The Man Who Sold Bigsuit

September 2, 2009

Philip Morris (right) poses with Joe Nickell, overseen by one of Morris’ Bigfoot creations.

Philip Morris (right) poses with Joe Nickell, overseen by one of Morris’ Bigfoot creations.

I have long followed on the heels of legendary Bigfoot (which I attempted to track, with fellow investigator Vaughn Rees, throughout Northern California—see my earlier blog, “Bigfoot and ETs” Developing Mythologies”). In mid-2009 I made the acquaintance of a special figure in Bigfoot history—although he is someone better known in several other personas.

Philip Morris was born January 8, 1935, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as Philip Morris Smith. At age eight he shortened his name and took to the stage with a magic act. He was later mentored by the great magician Blackstone. By age twelve he had an ABC-radio show called Junior Junction , and, in 1952, not long after graduating from high school, he became publicist and advance man for the traveling Lash LaRue Western Show. The following year, Morris began touring with his own troupe, staging midnight ghost shows with titles like “Dr. Evil and His Terrors of the Unknown.” He also toured with the Royal Hanneford Circus and even had a television show, “Dr. Evil’s Horror Theater.” (See Mark Walker, Ghostmasters , rev. ed., Boca Roton, Florida: Cool Hand Communications, 1994, pp. 128–133.)

In 1955, Morris and his wife Amy began selling theatrical supplies as a home-basement operation. One product was a gorilla suit, used especially for a popular sideshow illusion called “Girl-to-Gorilla.” (In this, Beauty is visibly metamorphosed to Beast, then suddenly lunges from the unlocked cage, stampeding spectators from the tent. See my Secrets of the Sideshows , Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2005, pp. 288–291.) Today, Morris Costumes of Charlotte, North Carolina, is the largest costume wholesaler in the United States.

About August 1967 (Morris recalled in a 2002 interview on Charlotte radio), he sold one of his gorilla suits to Roger Patterson, who used it in his famous hoaxed Bigfoot film on October 20 of that year. Morris informs that his suit was made in six pieces: head, body (a back-zippered fake-fur torso with arms and legs), and a pair of glove hands and latex feet. Patterson may have seen the Morris ad for gorilla suits in Amusement Business magazine, says Morris (whom I have talked with on several occasions, and whose lecture on the subject I attended at the Society of American Magicians convention in Buffalo on July 17, 2009).

Trying to recall events of over 33 years before, the man who claims he wore the suit in Patterson’s film, Bob Heironimus, described wearing a suit fashioned rather differently from Morris’ and smelling like horsehide. Morris notes that his suit—which he positively identifies from the film—was modified. The face mask was replaced, probably by one of leather such as horsehide, and stuffed breasts were added, no doubt from extra fake fur Patterson had asked to be included with his suit. The modifications were necessary to convert a gorilla costume into a more credible Bigfoot suit. Heironimus now concludes Morris indeed made the suit, which Roger Patterson later modified. Family and friends of Heironimus saw the suit in the trunk of Heironimus’ mother’s Buick in late 1967.

Roger Patterson failed to pay his Bigsuit wearer a promised $1,000, says Heironimus—a credible claim in light of Patterson’s repeated theft of services (some $700 in long-distance charges to a neighbor’s home; about $2,000 for printing his 1966 book, Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? ; a $700 loan; and so on and on). Patterson had a habit of ripping off people. Morris says Patterson tried to get him to send the gorilla suit on approval, but Morris demanded payment in advance, and Patterson then sent a money order. Once he had obtained and modified Bigsuit, Roger Patterson was set to perpetrate one of the most audacious hoaxes of the twentieth century. (See Greg Long, The Making of Bigfoot , Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2004, pp. 96, 221–222, 295–314, 335–466).

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.