10 Gorilla Guys

Hollywood loves gorillas. They are mysterious and scary, yet close enough to human for an actor to play one. Many actors and special effects pros have portrayed gorillas at one time or another in movies such as Gorillas in the Mist or the Planet of the Apes series, but some became particularly known for being "the guy in the gorilla suit." At first, the only requirement for a star gorilla was that one own a gorilla suit. As the competition heated up, these guys had to bring something special to their roles.

1. Charles Gemora

Charles Gemora was the first to specialize in gorilla portrayals. He worked in Hollywood as a set designer and makeup artist before he built a gorilla costume for the 1927 silent film The Gorilla, which was not about an ape, but about a man who wore a gorilla costume. Fascinated by the idea of playing an actual gorilla, Gemora studied the apes in the local zoo to perfect his gorilla act, which he debuted in the 1928 film The Leopard Lady. The 1930 film Ingagi was passed off as being a documentary, but was totally fabricated. Viewers bought it, which confirmed the talents of Gemora, who played the gorilla. Gemora played an ape in 30 films up until 1958, including Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Road to Zanzibar, and White Witch Doctor. Most of his roles were uncredited, which was common at the time in order to preserve the illusion of a real gorilla in the role.

2. Emil Van Horn

Emil Van Horn was a vaudeville actor who appeared in burlesque shows and made the leap to film in the 1940s, when he appeared in nine films, all as a gorilla, beginning with Never Give A Sucker an Even Break with W.C. Fields in 1941. His career as a gorilla came to an end, he said, when his landlady confiscated his possessions in lieu of rent, which included his gorilla costume.

3. Ray Corrigan

Ray "Crash" Corrigan went from a fitness trainer for the stars to a Hollywood stand-in to a western actor in the 1930s. However, he owned a nice gorilla costume, which led to jobs in ape movies beginning with Tarzan and His Mate in 1934 and lasting until he sold the costume in 1948. His most prominent gorilla role was in the 1945 film The White Gorilla, in which Corrigan played a man, a gorilla, and the narrator as well. The film is shown here in its entirety.

4. George Barrows

George Barrows appeared in 96 movies and television shows, not all as a gorilla. But he built his own gorilla costume and found plenty of gorilla work, beginning with a couple of episodes of The Abbot and Costello Show in 1953. His most celebrated gorilla role was in the 1953 movie Robot Monster which became known as one of the worst films of all time and eventually gained cult status. Oh yeah, he was supposed to be an alien in that one, not a gorilla, but that was the only costume he brought with him to the low-budget film.

5. Janos Prohaska

Janos Prohaska immigrated from his native Hugary to work in Hollywood as a stuntman. He was cast as Clyde the ape in the 1964 movie Bikini Beach and began a career portraying different animals afterward, designing his own costumes for the various roles. Prohaska did more TV roles than films, playing a gorilla in Gilligan's Island, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Prohaska is pictured here in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. He often played a bear on TV as well. Prohaska died in a plane crash in 1974.

6. Steve Calvert

Veteran stuntman Steve Calvert bought a gorilla suit from Ray "Crash" Corrigan in 1948. With the suit, he also received lessons in how to act like a gorilla, which he supplemented by studying real apes on his own, and a new star was born -even though Calvert did not receive screen credits for most of the movies he appeared in as a gorilla. He played a very realistic gorilla in a slew of ridiculously unrealistic '50s B-movies, such as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, Bride of a Gorilla, The Road to Bali, and Bride of the Beast. Calvert retired from acting in 1960, and lived to the age of 74.

7. Don McLeod

When American Tourister luggage released a print ad featuring a gorilla abusing their product, they used a real gorilla. The campaign was such a success they took the act to TV in 1980, but could not use a real gorilla for the filming. In stepped Don McLeod. McLeod is an actor, mime, and "living statue." He played gorillas in the movies Trading Places (he was the "real" gorilla), The Man with Two Brains, and Tarzan: The Epic Adventures, as well as other creatures.

8. Garon Michael

In the summer of 2007, an advertisement for Cadbury chocolate took the internet by storm. It had nothing to do with chocolate; what we saw was a gorilla playing drums to Phil Collin's song "In the Air Tonight." The man under the suit was revealed a month or so later. Garon Michael may be an unfamiliar name, but he was no stranger to the suit. Michael also played gorillas in the movies Congo, Instinct, and Planet of the Apes, as well as other furry creatures.

9. Bob Woolf

Hollywood isn't the only place for a man in a gorilla suit. The man behind, er, under the Phoenix Suns gorilla mascot suit is gymnastics coach Bob Woolf. He's the second Suns gorilla, and has worn the costume since 1988, when he was a senior gymnast at Arizona State University. Despite his age (mid-40s), Woolf gives the act his all, jumping on a trampoline, sinking baskets, spinning the ball, and shaking hands with hundreds of people at every performance. He suffers occasional injuries, but as each one makes the papers, the fans know when he's not able to appear at a Suns game. Outside of the court, Woolf appears in costume at schools to entertain kids and promote healthy living.

10. Rick Baker

Rick Baker is a special effects wizard who perfected the eyes of a gorilla costume in order to make believable gorillas for the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, in which he acted as well as worked as associate producer. Baker also portrayed gorillas in the 1976 version of King Kong, the 1988 version of Mighty Joe Young, and the 2001 remake of Planet Of The Apes.

This list was inspired by a post at Metafilter. Read about more gorilla men at the Gorilla Men gallery and the Gorilla Men blog.

8 Surprising Uses for Peeps

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.


Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.


Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)


If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.


With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).


Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.


There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.


We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.


Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.


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