Some Thoughts About the Patterson Bigfoot Film
on its 30th Anniversary
By Mark Chorvinsky
OCTOBER 1997: Thirty years ago---on October 20, 1967--Yakima, Washington resident Roger Patterson, then 34, and his tracking assistant Bob Gimlin, then 36, emerged from the Bluff Creek area of northern California with a strip of colored 16mm film of what many have taken to be a female Bigfoot.
This short film has provided evidence for those who believe in Bigfoot and is arguably the most famous film clip purporting to demonstrate the existence of unknown creatures. It has been featured in numerous television shows and films and ads, on the cover 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 30 years. When people think of "Bigfoot," the creature in the film often comes to mind.
Bluff Creek, where the famous Patterson film was taken, is a sacred spot to the Bigfoot enthusiast. It is also the site of the 1958 Birth of Bigfoot case, which is severely tainted by the presence of Ray and Wilbur Wallace. Ray Wallace of Tacoma Washington is a problematic character. He is a known hoaxer responsible for numerous Bigfoot films, photographs, tape recordings, fake footprints, and artifacts. I have written a number of articles about Ray Wallace and the 1958 Bluff Creek Birth of Bigfoot case, bringing great doubt upon the case in which Bigfoot was named and entered the public consciousness on a large scale.
If the Bluff Creek Birth of Bigfoot case was the work of the Wallaces (Ray's brother Roy was accused by the local police at the time), then later cases that occur in that area should be highly suspect. Ray Wallace has claimed that he knows who was in the Patterson suit. He will not give a name, but says that the person in the suit was a Yakima Indian.
Wallace also says that he told Roger Patterson where to film his Bigfoot. "Roger Patterson came [over] dozens of times pumping me on this Bigfoot," Ray Wallace explained to researcher Dennis Pilichis in 1982. " I felt sorry for Roger Patterson. He told me that he had cancer of the lymph glands and he was desperately broke and he wanted to try get something where he could have a little income. Well, he went down there just exactly where I told him. I told him, 'You go down there and hang around on that bank. Stay up there and watch that spot.' I told him where the trail was that went down to where that big rock was.I told him where he could get those pictures down there. Bluff Creek."
All of Wallace's claims are suspect, but there is no doubt that Patterson met with Wallace to get information, as Wallace says. We know that Patterson visited Wallace--Patterson writes about it in his own book Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? (Yakima, Washington: Franklin Press, Inc., 1966, pp. 63-64.) And we know that Patterson took his films at one of Wallace's favorite Bigfoot spots: Bluff Creek, the site of previous alleged Wallace hoaxes. In short, the Patterson film was taken on the location of a known serial hoaxer.
Ray Wallace has also circulated questionable Bigfoot photos that bear some resemblance to the Patterson creature (see Mark Chorvinsky, "New Bigfoot Photo Investigation," Strange Magazine 13, Spring 1994, pp.10-11, 51). Wallace has at least one and more likely two Bigfoot suits that he has used for photographs, and had the funds to commission others. At this time it is unknown if Wallace was involved in a hoax with Patterson or hoaxed Patterson.
If there was a hoax, Patterson was either hoaxer or was hoaxed. If he was the hoaxer, what would his Bigfoot have looked like? I would suggest that Patterson's own drawings of Bigfoots for his book may be early designs for the subject of the film that he would take the next year. If Patterson was to have a suit fabricated, he would have rendered a drawing of what he wanted and given it to someone who could fabricate the suit. That drawing would have been an example of what Patterson thought a Bigfoot looked like.
Patterson was strongly influenced by the earlier 1955 William Roe case in eastern British Columbia involving a female Bigfoot.
Roe's description of the creature that he saw is very similar to the subject of the Patterson film, as are numerous aspects of the encounter. Consider the following from Roe: "...as it came closer I saw by its breasts that it was a female...Its broad frame was straight from shoulder to tip...its arms were much thicker than a man's arms and longer reaching almost to its knees..[T]he nose was broad and flat..the hair that covered it (the face), leaving bare only the parts of the face around the mouth nose and ears...its neck also was unhuman, thicker and shorter than any man's I have ever seen...It looked directly at me through an opening in the brush. A look of amazement crossed its face... [It] straightened up to its full height and started to walk rapidly back the way it had come...again turning its head to look in my direction."
In his book, Patterson illustrates a scene from the Roe case that might as well be the design for what would later be the Patterson film. The resemblance is striking: the position and stance of the creature in the frame, the much-discussed hairy breasts, the general form of the creature, etc. suggest that this illustration was the storyboard for what would later become known as the Patterson film.
Indeed, when we peruse Patterson's book we find one illustration in particular that could explain one aspect of the Patterson Bigfoot: its large hirsute breasts. How many of us would have designed a Bigfoot with breasts like the one in the Patterson film? Some have suggested that the female nature of the Bigfoot in the Patterson film mitigates in favor of its reality in that it is unlikely that a hoaxer would have created such a Bigfoot. Patterson has drawings of two female Bigfoots in his book.
If the cultural transmission of Bigfoot/Sasquatch belief is at the heart of the Bigfoot phenomenon, as I suspect it is, then it is significant and no surprise that this image was passed on from Roe to Patterson. A comparison of Roe's daughter's drawing of Roe's Sasquatch and Patterson's female Bigfoot drawing is valuable: their strong similarity to the creature in the Patterson film demonstrates how the cultural transmission of the image of a phenomenon may be accomplished.
Some of the other problems that I have with the Patterson film include the following:
- It is problematic that various rumors persist of a person in a suit.
- The allegations by many Hollywood makeup artists that makeup master John Chambers made the suit have been snowballing since my investigation into this subject began several years ago.
- Scientifically speaking, the existence of a Bigfoot would be incredibly unlikely. As naturalist Frank Beebe noted in 1987 after seeing the film, "From a scientific standpoint, one of the hardest facts to go against is that there is no evidence anywhere in the Western Hemisphere of primate (ape, monkey) evolution-and the creature in the film is definitely primate. So either a large primate got stranded in North America-or the film is a fake." (The Times-Standard, Nov. 5, 1967)
- Despite what Bigfoot fans write in their books and articles, there are a number of negative opinions of make-up experts like Tom Burman, Dave Kindlon, John Vulich, Mike McCracken, Rick Baker, Howard Berger, and many others. These make-up artists are not impressed by the subject of the Patterson film and believe it is a man in a suit based on their expertise.
- Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans, the founder of the science of cryptozoology and President of the International Society of Cryptozoology, believes that the film is of a man in a suit.
- The reasons that Patterson and Gimlin give for not following a Bigfoot are unconvincing. They say that they were afraid of the creature getting angry and turning on them, but they had guns to defend themselves if necessary. Why not follow the creature while maintaining a safe distance, then? It certainly was not running away from them--its pace has been described as "casual ambling." They allegedly had the object of their quest just ahead of them and they were content to take a short bit of film of their quarry and let it amble off.
- Film digitization, of which much is being currently made, is still extremely subjective and open to misinterpretation. The original film was only 16 mm and the creature takes up a small part of that already small frame. There comes a point where digitizing and blowing up the image creates another image quite different than the original, where just about anything can be found, depending one's frame of reference.
- Where was the film processed? Why is this still a mystery after all these years?
- According to Bigfoot author Barbara Wasson, "[Patterson] never went back to Bluff Creek, to any search except Thailand." If this is true, one wonders why he did not go back to the site where he actually found his quarry, unless there was really no Bigfoot there.
- Bigfoot expert Danny Perez, author of BigFootnotes and Bigfoot at Bluff Creek, writes that Roger Patterson was considered a "shady" character by many that knew him. In my investigations of strange phenomena-related film and photographs, the context of the evidence has consistently been more important than analysis of the image.
- There was extreme pressure on Patterson to produce Bigfoot footage quickly. An arrest warrant was brought against Patterson for not paying the bill for his long overdue, rented camera. He was up against a wall and had to come up with a film of a Bigfoot. There are two possibilities--that he is the luckiest Bigfoot searcher in history or that he is a hoaxer. Patterson not only was able to supposedly film a Bigfoot but was also lucky enough to allegedly find fresh Bigfoot tracks on the very first day that he went into the field. Maybe he was a little too lucky with regard to Bigfoot.
- Many have wondered why there was no deathbed confession by Patterson if the film was hoaxed. Would you decrease the value of your greatest financial asset on your deathbed, or would you want to pass it onto your survivors? The Patterson Bigfoot film was worth a significant amount of money as long as it was alleged to be real. The instant Patterson or Gimlin or whoever else may have been involved stated that it was a hoax, its value would take a nosedive.
- How could Patterson have come up with the money if he could not afford to pay for the camera rental? It is possible that he was out of money because he put it into a suit, but this is pure speculation. Special make-up effects master John Vulich thinks that Patterson needed little money to create a suit. In my article on the Chambers/Patterson connection in Strange #17, Vulich opines that Patterson would most likely have rented a suit from make-up man John Chambers (Patterson writes in his book about having business in LA to attend to) for several hundred dollars at most, and having a head adapted from an existing creature mask or fabricated from scratch. (Mark Chorvinsky, "The Makeup Man and the Monster: John Chambers and the Patterson Suit," Strange Magazine, Fall, 1996). If make-up man Tom Burman is correct and the suit is an amateur job, the cost might have been limited to the materials, which make-up artist Rick Baker has suggested looks like fake fur.
Another consideration: the aforementioned Ray Wallace is a wealthy individual, with the resources to purchase a suit.
- Bigfoot sympathizer John Napier, then-director of the Primate Biology Program of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote in his excellent book Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality (E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., NY, 1972), that the walk of the creature in the film was consistent with that of a modern man, that the body movements were grossly exaggerated, and the walk self-conscious, that the cone-shaped top to the skull is essentially a male characteristic "only very occasionally seen, to an insignificant extent, in females." Furthermore he felt that the center of gravity of the film subject is that of a modern man, rather than at a higher level as suggested by the physical build of the creature.
Most telling perhaps is "the presence of buttocks, a human hallmark, [which] is at total variance with the ape-like nature of the superstructure.... The upper half of the body bears some resemblance to an ape and the lower half is typically human. It is almost impossible to conceive that such structural hybrids could exist in nature." (Napier, p. 86)
Napier, one of the most reasonable of the scientists who accepts the possibility for the existence of Bigfoot, concluded that, "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." (Napier, p. 89)
- When a hoaxer dons an ape suit and goes into the woods, there is always an element of danger. Someone with a gun could shoot the hoaxer. Interestingly, someone who knew Patterson would have been aware that there was little or no chance of being shot by Patterson and/or Gimlin. Patterson had made it clear that he would never shoot a sasquatch or allow one to be shot in his presence. As John Green writes in Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us, "[Patterson] was certain that sasquatches were human and must not be shot, and was deaf to any argument to the contrary." According to Bob Gimlin, he and Patterson "...agreed once that if we saw one, we would not shoot it."
There are many other questions and problems to be discussed at length in future articles.
It has been suggested that the Patterson Bigfoot film was instrumental in making Bigfoot what he is today and perhaps this is not an overstatement. On its 30th birthday I toast the film that defined and cemented a phenomenal image in the public consciousness, and whose delightfully ambiguous nature will continue to be an item of great controversy for many years to come.