An Investigation by Mark Chorvinsky
This article was first published in Strange Magazine 17, Summer, 1996.
©1996, 1997, Mark E Chorvinsky. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any part of this article in any medium without the written permission of the author will be considered a violation of International copyright laws. E-mail permission requests to:
The Patterson Bigfoot Film is arguably the most famous reel of strange phenomena-related film ever shot. It has been featured in numerous television shows and films and ads, on the covers of books and magazines, and now on web sites. The Patterson film has been one of the major pillars of belief in Bigfoot for the past 28 years. When people think of "Bigfoot," the creature in the film often comes to mind. Many have supported the film, some have criticized it, but generally the Patterson film is spoken of in reverential tones by Bigfoot aficionados.
There are long-standing rumors of a man in a suit in the Patterson film, but no investigator has ever tried to seriously investigate the rumors.
Lost in Space,
The Rumor: The Patterson Bigfoot suit appeared in some form in an episode of the 1960s television series Lost in Space.
The Source: John Vulich, Hollywood makeup artist, on the internet.
In 1995, John Vulich-head of Optic Nerve makeup studio-posted a message to an internet newsgroup, in which he wrote that the suit used in the Patterson Bigfoot film was supposedly modified from one used in a Lost in Space episode. In this episode, the rumor goes, a hairy alien took vegetables from the Robinson's space garden. Vulich recalls:
I was watching a Lost in Space episode and as a makeup artist, it looked like the [Patterson] suit with a different head. There is one scene where you see it from behind. Just from seeing it it looked like the exact same suit to me. If the suit in that episode is not the same suit, then it is done in a similar style and probably by the same person. There is something about the shape of it, the bulkiness of it, that I think is really similar. For me this is just all speculation-I have no hard evidence. But as a makeup artist, in my eyes, it looks like the same suit and I knew that [Lost in Space and the Patterson film] were around the same time.
Other makeup artists have also expressed this opinion. Is it possible that a version of the Patterson Bigfoot suit was on Lost in Space? According to Taylor and Roy in Making a Monster, Lost in Space was indeed one of the shows that John Chambers worked on:
Chambers also...did some episodes for "The Outer Limits," "Lost in Space," and "Night Gallery." Many of these television programs had to exist on low budgets despite high ratings and the need for creative staff. Chambers would turn out two or three monsters a week. (p. 202)
Longtime Chambers associate Mike McCracken, Sr. confirms that Chambers worked on Lost in Space, recalling, "John was in the 20th Century Fox makeup department at that time and he did some things for that show-it was a Fox show."
For expert opinion and fact concerning Lost in Space, I turned to Flint Mitchell, a Strange Magazine reader and the head of a Lost in Space fan club. Flint had a good deal to say about Chambers' work on Lost in Space:
John Chambers was never credited on the show, to my knowledge. I know that one of his makeup creations was certainly used on Lost in Space: an experimental ape mask from Planet of the Apes was used for a creature named "Creech" in the episode "Fugitives in Space." [Air date 1/31/68]
What did Flint Mitchell think of the notion that the Patterson suit may have been modifed from a Lost in Space costume?
As for the idea of the monster costumes being modified to look like the Bigfoot footage, that is entirely possible. They modified costumes on Lost In Space all the time. That's how [producer] Irwin Allen worked: he never paid for something new when it could be altered and reused. About the only part of the Bigfoot costume that was unique was the head, so it's possible that one of the Lost In Space costumes could have been used with a new head, or an altered head from the show.
Having determined that Chambers worked on Lost in Space (although uncredited), and that costume modification was a common practice at that time, I wanted to find out which Lost in Space episode included a hairy monster in the vegetable garden. Again, Flint Mitchell came to my aid. "The episode you want (a hairy beast attacks the Robinson's garden) is from 'The Space Croppers.' Actually, the beast was a werewolf, and he was in human form when he stole from their garden," Mitchell e-mailed me.
"The Space Croppers" first aired on March 30, 1966 and was the sixth show of the second year of Lost in Space. [Lost in Space Episode Guide; Sf-Lovers Archives, Rutgers University.]
Strange Magazine subscriber Tim Johnson also offered his help on the investigation. He suggested that I check out the Lost in Space episode "One of Our Dogs is Missing" [Air Dates: 12/8/65 & 8/24/66] in which a giant, hairy mutant attacks Judy. "If not that one, then surely you'll find hairy monsters aplenty in the following episode, which recycles practically every monster costume used in Lost in Space," Johnson e-mailed. "This is the Rosetta Stone of Lost in Space monster appearances: 'The Keeper' [Air dates: Part I-1/12/66, Part II-1/19/66]. The episode "All That Glitters" was also suggested for its monster scenes.
Above and beyond the call of duty, Flint Mitchell went through his collection of Lost in Space videos and dubbed virtually every sequence from each episode involving a hairy monster.
In the episode "One of Our Dogs is Missing," the suit is much baggier than the Patterson suit, although the hair texture is similar. In "The Keeper," the creature goes by quickly, and is vaguely similar to the monster in "One of Our Dogs is Missing." The suits in "The Magic Mirror" and "The Oasis" do not appear to resemble the Patterson suit very closely. "The Space Croppers," the episode that makeup expert John Vulich believes may include a version of the Patterson suit, is somewhat compelling. While the arms look fabric-like, the suit is a possibility for modification. The bagginess is evident again in "All That Glitters" and "Space Circus." The episodes "Prisoners of Space," "Revolt of the Androids," and "Hunter's Moon" also include monster suits that may have been modified but are not particularly compelling.
I screened the footage with film person/Strange Magazine Executive Editor Douglas Chapman and effects/film/photography person/Strange Magazine Art Director Greg Snook. Doug Chapman's reaction: "Interesting. I can see how some of the suits could have been used in the Patterson film if work was done on them."
Greg Snook found the footage interesting but found it "inconclusive," pointing out 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."
I agree with Doug and Greg--one cannot reach a conclusion based on these scenes alone.
From screening these sequences, however, we got some additional insight into what to look for when viewing the Patterson film. By comparing so many monster suits we were able to get a good feeling for the look of the hair, the general construction, and the weak points of the suits.
In an interview with this investigator, makeup master Tom Burman discussed credit for the Lost in Space monsters:
Yes, after Planet of the Apes, and we did some Lost in Space things even in '67. Yes, we did do a number of things for Lost in Space. Most of the stuff that was done for Lost in Space during that period I did. John didn't really want to be bothered with the stuff on the show, so I did most of the manufacturing of most of the silly creatures. You know, Janos Prohaska used to bring some of the creature things. He and a guy named Bill Waida would make the different faces for it. He could be an ape or a werewolf or whatever he wanted to be, all in the same silly suit.
So Burman and Prohaska (who later died in a tragic plane accident) may have been responsible for the Lost in Space monsters, not Chambers.
Tentative conclusion? We somehow doubt that a Lost in Space suit was used in the Patterson film, but it is not impossible that this was the case. We have not heard the last of this.
Bigfoot aficionados have long held that--according to special effects experts--the creature in the Patterson film could not have been a man in a suit. On the contrary-many special makeup effects artists believe that the Patterson film depicts a costumed person.
In fact, 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.
In 1967 Chambers created the makeup for Planet of the Apes, which was released in 1968. The Patterson film was allegedly shot on October 20, 1967.
Whether Chambers created the suit or not, it is highly significant that so many makeup artists believe the film to be a hoax, and this fact will come as a shock to many Bigfoot researchers. As the first investigator to look into the allegations concerning Chambers, I have interviewed a number of the top makeup people in Hollywood, many of whom are quoted herein. Considering how many makeup people in Hollywood believe that John Chambers made the Patterson suit, it is amazing that it took this long for the case to come to our attention.
I first heard the rumor that John Chambers made the Patterson suit from anthropologist/cryptozoologist and Strange Magazine reader Alex Downs in 1992. Alex was working at the Smithsonian Institution for the summer and we spoke on several occasions. Alex told me then that he had heard about Chambers making the suit from author/producer Don Glut.
I was intrigued that Chambers' name had been connected with the Patterson suit. After all, there had been rumors of a suit, but to the best of my knowledge, a name had never been attached to them in print. Bigfoot author John Green noted that there were rumors of a man in a suit but that they amounted to nothing. They were only rumors because Green wanted them to be-he could have identified his source so that other researchers could have checked for themselves.
Being involved in a number of investigations, I filed this tantalizing information about the Chambers-Patterson connection and set out to learn everything that I could about the Patterson film. Between 1992 and 1995 I spent a good deal of my time investigating Ray Wallace and the Birth of Bigfoot case, and the connections to the Patterson case were many and obvious. In fact, the more I learned about the film, the more problems I had with the case.
I would rather not deal with the Patterson case as a whole at this time, however, preferring in this article to focus on the attitudes of the experts who really count-the special effects makeup artists of Hollywood. My goal: to track down the rumor that John Chambers made the suit and while doing so to learn what makeup artists thought about the Patterson film. I would attempt to investigate the case from the outside in, peeling back the layers of the onion. I did this for several reasons. It was very possible that Chambers would not admit that he made the suit even if he had fabricated it. Also, I had never approached a case in this fashion before and wanted to give it a try.
Dave Kindlon and the Rick Baker Revelation
I next heard about Chambers making the Patterson Bigfoot Suit in 1995, from effects makeup artist Dave Kindlon. Dave was working with his wife Colleen on an animatronic cat for Disney's remake of That Darn Cat at the time.
Dave had first learned of Chambers' alleged involvement in the fabrication of the Patterson suit from his friend makeup artist Howard Berger in 1983/84. Kindlon and Berger, now head of KNB Effects Group, were roommates at the time. Berger came home one day from working on Harry and the Hendersons at Rick Baker's studio and said to Dave that Rick Baker told him and some other crew members that John Chambers made the Patterson film suit.
Academy Award® winning Hollywood makeup artist Rick Baker is the makeup master who created the apes in King Kong (1976 remake), Greystoke, and Gorillas in the Mist--he has certainly designed more ape suits than any other makeup artist. If anyone is qualified to discuss ape/Bigfoot suits, it is he. In addition, Baker has studied ape movement in zoos all over the United States.
Dave Kindlon was himself a member of Rick Baker's makeup team in 1987 when he heard about the Chambers-Patterson Film connection directly from Baker. Kindlon recalls:
I heard this again while working on Gorillas in the Mist at Rick Baker's [studio]. We had just pulled out the old Harry and the Hendersons r/c [radio controlled] head and were talking about "real" Bigfoot sightings. I mentioned the Patterson film and Rick responded, "You know that's a guy in a suit. John Chambers built that around the time of Planet of the Apes." It was common knowledge in the shop from around the time that they were building the "Harry" suits for Harry and the Hendersons.
In a later conversation with this author, Dave Kindlon explained that he got the impression that Rick Baker had heard the information directly from John Chambers. "Rick told us very matter-of-factly," Kindlon recalls. "It was not the kind of story that he would go out of his way to make up."
Howard Berger: An Earlier Account
My next step was to interview Howard Berger, chief of Hollywood makeup effects studio KNB Effects Group (Eraser, From Dusk Till Dawn, Dances with Wolves), from whom Dave Kindlon had first heard the Chambers rumor. Berger remembers hearing about the Chambers-Patterson suit connection in 1985:
I always thought that it was kind of fake-looking and I remember seeing the Sun Classic Pictures movie In Search of Bigfoot or whatever and they were saying: "There was no way that this could ever be a man." And I'm thinking, "What a bunch of crap. Of course it could be a man!" I was working at Rick Baker's on Harry and the Hendersons and we were talking about Bigfoot and talking about that footage and Rick Baker told us that John Chambers had done that suit and that it was just a crappy walkaround suit he built. It was like a gag to be played on the guy who shot it. The guy never knew it was a hoax that his friends played on him. That's what I had heard, that's what Rick Baker said-that he knew it was a John Chambers suit. It was just a big joke, but when it started becoming popular, nobody wanted to come forward and say it's just a joke, it's not real. I don't remember if Rick said that he saw the suit but I do remember Rick telling us about it.
I asked Howard if he had any idea of how Baker would have known about Chambers making the Patterson suit.
"He probably heard it from John Chambers, that's what I figure," he replied, laughing.
Rick Baker's Role
Rick Baker had publicly criticized the Patterson film in the past, but before this investigation it was not known outside of the Hollywood makeup community that he ever connected Chambers to the film.
Baker has known Chambers for some twenty-five years. Baker's 1971 theatrical feature film debut, at age 20, was as the designer/fabricator of the title creature for Schlock, a low-budget monster comedy written and directed by a twenty-one-year-old John Landis (Animal House, Trading Places, etc.). The creature, dubbed the Schlockthropus, was a sophisticated ape-man suit worn by Landis. Landis had makeup master John Chambers perform a small role in Schlock as a National Guard Captain. Chambers and Baker met on the set, and later Chambers praised Baker's work on the film, predicting that: "Rick should be one of the leading makeup artists of the future." [Al Taylor and Sue Roy, Making a Monster (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1980), p. 250]
In 1992 on the television show Now it Can Be Told, Baker suggested to host Geraldo Rivera that the creature "looked like cheap fake fur." [Danny Perez, "Bigfoot at Bluff Creek," BigfooTimes, October 20, 1992, p. 21]
It is possible that Chambers could have told Baker about his involvement in the Patterson suit at some point, and that Baker later told his own tight-knit crews, but my understanding is that Baker and Chambers were not great friends.
I contacted Rick Baker to try to determine how he knew about the Chambers fabrication of the Patterson Bigfoot suit. A short list of questions was submitted to Baker, who is currently working in New York on the film Men in Black for Steven Spielberg.
Baker formally declined to be interviewed or to respond to my questions, citing lack of time. This was disappointing, since it was possible that Baker might have been the source of the belief that Chambers made the Patterson suit. Nevertheless, it is highly significant that Baker believed the film to be a fake. He, if anyone, would know.
Bob Burns: Patterson Bigfoot "a Guy in a Suit"
Throughout my investigation, many make-up artists suggested that I speak to ape impersonator Bob Burns, who knows what there is to know about the history of the ape suit in Hollywood . I interviewed Bob and was intrigued to learn that he had spent some time with Rick Baker analyzing the film from their particular perspectives:
Rick Baker and I looked at that film years ago and our feeling was that it was a guy in a suit. It was quite a few years ago now. Some guy up north sent copies down to us-I don't even remember who the guy was now, but he knew that Rick and I did gorillas and stuff and he thought that we could help. I heard a rumor once that John Chambers might have built that suit. That is what we heard later on-that John had actually built that. I've never heard him say he did, but that is what Rick and I heard a few years later. I don't remember where we heard that now. It was so long ago, probably was 15, 16, 18 years ago. I was still working at CBS at the time.
I told Bob that everyone I interviewed heard the Chambers information from Rick or from someone else who heard it from Rick. "I don't remember where I heard it from," he answered, "but I didn't hear it from Rick 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 [Patterson] film footage was faked by John Chambers."
Bob had some interesting technical thoughts about the Patterson film, resulting from his repeated viewing of it and subsequent discussion with Baker:
I worked at CBS and we took the film up there. I put it on my Movieola and we went back and forth with it and went frame by frame. We gave it a really good and an honest shot, we really did. We projected it over and over and our honest opinion, from having worked in gorilla suits, was that it was a guy in a sumt. The way it moved, it obviously looked like it had what we call a waterbag in the stomach area which is an old trick that Charlie Gemora, the greatest apeman ever, I think, devised for his suit back in the '30s. That's the sort of liquid stomach thing to make it look like real flesh when you wiggle around. Of course John would have known about the waterbag because he knew Charlie Gemora. I certainly consider Gemora-and so does Rick-the best gorilla man ever. His suits were the best. John Chambers had to know him because he finished his career over at Paramount as the head of their makeup department.
I asked Bob one more time if he could remember who told him that Chambers made the suit. "I'm racking my brains trying to remember who told me that they thought it was John Chambers but I honestly can't remember who that would be," he replied. "But it did not come from Rick Baker. The film was sent to me, I called Rick in on the thing, and we looked at it together. But Rick never told me it was John Chambers. I found out from somebody else. Rick, as I said, was not a rumor spreader at all."
John Vulich and the Lost in Space Connection
John Vulich is the Emmy® award-winning owner of Optic Nerve makeup studio in Sun Valley, California, and is responsible for the extensive special effects makeup work on the television series Babylon 5. He mentioned the Chambers/Patterson connection online on a usenet newsgroup in 1995 and has gone on record with the rumor that the Patterson suit was a modified version of a hairy monster suit created by John Chambers. In addition, he speculated that the suit might have been created for the 1960s TV series Lost in Space. Since then his notion has achieved its own life online.
It is a fact that Chambers worked uncredited on Lost in Space making monster suits and that these suits were often modified, so this contention is not unreasonable. In addition, the sequence of events is logical and the time line appears to corroborate the rumors and speculation. In an interview with me, Chambers ex-partner Tom Burman claims to have made most of the the suits for Lost in Space, however. [For more info on Chambers, Lost in Space, and the Patterson Suit , check out the first sidebar on the upper right, in which I look further into the Lost in Space rumor]
Vulich recalls hearing from a number of people over the years that Chambers made the Patterson suit. These included effects artist Bart Mixon around 1988 and makeup artist Jim McPherson in 1992:
I have heard that Chambers made the Patterson suit from at least two or three different people. Common sense-the footage looks like a suit. Looking at the stuff that Chambers did-the style and all that, and then having seen the stuff on Lost in Space and just knowing that in that era he was pretty much the only game in town, it makes sense. It falls into place. Jim McPherson had heard that Chambers had built that suit and that [Chambers] himself might not even have known what the suit was built for. I think that Patterson maybe had just called him up and wanted to rent some kind of suit. Because at the time he and Dick Smith were the best guys doing that kind of stuff. And he was more of an effects-type guy than Dick Smith. Dick Smith was more of a makeup guy while Chambers was building suits and creatures and was really pretty much the only game in town in the '60s.
Vulich has an opinion as to how Patterson could have afforded to have put his hoax together without the funds to have a suit fabricated:
Patterson could not have afforded to have it scratch built. I can't imagine that someone like Patterson would have whatever a suit like that would have cost back then-I'm sure it would have been at least in the tens of thousands. He could have rented it, though. He probably called Chambers to rent a suit. I get calls from people all the time who want to rent something from me. I can see someone like Chambers renting it to someone for a grand or something and maybe redoing it some and taking the head off another thing. That was my guess just seeing it.
John Vulich puts little credence in the long-held belief among Bigfooters that makeup artists have proclaimed the Patterson Bigfoot as impossible to duplicate:
One guy wrote to me and said, "You know, Disney people looked at it and they said that it couldn't be duplicated." Well, Disney was never known for doing prosthetic effects. I'll tell you as a makeup artist looking at it, it's a guy in a suit. There's no doubt in my mind that it's a guy in a suit. They get into specifics like the way the head turns, that it turns like a gorilla. It turns that way because the suit was stiff and made from polyfoam and he couldn't probably turn his neck very well. Well if it's stiff then how could it be walking? Well, not every part of it is going to be stiff, the joints are going to be loose, etc. But I think it was a guy in a suit.
The bottom line for Vulich: "It is a combination of my gut instinct, my knowledge of makeup, and all that I have heard, that makes me think that Chambers made the Patterson suit. I do not have proof but I definitely believe that he made it."
The first time I spoke to Matt Croteau he was sculpting the nose for a bear in a Duracell commercial. A makeup sculptor and Strange Magazine reader, Matt contacted me independently to let me know 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 know who they are. I think that Matt would have preferred not being named himself but he had the nerve to never insist on this. Matt is in good company, however, joining Tom Burman, the McCrackens, Rick Baker, Howard Berger, Dave Kindlon, John Vulich, and others who have provided information so that I might get to the bottom of this case, despite the legendary secrecy of the Hollywood makeup community.
Chambers and the
If Chambers made the Patterson suit, it would not have been the only Bigfoot-related hoax that he was involved in. He was also responsible for the fabrication of an elaborate, phony Bigfoot carcass, and he may have consulted on the creation of the infamous Minnesota Iceman. Thus, he was not averse to being involved in hoaxes and other secretive "nontheatrical" projects, as the makeup artists refer to non-movie projects.
The Burbank Bigfoot was a 900-pound, seven-foot-four-inch Bigfoot model created by Chambers and his crew in the makeup artist's Burbank garage. According to makeup artists Tom Burman and Werner Keppler, the body was an alginate life casting of the actor Richard Kiel, best known for his role as "Jaws" in two James Bond films. Chambers worked on the face to create an "apeman" look and ultimately the whole body was cast in plaster. The plaster body was meticulously painted by Chambers and then covered in three pounds of human hair, the hair alone requiring a week of work. "Body hairs were placed on the figure a few at a time, and blended with various colors to match the patterns found on gorillas, monkeys, and humans. After the hair was set in place, Chambers and his men cut and trimmed it carefully, to give the entire hair covering an even natural look," according to an article in Hollywood Studio Magazine ("'Bigfoot' Born in Burbank?," June, 1970). Werner Keppler clearly recalls the laborious fabrication process and the way that the huge plaster body was hoisted out of the studio-garage by rented crane.
Who commissioned the fake Bigfoot? No one is talking and the only clues are in the Hollywood Studio Magazine article:
The creature was ordered by a man who specializes in sideshow attractions and wanted something new to haul around the country this summer. ...the man came to Chambers with a number of magazine articles and clippings purporting to show the mysterious ape-man and asked for a duplicate in plaster. Big Foot will soon be on its way to the mid-west as a curiosity similar to the famed Cardiff Giant of the last century, except John Chambers makes no claims for the creature other than the fact it is one of the most impressive studies in plaster he has ever done.
The article suggests that if a scientist in the future discovers the ostensibly petrified Burbank Bigfoot, "you can bet John Chambers will be looking down from that big makeup lab in the sky with a grin on his face."
As to whether or not Chambers played a part in the Frank Hansen Iceman hoax, all that can be said is that in an article in the July 1970 issue of Saga magazine Hansen wrote that he had consulted with Chambers concerning the hair implantation on the Iceman, writing, "John Chambers, a makeup artist and academy award winner from 20th-Century Fox suggested that a small wax studio in Los Angeles could implant the hair according to my specifications." Now Hansen denies that Chambers played any role at all in the Iceman fabrication. Rather, Hansen, who changes his stories like other people change shirts, now insists that he met with Chambers concerning the fabrication of a cryogenic display. (Those who have followed the Minnesota Iceman saga over the years may find it interesting that makeup artist Mike McCracken, Sr. described to this investigator how he met Hansen when the showman came to Universal Studios to talk to the effects team there about building him a phony crashed saucer, including occupants.)
Werner Keppler, a close Chambers associate for many years (and still a friend of Chambers) is now makeup artist on the hit NBC show ER. He worked as a moldmaker with Chambers when the Burbank Bigfoot was constructed (see sidebar at right) and the Patterson suit would have been fabricated. Werner is very close to Chambers and is one of the only people that Chambers sees on a regular basis. Keppler, who is notoriously tight-lipped, cuts Chambers' hair once a month. When Werner was asked by Mike McCracken, Jr. about the Burbank Bigfoot, Keppler discussed the subject openly. When Mike asked about Chambers' connection to the Patterson Bigfoot suit, he answered, "I would have to get John's permission to talk about that."
If there was nothing to talk about, he would not have needed Chambers' permission.
John Chambers: Monster Maker
The more one knows about John Chambers, the more the rumors/allegations make sense. Chambers was a pioneer in the field of special effects makeup. His work on Planet of the Apes was groundbreaking. And he was an ace monster maker, at one point in his career cranking out two or three monsters weekly for television. His monsters have appeared in The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery ("Pickman's Model"), Lost in Space and other productions for film and television. In fact, Chambers had quite a collection of "hair suits." Makeup effects artist Mike McCracken, Jr. (Twilight Zone: The Movie, Congo) remembers visiting Chambers at his house-studio shortly before Chambers' retirement.
"He must have had twenty or thirty different fur suits at his house," McCracken recalls. "John was a master at making monster suits. He had monster suits I'd never even seen. I was blown away. I could easily see him assembling a Bigfoot suit from the suits there."
John Chambers was a natural choice as a fabricator for the Patterson suit and the Burbank Bigfoot--according to Taylor and Roy, authors of Making a Monster, "Chambers was the only makeup artist for years to operate a commercial makeup lab. He worked mainly as a lab man, doing makeup creations and appliances for other makeup artists for good fees but no film credit." Thus, he would not have minded working on a project that he would never receive credit for.
When working on a television series, Chambers would have to do sketches in a day or two, and create a monster in ten days or less. He was used to working quickly and on a low budget if necessary. And he was great at keeping a secret, working with a very tight crew who shared his tight-lipped attitude.
Some makeup artists have opined that Chambers was the only one in Hollywood with the technical expertise to make the Patterson suit in 1967. I interviewed longtime Chambers associate Mike McCracken, Sr. (Communion, Island of Dr. Moreau), who worked with him from 1972 to 1982, the year Chambers retired. McCracken holds this opinion: "People now look at the [Patterson] film and say, 'this is how it could have been made'," but at the time it was made in the late '60s, John was one of a few people who could have made something that looked that good. John was the creator of modern effects makeup."
If anyone could pull off the Patterson suit it was Chambers, who was a great technician. He was a constant innovator, developing a number of special makeup products and processes. Chambers was the first and only makeup artist to win both an Oscar® and an Emmy® (1980), was president of the Society of Makeup Artists and was the first motion picture makeup artist with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
In addition, Chambers is said to have been a real practical joker--a common attribute of the hoaxer. Chambers co-worker Mike McCracken, Sr., recalls: "John had kind of a practical joker attitude. He would like to pull all kinds of practical jokes."
Tom Burman: The Man Inside the Monster?
McCracken felt that I should talk to one other person. "Tom Burman would know the truth," McCracken proffered. "He apprenticed under John and was involved in a lot of John's private nontheatrical productions."
Tom Burman is one of the top Hollywood makeup artists. His studio, located in North Hollywood, is responsible for makeup effects for such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Waterworld.
John Chambers and Tom Burman were close associates at the time that the Patterson film was made. I contacted Burman and the following is an excerpt of an interview that I did with him in March 1996:
Chorvinsky: There has been a rumor going around the makeup community for years that John Chambers made the Patterson suit that was filmed in 1967.
Tom Burman: 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. That was all-consuming, from January 1st to September 14th and then he was on tour after that, so he would have never had time to make the suit anyhow.
Chorvinsky: Were you also working with him in the period before that?
Tom Burman: Yes, since '66.
Chorvinsky: What is your opinion of the Patterson film?
Tom Burman: I saw that--I remember I was on Wolper. We did a Bigfoot story on whether it was real or not entitled: Monsters: Myth or Legend. We did a makeup on Richard Kiel for that. John Chambers and I viewed the Patterson film individually, and determined that somebody made a hokey suit. It was a prank.
Chorvinsky: Do you have any idea who would have been involved if it was a prank?
Tom Burman: We always tried to figure it out, but we were never able to figure it out. I don't think that it was a professional. I don't think it was done well enough to be made by a professional. It wasn't someone who knew how to perform.
So Burman, like every other Hollywood makeup pro I spoke with, believes that the Patterson film is of a person in a suit.
John Vulich has recently spoken with Burman about his belief that Chambers could not have made the suit due to the lack of time. Vulich suggested to Burman that rather than making the suit it could have been put together from existing suits, which would have taken little time. Burman entertained the possibility, saying that he didn't think of that, but it might have been possible.
Shortly before going to press with this article, I interviewed a prominent makeup artist who prefers to remain anonymous. My informant revealed that in 1995 he learned that Tom Burman was allegedly the person in the Patterson suit!
After some coaxing and my offer of anonymity, my informant told me that he heard this information from makeup sculptor Greg Smith, who had heard it from Burman himself.
I shared this information with Dave Kindlon, who, coincidentally, is currently working on a makeup project with Greg Smith. Dave put me in touch with Greg, who explained to me that he has indeed heard that Tom Burman was in the Patterson suit, but that rather than hearing this from Burman, he heard it from makeup artist Jake Garber, who heard it from Burman.
I then interviewed Jake Garber, who claimed that while he had worked for Burman for six months on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Burman never said anything about the Patterson film suit to him.
I have not yet had an opportunity to check out the latest lead in the Burman strand of this investigation. Evidently, Tom Burman's daughter-in-law Jennifer McManus, who is married to his son Rob, matter-of-factly told a fellow makeup artist that I interviewed that she heard from her husband that his dad and Chambers built the Patterson suit. Furthermore, it was supposedly common knowledge in the Burman family that Tom Burman layed the hair on the suit.. I will look into this further as my investigation continues.
I should also note that a number of makeup artists that I have interviewed have characterized Tom Burman as someone who could possibly lean in the direction of hoaxing.
A Secretive Community
Several makeup artists asked to remain anonymous after I had conducted a number of on-the-record interviews.
I have investigated many phenomena over the past decade, and some of the cases have been quite controversial, but rarely has anyone requested anonymity. Reading through my articles on the more substantial of these investigations (the 1912 Mystery Bigfoot Photo, the "Mary F"/Shiels Morgawr Photos, the Crystal Skulls, the Selbyville Swamp Monster, etc.) one would notice that there are few if any anonymous percipients or informants.
The amount of off-the-record information that I have collected is substantial. I have tried to be fastidious in keeping my agreements with each source. Occasionally a subject that was brought up in an off-the-record conversation would be raised and discussed by another source, on the record. When this has occurred I have used the information from the on-the-record interview, and have not referred to the first, off-the-record, source. Nothing that was told to me off-the-record has been used in this article unless it was also told to me by another source, on the record.
I am in the awkward position of knowing more than I can tell at this time. One aspect of either Chambers' career or the legends surrounding it is the buzz about Chambers' involvement in government-sponsored "black box" work. No one has ever been willing to go on the record concerning this alleged work, but within the Hollywood makeup community it is generally believed that such work did occur and that it has added to the secretiveness of Chambers and his closest associates. The tight-lipped attitude of those in the know has only contributed to the spread of rumors and speculation in the Hollywood makeup community. Widespread rumors in the makeup community depict Chambers applying a wig and prosthetics to a cadaver to fake the death of a foreign ruler and engaging in a number of "Company"-sponsored "nontheatrical" projects. These black box rumors are all reminiscent of Mission Impossible plots, many of which relied on disguises-some courtesy of Chambers' makeup prowess. One rumor depicts the CIA watching Mission Impossible on television and getting disguise ideas from it, then going after the makeup artist-Chambers-to work for them. (Actually, Chambers did the makeup on the pilot while Bob Dawn was responsible for the eyecatching work on most of the series.) While there is no proof that Chambers was involved in covert activities, we do know for a fact that Hollywood makeup artists have been instrumental in various military/intelligence projects. In this regard I interviewed Bob Schiffer (The Shaggy Dog,The Birdman of Alcatraz), the head of Disney's makeup and hair department with over sixty years in the business. The veteran makeup master touched on this sensitive topic:
John did mention to me at one time that he was involved in something for the government. Some of us, including myself, were recruited during World War II by [then Lieutenant] Gordon Bau for undercover work of a certain type. Sometimes we did not know what the makeup was used for. A lot of us did camouflage work in World War II. I was also involved in the years after the war. In the Bay of Pigs invasion we made up people to look Cuban.
For the record, Schiffer opines that the Patterson film Bigfoot "looks like someone in a suit."
The makeup community is a secretive group, to be sure, with more than its share of secrets. There is an old adage in Tinseltown: "If the makeup artists told what they learned in their chairs, it would bring down Hollywood."
I should mention one significant fact about the off-the-record information, without betraying any confidences: it supports the notion that Chambers created the Patterson suit. The more one knows about this case, the more this theory appears to make sense. If a case is based on rumors and contemporary legends, then generally the further one gets into the investigation the more the case unravels. In this case, the opposite has been true.
A Denial from Chambers
Today John Chambers is in a nursing home in Los Angeles. He has been ill in recent days and I knew that it would be hard, if not impossible, to speak to him. Nevertheless I contacted him by fax in care of the home's public affairs person Vicky Johnson. I explained to Chambers that I was interested in speaking to him about the generally held belief in the Hollywood makeup community that he made the suit depicted in the Patterson Bigfoot film. Chambers read my fax and responded to me through Ms. Johnson.
"Mr. Chambers is a very private person, Mark," Vicky Johnson explained to me. "Due to his current situation, he regrets that he is not available for interviews. He did reply to your fax by voicemail, though. He said that he did not design the costume."
Does this mean that he had nothing to do with the costume, or that he fabricated it and someone else designed it?
When asked about the Chambers/Patterson connection, Disney makeup effects veteran Bob Schiffer responded, "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."
I did not expect John Chambers to grant me an interview, so I conducted this investigation with the understanding that I would be tracking down rumors.
Whenever I investigate a case I am amazed at how many rumors fly around, but remain uninvestigated. It is as if to brand something a rumor grants it some kind of invincible status making it somehow uninvestigatable.
If Bigfoot author John Green publishes that there were rumors of a guy in a suit in the Patterson film but that they did not pan out, one has to trust him, to have faith in his judgement. We have no way of knowing what the rumor was or where it came from. By not telling us the content of the rumor, from whom it was heard, or what he did to check out the accuracy of the rumor, we do not have enough information to come to our own conclusions, however tentative.
I think 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. Most "investigators" of strange phenomena appear content to accept rumors as rumors and to go no further. I have seen no evidence that anyone other than myself has ever tried to track down these rumors and to seriously evaluate them.
Why do these rumors remain uninvestigated? Because most Bigfoot investigators are driven by belief. Why would they want to investigate a rumor that hurts the case for the existence of Bigfoot?
Back to Baker
Interestingly, no one has claimed to have heard the rumor from Chambers. Nearly everyone who has heard the rumor either heard it from Rick Baker or from someone who heard it from Baker. In fact, late in my investigation I spoke with Don Glut, the person who told Alex Downs the Chambers rumor. Alex, you may recall, was the first person who passed the information on to me. Glut recalls:
I used to be a member of the California Skeptics Society and they had a lecture on Bigfoot in which they ran [the Patterson] footage. And when they ran it, the guy who ran it--I don't remember who ran it--he claimed that Rick Baker had looked at the footage and totally authenticated it. He said, "Based on my knowledge of ape suits and things that this could not possibly have been faked." So I then asked Jim McPherson, who worked with Rick, and I said, "Did you ever hear about Rick Baker substantiating or authenticating this footage?" And he said, "We know in the special effects business here, that it's kind of common knowledge that that footage was faked by John Chambers."
Did Baker start the rumor? Did he hear the information straight from Chambers, as Berger and Kindlon have inferred?
I decided that it was worth contacting Rick Baker again. This time I would boil my interview down to one central question: From whom did he hear that Chambers made the Patterson suit?
I faxed Baker, asking him this one question and letting him know that a great deal of time and effort had gone into my investigation, mentioning a number of the makeup people that I had interviewed.
I was surprised when I received a call from Rick Baker's studio. The ever-cryptic Baker read my fax and had a reply for me, read to me by someone at his studio: "He [Rick] no longer believes this is true."
What are we to make of this response? That Baker believed it once himself? If he did, what made him change his belief? It did not escape my notice that Baker had still not answered the question of who he heard the information from! Perhaps Baker started a rumor that took on a life of its own, and now doesn't want to deal with it. Or maybe he knew the truth, was not supposed to tell, and is now covering up.
Those who know Rick Baker, however, describe him as somewhat quiet, not prone to overstatement and wild claims. Rick is considered a straight shooter who is not the kind of person who would create or knowingly spread a rumor. Bob Burns describes him thusly: "Rick is not a game player or anything like that. It's not his style. He just doesn't do it."
The bottom line: the rumors are fascinating but at this point in the investigation there is only hearsay and circumstantial evidence that Chambers had anything to do with the Patterson suit. It appeared at one point that the original source of the rumor was Rick Baker, who unfortunately did not answer my question of who he heard the rumor from. Bob Burns, who is Baker's longtime friend, did not hear the rumor from Baker, however, implying that there may have been another source. Burns does not recall who he heard it from, however.
The fact that this entire case may be based on a contemporary (a.k.a. "urban") legend has not been lost on me. A small community has passed a rumor from person to person. The rumor takes on a life of its own, growing and changing. And perhaps most importantly, no one has told me that they heard the story directly from Chambers or Burman. All of the information has been of the friend-of-a-friend sort.
Mitigating against the "contemporary legend" theory is Werner Keppler's reaction to questions about the Patterson suit (that he would need Chambers' permission to discuss the topic); the strong suspicions of numerous Hollywood makeup artists that Chambers made the suit; Chambers' involvement in other Bigfoot-related hoaxes; his undeniable technical ability, secretive nature, and love of practical joking; and corroborating information from unidentified sources close to Chambers. Chambers certainly had the means to pull it off -- remember Mike McCracken, Jr.'s statement that Chambers had twenty or thirty monster suits in his home.
"I just know that somewhere there is a photo of Chambers in his studio standing next to a guy in the Patterson suit," Mike McCracken, Jr. muses.
I find it very interesting that Dave Kindlon, John Vulich, and Mike McCracken, Jr. -- after hearing that Tom Burman believes that Chambers did not make the suit, that Rick Baker claims that he no longer thinks that it is true, and that Chambers has denied designing the suit -- still believe that Chambers made the Patterson suit. As Dave Kindlon puts it, "It's a suit and if anybody built it at that time, that well, then it was Chambers. Add to that Chambers' secretive nature, the matter-of-fact way that Rick Baker told it to me, and Werner's cagey attitude toward the whole thing, and it all adds up. I'm convinced he made it."
And Mike McCracken, Jr. is even more emphatic in his belief that Chambers built the suit, proclaiming, "I'd say with almost absolute certainty that John made it."
My investigation did not lead to the craftsman of the Patterson suit, but one thing is clear -- none of the foremost makeup special effects experts in Hollywood that I interviewed think that the Patterson Bigfoot is anything but a man in a suit. Bigfoot buffs have perpetuated the myth that special makeup effects artists believed that the Patterson film was hard, if not impossible, to fake. This article should lay to rest any notion that makeup experts were generally impressed by the Patterson film.
Like many of my cases, this is an ongoing investigation. Nearly every day brings several promising new leads as the case snowballs, and readers can expect to see new information on the case posted on the Strange Magazine Web site and in updates in future issues of Strange Magazine.
For the time being, much is supposition until the source of the Patterson suit is incontrovertibly pinned down. Was it purchased at a costume shop in Washington state, was it handmade, or did Patterson rent it from Chambers on one of Patterson's "business trips" to Los Angeles? Perhaps one day soon we will have answers to these questions.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to my friends John Vulich and Dave Kindlon, who were extremely helpful throughout the investigation. Thanks also to Fred Olen Ray, Flint Mitchell, Bob Burns, Ron Schaffner, Vicky Johnson, Bob Schiffer, Matt Croteau, Mike McCracken Jr. and Sr., and Christine Kruger of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Hollywood, California, for research assistance.