Bighoax Revisited

January 4, 2011

So what am I doing, unexpectedly pictured in the Fall 2010 issue of FILMFAX plus: The Magazine of Unusual Film, Television, & Retro Pop Culture? On larger newstands everywhere, it features an assortment of monsters on the cover. Is it heralding my role as a zombie in a forthcoming horror movie, The Final Night and Day (scheduled for March 2011 DVD release)? No, but good guess. Or does it feature my forthcoming book, Tracking the Man Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More (Prometheus Books, 2011)? Again, the answer is no.

No, along with “Bigfoot,” who is looking from the background (so I am in my persona of monsterologist), I am posing with a friend who is profiled by Filmfax+ as “The Amazing Philip Morris: TV Horror Host, Spook Show Magician, Ventriloquist & the Man who Made Bigfoot!” As the title indicates, Phil is quite a guy. He performed as a teenage magician and ventriloquist (who got some pointers from Edgar Bergen), toured with former movie cowboy Lash Larue, operated a traveling horror show (then adapted it to TV) as Dr. Evil , and much more. He went on to become the largest costume wholesaler in the United States, and therein lies a tale.

In 1967, Morris sold one of his gorilla suits to Roger Patterson, who modified it, asked an acquaintance named Bob Heironimus to don it, and filmed his “Bigfoot” hoax at Bluff Creek, California, on October 20. Heironimus’ family and friends saw the Bigsuit in the trunk of Heironimus’ mother’s Buick about that time.

Philip Morris tells Filmfax+ why he kept quiet about his knowledge of the hoax for many years:

“I’m a magician and a magic professional that makes props. I wouldn’t go around with a show, nor would I go out with the girl-to-gorilla show [a carnival illusion explained in my book, Secrets of the Sideshows ] and stand in front of the stage and say, ‘Hey, folks, come here, that’s not a gorilla, it’s a guy in a monkey suit.’ I thought of it, and I still do today, as a professional thing that you just don’t do. You don’t float some girl in the air and then stand in front of the theater and say, ‘Look, give me a dime and I’ll show you how it’s done.’ That’s why I hadn’t said anything. But then I started telling the story around other magicians”—but only after Patterson died.

“I did a couple radio interviews. A couple times I called the newspaper and the newspaper wasn’t interested. Why not? Because to them it was a wildlife film. They saw Bigfoot! You know?” Phil shook his head and added, “Bunch of baloney.”

For the popular National Geographic TV series Is It Real? (2005-2007), Philip Morris and Bob Heironimus teamed up to recreate one of the twentieth century’s most notorious hoaxes. Morris provided the costume and Heironimus—again bulked up with hip boots, pillows, shoulder pads, and a football helmet—put on the suit and mimicked Bigfoot for the second time. The famous gait? Heironimus’ own. Bigfoot’s overly long arms? The gloves were attached to a stick. The effect of muscle movement? The fur slid over the pads that moved underneath.

(For more, see my earlier blogs, “Bigfoot and ETs: Developing Mythologies,” June 22, 2009, and “The Man Who Sold Bigsuit,” September 2, 2009.)