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Thursday, July 22, 2010

MICHAEL NEWTON: Patty Whacked, Part 1: Burbank Bigfoot

As we approach the forty-third anniversary of the Patterson film, purportedly depicting a Sasquatch in the wilds of northern California, it is instructive to review the several conflicting “revelations” of a hoax behind those striking images. This article is not intended to support the film’s legitimacy. That case has been argued in intricate detail by the late Dr. Grover Krantz1 and Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum2, among others. My purpose, as in previous articles for Still on the Track, is to examine the nature of hoax claims advanced by debunkers, and the mainstream media’s reaction to those claims.

The story of the Patterson film is too well known to required detailed recitation here. On 20 October 1967, Bigfoot-hunters Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin claimed an encounter with a female Sasquatch near Bluff Creek, California—site of the footprint discovery which gave “Bigfoot” its popular media nickname nine years earlier. (See “Bigfoot Just Died”, http://forteanzoology.blogspot.com/2010/07/michael-newton-bigfoot-just-died.html) Patterson captured his subject on 952 frames of 16mm film, which subsequently eclipsed the 1934 “surgeon’s photo” of Nessie as a photographic icon among cryptozoology buffs. Some unknown viewer dubbed the creature “Patty,” after Patterson.

Opinions concerning the film were then—and remain today—starkly, even bitterly, divided. Patterson’s footage was, as author Daniel Perez opined, “the Zapruder film” of Sasquatch research.3 Debates surrounding it include the camera’s filming speed, its distance from the subject, circumstances of the film’s development—and, naturally, whether or not the film itself is a fake. Largely ignored or dismissed out of hand by major scientific institutions, the Patterson film has nonetheless been subjected to repeated, detailed scrutiny, with mixed results.

Anthropologist David Daegling noted the relatively primitive state of Hollywood special effects in 1967, concluding that if the film depicted a costumed actor, “it is not unreasonable to suggest that it is better than some of the tackier monster outfits that got thrown together for television at that time.”4 Grover Krantz, Jeffrey Meldrum, and Dmitri Donskoy—chief of the biomechanics department at the USSR’s Central Institute of Physical Culture, later affiliated with Moscow's Darwin Museum—all concluded that the film portrayed a nonhuman subject.5

Contrary opinions were also recorded. Late Strange Magazine publisher Mark Chorvinsky claims, without citing a source, that Bernard Heuvelmans—the “Father of Cryptozoology” and proponent of a theory that yetis are relict Neandertals—rejected the Patterson film as a hoax.6 Primatologist John Napier, though persuaded of Bigfoot’s existence by deformed footprints from Washington State, declared, “There is little doubt that the scientific evidence taken collectively points to a hoax of some kind. The creature shown in the film does not stand up well to functional analysis.” Still, he added: “I could not see the zipper; and I still can't. There I think we must leave the matter. Perhaps it was a man dressed up in a monkey-skin; if so it was a brilliantly executed hoax and the unknown perpetrator will take his place with the great hoaxers of the world. Perhaps it was the first film of a new type of hominid, quite unknown to science, in which case Roger Patterson deserves to rank with Dubois, the discoverer of Pithecanthropus erectus, or Raymond Dart of Johannesburg, the man who introduced the world to its immediate human ancestor, Australopithecus africanus.”7

* * *

First suspicions of a hoax naturally focused on Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. Patterson published a book on Bigfoot in 1966 and made no secret of his desire to capture the cryptid on film. Gimlin apparently signed on as a hired hand, and in some accounts remains bitter today at being cheated of hypothetical profits. Still, the question remains: did either man—or both, acting in concert—have the funds, knowledge, or skill to produce a realistic movie monster?

Roger Patterson claimed that he showed his film to unnamed experts “in the special effects department at Universal Studios in Hollywood,” who allegedly told him, “'We could try [duplicating it], but we would have to create a completely new system of artificial muscles and find an actor who could be trained to walk like that. It might be done, but we would have to say that it would be almost impossible.”8 Longtime researcher Peter Byrne reportedly showed the film to five animation experts at Disney Studios, who called it “a beautiful piece of work” but opined that it must have been shot in a studio.9

Grover Krantz, although committed to the film’s authenticity, declared that Patterson “might have tried to fake a film of this kind if he had the ability to do so,” but in Krantz’s judgment, based on long acquaintance, “he had nowhere near the knowledge or facilities to do so—nor, for that matter, had anyone else.”10 David Daegling agreed, reporting that “most acquaintances of Patterson volunteered that neither he nor Gimlin were clever enough to put something that detailed together.”11

In which case, who might be responsible?

* * *

Mark Chorvinsky volunteered the first of several contradictory answers in the summer 1996 issue of Strange Magazine. A longtime professional magician—and a self-styled “expert in creating hoaxes”12—Chorvinsky told his readers that the ape suit worn by some unknown actor in Patterson’s film was created by Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers, whose work graced films ranging from Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) to Class Reunion (1982). More relevant was Chambers’s work creating ape masks for Planet of the Apes and two sequels during 1968-72.13

Chorvinsky’s sources included various Hollywood insiders, some still anonymous today. Among those he identified, Chorvinsky quoted makeup artists John Vulich and Mike McCracken Sr. to document Chambers’s creation of an ape costume for the TV series Lost in Space, a “revelation” that was news to no one except, oddly enough, one Flint Mitchell, described by Chorvinsky as “a Strange Magazine reader and the head of a Lost in Space fan club.” Asked by Chorvinsky to speculate on “the notion that the Patterson suit may have been modified from a Lost in Space costume,” Mitchell deemed it “entirely possible.”14 His evidence or first-hand knowledge: nonexistent.

Next, “Strange Magazine subscriber Tim Johnson also offered his help on the investigation.” That “help” consisted of surmising that Chambers created “giant, hairy mutant” costumes for several Lost in Space episodes which—we know today, thanks to online archives—included no work by Chambers. Chorvinsky then watched those irrelevant programs with Strange Magazine executive editor Douglas Chapman and art director Greg Snook, who agreed with their boss, more or less, that something was up. Even then, however, Snook noted that

“We never see any of the monsters in the same pose as in the Patterson film, making it very hard to compare the creatures”—which Chambers didn’t create, in the first place. Indeed, Chorvinsky himself finally concluded that makeup men Tom Burman and Janos Prohaska “may have been responsible for the Lost in Space monsters, not Chambers.”15

Moving on from that dead-end, Chorvinsky floated a claim that “for years it has been ‘generally known’ in the Hollywood special effects makeup community that Academy Award winning makeup artist John Chambers fabricated the suit in the Patterson Bigfoot film.” After all, we’re told, Chambers created the makeup for Planet of the Apes in 1967 (released to theaters in 1968). Ignoring the fact that said makeup consisted of masks, gloves, and feet, with no full-body costumes, Chorvinsky hedged his bets, writing: “Whether Chambers created the suit or not, it is highly significant that so many makeup artists believe the film to be a hoax.”16

And who were they? Among “a number of the top makeup people in Hollywood,” Chorvinsky identified the following:

  • Screenwriter/director/producer Donald Glut—involved in 37 films since 196517—who allegedly told “Strange Magazine reader Alex Downs” that he (Glut) “heard about Chambers making the suit.”18

  • Animatronics expert David Kindlon, who heard the Chambers rumor second-hand from makeup artists Howard Berger and Rick Baker, but possessed no first-hand knowledge.19

  • Howard Berger, who repeated the tale to Chorvinsky, citing Rick Baker as his source. When asked how Baker knew the “facts,” Berger explained, “He probably heard it from John Chambers, that’s what I figure.”20

  • Rick Baker declined Chorvinsky’s requests for an interview, leaving Chorvinsky disappointed but free to speculate that “it is highly significant that Baker believed the film to be a fake. He, if anyone, would know.”21 His silence, of course, proves precisely nothing.

  • Actor Bob Burns, described by the Internet Movie Database as a “world renown [sic] archivist and historian of props, costumes, and other screen used paraphernalia”—yet relegated by Chorvinsky to the status of an “ape impersonator”—was vague in the extreme. Concerning the Chambers rumor, he told Chorvinsky, “I don’t remember where I heard it from, but I didn’t hear it from Rick [Baker] at all, as a matter of fact. It is generally known in the special effects business here, that it’s kind of common knowledge that the film footage was faked by John Chambers.”22

  • Jon Vulich named FX artist Bart Mixon and makeup specialist Jim McPherson as third-hand sources for the Chambers tale, but Chorvinsky cited no interviews with either, though both are apparently still living.23

  • Matt Croteau, identified by Chorvinsky as “a makeup sculptor and Strange Magazine reader,” told Chorvinsky that “he had heard from reputable sources that friends and relatives of Chambers knew that he worked on the Patterson suit. This information originated from a source very close to John Chambers. Croteau’s sources have chosen to remain nameless but I [Chorvinsky] know who they are.”24 And they deserve the same respect as any other third-hand anonymous witness—whose claims, as we shall see, were flatly denied by Chambers himself.

  • Makeup master Tom Burman, a close associate of Chambers in the 1960s, told Chorvinsky flatly, “Naw, he didn’t make that suit. One, he wouldn’t have made a suit that bad, and number two, I knew him during that time and in ‘67 we were doing Planet of the Apes, so we would have had no time to do a suit.”

Understandably frustrated, Chorvinsky preferred the story told by “a prominent makeup artist who prefers to remain anonymous.” That source not only branded Burton a liar, but also claimed “that Tom Burman was allegedly the person in the Patterson suit!” Mr. X’s source, in turn, was “makeup sculptor Greg Smith, who had heard it from Burman himself.”25

Once again, Chorvinsky proved nothing—but he did score a minor coup of sorts, being the first debunker to name Patterson’s alleged Sasquatch stand-in. Alas, if subsequent revelations are true, he must be dead wrong.
While digging up “the goods” on Chambers—and adding a claim that Chambers built a “Burbank Bigfoot” replacement model for Frank Hansen’s “Minnesota Iceman” after it was scrutinized by Ivan Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans in 1968—Chorvinsky explained his reason for never approaching Chambers directly. “I did not expect John Chambers to grant me an interview,” Chorvinsky wrote, “so I conducted this investigation with the understanding that I would be tracking down rumors.” Furthermore, he wrote “that it is important for investigators to think about rumors as they would any other information that they need to check out. Investigators, rather than shunning rumors, should go after them and try to determine if there is any basis for them in fact.”26

In which case, we must rate his effort as a monumental failure. While choosing to reject the only first-hand testimony he received, from Tom Burman, Chorvinsky failed to substantiate any of the rumors linking Chambers to the Patterson film.

But he was not done trying, yet.

* * *

More than a year after his “exposé,” in October 1997, Chorvinsky named director John Landis (American Werewolf in London, etc.) as another witness-once-removed to Chambers’s participation in the Patterson film. More precisely, he cited Hollywood journalist Scott Essman, who quoted Landis’s off-hand reference to “a makeup secret that only six people know”—i.e., that the “famous piece of eight-millimeter [sic] film of Bigfoot walking in the woods that was touted as the real thing was just a suit made by John Chambers.”27

Among the several questions left unanswered: How did Landis learn the “secret”? And how did last year’s “common knowledge” suddenly become a “secret that only six people know”? While seeming to challenge Landis, repeating his previous claim that “many makeup effects people have heard that Chambers made the suit and many believe that he did,” Chorvinsky told his readers: “I have a call in to John Landis to see if he will elaborate on his remarks. The director is busy editing the sequel to The Blues Brothers and is currently hard to reach but I expect to hear from him or a representative shortly.”28

Again, we must assume that he was disappointed. Blues Brothers 2000 hit American theaters on 6 February 1998. Chorvinsky died from cancer on 16 July 2005, without releasing any further bulletins from Landis.
In the meantime, however, Chambers himself had something to say.

* * *

On 26 October 1997—a week after the Landis “revelation” and six days past the Patterson film’s thirtieth anniversary—Bigfoot researcher Bobbi Short interviewed John Chambers at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s retirement home in Woodland Hills, California. Seemingly unaware of the controversy Chorvinsky and others had generated surrounding his name, Chambers flatly denied either designing or manufacturing a Sasquatch costume for Roger Patterson. In the makeup man’s own words, he was “good, but not that good.”29 Chambers died from complications of diabetes on 25 August 2001, at age 78.

Curiously, while never speaking directly to Chambers himself, Mark Chorvinsky had anticipated the news that shattered his pyramid of rumors. Chorvinsky’s article from 1996 included a section titled “A Denial from Chambers,” though in fact Chambers had made no statements at that time. His thesis—as with Tom Burman’s denial of participation in a Bigfoot hoax—was a pre-emptive claim that any statement Chambers made would be a lie. Chorvinsky’s “proof”: a comment from Disney Studios makeup artist Bob Schiffer, who said, “I don’t know if John [made the Patterson suit] but I’ll tell you one thing--if he did he wouldn’t tell you. It will die with him.”30

In short, we are expected to swallow Chorvinsky’s collection of unsubstantiated second- and third-hand gossip as “fact,” while rejecting out of hand denials from two alleged key players in the Patterson conspiracy—the “ape suit’s” putative designer and his protégé, who supposedly wore it at Bluff Creek on 20 October 1967.

The mainstream media was happy to oblige. London’s Sunday Telegraph trumpeted the Landis “exposé” on 19 October 1997, beneath a headline reading “Hollywood Admits to Bigfoot Hoax.” E! Online—website for the same television network that has made global celebrities of Paris Hilton, the Kardashian clan, the Neiers siters, and others famous simply for being famous—covered the “hoax” on 20 October 1997 with a new spurious twist, claiming that “Chambers, now 75, lives in a nursing home and is unable to confirm or deny the rumors.”31 In fact, as we have seen, he could and did deny the rumors, six days later.

Curiously, E! also pronounced Roger Patterson innocent of any part in the hoax. Howard Berger—who claimed only second-hand knowledge of the alleged fraud when interviewed by Mark Chorvinsky in 1996—now floated a bizarre new theory. “It was like a gag to be played on the guy who shot it,” Berger said. “The guy never knew it was a hoax his friends played on him.”32

Never? From 1967 to the moment of his death on 15 January 1972?

Clearly, if Berger is correct, all other theories branding Patterson a hoaxer must be false.

Confused and convoluted? Absolutely.
The last word on Patty? Not even close.


1 Grover Krantz, Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence (Blaine, WA: Hancock House, 1999), pp. 87-124.
2 Jeff Meldrum, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science (New York: Tom Doherty, 2006), pp. 137-78.
3 Daniel Perez, “The Patterson Film: A Discussion,” Bigfoot Encounters, http://www.bigfootencounters.com/articles/forteantimes05.htm.
4 David Daegling, Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America's Enduring Legend (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004), p. 112.
5 Krantz, op cit.; Meldrum, op cit.
6 Mark Chorvinsky, “Some Thoughts About the Patterson Bigfoot Film on its 30th Anniversary,” Strange Magazine (October 1997), http://www.strangemag.com/pattersonfilm30th.html.
7 John Napier, Bigfoot: The Sasquatch and Yeti in Myth and Reality (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973) pp. 89, 95.
8 Don Hunter and René Dahinden, Sasquatch/Bigfoot: The Search for North America's Incredible Creature (Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 1993), p. 119.
9 Greg Long, The Making of Bigfoot (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), p. 188.
10 Krantz, p. 120.
11 Daegling,, p. 119.
12 Bob Young, “Lovable trickster created a monster with Bigfoot hoax,” Seattle Times, December 5, 2002.
13 “John Chambers,” Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0150357.
14 Mark Chorvinsky, “The Makeup Man and the Monster,” Strange Magazine 17 (Summer, 1996), http://www.strangemag.com/chambers17.html.
15 Chorvinsky; “John Chambers,” IMDB.
16 Chorvinsky.
17 “Donald F. Glut,” IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0323304.
18 Chorvinsky.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.; Bob Burns, IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122591.
23 Ibid.; Bart Mixon, IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0594298; Jim McPherson, IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0574237.
24 Chorvinsky.
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 Mark Chorvinsky, “Update: Film Director John Landis Goes Public Concerning Makeup Master John Chambers' Involvement In The Famous Patterson Bigfoot Film,” The Strange Report, http://www.strangemag.com/landischambers.html.
28 Ibid.
29 Loren Coleman, “John Chambers Denies Involvement in Patterson Bigfoot Film,” Bigfoot Encounters, http://www.bigfootencounters.com/hoaxes/loren.htm.
30 Chorvinsky, “The Makeup Man and the Monster.”
31 Ken Neville, “Bigfoot Movie: A Hollywood Hoax?” E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/b35365_Bigfoot_Movie__A_Hollywood_Hoax_.html.
32 Ibid.


Dale Drinnon said...

Thank you for posting this.

It seems that you are one of the few of us that takes the time and trouble to point out that "Claims to have created the Hoax" very seldom pan out. For my part I have discovered than in many cases the "confessions" are not only suspect from the onset, the "Confessors" are all pretty much always telling the same story over and over again. It is a Folkloric pattern, a legend of its own kind.

There were several thousand "Confessions" in the infamous Black Dalia murder case in Los Angeles: NOT ONE of those confessions were valid and NOT ONE of the "Confesors" actually knew the peculiar characteristics of that murder itself. They say that confession is good for the soul-but the evidence seems to say that confession is one good place for liars to feel they have free license.

Scott said...

From comparative purposes, there's a scene in Beneath Planet Of The Apes where General Ursus and Dr Zaius have a sauna, and they're just dressed in towels. The full ape suits aren't very convincing, if my memory serves me correctly. I'll try and see if I can rip the scene from my dvd. Certainly doesn't look much like whatever's in the Patterson film.
How many seperate claims to have hoaxed this are there? I think there's at least three.

Scott said...

Actually, you get a brief look at the full body ape suit on the crucified gorillas at around 2mins 30s on this trailer...