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.

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June 21, 2011 - 6:17am
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