Gorilla suits are full-bodied costumes resembling gorillas. Gorilla suits have been used both to represent real gorillas in film and on stage, and also as a source of humour. The gorilla suit is a popular Halloween and masquerade party costume.
Gorilla suit performance involves pantomime, wearing a heavy costume, broad physical comedy skills, and a partial suspension of disbelief, while still playing on the very artifice involved. In this respect, gorilla suits are not far removed from puppetry.
The early history of the art of gorilla impersonation dates at least to the late 1920s, with the rise of Charles Gemora, an early practitioner of the art in such short films as Circus Lady and the Our Gang entry Bear Shooters. In later decades, in addition to abounding in B movies such as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, the gorilla suit came to prominence in television, in a wide range of series, from 1960s sitcoms like The Addams Family (as seen in the episode "Morticia Joins the Ladies League") and The Beverly Hillbillies, which typically attempted to present their gorillas as "real," to more recent series such as L.A. Law and Scrubs, which have contrived to have regular characters don the primate costume.
In 1869, Noah Brooks' short story, "Mr. Columbus Coriander's Gorilla" appeared in Bret Harte's "Overland Monthly Magazine." The story concerned a young man employed at a menagerie dressed in a gorilla suit. It is mistakenly credited to Max Adeler.
In recent decades, the work of performers or designers have altered the mechanics and effect of gorilla suits, often using animatronics, taxidermy eyes, realistic fur, and other aides. Jim Henson utilized typical gorilla suits and never a full-bodied gorilla Muppet in several productions (like the "Avery Schreiber" episode of The Muppet Show). The person inside the gorilla suit is often uncredited. Jim Henson's Creature Shop has contributed to this development in its own way, through work on Buddy and George of the Jungle, and many suit performers of Jim Henson's characters portrayed gorillas in other productions.
National Gorilla Suit Day
In 1963, Don Martin published National Gorilla Suit Day in a collection Don Martin Bounces Back, in which Fester Bestertester mocks the (then fictitious) concept of a National Gorilla Suit Day, and suffers a series of incredible assaults from gorillas and other creatures in gorilla and other suits.
A gorillagram is a gift message, similar to a singing telegram, but delivered by a performer dressed in a gorilla suit.
Many entertainment companies worldwide have offered gorillagrams and continue to do so. In Australia, the costumes include a heavy crash helmet, introduced after the recipient of one gorillagram, believing the gorilla to be real, rendered the actor unconscious by use of a typewriter (which was destroyed and the actor hospitalised). A gorillagram company run by Clive Gibbons has been an important plot element in episodes of Neighbours.
Great Gorilla Run
This informal running event, organized by the Gorilla Organization, is held in September each year in London. The aim of the event is to raise funds for the preservation of the habitat of the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Participants receive a Gorilla Suit to wear and are encouraged to create a fancy dress to add to the suit. The run is approximately 7 km around the City of London and has raised almost £2m since the first run in 2003.
Notable people in gorilla suits
- Charles Gemora
- Ray "Crash" Corrigan
- Steve Calvert
- Rick Baker (makeup artist)
- George Barrows
- Bob Burns III
- The Suns Gorilla
- Roddy McDowell - Never dressed as a gorilla, but rather as a chimpanzee.
- Andy Serkis - Actually wore a motion-capture suit, with King Kong digitally painted over his movements.
- Tom Woodruff, Jr. - He wore a gorilla suit for Zookeeper.
- Bob Burns III
- Dave Brown
- Peter Elliott