BOB BURNS Part Three
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JAH What about Kogar's appearance on My Three Sons?
BURNS Well, that was the second Kogar gig, in 1965. The show aired January 27, 1966. People have talked about how Fred MacMurray was never on the set of My Three Sons except to do his scenes, and never seemed to want to hang around, but he was incredibly friendly to me. In fact, he expanded my part. We must have sat around talking for 90 minutes, and he brought up Charlie Gamorra, and I told him how he was my idol, and how I had patterned not only the Kogar suit after his gorilla suit, but that I had spent a lot of time getting his movements down. He was very interested in the mechanics of the whole thing, so he went to the director, James V. Kern, and talked him into expanding my bit, which was originally about 30 seconds long.
It was one of the son's dreams that Kogar appeared in. He and his father Steve (played by Fred) were walking through the jungle, when suddenly a gorilla pounces upon them, and Fred waves off the gorilla, impressing his young son. Fred and James worked up the gag so that after I pounce on them, and Fred pays no attention whatsoever to me and is not in the least bit frightened, we hear a leopard on a tree limb above us. (They kind of did that with a primitive freeze-framing technique.) In the new sequence, Kogar gets frightened, and Fred calls him a sissy and invites him to hide behind him and his son. So I found Fred MacMurray to be a very warm guy, and a thrill to work with.
JAH Around this time, you also did Laugh In as Kogar.
BURNS I was in a dream sequence on that one. Outside of doing the 1975 Ghost Busters show, that was the most fun I had doing Kogar. The cast and staff of Laugh In were zany and crazy. It was a wild set. It was the fun time - everybody was loads of fun, and they were continuously cracking each other up. It was like a friendly competition of who could break who up, and that shows in Laugh In to this day - the fun that ensemble had. I did six or seven Laugh Ins. Every time you saw an ape on that show, it was me. In the party sequences, I'm always running on the top decks. I think the biggest sequence I did was when Joanne Worley was playing the piano, talking about her family, and there's a whole bunch of people around, and I'm in the suit, and I end up jumping on top of the piano.
JAH After Laugh In, you did a couple of Ray Dennis Steckler flicks - Rat Fink and Boo Boo, and The Lemon Grove Kids. Again, you played Kogar the Gorilla.
BURNS Tom Sherman introduced me to Ray Steckler. I had met Ron Hadock through Ray. Ron and Ray were working together on the Rat Fink projects, and creating Ron's character, guitar hero Lonnie Lord. So Kogar did guest shots in Rat Fink and Boo Boo and Lemon Grove Kids. At that time, we weren't terribly concerned with residuals, percentages, and the business end of the business. We were young and enthusiastic, and wanted to work. I have an oil painting, the first Rick Baker ever did as a kid, of me as Kogar carrying Ray's then-wife/girlfriend Carole Brandt from Rat Fink and Boo Boo.
The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters was originally just called The Lemon Grove Kids The Mad Mummy also made an appearance in Meet the Monsters. Ray did such a great impersonation of Huntz Hall in that. He had it down. Basically, I do about a minute and a half of each character in the show. Kogar was billed as "Kogar, the Swinging Ape." When Ray retitled it Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, I had to say to him, "Ray, that's really not fair. I'm in the picture two to two and a half minsutes at most!" In fact, in one sequence of Lemon Grove, the Mad Mummy runs onto a movie set - a movie within a movie, if you will, and unmasks himself, revealing yours truly. I even delivered a Laurel and Hardy type line, something to the effect of, "Another fine mess you've gotten me into." Seeing as the film was shot silent, even the line was looped - it's not even my voice. It was all shot in 16mm. Ray's a nice guy, and he was fun to work with, and that's the reason we got involved, all of us, in these projects of Ray's. None of us got paid, we never saw a dime from it. But we had a great time. I didn't mind then, and I don't mind now having done these things. I had fun!
When I saw the posters on these things, with gigantic images of Kogar and the Mad Mummy, I said, "Ray, how can you do this?" Ray, ever the showman, said, "Hey, that's what you do!" For personal appearances, Ray got it into his head that I could make him mummy suits for $20 apiece. And I said, "How?! No way!" I had to bail on that one - I don't know what he did for those personal appearances. I didn't think the monsters met the Lemon Grove Kids long enough to justify the title change. I'd love to find a one-sheet on this, because Kogar and the Mad Mummy are featured so prominently. The only one I ever saw was at Ray's place.
JAH You were involved in the remake of the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1970's, weren't you?
BURNS Yes, that was for ABC. I did about 4 or 5 of those - and one of the episodes I appear as myself. On Surprise Day, which was Wednesday, they opened the show with Kogar dancing in a tutu with one of the Mouseketeers. Mike Miner was the art director, and he brought me into the project. It was fun, but it was nothing special, and it seemed the viewers felt the same way.
After that, I did Dusty's Treehouse in 1973 for CBS. It was done at KNXT, where I worked, with Stu Rosen. I had worked with Stu Rosen back in the 50's, when he had a local kid's show called Captain Jet. It was on about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon on weekdays. They had one of the Phantom of the Empire robots in the basement at KNXT, so it was decided, seeing as I worked in the mail room, that I would deliver Captain Jet's mail to him on the show, dressed as the robot. I did this five days a week for three or four years. He got a lot of fan mail! KNXT finally gave me the robot after the Captain Jet show folded. Dusty's Treehouse was a kid's show, and they had a lot of puppets who would pop out of places and do gags on the set. I did two or three appearances as Kogar on that. Stu would talk to a little squirrel puppet - they had a running dialogue on this thing. And I guested as the robot another time on that show.
JAH Wasn't there a Major Mars revival in 1973?
BURNS That's right. When I did Major Mars at the Fox Venice theater, the character was always very aloof and mysterious. So Tommy Sherman and I got to talking one day, and somewhere in the conversation, he said, "Have you ever thought of doing Major Mars from a more comedic point of view?" It was also his idea to put together a little seven minute pilot film, with the reincarnated Major. I saw this new Major Mars character as a cross between Inspector Clousseau and Oliver Hardy, with qualities of both. The show was deliberately 1950's, so even in the 70's it had nostalgic vibe. Major Mars had an official ring, and Tom made a mock-up of a fifties comic book, to give the show that atmosphere.
NBC wanted to buy the character in the pilot film, and replace me as Major Mars with John Candy. I said, "No, Major Mars is my character; I did it back on the fifties, and I want to do it my ways, which means I play the part of Major Mars." The Osmonds wanted to buy it, but they objected to a character we had called Sparky. Seeing as Sparky was part of the team, we passed on that offer, too. I said to the Osmonds, "It's a trio - you take all of us or none of us."
CBS actually previewed it at the Preview House on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. It got a great response. I wasn't supposed to know that it played there, but I had a friend who worked there. He called me the next day and said, "You didn't hear this from me, but they previewed it last night, and the preview cards were great!" CBS gave us a non-paying option for five months. I was still working for them, so what could I do. They couldn't figure out whether it was a kid's show, or young adult or adult entertainment, so nothing happened. I used to show it at conventions. He's almost become a cult figure now - people seem to know who he is. We got pretty darn close to getting that show off the ground.
JAH In 1975, you were in the original Ghost Busters, the television show on CBS, correct?
BURNS Ghost Busters was the most fun I've ever had in my life. At the time I was working at CBS, and I wasn't really doing too much of the gorilla stuff. I had done a McDonald's commercial as Kogar, chasing Ronald McDonald all over the place, and I did a Ford commercial around that time. I wasn't doing a whole lot with Kogar, and I wasn't advertising for work.
I was working at CBS one day, and a gal who was an Assistant Director at KNXT was taking a course in the evening on production. And Lou Shimer was there giving a lecture about production techniques. During a break, he was sitting there with his head in his hands, going "Oh, my god, what a day, what a day!" She asked him what was wrong. He said "We've got this show with Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, and we had a guy who was going to do a gorilla named Tracy. The Ghost Busters were two guys and a gorilla, and we had this guy lined up, and the price was agreed on, and at the last minute the agent jerked us around for more money, so we lost the guy. The agent wanted a whole lot more money, and we just don't have it in the budget. He told her they had gone to every costume place in town looking for a good suit, but all the gorilla suits they saw were pitiful. He said, "I don't know what we're going to do - we might have to cancel the whole show!" So she said to him, "I work with a guy up at CBS who has a great gorilla suit, and has done plenty of shows with it, both TV and live appearances." Lou Shimer said, "Well, how come we never heard of him?" And she said, "Well, he doesn;t advertise this much." He said to her, "Is there any way you can get ahold of this guy by tomorrow morning?" He told her to have me call him, because this was desperation time.
So I came into the office at CBS that morning, and I hear someone running up the stairs. She ran into my office and said, "Bob, call this guy! He's in a real bind, it's about a gorilla part for a series, and it could be really great!" I called Lou, and he said to me, "Is there any way we can see you in the suit within the next two to three hours? It's imperative, we've got to know now." So I said "Yeah." and called my wife Kathy. She was working at Universal at the time, I asked her, "Can you take a couple of hours off, kind of make it a late lunch?" So we came home, I suited up.
I walked into Lou's office. Lou, the writers and directors were all in this one room when I walked in, and I could see they liked the Kogar suit. Lou told me later they thought it was going to be some amateurish, dime store type gorilla suit. So they're all in the office, basically nodding their heads, and Mark Richards, the writer, said, "The character is called Tracy, the gorilla. He's a real gorilla, but he'd love to be a human. He's restricted insofar as he can't talk, but through pantomime he can emulate humans a little bit. If you were Tracy the gorilla, what would you do?" I thought for a minute, and I walked over to his desk, grabbed a copy of VARIETY off his desk, I sat on the chair, crossed my leg like I normally do, and started reading VARIETY. And they said, "There's Tracy the Gorilla!" Three days later, I was doing the show!
We shot 15 episodes in nine weeks, and it was all shot on videotape. We really hustled - we did a show every other day. Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch were two of the greatest guys I ever worked with. They had honed their act on F Troop, and I was the new kid on the block, so I was a little bit worried. I had heard Tuck could be very gruff if he wanted to. I was in awe of these guys. So on the first day of shooting, during rehearsals I was doing all this schtick as Kogar, who was now renamed Tracy. I looked over at Tuck, and he's looking at me a little funny. So I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, oh, something's not working right." So when we actually started to shoot, I would hold back, and the director, Norm Abbott, came over to me and said, "Bob, come here, I want to talk to you for a second. You were doing great stuff in rehearsals, but when the camera rolls, you're holding back, you're not giving me the schtick I need. I need overreaction stuff from Tracy. Remember, he's trying to be a human." I said, "Norm, I got a problem. I'm worried about Tuck and Larry." He said, "Man, you better take care of it, because we've got 15 shows to do, and sooner rather than later."
So he called a break, and I went over to Larry and Tuck, who were sitting in their chairs, and I said, "Guys, can I talk to you for a minute?" Tuck said, "Sure, what's on your mind, kid?" I said, "I've got a problem." So Tuck fixes me with this stare, and I had no idea of the type of sense of humor he had, since I had just met them that day, and says to me in a sinister voice, "What could possibly be your problem?" Well, I just wanted to crawl into hole right then and there, but I figured I couldn't because I had already come this far. So I said, "Norm's telling me that when we're shooting scenes that I'm not doing the outrageous schtick that he wanted me to do, and frankly, guys, I'm afraid of upstaging you guys. You guys are the stars of this thing, I'm just the new guy, and I don't want to screw up with you guys." So Tuck gives me this real serious stare, and says, "That's your problem?" And I said, "Yes, sir. I don't know exactly how to work my way through this." He looks at Larry, and looks back at me, and says, "Look, I'm too old to worry about that ego crap. I've been around too long. And Larry's too stupid."
They were having me on, 'cause these guys were real buddies. Larry just kept going, "Yep, yep." And Tuck said, "We're here to make people laugh. If you can run around behind me and make faces and do zany stuff, then do it! That's the whole reason for this show. You're going to walk off with this show, anyway! It's obvious. We're going to be second bananas to you, anyway, so that's the way we want it. So don't hold back, let it fly!"
The plot line (which was expanded and embellished upon in the Ghost Busters movies, sans Tracy), was that we would get these assignments from a mysterious figure named Zero to go out and investigate paranormal activities, haunted houses, and such. We'd go to these haunted houses and rid them of the ghosts. The head I wore was different from the original Kogar. It was one that Rick Baker made for me in 1973, so you could say Kogar was modified to be Tracy from the neck up. Tuck was a very giving actor. A lot of times we would be closing a scene, doing 'rim shots' as they used to say, and they'd be going out on Tuck, and he'd say, "No, why don't we go out on Tracy; it'd be funnier." There's not too many actors, now or then, who would give up their close-ups. The weird thing of it was, the first day I met him, he called me Bob. After that, it was either Trace, the kid, or Tracey. He only addressed me as Bob the first day on the set.
JAH Didn't you pass out on the set?
BURNS One day I fell over. I had a tendency, because I was so enthusiastic about this role, to keep the suit on longer than I should have. One day, I just blacked out; fell down. Tuck was the first guy over to me, to see if I was all right. He said, "Wait a minute, aren't you supposed to get breaks or something while you're doing this, so you can take the head off, and the suit off if you want to, and get some air?" I'm going, "Yeah, I guess so." in my dazed condition. He said, "You're overdoing it a little here. I'm going to lay down some new ground rules."
He called Norm and the other producers and crew around, and he said, "Here's what we're going to do - now, when I think the kid's tired," and he looked over at me, "And you're going to tell me, right?" I said, "You bet." He said, "All right. We're going to take a break, I'm going to go to my trailer and have a little drink, you pop the gorilla head off the kid, give him some water, air, whatever he needs - and remember, if you kill him, we don't have a show - and that's the way we're going to do it!" And by god, that's the way we did it from then on! He'd look at me and say, "You tired yet, kid?" And I'd go "MMM" And he'd go "ARE YOU TIRED YET!?" And I'd say, "Welllll..." and he'd go off to his trailer, and they'd pop the head off the suit, and give me air and water and whatever I needed, and he'd be back in 15 minutes, and make sure I was OK. He was a wonderful man.
They showed it at 11 am on Saturday mornings on CBS in 1975, and reprised the 15 shows again in 1976. So technically, it ran for two years on the network. We were getting ready to go to the second season for CBS, and CBS wanted the second season. The problem was, the production house, Filmation, was also doing Shazam! and Isis. When we were on, we were Number 2 in the nation of the new network shows that were on Saturday mornings. Shazam! and Isis were Number 1. Filmation opted to kill Ghost Busters and put the money into Shazam! and Isis, which was a big mistake, because they only lasted for another three or four months, and they took a dive.
I talked to Lou after it was over, and I presented him with the analogy of the two horses - the one who came in first and the one who came in second. I said, "You don't shoot the horse who came in second, because he might win the race next time!" Lou said, "We're well aware of that now! It was a bad judgment call!" The network wanted more. It was Filmation who wanted to take our budget and put it into Shazam! and Isis. If we would have done another season of those, they'd be running on Nick At Night and Nick At Nights's TV Land today. The sad end of the story is, Filmation sold the videotapes to Westinghouse, and then Westinghouse sold them to another party, who erased the tapes. So as rumor has it, those 15 shows don't exist anymore.
But that rumor happily was untrue. A full set of the tapes had been rediscovered, and they are now out on DVD, which I'm thrilled about, because now everyone can enjoy Ghost Busters which was lost for years.