BOB BURNS Part Two
Last installment, we traveled with Bob through the childhood fascination with superheroes, westerns, serials, and monsters. This chapter, we continue our journey through his fantastic life in Hollywood and his progress from fan to a true genre icon.
JAH You participated in the 1961 Artists and Models Ball here in Hollywood, didn't you?
BURNS We entered the Artists and Models Ball - there were 3,000 contestants. Kathy and I won two of the top awards. Kathy won for the Best Woman's, and I won for the Best Original costumes. We went on Panormama Pacific and were interviewed about our participation in Artists and Models. Originally for the Ball, we were going to dress Kathy as Princess Anaka to match the Mad Mummy. We went to Western Costume and they wanted $78 to rent a headpiece that would have sufficed. I said, "Forget that!" So I ended doing a fast witch makeup on her the night of the show, and she won the Best Woman's costume! Even KNXT did a promo that we had walked off with these awards. I think it was a promotional booklet, and someone gave me a copy of it years ago. At the time, I was unaware of the print promo. The guy who gave it to me said, "I think that's you in there," and I said, "Yeah, it sure is!"
Every Halloween I would return for a guest spot on Panorama Pacific. There was one Halloween where we had Don Post on, and we had all of his Halloween masks. Later on, I did an April Fools show with Elsa Lanchester. I did my Kogar the Gorilla character, and then I changed into the Mad Mummy outfit. That was April 1, 1964. I came out of the coffin. I really enjoyed working with Elsa Lanchester. That was one of my favorite shows. It took me half an hour to get out of the Kogar suit, and get into the Mummy suit for the next scene, and she was a trouper - she hung in there. We had this whole thing of me chasing her, and it's a damn shame we didn't get any tape or film on that. If there was any tape on it, it was probably erased right after the airing of the show. This was a live, early morning show, and no one could afford, or thought, to preserve any of this on tape. The same with all your movies that had horror hosts - those bits with the hosts are long gone.
The Arch Obler show, which I do have a kinescope on, I went to a guy myself, and had him do a kinescope right off the air.
JAH Let's go back to 1961 for a moment. After you got out of the Army, you went back and hooked up with Paul and Jackie Blaisdell, and you ended up shooting the featurette Cliff Monster, which was later offered for sale in yours and Paul's magazine, Fantastic Monsters of the Films.
BURNS When I was in the Army, Paul used to send me care packages to keep me sane. These packages consisted of stills, magazines, slides. Around that time he had just built the Cliff Monster, in 1959 or 60. He sent me a photograph of the Cliff Monster just before I got out of the Army. He said it was a clockwork mechanism, and he could program it to do certain little movements, and he wanted to shoot some film of it. It was an extension of those 1950's wind-up robots; a more sophisticated mechanism. Paul had it worked out, and it's the best scene in Cliff Monster, where our old buddy Lionel Comport throws a knife at the monster, and the monster takes it and in one shot pulls it out and looks at it in a very Kongesque fashion. It was brilliant.
And the Cliff Monster was also featured on a Christmas card that Paul sent out one year.
JAH There were problems with the film stock that Cliff Monsters was shot on, weren't there?
BURNS The problem is, Paul had purchased some old film stock, cheap. It was cheap. We used my brand new Bolex 16mm camera, and we didn't realize the film was shrinking. By the time it was developed, the film was out of registration, and registration on that Bolex camera was really good, because we shot a lot of other stuff on it that was just fine. We did some split screen stuff that didn't match up well, and it was simply because the film stock was old and shrinking. The matte stuff was really good, but it was the film shrinkage that sabotaged the project.
JAH In the ad section of Fantastic Monsters, you were selling a trailer reel package, and slides of all of Paul's monsters, along with Cliff Monster.
BURNS Well, I had to sacrifice my 16 trailers of all of Paul's movies for that reel. AIP said we could use any of the footage, and of the titles, as long as we didn't use any of the actors, because they didn't want any problems with the unions. What we did on that, and it was called Filmland Monsters, was we used clips from all the trailers, and I cut this whole thing together, and then Paul shot some new footage to go along with my edits on the trailers. We had little vignettes like the Saucerman stroking his chin as if in deep thought, like Sherlock Holmes; just different supplemental stuff. A moment here, a moment there. There was a Saucerman hand crawling up over a rock near the front of Paul's house in Topanga Canyon, California - a sequence that was never in Invasion of the Saucermen because we shot it four years later for this short which we eventually wound up calling Filmland Monsters. We sold these things for 3 or 4 bucks, and people bought them like crazy. Filmland Monsters sold very well. The slide sets did incredible business - even today, people want those slide sets. Unbelievable.
We used to do gag shots; still photographs of the Cliff Monster, with varying settings which we got from several architectural model sets of the day. You could buy castle sets; Ideal Toys or Marx or someone like that used to make castle model kits, so we used them for backgrounds for the Cliff Monster, just for fun. We used a couple of props like the car from The Shrinking Man and a little female doll from Attack of the Puppet People.
JAH What prompted you and Paul to do Fantastic Monsters of the Films?
BURNS One night after I had come back from the service, we were sitting around up at Paul's house, we had had a couple of glasses of wine and we were mellowing out. Both of us started thumbing through all these new monster magazines, like FM and Horror Monsters, Mad Monsters, World Famous Creatures.. Just the monster magazines done at the time. And Paul said to me, "We could do a magazine like these. Because we work in this stuff, our work is in actual feature films that have been shown around the country and around the world. We know what the fans really want to read about - the tricks of the trade." And we thought we could do one of these. At the moment we discussed this, we were both serious, but not serious. The best way to describe it is we both made offhanded remarks and observations.
The next morning, I asked Paul, "Were you serious about doing this, about actually doing a magazine?" And I said to him, "God, since you created all these monsters, you could show the general public how monsters are made!" And I came up with the concept of the "Devil's Workshop" as sort of Paul's column, for a Hollywood special effects wizard to explain to the public who had seen his films how these effects were done. There was nobody around who had done these kinds of effects expose's, which are now quite commonplace and popular. Many periodicals in today's market are geared toward nothing but how effects are done, which was a rarity in those days. In that day and age, the audience never knew how the effects were done.
The idea of the "Devil's Workshop" just hit me that morning. Our attitude was, "We're going to show these fans how to do these effects themselves." It wasn't like 'Don't try this at home' - this column was specifically designed for the amateur makeup artist to try this stuff at home. The idea was to provide the information of how to do makeups, how to cast molds, how to do all these things that Paul had been doing for AIP. And he just thought it was a great idea.
So the next day or so we didn't talk about it, but I kept thinking about it. I just thought, "God, a magazine with a focus on makeup and effects. This could WORK!." This was unexplored territory in the early 60's.
So a few days later I called Paul, and said, "I've been thinking seriously about the idea of a magazine." And he said, "So have I!" So the next weekend we got together, and this time we were totally sober! So we started talking about it, and the idea of putting this magazine into reality, and we were getting serious. I came up with the fold-out, which was kind of a parody on the Playboy centerfolds. Playboy had its foldout in the center of the magazine, and ours was at the end of the magazine. The first issue was the She Creature, and the colors were incorrect, showing the Creature as being green. She was actually red. The color was very muddy in that, and Paul had to airbrush almost all of it. We had a print from the lab, which was totally screwed up, and we had to make a deadline. The airbrushing was done the night before we sent it out. The public didn't know what they were going to get, so they thought it was really cool. Years later, we printed that photo correctly in Monster Scene magazine. It was included in an article about FanMo.
We were going to have Kathy as Miss Shock on one of the covers, but we thought the parents would object to having a disfigured woman on the cover.
Our idea was this would be a one-shot magazine, similar to what James Warren and Forry thought was going to happen to Famous Monsters of Filmland #1, but with a playboy sort of foldout in full color, which turned out to be the She Creature. If Playboy could have a Playmate of the Month, Fantastic Monsters could have a Ghoul of the Month. Our first foldout ghoul just happened to be the She Creature. You must remember, we never thought we would get beyond Issue #1. Our thinking was one-shot mag all the way.
We also, Paul and I came up with the idea that we wanted to do a photo cover instead of a painting. I had this great frame of Christopher Lee from Horror of Dracula, where the vampire bride is about to sink her teeth into Harker, and Chris Lee kicks in the door, and lets out this immortal scream with his magnificent fanged bloody mouth. It was a piece of 35mm film that I got when I was in the Army. I used to know the Army projectionist, and I'd go and hang out with him. One night the film broke in that exact spot - the library scene, so he had to make a splice and he gave me four frames of Horror of Dracula. So I showed these frames to Paul, and he said, "Oh, my god, that would make a great cover! That would just be so cool!"
JAH So did the print that your friend the projectionist mangled contain the legendary Christopher Lee latex dissolving makeup which seems to be cut from every print that is available today?
BURNS That scene that there are so many stills struck from was in the 1958 Universal release print of Horror of Dracula - the skin peeling off of Lee's face.
So Paul and I started having serious talks about the magazine. I had known Ron Haydock for quite a while. He had written for Forry and some of the other magazines. Paul didn't want to edit the magazine, I didn't know how to edit a magazine. I knew what my role was going to be; I was going to be the research editor. I was the guy who had all the photographs, and the knowledge about these films. So basically, I brought Ron into the project. Jim Harmon was brought on board by Ron, because the two of them were friends. So I told Paul about Ron, and we had a meeting of the three of us shortly thereafter.
In our minds, we were never in competition with Warren Publications or anyone else. We just wanted to do our own magazine, our own way. And it was different from all those other magazines at the time. There were certain things we knew we were going to have to do that were similar, like the Graveyard Examiner section, which kept people up to date on the goings on in fandom and the genre at the time. The original title was Fantastic Films.
JAH How did you and Paul feel about the magazine Fantastic Films when it came out later?
BURNS We didn't care. The printer was the person who suggested that we have monsters in the title. His reasoning was, like Famous Monsters, that the word "monsters" would draw the audience. For the times, I think he was right. The printer was in Iowa, and the majority of his business was printing farm and agriculture magazines, which were distributed locally. What he needed was a national magazine, that would be distributed coast to coast, so he could get a larger insurance policy than he already had. We didn't find out about any of this until after his shop mysteriously burned to the ground.
One telltale sign that none of us picked up on that this printer could have been slightly shady, as time went on, the quality of the magazine was not what it had been. There were white streaks through pages, the tinted pages would come out looking like they were bleeding, and Paul would call him up and ask him what the hell was going on. He'd say, "This issue is terrible, what the hell is going on?" And the printer would tell him, "I'm having trouble with my printer, I'm getting it fixed, it's going to be fine." The quality of the paper got worse, we went from gloss to newsprint and various combinations of the two. It just kept going downhill, and we didn't figure any of this out; we were so green - actually till after the fact. The printer didn't care - he was trying to get all the mileage he could. It's my belief now that he knew what he was going to do all along. There was always something going wrong.
Finally, by Issue #7, the magazine had changed drastically. On the masthead was the name of an oriental gentleman, with whom none of us were familiar. When we got advance copies of that issue, Paul let out a yelp when he saw the magazine and said, "The whole format's changed!" So he called the guy again, and he got ahold of the printer who told him he thought the magazine needed a new look, so he hired this guy on to be the art director, and that this guy had redone our work. Paul was really disturbed by this. To this day, I don't know who this art director was. So Paul just said, "I'm not paying this guy. I don't know this guy. We don't need him!" Paul had done all the art direction on the previous issues, so to be cut out by the printer without any discussions or negotiations was the beginning of an extremely rude wake-up call for us. Paul was flabbergasted by this.
We had already put together Issue #8, which was to be an all-Karloff issue. This part of the story is what really still hurts to this day. Jack Pierce years ago had given me some stills that had never been printed anywhere before, with him making up Karloff for Tower of London, a couple stills of him applying the makeup to Karloff as the monster - these were things that Jack had given to me out of his personal collection. So I contributed those photos to Issue #8, and it was before people started copying things. All the photographs had to go to the printer.
I had sent a variety of photos to this printer at the same time, which he had wanted to view with the idea of using them in future issues. That was common practice in those days. So we sent the issue to the printer in Iowa, and we didn't get any bluelines back, any galleys back as we normally would. So we waited and waited, nothing happened.
Paul started calling back there; the guy's phone was disconnected. We couldn't get ahold of him. Then, just by happenstance, Paul knew some other guy in Iowa, and we heard about this fire. This guy had had a fire, and the place had burnt down. All of my stills were in there - which I now believe were actually destroyed, because I have never seen the stills I got from Jack Pierce turn up anywhere, after all these years. If they hadn't have been lost in the fire, they would have turned up in someone's collection. Later we found out that it was arson, and that they were looking for the guy. We heard stories that he was on a gambling ship somewhere. To this day, they have never found that printer.
The shame was that Paul had put up his entire life savings. I had a few thousand in it, and the printer had some nominal sum, but he had conned Paul into putting up his life savings, saying a lot of start-up money was needed. He told Paul he'd give us a real deal on the printing. Even though we had a deal, we still had to pay for the printing. We were new at this, obviously. The problem is, the printer had 51% of the magazine. He had it on paper, because that was the only way he'd do the deal. It was what they call nowadays "pay to play." Paul and Jackie lost their shirts. After that Paul was bitter, and I couldn't even talk about the magazine for years.
You know, Robert and Dennis Skotech have credited Fantastic Monsters of the Films as being a big influence in getting them into special effects work. Bill Malone (director of Scared to Death, Creature, and the remake of House on Haunted Hill) was another prominent Hollywood figure who lists us as an influence. He contributed a piece to the magazine, I believe it was Issue #3, called "How to Make a Mask." He was only 13 years old at the time.
JAH Did you ever get letters from angry parents about their children not doing their schoolwork on account of FanMo?
BURNS No, that was a problem we never had. We used to get praise letters from parents. Those letters usually said something to the effect of, we'll let our kids read these because they're learning something. The thing remember fondly is, Don Glut became like the mascot of the magazine. We printed every picture he ever sent us.
JAH You were also working simultaneously on Jeepers Creepers Theater for KCOP TV in Los Angeles.
BURNS That came about when we contacted the staff at Channel 13 with a request to do the Mad Mummy interview of Jeepers Creepers. We called them up after I had seen the show, and we requested an interview. Bob Guy, the guy who playehd Jeepers Creeper, and I got to talking, and I mentioned that I did this Mad Mummy schtick, and he just said, "Why don't we get you on the show?" Our original idea was just to an interview/article with Jeepers Creeper for Fantastic Monsters.
Bob Guy was originally a station manager from Northern California. He was a gypsy - he didn't stay in one place too long. So I met with Bob and the staff, Jim Sullivan who was the producer, and we worked out the particulars. You got to understand, Bob goes from being a station manager/program director to being the horror host for the monster movies on the local channel. He LOVED it! So I met the staff, and Bob and I ended up at this little bar down the street from the station. We had a couple of drinks and discussed what we were going to do. I told him I had a coffin I could bring in for the Mad Mummy, so we sat there and the two of us wrote some real loose routine.
When we taped the show, it was scripted but it wasn't scripted. We worked from the loose format that we had plotted out the week before. The guys in the control booth were scratching their heads half the time, because they just did not understand where we were coming from, or what we were doing. Jeepers had a gag where he'd get on the phone and call people up. Well this night, he just went berserk - totally out in left field. The horror host Seymour capitalized on that routine in the early 1970's on KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. We had a great time doing this show, which was featured in the article in Fantastic Monsters #4.
A little while later, Bob just got the gypsy feeling, and up and moved. He was a nice guy, but he always used to tell me, "I don't like to be in one place too long." And evidently, that's what went down between him and Jim Sullivan, the producer of the show. He told him the same thing.
I believe it was Sullivan who came up with the idea of having a lady host. They thought it was all they could do. They got this young actress, who was a sweet girl, she auditioned for the part. They had auditioned quite a few gals, and she's the one that they liked the best, because she had a good imagination, and she was willing to be under this makeup crap and didn't care - she wasn't vain, like 'I want to be the great actress.'
JAH So how did you go from Mad Mummies on Jeepers to doing the makeup on their new character, Ghoulita?
BURNS I had done a couple effects things in the latter episodes of Jeepers Creepers. So I talked to the main producer, Jim Sullivan, and he said they were looking for someone who could do some stuff - props, makeup, etc. I told him I could handle the makeup and props, and they could give me 10 or 15 bucks a show. I think I did a pig's heart or something like that in one of the last Jeepers episodes. Bob Guy had done his own Jeepers Creeper makeup, so they had no one to make up the Ghoulita character. Fred Stuthman, who came in after Ghoulita to do Jeepers Keeper did his own makeup, as well. Stuthman was a working stage actor, and had a good basic knowledge of makeup.
So Sullivan said to me, "Do you think you can make her up as a ghostly, ghastly looking gal?" The white wig on Ghoulita was not my idea, it was someone else's; but I gave her the dead zombie look. I did all the special effects as well as the makeup on her show. I really pumped up the fog volume for the Ghoulita show. I love fog! Just adds that eerie touch! I believe I worked on the Ghoulita show for its entire run. I think it lasted about 18 months, and then Ghoulita got tired of it. She had had enough, and she opted to go. She probably felt a little type cast and thought, "I don't want to do this schtick the rest of my life."
Fred Stuthman came in to do Jeepers Keeper, which was a variation on Bob Guy's Jeepers Creeper, only Stuthman, being a first-rate Thespian, interpreted it in his own way. When Stuthman came in, like Ghoulita I was burned out, so I just left the show. He had the ability to do his own makeup, and I guess I had done all that I had set out to do for the people over at KCOP Channel 13. I wasn't making any money.
After Ghoulita left, I auditioned for the show as well. This was before Fred Stuthman came into the picture. We shot an audition, I think the name of the character was Mordred. The audition was taped, but I never got to see it. My bit was down in the film vault, being surrounded by film cans - kind of what Zacherley did in the mid-80's on that tape called Horrible Horror. He was just cleaning out his film vault, and as I recall, so was I. I had a lot of film cans that I had borrowed from CBS; I brought some jelly bean spiders, you know, I ate a couple of spiders on camera, and some things like licorice snakes.
Mordred was more like a Renfield, a Dwight Frye type of character. He wasn't anywhere near as over the top as Jeepers and Ghoulita had been. But he was creepy in his own way. It was more the type of characters I had done on Shock Theater back in San Antonio, but those things relied on ensemble acting, not just one centralized host.
George Burrows, who I had known for years when he was doing g orillas and stuff, auditioned for a Quasimodo type character. In fact, I loaned him some film cans for his audition, from the pile I had borrowed from CBS. He was doing a similar skit, but neither one of us got it. It just seemed Sullivan and Company wanted to go back to the Jeepers character more.
JAH Kogar the Gorilla got his first professional gig on the Mickey Rooney Show on ABC in 1963?
BURNS The show was actually called The Mickey Show and the episode was called "Mickey Crashes the Movies." Mickey Rooney was great. It was my first gig. This show was how I got into the Screen Actors Guild. On that show I was working with Janos Prohaska. Originally there were supposed to be two gorillas. Originally George Byrrows was hired to do the other ape. Janos didn't want any competition, especially from a newcomer like myself. But George was busy.
I really lucked into this gig through my neighbor Lionel Comport's dad, whose friend was an animal wrangler for the studios, and mentioned to Lionel's dad they were looking for a guy with a good looking gorilla suit who could do this gag on the Mickey Show. So he told the producer, "A friend of my son's has a gorilla suit, and does this schtick himself." They hired me on the spot - they were desperate. Well, when I first met Yanosh, he absolutely tried to put me through the wringer, saying thing like, "You have to be a stuntman to work in a gorilla suit." He was stiffing me - he didn't want the competition. I was the new kid on the block, and he didn't like it.
Bobby Van was in the show with Mickey. The two of them are trying to break into the movies, according to the plot line of the show. They try to get into the studio, and they can't get in. They suddenly see this trainer taking a gorilla in, which is me as Kogar. So they get an idea, and they put Bobby Van in a gorilla suit, and Mickey passes himself off as the trainer and walks into the studio with him. Mickey walks in past the guard, saying "How you doin!" He puts the Bobby Van gorilla in the cage with me, and I'm supposed to be a real gorilla! So I start making eyes at Bobby.
JAH Wasn't that gag re-used in the Dan Akroyd/Eddie Murphy film Trading Places?
BURNS Exactly. Even had me winking at him, and him going "Oh, no, I'm just a man in a gorilla suit!" But we didn't have the sexual inuendo. There's a switch of the gorillas, and Mickey ends up with Janos, thinking he was Bobby Van. Janos was as short as Mickey, and Bobby Van was a pretty tall guy. It didn't match, what they wanted. Plus Janos gave them so much trouble. He was kind of a union guy. He'd say to me, "During breaks when you get out of the suit, make them wait for at least half an hour to 45 minutes. They appreciate that." I told him, "Well, I don't really have to take those kind of breaks. I can just pop the gorilla head off and I'm all right." He said, "You can't do that." I mean, this was my professional first gig, I was real nervous, so I just said to him, "Well, I don't know." So I just popped the head off the thing; I'd keep the suit on all day, so I was ready to go. Of course, this aggravated Janos no end. Janos would take that 45 minutes, and the producer would get pissed and say, "Come on, we got to get this wrapped."
So finally I saw Mickey Rooney talking to one of the producers, and the two of them came over to me and said, "Will you do us a favor? When we get through here, can we reshoot the shots we did with Janos, only this time with you? We'll pay you for it." He said, "We like your suit a lot better, and your attitude's a whole lot better." I said "Fine," so we stayed over that night and I reshot all his shots. Unfortunately, contractually we couldn't use the reshoots because Janos did do a stunt. So under the union rules, he had to be used throughout the entire show. The stunt was he grabbed onto a chandeleir which was about 3 feet from the floor and he swung across the set. I did it, too, and there was nothing to it. Janos had it in his contract that he was entitled to full union benefits if he did a stunt, and as a result they had to use him in the finished cut. My part was diminished, but it was still the original amount I was supposed to do, but Mickey really wanted to use the footage we shot with Kogar, really bad.
Mickey was a delight to work with, and it was really helped by the fact that Richard Thorpe directed it as well. Thorpe was an absolute jewel to work with, and boy, did he know his stuff! Thorpe gave me a great compliment at the end of the day, seeing as this was my first gig. He said, "Man, you have a natural aptitude for that suit. I forget there's a guy in that suit when you're walking around in it." That was a great compliment to get on your first job, from someone of his stature.
I had developed the Kogar character and just kind of experimented with it in things like Don Glut's film projects for USC. When I was a kid I loved all the movies with gorillas in them - the Tarzans, the Bombas, the Jungle Jims; Republic's Jungle Girl and Perils of Nyoka were big favorites. That's why I wanted to be a gorilla guy. I got to know Crash Corrigan, got to know George Burrows later on, I knew Emil Van Horn, and I knew Charlie Gamorra. Charlie was my idol. He still did the best gorilla of all the old gorilla guys. Charlie gave me great pointers when I would do my gorilla. The moves were stuff that I learned from Charlie. He was very generous.
JAH What was Crash Corrigan like?
BURNS He was a great guy, but he was drunk most of the time. I think that's why they called him Crash. When we made It, The Terror From Beyond Space, the guy was falling over all the time! I had to follow him around with a glue bottle, gluing that suit back together. Paul, Jackie and I had our hands full on that project, and it was sad. It was not a happy show. It was United Artists, and Paul, Jackie and I were used to working in the family atmosphere we had at AIP. AIP was an ensemble group. The crews and the actors worked well together, and we got results for little money.
Outside of the director, Eddie Cahn, who Paul and I had worked with before at AIP, this was a completely different outfit. Their idea was, crank this picture out to make money on the sci-fi craze, and to be honest, they weren't very friendly. The actors were friendly - Marshall Thompson was as friendly as he could be; we had Shawn Smith, the former Shirley Patterson (who starred in the first Batman serial); it was the production people who were unfriendly.
An example is Paul had made an arm for Crash to wear in scenes when only the arm would be featured, smashing through a wall or a door or something. Paul's idea was to spare the agony of the full suit, when only his arm would be required for the shot. So Paul took the arm into the office one day, and the Assistant Director didn't know who Paul was, didn't know the arrangements Paul had with the producers, was unaware that Paul built the whole suit, and the AD just proceeded to give Paul all kinds of trouble. You have to understand, Paul did this because he wanted to - he was trying to be helpful. That's just the way Paul was - he was a nice guy. So this AD continues to give Paul all kinds of static - "Who the hell are you?" So Paul, having had a bellyful of all this stuff, said, "I'm the guy the built the suit, that's who I am. Who the hell are you?" That show was not a happy experience.
But getting back to Crash Corrigan, he was just one of those guys from the Glenn Strange, Roy Barcroft mold. A sweet guy; he just liked his booze. After that picture, I went into the Army.
Next Installment: More monkey business with Bob and Kogar, who would become Tracy. See you all then!