Film Director John Landis Goes Public Concerning Makeup Master John Chambers' Involvement In The Famous Patterson Bigfoot Film

by Mark Chorvinsky

©1996, 1997, Mark E Chorvinsky. All rights reserved. Repr'oduction 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: strange1@strangemag.com

 The following update to my article "The Makeup Man and the Monster: John Chambers and the Patterson Bigfoot Suit" was published in the free e-mail newsletter The Strange Report #6, October 6, 1997 Edition:

October 20, 1997 will be the 30th anniversary of the famous Roger Patterson film of a Bigfoot. This film has been the object of great controversy for three decades and is arguably the best known piece of strange phenomena footage.

In issue #17 of Strange Magazine this author wrote an article based on my investigation of a Hollywood rumor that Academy Award®-winning makeup artist John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) fabricated the suit used in the Patterson film ("The Makeup Man and the Monster: John Chambers and the Patterson Bigfoot Suit," Strange Magazine 17, Summer 1996). I quoted numerous Hollywood makeup artists (John Vulich, Michael McCracken Sr. and Jr., Bob Burns, Howard Berger, Dave Kindlon, etc.) who believe that the Patterson Bigfoot is a person in a suit and that Chambers created it.

Now, in an article by Chambers expert Scott Essman in the current issue of the special effects magazine Cinefex (Scott Essman, "John Chambers: Maestro of Makeup," Cinefex #71, 1997, p. 172), veteran Hollywood director John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places) reveals "a makeup secret that only six people know." The secret -- 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]...." Landis learned this information when he worked in the mailroom at Twentieth Century Fox and would occasionally pop into the makeup laboratory there, where John Chambers was a to work at the time. Landis learned this while Chambers was working on Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).

In 1971 Landis, then about 21 years old, directed, wrote and starred in the apeman comedy Schlock. Landis had his friend, makeup master John Chambers, act in the film as a National Guard Captain. Landis is wrong about the film stock -- it was 16mm, not 8mm -- but there is no reason that Landis should have known what the original format was.

Landis also believes that the costume was used in a David L. Wolper documentary. While this new information hardly constitutes proof, it does provide some corroboration for the Chambers/Patterson suit connection.

I have spoken with Scott Essman, the author of the extensive Chambers article in Cinefex, and asked him what he thinks of the notion that Chambers may have made the Patterson suit. "I have no doubt that Chambers did it," Essman replied.

"I have also heard from different sources that Chambers made the suit and supervised the filming." Scott Essman recalls asking Chambers whether he made the suit for the Patterson film and was in on the filming of it. Chambers answered along the lines of, "It could have been. I don't remember." The manner of Chambers' reply made Essman think that Chambers may have been trying to skirt the issue.

Essman, author of the forthcoming book Creature People, a tome about makeup-effects artists, recently threw a surprise 75th birthday party for Chambers that was attended by many of the top make-up luminaries. In addition to Chambers' birthday, Essman noted that it was also "the 30th anniversary this year of the production of Planet of the Apes, for which Chambers won an Academy Award® for his creative makeup designs. That film broke ground for the way in which prosthetic makeups were produced and perceived by the industry," Essman told The Hollywood Reporter ("Techtalk: Creature Creators," The Hollywood Reporter, September 25, 1997, p. 25).

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.

While my investigation continues and is inconclusive, I have amassed a good deal of circumstantial evidence that Chambers made the suit, including the following points, all of which are discussed in detail in my previous article on the subject:

  1. Landis is just the latest Hollywood insider and Chambers friend to come forth with this information. Some of Chambers' closest associates believe that he made the Patterson suit.
  2. Many makeup effects people have heard that Chambers made the suit and many believe that he did.
  3. Chambers had the technical expertise necessary to make the suit at a time when there were few others who had such ability. Chambers was the person to go to for such a suit in 1967 when the Patterson film was made.
  4. Chambers fabricated many monsters during his career, and had a closet full of suits in his home.
  5. Chambers and his close associate Tom Burman made several fake Bigfoots at various times. Chambers also consulted for Frank Hansen on the infamous Minnesota Iceman Hoax.
  6. All of the makeup effects people that I interviewed believe that the creature in the film is a man in a suit.
  7. Chambers is known for reusing parts of existing suits and could have cannibalized an existing suit or suits, making the job little more than an inexpensive rental rather than an expensive scratch-built costume.

This author-investigator has not concluded whether Chambers made the Patterson suit and Chambers has denied involvement. There is a possibility that Chambers' involvement in the Patterson film is a Hollywood Contemporary Legend spread within the makeup community. Makeup artist and Chambers associate Mike McCracken, Jr. has stated, "I'd say with almost absolute certainty that John made [the Patterson suit]." Gorilla suit expert Bob Burns has noted that, "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."

Makeup artist Rick Baker said in 1987 that the Patterson film was of "a guy in a suit," going on to tell his crew that "John Chambers built that around the time of Planet of the Apes." (Baker now says that he no longer believes that this is true.)

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