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Bob Burns was one of the last of the gorilla men. No, that's not a lost race of half-humans from an adventure serial. A "gorilla man" was an actor who specialized in portraying the savage simians for movies and television. Many of these talented men created their own costumes and each had his own style. Bob Burns built his first gorilla costume which he dubbed "Kogar" in 1965 and began appearing on various television shows such as THE LUCY SHOW and MY THREE SONS. Later, with the help of a young Rick Baker, he created a new head for his gorilla suit and became Tracy, the sidekick of Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker in the Saturday morning program GHOSTBUSTERS. Tom Weaver recently spoke to Bob about one of the great gorilla men from Hollywood's golden age. The entire article will appear in an upcoming issue of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT magazine but Tom has allowed MONSTER KID to present this short preview.


As a kid growing up in Oklahoma and California, I always loved jungle movies because I always loved the gorillas. And, little by little, once I began meeting actors and makeup artists and other people who worked in the movie industry, I made it my business to find out who Hollywood's "gorilla men" were. I knew from Glenn Strange that "Crash" Corrigan played gorillas in a lot of pictures, and I knew about Emil Van Horn (Perils of Nyoka, The Ape Man, etc.) from Roy Barcroft. I found out all the names through perseverance, mostly by asking the makeup guys. And whenever I would ask about one of my favorite gorillas -- "Who played the gorilla in Murders in the Rue Morgue?", "Who played the gorilla in The Monster and the Girl?", "Who played the gorilla in Phantom of the Rue Morgue? -- the answer would always come back the same: Charlie Gemora. The way I was introduced to Charlie Gemora was through an old makeup guy I knew, Abe Haberman. In talking to him one day, I mentioned Charlie Gemora doing apes, and Abe said, "He's over at Paramount now." I'd had no idea. I knew Gemora did the Martian for The War of the Worlds [1953] at Paramount, but I thought Paramount just called him in for that. I didn't know he worked there. But he did: At that time, 1957, Wally Westmore was head of makeup at Paramount, and Charlie Gemora was head of the lab.

Once Abe realized how interested I was, he said he'd make a call for me -- and he did. And Charlie Gemora said, "Sure, come on over!", and we arranged to meet at Paramount a couple of days later. I had a pass that got me through the famous Paramount gate and I proceeded to the makeup lab. I knew him as soon as I saw him, mainly from his size -- he was only about five-five, a very short man. He was Filipino, and at that time he was probably 54 or 55 years old. It was really exciting for me; and, funnily enough, he was really excited that I was excited, because he probably didn't have a whole lot of fans asking to him about his work. He said a few people had talked to him about making the War of the Worlds Martian suit and playing the Martian in the movie, but nobody had ever talked to him about doing the gorillas -- nobody had ever even mentioned that. I was probably the first "fan" to ever mention the gorilla side of his career. So we got along famously.


Gemora worked so well with Lon Chaney and the cast of THE UNHOLY THREE (1930), he became known as "the Fourth Three".

Planet of the Apes Figures


King of the ape men. The legendary Clarlie Gemora in THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL (1941).

In addition to telling me everything I wanted to know about building a gorilla suit, he gave me lots of advice on how to move. For gorilla guys, the right "body English" is essential, and Charlie had it down pat because he'd done his homework: He used to go to the San Diego Zoo (the only place in California that had gorillas in those days) to observe them, he studied up on gorillas as much as he could and even got some scientific pictures. That was back in the '20s and '30s, when gorillas were still very "mysterious." (Back then, people used to think they were monsters and hunt them just because of their size and the fact that they were pretty ugly, grisly-looking things. You can tell that by the early movies, where the gorilla was always the monster -- always.) The fact that Charlie had done his homework showed in his suits and also in his performances.


Charlie was a good slow dancer but he preferred Konga music.

According to Charlie, what "makes" the performance is 90 percent body English and eye movement. He told me to do a lot of head movements and things like that; open and close your eyes; and, if you want to make the gorilla look really mean, when you open the mouth, throw your head back so that people are now looking up inside the mouth. It gives the illusion that the mouth is open a lot wider than it actually is. Just tilt your head back, open your mouth as wide as you can get it, and it looks like you're really growling. I had seen him do these things 100 times in his movies, and yet these were things that Id never thought about. Ever. And it was all true. People think that the gorilla brow moves up and down and everything. But it doesn't move at all, it's strictly an illusion.

(For some more'a Gemora, go to page 2)

Interview Page 2