to be 20 feet tall.

"This stuff has to be remembered; it's film history," Burns said. "I want people to learn."

Kaiju Sunrise


IMGP1228s, originally uploaded by tatsurus.

Cool set of Japanese vinyl toys of a simian nature.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

REAL LIVE GORILLA!

ORIGINALLY POSTED 2007-01-12

When it rains it pours – and the past day on Vancouver Island here we have seen a months rain some places. Considering that Steve Calvert is one of the lesser covered gorilla men (no reflection upon his talent!) I was thrilled to discover the 2 pager on him this week. When I posted the wonderful pictorial, I had to email Ted Newsom who penned CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD GORILLA and let him know. Ted informed that me that Steve had mentioned there was only one article published about him other that the one readers here enjoyed recently. He also passed along a YouTube link that he had seen on the Classic Horror Message Board. In the ten minute segment, around the halfway point, the HOUSE OF WAX appearance that he had wrote of is represented by a newsreel. (UPDATE July 30th 2008 - new clip only features Bela and Steve arriving in the first minute of the clip.)



Gorilla suited performers were a staple of B movie promotions for local theatres – an inexpensive and sensational way to titillate the audience. ‘Spook shows’ became commonplace during the horror revival of the sixties and a jungle menace often terrorized moviegoers.

THE MAD DOCTOR MORRIS AND HIS DUNGEON OF DEATH Press Book

DOCTOR MORRIS AND HIS DUNGEON OF DEATH Press Book

THE MAD DOCTOR MORRIS AND HIS DUNGEON OF DEATH Flyer featuring MIGHTY KONG

THE MAD DOCTOR MORRIS AND HIS DUNGEON OF DEATH Flyer featuring MIGHTY KONG

SPOOK SHOW flyer featuring MIGHTY KONG

DR EVIL LOBBY CARD Repro

COLUMBUS DRIVE-IN Flyer Live "Gorilla Show"

TRIPLE SHOCK PROGRAM Flyer featuring MIGHTY GARGANTA

SPOOK SHOW Flyer featuring KING KONG

FLORIDA DRIVE-IN HERALD

In the gorilla suit fandom must-have, HOLLYWOOD GOES APE, Bob Burns spoke of a MUNSTERS promotional tour that he tagged along on. In full ape regalia, Bob was lead by Eddie Munster, snarling on a chain through an airport crowd while police apprehended a suspicious boy in attendance. Apparently the young lad had a cup of acid he had intended on tossing in Bob’s, er, Kogar’s mug. He was curious how the ape would react. And they say kids today are not quite right.

Diana Gemora, Charlie’s right hand girl, had this anecdote about a promo appearance that went south due to the authenticity of Gemora’s suit.

Speaking of promos. In the 20’s and 30’s, the Studios and individual producers put on great promotions. A funny one was when Charlie had to promote a "Road" flick. Dorothy Lamour and he were stationed on Hollywood and Vine to sign autographs. Well that was Dorothy’s job and Charlie’s was to be in a cage. Dorothy wore a fur coat over her sarong seeing as how it was winter, in those days we actually had them. Charlie, on the other hand, was sweltering in his suit.

Everyday a little ole’ lady would come and look with pity at Charlie. He was trying to be fierce. She’d just shake her head and walk away. After 4 days of this, she could stand it no longer and complained to the Humane Society that the Studio was being mean and cruel by freezing this poor gorilla and it was indecent for him to be NAKED on top of that.! On their last day he was forced to keep a blanket around him. She almost killed him with kindness and decency.