Saturday, April 11, 2015

WHAT SCARED ME


By the time the 60’s were underway, I was what you might call a full-fledged Monster Kid. Television was still my main source for monster movies. Too young, yet, to go to the theater on my own, I was limited to mostly lightweight fantasy films like THE TIME MACHINE and THE MAGIC SWORD – you know – movies that a parent would take their kid to. The “good stuff” was reserved for older kids called “teenagers”. Still, there were the Morlocks in THE TIME MACHINE and the Old Hag and other creatures in THE MAGIC SWORD, so I wasn’t completely shut out from my beloved monsters.

TV wasn’t half-bad, though. Lots of great old stuff was being released on the tube. In L.A., there were plenty of late night monster shows, complete with each network’s version of a “horror host”. There were also matinees on the weekend, much like the local theater had (and, I suppose that was a good reason why theater owners were in fear of their own boogie man – TV). I remember one station played the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series a number of times through before disappearing. One of the things they did to attract viewers was to have a contest where the lucky person who had their postcard picked out of a hopper would win a genuine English Pound note, or something of the sort. Wow!

Another weekend afternoon TV matinee featured the Jungle Jim movie series. Starring Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller, and with titles like VALLEY OF THE HEADHUNTERS, VOODOO TIGER and CANNIBAL ATTACK, these so-called “jungle adventures” were right in my weird little wheelhouse. Looking a little bit older (and chunkier), Weissmuller fought his way through a multitude of dastardly deeds perpetrated by any variety of evil-doer, all played out on the “Africa set” at Corriganville, Crash Corrigan’s film ranch in Simi Valley, CA.

There was one particular episode in the series that set the hairs on the back of my neck standing straight up. The title was, KILLER APE, and the bad guy in this one was a huge, part-human, part-gorilla, wreaking havoc in a murderous rampage.

Tall, lumbering and creepier than all get-out, the titular character was played by real-life giant, Max Palmer. Makeup man Clay Campbell (RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, SON OF DR. JEKYLL) delivered a job that looked like the equivalent of the Topstone Caveman monster mask! The result scared the ever-lovin’ beejeezus outta me!

Produced by Sam Katzman, KILLER APE was the 12th in the Jungle Jim movie series. It was released in December, 1953 by Columbia Pictures and directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet (ATOMIC SUBMARINE).

While Rondo Hatton lived with a condition called acromegaly, Max Palmer on the other hand, was born with a gigantism gene. Palmer was born on 2 November 1927 in Ponotoc, Mississippi. His mother was 5 feet tall. All three of his sisters were of normal height. Palmer’s adult height was reported as high as 8 feet, 2 inches, but he was more likely about 7 feet, 7 inches. His acting career lasted for only 2 years beginning in 1952. His other entry in the adventure/sci-fi genre was as an alien in INVADERS FROM MARS. In November, 1952, he was arrested and jailed in San Diego for being “drunk and disorderly”.

Palmer became a professional wrestler in Salt Lake City, UT, and called himself “Paul Bunyan”. During this time, his alcoholism became increasingly worse, probably brought on by depression.

According to one source, Palmer was “a life-long Druid”. However, in 1963, he began preaching the Gospel as “Goliath for Christ”. In May, 1975, he married the 4 foot, 11 inch Betty, who had two children from a previous marriage. He remained married and preaching until his death on 7 May 1984 from a bleeding disorder caused by his alcohol-ravaged liver.

Like most persons with unusual physical characteristics, Max Palmer lived an uneven, sometimes tragic life. He seemed to have found redemption, even some happiness, in later years. But, for me, as a kid sitting in front of the TV on Saturday afternoon, he will always be the Killer Ape!


The Killer Ape, Jungle Jim and a rubber knife.

The Killer Ape captured!

Max Palmer preparing to become the Killer Ape at the hands of makeup man Clay Campbell.

Clay Campbell shows Max Palmer his handiwork.

Max Palmer and makeup assistant.

Max Palmer, the living giant as the Killer Ape.

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