Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Well He'll Be A Monkey's Uncle.

Last week while I was researching the post I did on the phony-doc "Ingagi", I discovered, once again, there is a website for everything.

I had mentioned, rather in passing, that the ferocious gorilla was really a guy in an ape suit.  Well it turns out that there is more than one website and a lot more than just a few fans dedicated to gorilla-suit-performances and the performers who performed them!  And I think I can safely say after reading up on it, that the undisputed King of The Gorilla Men is Mr. Charles Gemora.

Born the youngest of 18 children on the island of Negros, Philippines in 1903, young Carlos Cruz Gemora ran away while still in his teens to Manila.  An adept artist, he delighted many of the American Military personnel with his portrait drawing.  He even charmed a group of Yankee sailors into stowing away on their vessel and being smuggled into the good ol' USA at the Port of Long Beach.  Washing milk bottles at a dairy, the new American swapped his name Carlos for Charlie.

Charlie took to hanging out in front of the Universal Studios hoping to get some extra work in pictures, and since portrait drawing had gotten him noticed once before, he thought the magic would work again here.  It did.  He was brought on to the Art Department at Universal and put to work sculpting.

The extraordinary facade in 1923's "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" is Charlie's work.

He was entrusted as the Set Designer on Lon Chaney's "Phantom Of The Opera"

Through his association and apprenticeship with Chaney he became adept at make-up.  Particularly of the character, trick and special effects variety.  He also designed several sets for his friend Doug Fairbanks, Sr.

It was finally in the late 20's that he began the segment of his career that he is most remembered for today:  designing, building and inhabiting gorilla suits.  His first suits and performances were, while rudimentary to what they would ultimately become, far better than any that had existed up to that point.  His drive to perfection was unabated.  He (and later his daughter, Diana) would hand crochet a combination of human and yak hair into the suits.  This mingling of straight and very curly hair gave him the natural matted appearance he was after.  So far as acting, Gemora spent untold hours and days in observation of the movements and behaviors of gorillas at the San Diego Zoo which was the only place in the whole southwestern region to see a gorilla at that time.

Above are two shots from "Seven Footprints To Satan", starring Thelma Todd.  1929

In addition to the scary stuff (The Unholy Three (1930), Murders In The Rue Morgue, Island Of Lost Souls) , with his masterful comic timing, Gemora played opposite such legends of laffs as, Laurel and Hardy (The Chimp and Swiss Miss), The Li'l Rascals (Bear Shooters), Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts (Bum Voyage), The Marx Brothers (At The Circus), Hope and Crosby (Road To Zanzibar, Road To Utopia) and Abbott and Costello (Africa Screams).

Charlie's personal favorite was Paramount's 1941 "The Monster And The Girl".

His Gorilla character has been transplanted with a human brain.  Phillip Terry's
(the 3rd Mr. Joan Crawford) brain as a matter of fact!  This enabled Gemora to add more layers to his characterization.

Above I referred to his gorilla man work as a 'segment' of his career.  You see, Charlie Gemora did much more than just monkey around.  Starting in the mid 30s, he was also part of the Paramount Pictures make up department and remained there until his death in 1961 when he was working with Brando on "One-Eyed Jacks".

His daughter Diana tells a remarkable story about the making and shooting of the Martian costume in "War Of The Worlds" (1953).  Charlie had finished the costume the day before it was supposed to shoot.  That afternoon, the Art Director came in and decided it was all wrong, and it was much too large for his set.  It was now about 16 hours away from the suit having to 'work'.  Charlie raced home, grabbed a bite to eat and his trusty assistant Diana (then in her early teens) and together they pulled an all nighter basically doing a complete rebuild of the thing.  At eight the next morning, the latex was not cured, the paint was not dry, but the apparatus was gingerly transported to the set.  Charlie shrunk his already diminutive 5'4" frame into the costume, and Diana (still wearing the curlers in her hair that she had when her dad picked her up the afternoon before) wedged herself under the 2 foot crawl space below the set to work the controls that would breath air in and out of the Martians veins.  And the rest was 15 seconds of on screen cinematic history!

Making the kind of money that he did, he bought a large piece of hilltop land with a house overlooking Hollywood and Vine in the 30s.  As he needed to finance is extra curricular activities, he would sell of parcel after parcel of his land.

About those extra curricular activities.  He was a gambler (any thing you could make book on: poker, the ponies, the fights, wrestling) an entrepreneur and a film maker.  After WWII in addition to opening a chain of Orange Julius' back in the Philippines, he opened a slew of theaters and drive-ins there too.  In order to provide pertinent content to those theaters, he brought Filipino actors  to Hollywood and wrote and shot 16mm color feature movies.

It is also said that he invented a number of things which he never bothered to patent or take credit for.  He didn't care about the recognition; he just wanted to do his thing.  Among the list of inventions are:


Lipstick in a tube

Shower Water Deflector

First Kleenex Box

Non-staining Movie Blood

Non-staining Ink

Color additive for cement  to make it look like stone


Camphor tubes used to make actors cry

Helped in the homogenizing of make-up

New ways of using latex, innovating prosthetics for surgeons after the Second World War for lost limbs.

Without the patents it is, of course, impossible to substantiate, but even if he only invented one of them, it's quite an accomplishment -- and I hope it was falsies!

With all that I learned while doing the research on him, (and I forgot to mention that he was a happy, impish, delightful man; loved by all who met him) I can't be faulted for thinking that Charlie Gemora may just be the most multi-talented guy ever to have hit Hollywood.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hot Shots 2

Jerry, Bob and Dean measuring up.  I'm guessing Dean wins.

Eartha Kitt and James Dean learning to be chorus girls.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hot Shots

Cecil Beaton and Gary Cooper talk about it.

The queen behind Doug Jr. models the latest in footwear

Myrna Loy wearing an FTD arrangement gets lit by David Niven
Clifton Webb, Marlene Deitrich and Elizabeth Allan dressed for church
Farley Granger and Roddy McDowall seem to have forgotten all about Jane Powell

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh, To Have Been There!

On November 27, 1969, The Rolling Stones performed at Madison Square Garden.  Their opening act was The Ike and Tina Turner Revue.  During Ike and Tina's set a surprise guest came on stage...Janis Joplin...

I have been to the Garden and can vouch for the fact that it still has a roof, though I'm not sure how!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Monkey-ing Around

In the history of Hollywood product, the 1930s remains a favorite of mine.  The breadth of pictures is astonishing:  Delicious, naughty pre-coders like "Female" and "Baby Face", terrific and beautifully made series like "The Thin Man" and "Tarzan", screwball gems like "My Man Godfrey" and "It Happened One Night" and full costume spectacles like "Marie Antoinette" and "Gone With The Wind".

In case you'd like to know, here is a list of Top Ten Worldwide Box Office hits for the decade:

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Frankenstein (1931)

Tom Sawyer (1930)

Ingagi (1931)

Shanghai Express (1932)

Top Hat (1935)

I'm No Angel (1933)

Camille (1936)

Wow....hey...wait a sec...what's that at number six?  In-what-gi?

In the film family ancestory "Ingagi" is sort of like that crazy uncle of yours a few generations back that you'd rather not talk about.  But talk about it we shall, and it goes a little somethin' like this.....

Filmed in 1930 by Congo Pictures, this documentary* depicts a safari* into the Belgian Congo made by Sir Hubert Winstead*, a Briton, and his American counterpart Capt. Daniel Swayne*.  Their quest?  A little known tribe of Ape Worshippers who reportedly offer their tribeswomen as sexual sacrifices to the Apes*.  While enroute, they come upon a fascinating, and heretofore unknown, reptile species called the tortadillo*.  Horrified viewers also watched while a camera man was mauled to death by a wild lion*.

Once arrived on the tribe's land they were shown pygmies and the hairy little children* that were the products of the interspecies couplings*.  At the climax, a nude tribes woman is being carried away by a large ape* and our white heroes kill the beast and save the girl.  A group of other naked women encircle the dead beast in mourning while the cameras cranked away.

The title, Ingagi, is an African word for Gorilla*.

By now, I should think, you're a little curious (and annoyed) by my liberal use of asterisks.  Well, I placed them after each word or statement about the picture that was faked, a lie.  The scam started to unravel at a screening here in Hollywood, when several members of the audience recognized the victimized African girl as an African American girl from Central Casting who did a lot of extra work.

By the time the Hays Office launched a full scale investigation, an embarrassed RKO dropped it's original distribution deal with Gongo Pictures.  The picture was banned from being shown in any major theater chain (a boon for indie houses, tent shows and the like).

What the investigation uncovered was:

* the persons of Winstead and Swayne were unkown to exist.

* this was no documentary.  The African footage had been lifted from an actual 1915 documentary, Lady Mackenzie's "Heart of Africa," and the rest was filmed at the Selig Zoo here in LA.

* there was no such God Of The Apes tribe.

* the 'tortadillo' was actually a turtle with scales, wings and a tail glued on.

* the lion mauling was performed by a trained and doped lion from Seligs Zoo (reportedly the same one used in the MGM logo)

* both the pygmies and the gorilla children were play by local black kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

* the star gorilla was a guy in a monkey suit.

* the word 'ingangi' is not known to exist in any of the African languages.

Out of gulibility in the beginning and titilated curiosity later, people flocked to see the picture wherever it showed giving it a final estimated gross of over 4 million dollars!

One has to wonder though, just how embarrassed RKO was, considering they went with the whole Big-Ape-With-Girl-In-Peril just a couple of years later!

Monday, August 16, 2010


The Caddy Promo by felixinhollywood

I love this 'behind the scenes' blooper stuff.  It's under two minutes.  It's worth it.


Friday, August 13, 2010

The Many Moods And Stylings Of Ted Shawn

To speak the names Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn is to speak of the origins of Modern Dance in the United States.  Their Denishawn school and dance troupe are responsible for training the great names in Modern Dance of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, not to mention Louise Brooks.

They were just your ordinary, every day, average American Couple:

But what most people don't know is that Ted Shawn (1891-1972) was also a master impersonator:

Ted Shawn as Auntie Mame

Ted Shawn as Diana Ross

Ted Shawn as Marlene Dietrich

Ted Shawn as Cher (the Cherokee years)

Ted Shawn as Aimee Semple McPherson

He just loved doing Ross

Ted Shawn as a high fashion model

Ted Shawn as Anna May Wong in Piccadilly

Ted Shawn as the great Mahalia Jackson

Ted Shawn as Swanson in Sunset Blvd.

Ted Shawn as Adam....and Eve

And in what was perhaps his greatest creation -

Ted Shawn as Josephine Baker!

Ted Shawn would like to thank you.