The only so-called solid evidence for Bigfoot's existence is a one-minute-long clip of 16mm color film allegedly showing a Bigfoot striding across a clearing next to Bluff Creek in the Six Rivers National Forest of Northern California. A chronically unemployed ex-rodeo cowboy from Yakima, Washington, Roger Patterson, shot the film, he claimed, on October 20, 1967. With him that day was Bob Gimlin, a horse breeder, also from Yakima.
It didn't take long for Patterson to start promoting the film to make, as he declared to his friends, "a million bucks!" Patterson did make a great deal of money from 1967 until his death from cancer in 1972 - as did a lot of television production companies over the next thirty years, producers who bought rights to the film for use in Bigfoot specials and wildlife documentaries. From reported showings of the film, Bigfoot took on gargantuan mythic proportions. Nearly every person in America, and other parts of the world, either viewed Bigfoot as a real unknown species or an idea to be scorned. Either way, Bigfoot has made its promoters plenty of money, and the film still makes money for Patterson's widow, Patty, who lives in Yakima.
But increasingly, a new generation of television documentary producers eyed the film with growing skepticism and doubt as they analyzed the fur-clad image with computers, along with the suspicious behavior and contradictory statements of Patterson and his buddy Bob Gimlin. I predict that in the next few months, Bigfoot - at least in the form of the "star" of Patterson's celebrated 60-second film - will be declared stone-cold dead.
One person who TV producers of Bigfoot documentaries wanted very much to talk to was Philip Morris, long recognized in the magic and costume industry as one of the pioneers in post-World War II gorilla costume creation. Morris was also a successful operator of touring ghost, horror, and magic shows, a showman, and the popular television personality of the Dr. Evil Horror Theater. All this achieved during the 1960s and 70s.
Today, Morris, 68 years old, is president of Morris Costumes in Charlotte, North Carolina, the largest company of its kind, offering a wide range of costumes, stage props, magicians' apparatus, haunted house supplies, and assorted show products. Ten thousand retail stores in North America stock his products, and they are sought out by costume buyers in South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as TV studios. Hollywood filmmakers, amusement parks, and just about anybody else who wants to dress up and amaze or scare somebody out of their skin.
Like many eager TV producers, I was interested in talking to Morris too, however, as a writer of non-fiction stories about unusual, unproven "paranormal" mysteries. I devote the final chapter of my book The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story (Promrtheus Books, 2004) to Philip Morris.
To put it bluntly, Morris was the key witness to the creation of the Bigfoot myth, and he helped expose Roger Patterson's one-minute film as a hoax. Inexplicably, as I show in my book, Morris unknowingly became part of the Bigfoot fraud. which, as he came to see decades after the film was shot, was on the scale of a gigantic magical illusion. That's right! Philip Morris, man of magic and king of customes, unwittingly contributed to the biggest, hairiest, most controversial hoax of the 20th century.
It all starts with an understanding of the difference between a hoax and an illusion. Knowing the difference will help you better appreciate why Morris only now, after waiting 36 years, has come forward to tell his true tale of Bigfoot.
"Back in the early 1960s, when I was playing theaters in the Southern United States with the Dr. Evil Ghost Show , Morris recalls, "I visited a county fair where I saw an attraction that I remember even to this day. A large, coloful banner on the front of the sideshow advertised that inside was A GIANT 284-POUND MAN EATING CHICKEN, strange and unusual, and a $1,000 reward if not alive and on stage before your eyes.
"Well, I just had to see it. So I bought a ticket and went inside, and sure enough, there it was, as big as life, a rather large, jolly man seated at a table covered with a red-and-white cherked tablecloth with a bucket of Colonel Sanders' chicken on the table. It was a real man eating chicken."
I laughed with Morris as he recalled the sideshow scam. "The man on the stage explained that if you wanted to have a good laugh, go back onto the fair midway and find a friend and tell him not to miss the man-eating-chicken show. The ticket-seller would even let you back in free when you brought back your friend to she the show. All you had to do was show your ticket stub. I was hoaxed into buying a ticket. But the thing was so humorous that I could not complain, and I never saw any one go back and ask for his money back."
Morris segued from his story of the man-eating-chicken hoax to a lecture on illusion. From his perspective, the illusionary aspect of the Bigfoot hoax dates back to the Pepper's Ghost illusion of 1862.
Pepper's Ghost is an optical illusion that sprang from the head of John Henry Pepper, an ingenious British professor of chemistry at London's Royal Polytechnic Institute. In a theatrical application of the Pepper's Ghost principle, the magician strolls out onto the darkened stage and unsheathes his sword when he sees a ghost mysteriously appear. The magician and the ghost engage in a furious sword fight until the magician plunges his sword through the ghost and it vanishes. The ghost is merely a translucent reflection in a mirror.
As Morris explained, the principle of Pepper's Ghost soon generated other incarnations, a girl changing into a werewolf, a skeleton rattling up onto his feet and strutting away. The mirror illusion survives even today in amusment park attractions, most notably in Disney's Haunted Mansion. Visitors travel through the Victorian mansion sitting in carts moving on rails. Among the many unsettling sights they see is a multitude of ghosts dancing in the mansion's ballroom. At the end of the ride, the cart you're sitting in swings you around to face a mirror where you suddenly see one of the ghosts sitting next to you!
Morris gave me time to reflect, then said, "So, that's the difference> The man-eating-chicken show was a good-natured hoax, a joke, while Pepper's Ghost was a magical stage illusion. Bigfoot was an illusion, at least from my point of view as a magician."
I listened intently, like a quiet shadow behind a stage curtain spying on a historical secret only a few can know.
"As I look back at our ghost shows in 1960s," Morris said, "we took great liberties with our advertising, promising that the dead would return, ghosts would talk, and spirits would roam the aisles. Of course, it really wasn't possible for anybody to produce real, live spooks and ghosts, and we freely told the audience it was all stagecraft and trickery.
"For years, we presented the Spidora and the Headless Woman illusions on stage, as two separate acts. The Headless Woman was a living, breathing body without a head, and the Spidora illusion was a smiling girl's head with the body of a giant tarantula. Where these hoaxes? I don't think so. They were illusions. But it was later in life, in 1967 to be exact, that I unwittingly became part of a hoax, one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the public. The hoax featured a pretty good illusion... but I knew it was fake.
"In the 60s my wife Amy and I were in desperate need of a professional gorilla suit for both our touring show and our television series. None was available at a reasonable price. However, I stumbled onto Dynel, a new synthetic fur material I found in a fabric shop. We started making our gorilla suits with it, which, incidently, is how I got started in the costume business.
"Fortunately, at the same time, I found another niche market for Dynel gorilla costumes. Back then, "Morris continued, weaving threads of his story, "there were approximately 50 to 100 magicians touring the country who were playing fairs and carnivals with the Girl to Gorilla illusion, which is basically an adaptation of the Pepper's Ghost illusion. In this stage illusion, a lady slowly, in full view of the audience, transforms into a massive gorilla, which leaps out of its cage into the audience, while the crowd immediately runs screaming out of the tent. All of the excitement draws a crowd for the next show. These midway shows were very successful, and I was the only costume-maker in the United States that sold a quality, professional gorilla suit for a Girl to Gorilla show.
"Well, in the summer of 1967 while I was off the road, I received a call from a man named Roger Patterson, who had seen my advertising in Amusement Business, a monthly magazine for the outdoor attractions industry. I had never heard of or met the man. He said he had a few questions about our suit that then sold for $435.
"I asked Patterson if he was a carnival magician and if he had a Girl to Gorilla show," Morris said. "Because I figured that's why he called me. But he said no, he was a rodeo cowboy, and he just wanted the suit for a joke he was playing. He asked if the suit looked real. I told him it looked like a real Hollywood gorilla. He said, 'Tell you what, you send me the suit, and if I like it, I will send you a check. Id I don't, I will send the suit back.' That when I said, 'I have a better idea. You send me the money, and I'll send you the suit. If you don't like it, send it back and I will send your check back.'
"Well, in a week or so, I received a postal money order for $435 plus shipping. In another ten days or so, he called and said that he had the suit and was happy, but had some questions. He said, 'I can see the long zipper in the back.' I told him. 'Your the first to ask about this, because in the Girl to Gorilla shows the audience only sees the gorilla from the front. Just use a hairbrush and softly brush the fur down over the zipper to cover it.' Then he wanted to know how to make the arms longer. I told him, 'Find a shovel handle or stick and slip it in the sleeves, then attach the gorilla gloves to the stick.' Thats how you extend the arms of the costume. Then he wanted to make the shoulders more massive. I told him to go to a high school and get some old football pads - the coaches would probably be happy to get rid of their old, cracked ones - and stick them in the shoulders.
"Well, in October of that same year. I was watching television in my living room when lo and behold, there was my gorilla suit walking across the screen! And the announcer was telling that this is film of a real Bigfoot, shot in the forests of Nothern California. The film ran again, and I called my wife in the kitchen, 'Hurry! There's our gorilla suit on TV!' Amy immediately recognized it. She is the one who had sewn the suit.
"The amazing thing," Morris chuckled, "is I kept thinking that Patterson would come forward in the next few weeks or months and make a confession that it was all a big joke, a hoax. But when I found out he had sold the usage rights of the film for $50,000, I knew that would never happen. Keep in mind that $50,000 was the equivalent of $3000,000 to half- a-million dollars today."
Philip Morris didn't know it when he told me this, but the film had also grossed at least $75,000 when it toured when it toured theater in the United States in the winter of 1968 - '69. The 60-second film evently made Patterson and the promoters well over $1 million.
"Incrediable, isn't it?" I exclaimed to Morris. "Since you knew the film was a hoax, and you knew that it was your suit, why..."
"why did I not come forward with the facts right after the film was made public? Keep in mind I'm in the business of making special-effects props for stage shows and professional magicians. There were not only the 100 or so touring magicians using our gorilla suits at that time for the Girl to Gorilla show, there were others using the costume. And I would not think of of exposing their illusion. I remember when Harry Blackstone Jr. reproduced his father's full-evening show. and he commissioned us to make two matching real fur gorilla suits. Well, I would never divulge that to the public back then. So, it was the in 1967 and still holds true today - a costume-maker and special -effects person doesn't tell the public how the buyer of the product performs the trick or illusion. Even today I have some reservations about exposing the Bigfoot hoax."
"Well," I said, "why come forward now?"
"Actually, over the years I've given lectures at magic and costume conventions, and I have talked about selling Patterson one of my gorilla costumes. I've also spoken about it on several television and radio talk shows. However, this is the first time I'm telling the story to be printed."
Morris paused to gather his thoughts. "You ask, ' Why now?' Well, the Roger Patterson who created the hoax in 1967 passed away in 1972, and it's time the hoax became public knowledge. What has amazed me are the numerous professors and zoologists over the years who were convinced that it was not a guy in a suit, but a genuine Bigfoot. One professor said, 'Look how it walks. It does not roll on the balls of its feet! Humans don't walk like that, it must be an animal.' Well, the reason he's walking like that is because he's wearing the rubber feet that I made for the gorilla suit. They're long, one size fits all, and it's like wearing clown shoes. You must raise your feet very high and bring then down flat in order to walk.
"Another expert said that if it was a gorilla or monkey suit, it had to be something that was made in a highly professional props studio in Hollywood..." Morris broke into laughter when he said that. "Are you kidding? I made the thing in the basement of my house! Also, this experiment was early in my career. Today, we offer probably close to 30 different types of gorilla suits. Our most expensive suit sells for over $5,000. Magicians measure the success of their magic by how well the audience is fooled. Well, it all happened over 35 years ago, and still millions worldwide feel that they have seen the real Bigfoot."
The Making of Bigfoot finally rips the mask off Bigfoot and exposes Roger Patterson for who he was and what his film shows - a successful illusion that played as a 60-second film on a Northern California stage. Patterson cleverly pulled off the illusion on film by constantly shaking his handheld camera, creating the sense of a shocked witness suddenly seeing the Bigfoot and desperately trying to keep the walking creature in camera range. The camera-wobble effectively prevented viewers from picking up tell-tale features of Philip Morris' $435 zippered-up gorilla suit. Patterson also directed the Bigfoot actor to walk away from the camera, so that the image-size was constantly becoming smaller, thus less discernable. And when Patterson "chased" after the creature, he continued to bobble the camera. Even from the beginning of the 60-second film sequence, Patterson shot the costumed creature at a distance to confuse and confound the viewer. Conveniently, the second half of the film shows the Bigfoot walking behind logs, tree trunks, and branches to further obscure the gorilla suit.
The Making of Bigfoot might surprise you and perhaps make you laugh. Its a tale that even Hollywood scriptwriters and producers couldn't make up. It's the true story of how Roger Patterson created his great million-dollar Bigfoot mystery using what has become the most viewed gorilla costume since King Kong.
Greg Long, a professional writer and editor living in Mill Creek, Washington, has a deep and abiding interest in unusual stories of the Pacific Northwest. His new 475-page book dispelling the Bigfoot legend is filled with intriguing stories about Roger Patterson and the cast of characters who invested in the filmmaking hoax, including the confession of the man who actually wore the gorilla suit. The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story (ISBN : 1591021391) is published by Promethus Books and is available at most booksellers.