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
- 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.
17 “Donald F. Glut,” IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0323304.
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.
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.
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.