Sunday, October 27, 2013


This last April, Burbank CA was home to thousands of monster fans for the West Coast's biggest fear fest, Monsterpalooza. The highlight for me was the panel discussing King Kong. Among the group was the World's Biggest Monster Kid, Bob Burns, who brought along with him the last surviving piece of Kong himself, a complete, miniature armature of the Eight Wonder of the World. Later, a big birthday cake was wheeled in and we all sang Happy Birthday in honor of Kong's 80th year on Skull Island.

The next night we were in for another treat. Continuing on with the "ape theme", filmmaker and makeup artist Jason Barnett held a presentation on the life and movie career of Charles Gemora. Not as well known as a Chaney, Pierce, or Westmore, Gemora was behind the scenes for many a' monster movie flick.

Jason Barnett talks about Charlie Gemora at Monsterpalooza, April 2013

Perhaps Gemora's greatest achievement was his mastery of the ape costume. He built and modified "monkey suits" for many years, each one becoming more realistic than the other. Barnett is memorializing Gemora's life as a Hollywood makeup and special effects man in a documentary entitled: CHARLIE GEMORA: GENIUS MONKEY MAN. According to Jason, the film is is still being assembled and edited and is due for release next April (maybe in time for the next Monsterpalooza?).

Charlie's daughter, the always charming and ebullient Diana Gemora, was present during the presentation to speak and answer questions about her father. Accompanying the talk was Jason's slide presentation showing many shots of Charlie and his monkey suits, as well as photos from the rest of his career as an accomplished craftsman behind the scenes of many creature features.

Diana Gemora, who is always enthused when talking about her talented father.

Charles "Charlie" Gemora was born in the Philippines and came to the United States in 1922 during the civil unrest that has plagued the island and and off for many years. On the ship bound for the States, Charlie became an invaluable asset as, because of his small size, he could wiggle through the pipes and lines to repair some critical equipment. Charlie landed odd jobs in Hollywood. He later found work as a sculptor and key craftsman for the famed Universal Paris Opera House recreation that was later seen in Lon Chaney's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Another knack that Gemora had was his ability to sketch amazingly accurate portraits. Many times Charlie would sketch a co-workers' visage as quick as the time it took for a lunch break!

Charlie works on Paul Wexler during the making of THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE.
 Charlie contributed his artistic talents to films for many years, from the Phantom's Opera House stage to the shrunken heads in THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE. His legacy is rich in the lore of old Hollywood and the early days of special effects. Of particular interest to me was his affiliation with famed makeup artist Jack Pierce, who went on to become head of makeup for Universal.

As a financial backer to Jason's Kickstarter project for his film, I anxiously await its release. I was able to briefly speak with him after his presentation to let him know his work is greatly appreciated and has a loyal supporter of this important historical project.

You can follow the progress of CHARLIE GEMORA: GENIUS MONKEY MAN, right HERE.

The black and white photos that are shown here are from the Charlie Gemora website right HERE.

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