You've seen Bob Burns. He may have been buried under pounds
of Latex or skeins of ape hair, but odds are, if you've
seen your fair share of cult movies, you've seen Bob at
work. He sported one of those bulbous alien noggins in
Invasion of the Saucer Men and made countless appearances
as Kogar, the Gorilla. More importantly, he dedicated himself
to scouring the studio trash bins, rescuing the props and
costumes from vintage films that would doubtless have been
lost to obscurity. This love for tradition and presence
of mind make Bob a hero to cult-film fans. His collection
of props and memorabilia is one of the largest there is
and, Bob Burns, generous to a fault, shares it with the
world. It's hard not to think of this garrulous, cuddly
curator as the "Captain Kangaroo of Horror," as he played
a large role in the fantasy-film education of a generation.
For a closeup look at the man and his amazing collection,
procure a copy of "Monster
Kid Memories," a terrific tome co-authored with
Tom Weaver. For a crash course in what makes Bob Burns tick,
You've spoken of actor Glenn Strange (who portrayed the
Frankenstein Monster in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
and Sam the bartender for 20 years on Gunsmoke) as
a second father. Any special memories you'd care to share?
BOB BURNS: When the Gunsmoke TV show was
on in the 1950s and 1960s, Glenn Strange really was like
my adopted Dad. He played the Frankenstein monster in three
of the Universal films. I used to take a few days' vacation
from my job at CBS every year and spend some time on the
Gunsmoke set with Glenn. Jim Arness never talked
about his role in The Thing that much in those days.
But one day, when we were sitting around on the Longbranch
set between takes, Jim said, "You know Glenn, we're just
a couple of old monsters. You were created by a mad scientist,
and I was nearly saved by one." There I was, sitting with
the Frankenstein monster and the Thing. How cool is that?
Tell me how you got your start in pictures.
BOB: My wife, Kathy, and I went to a Sci-Fi club
meeting to hear Ray Bradbury talk about his script for Moby
Dick. During a break, we started talking to the folks
sitting next to us. They turned out to be Paul and Jackie
Blaisdell. Paul was just building the puppet for The
Beast With a Million Eyes. He invited us to come up
to his place and see what he was doing. We became friends
right off the bat. We ending up going to their place almost
every weekend after that. The first film I ever saw him
do was Day the World Ended. Then, he did It Conquered
the World. That's when I first got to help him and got
my start in pictures. He and Jackie always built the monsters.
I just assisted, helping him get into the monster suits,
you have a favorite of all the films you've worked on?
BOB: My big break, so to speak, came with Invasion
of the Saucer Men. Paul, Jackie, and I did all the special
effects for that film in one day at the Howard Anderson
effect stage. It was my face and neck that the Saucer Man
jabs his needle fingers into. They used the little people
as the Saucer Men for just three days on the set. In the
closeup scenes where you see a Saucer Man, it was me wearing
the head, or if it was two of the big brain guys, it was
both Paul and me. We also did the flying saucer landing,
the closeup fight with a Saucer Man and the bull, and the
cut off Saucer Man hand crawling across the road and climbing
up the back of the seat in the car trying to get the girl
in the front seat. I doubled Steve Terrell along with the
double for Gloria Castillo sitting in the front seat of
the car, while Paul dressed all in black and puppeteered
the cutoff hand climbing up the back of the seat. It was
a long but real fun day for me. So, that's my favorite film
that I worked on.
me your best Paul Blaisdell story.
BOB: I have so many wonderful memories about Paul.
He was not only my mentor but also my best friend. He had
a great sense of humor. When he finished building the She-Creature
costume, I took pictures of it in 3-D. He lived in Topanga
Canyon, which is in a very remote area. That night, we were
outside shooting pictures. The road by his house was a real
winding one. You could see a car coming a mile away because
it was so dark, and there were very few streetlights. He
spotted a car and said, "I'm going to run across the road
and into those bushes just as the car gets close to see
what the driver does." Here comes the car, and suddenly,
the She-Creature darts in front of the car and disappears
into the bushes on the other side of the road. The car goes
for about another 20 feet and slams on its breaks. It slowly
backs up to where Paul ran across the road and stops. It
was pretty dark, but I could see that it was just one guy
in the car. He slowly rolls his window down and tries to
get a good look at what's out there. Suddenly, Paul rattles
the bushes and this guy laid rubber all over the street
trying to get out of there. We always wondered what story
that guy must have told to people and if he ever drove that
went into the making of that She-Creature costume,
surely one of the most outlandish and memorable 1950s monsters?
BOB: It took Paul and Jackie eight weeks to build
the costume. It was made out of foam rubber blocks -- the
kind that they use to stuff a couch. They cut the rubber
into a jigsaw-type pattern and glued it over a pair of longjohns
with contact cement. The face was built on a rubber "blank"
of Paul's face with thinner foam rubber and covered with
coats of latex rubber. The "hair" was very thin plastic
tubing. The claws were made out of white pine wood and covered
with latex. The feet were built over a pair of swim fins
with the foam rubber cut and glued on.
the filming of It Conquered the World in Bronson
Canyon turn out to be something of an embarrassing experience
thanks in part to Roger Corman?
BOB: In It Conquered The World, the monster
was originally supposed to stay inside the cave. So, Paul
designed it that way, and it looked pretty spooky. For whatever
reason, Roger Corman decided to bring "It" out of the cave
for the end of the film. Paul told Roger that it wasn't
designed to be seen that well, and it was on rollers so
he could move it around while he was inside of the creature.
But Roger prevailed and out "It" came. We were at a preview
screening of the film. The audience was really with the
film until "It" came out of the cave. They started laughing
and yelling. At that point Paul said, "I knew that would
happen," and we got up and left the theater. I didn't see
the end of the movie until later when Kathy and I went to
see it by ourselves.
you have a favorite actor or movie personality you've known?
BOB: One of my favorite actors or personalities
is Glenn Strange (for reasons I've already stated). But
I would also have to include Jonathan Winters. He is my
you have a least favorite?
BOB: I really don't have a least favorite person.
Fortunately, most all of the people I've met have been really
Q: What's the most embarrassing
moment you recall in your career?
BOB: My most embarrassing moment was when I was
doing a gig as Kogar, the gorilla, back in the early 1960s.
I did the opening of the Hollywood Wax Museum. The press
people were going to walk through the "Chamber of Horrors."
I was supposed to be at the end after they got out of the
"Chamber of Horrors" and entered the big room filled with
wax figures of famous stars. I was there as Morticia Addams'
[Carolyn Jones of TV's The Addams Family] pet gorilla.
The owner of the museum didn't want me to really scare anyone,
so he thought that would be the best way to handle it. The
only place that they had for me to put on my gorilla suit
was in a closet in the "Chamber of Horrors." I put the suit
on and came out of the closet when I heard voices. The press
people were already starting into the "Chamber of Horrors."
I knew I wouldn't have time to get to the big room, so I
thought I'd just hide in the closet until they walked by.
I went to the closet and tried to open the door. Unfortunately,
it had locked behind me when I came out. I could hear them
getting closer. It was very dark in the "Chamber of Horrors,"
as the walls and everything were painted black. The exhibits
were all on the righthand side as the people walked through,
so I just scrunched as close as I could get to the left
wall and hoped they would just walk on by me.
It worked just fine until one of the female press people
happened to brush against me. I didn't breathe and was as
still as I could be. She felt the fur and then touched my
gorilla chest. She said something like, "Oh God! What is
this?" She then put her hand up to my ape face. I didn't
know what to do, so I just let out a big gorilla growl.
She screamed and fainted dead away. They got the lights
turned on as soon as possible, and I thought, "Great! Lawsuit
City!" I told the owner what had happened, and he had forgotten
that the closet door has an automatic lock when you close
it. The woman came to and thought it was the funniest thing
that ever happened to her. She said that the "Chamber of
Horrors" sure scared the crap out of her and told the owner
that he should keep this in "the act."
do consider your mentors or inspirations?
BOB: I would say that my mentor was definitely Paul
Blaisdell. I was also inspired by Wah Chang. He designed
the original weapons and things for the Star Trek
TV series and many other creative things for movies and
TV. Willis O'Brien, George Pal, and many other wonderful
people were inspirational, as well.
you have a favorite sci-fi or horror picture?
BOB: It's hard for me to pick just one film, as
I have so many favorites. The same goes for horror films
-- I have many favorites. One of my favorite sci-fi movies
is Destination Moon. One reason is that it was one
of the first movie sets I was on as a kid.
Do you have a favorite sci-fi or horror film actor?
BOB: Here again, I have many favorites. Boris Karloff,
Lon Chaney Jr., Vincent Price, to name just a few.
would you say is the main difference between contemporary
horror films and the way they used to make 'em?
BOB: I think that the older horror films have more
"charm" to them than most of the films today. They also
conveyed much more of a mood. Curse of the Cat People
doesn't really show any "monsters" or anything, but it still
scares the hell out of you.
recent sci-fi or horror pictures have you enjoyed?
BOB: I liked Men In Black a lot.
you imagine any modern-day picture -- other than the Star
Wars oeuvre -- having the lasting impact of pictures
such as King Kong, Frankenstein or The Thing?
BOB: I think that Alien will be remembered.
your take on the graphic violence and bloodshed that's become
so much a part of contemporary horror and sci-fi films?
BOB: I'm not into the blood and gore movies at all.
Gross-out is not scary.
the most valued piece in your memorabilia collection FINANCIALLY
BOB: I don't look at any of my memorabilia as being
financially valuable. If I had to choose one that would
be among the most valuable, it would probably be the
King Kong armature.
the most valued piece in your memorabilia collection SENTIMENTALLY
speaking? (In other words, if you could only keep one piece
BOB: The most valued piece sentimentally speaking
would be The Time Machine. It is a beautiful prop,
and recently my friend, Henry Alvarez, created a wonderful
wax figure of Rod Taylor to sit in it. It is a fantastic
thing to behold.
is it about science fiction that draws you to it, captures
your imagination and inspires you?
BOB: I think the thing that attracts me to science
fiction is the notion that you're only limited by your imagination
-- and through the imagination of others who write, produce,
and direct these wonderful films you can be transported
to anywhere in the world -- anywhere in the universe. Pure
escapism. That's what it's all about, and I think that's
the book coming out, you must be busier than ever. Any convention
plans or book signings coming up?
BOB: I'm going to do a book signing at the Creature
Features store in Burbank, Calif., sometime in April. June
22-24, I'll be at Monster Bash in Butler, Penn., and August
3-5, I'll be at the Imagine Nation Expo 2001 in Las Vegas.