Meet the real gorillas who inspired Hollywood's most famous gorilla suit

George Barrows modelled his famous gorilla costume after these popular real apes in America.

For The Addams Family episode "Morticia Joins the Ladies League," a gorilla named Gorgo joins the Addams family after Pugsley befriends the ape at a failing circus.

Inside the gorilla suit for this fan-favorite episode was George Barrows, an actor who created his famous gorilla costume in 1949, when jungle movies were popular and there was great demand for gorilla suits, but not enough gorilla suits to go around.

At the time, Barrows told the Alternative Press in 1966 that there was only one other actor who had a gorilla outfit, so Barrows cornered the market and ended up being featured in more than 100 TV and movie roles as a gorilla.

The suit was so popular, Barrows didn’t even have to wear it to profit off it. Once, an English movie paid him $750 a week to use the gorilla suit for five months.

The suit only cost Barrows $500 to make, a sum he exponentially earned back.

When Barrows was creating the gorilla suit, he wanted it to be realistic, so the actor did his homework, researching gorillas and studying photos of the most famous gorillas in the world.

Among these famous gorillas who became muses for Barrows’ gorilla suit was a gorilla named Bushman, a gorilla who once made headlines when he escaped from his cage at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

The story goes that Bushman’s cage was not properly locked after a cleaning and he simply walked out. When his trainer tried to walk the escaped gorilla back into its pen, the gorilla unexpectedly bit his trainer’s arm and fled to a staff kitchen where he was much harder to approach.

Nothing worked to get the gorilla back into his cage, until his trainer remembered the gorilla was terrified of alligators. The trainer led a baby alligator on a leash into the kitchen, and Bushman shrieked and ran back into his cage.

Other gorillas Barrows used to inspire his suit live today in sculpture form at the Smithsonian Museum. Mbongo and Ngagi both came from the Congo and lived at the San Diego Zoo, where they became central attractions for crowds.

The last muse for Barrows’ gorilla suit came from the circus, much like Pugsley’s new friend Gorgo on The Addams Family, and it’s likely this gorilla also served as an inspiration for the Gorgo character.

Gargantua was a gorilla who became a Ringling Brothers circus attraction so spectacular, he’s credited with saving the circus from bankruptcy.

This gorilla was memorable to circusgoers because of a scar on his face that made him appear menacing.

The circus claimed he was the largest gorilla in captivity and insisted he was "The World's Most Terrifying Living Creature!"

Where Bushman, Mbongo and Ngagi drew tens of thousands of visitors annually, it’s said that Gargantua drew millions.

Occasionally the Peabody Museum of Natural History in Connecticut still puts out Gargantua’s skeleton on display today.

For Barrows, constructing his gorilla suit out of these popular gorillas was a strategy to make extra money as an actor, but it wasn’t his entire game. As an actor, he didn’t just play gorillas.

On The Addams Family, he once appeared as a policeman, and in his career, he typically played businessmen and bad guys whenever he wasn’t suited up and staring out the eyeholes of his gorilla suit.

In his interview with Abilene Reporter-News, he said that to make the gorilla realistic, he made the arms 20 inches longer than a human’s. To move the gorilla’s fingers, he had to build in controls into the arms.

And although audiences today might see the eye cut-outs in the gorilla head as an obvious indicator the gorilla isn’t real, Barrows insisted it was the fact that his real eyes shown through that set his gorilla suit apart to film studios – "otherwise, it’s just a Halloween costume."

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JDnHuntsvilleAL 26 days ago
A bit disappointed that one of his inspirations wasn't Phil.

https://www.stlzoo.org/events/rent-the-zoo/weddings/ceremony-sites/phil-the-gorilla
tootsieg 29 days ago
Very cool story and a funny Addams Family episode.
Zip 1 month ago
Is it just me, or are people in gorilla suits scarier than CGI versions?
They just add a certain realness to the picture. Just like the 1980's(?) version of King Kong. A lot scarier and more intimidating than the CGI versions. I just can't get scared of a computer generated gorilla. There's no life in it.
F5Twitster 1 month ago
"In his interview with Abilene Reporter-News, he said that to make the gorilla realistic, he made the arms 20 inches longer than a human’s."

That makes no sense whatever. You mean 20 PERCENT longer than a human's arm.

As for

"The suit only cost Barrows $500 to make, a sum he exponentially earned back."

Why is it that whenever a sentence demands use of the word "only," Americans almost invariably put that word in the wrong place in that sentence?

The above SHOULD read "The suit cost Barrows only $500 to make..."

"Only" signifies diminution, in this case it is meant to stress that $500 was significantly less than Barrows earned wearing the suit. By placing "cost" AND "Barrows" between "only" and "$500," it diminishes "only"'s effectiveness, which is exactly the opposite of what the writer is actually trying to do. Yes, people still understand the sentence's meaning, but the whole point of good writing is to make it as effective as possible.
ccoslor F5Twitster 27 days ago
Perhaps the 20 inches figure "makes no sense whatever" to you, but it was also used in the article "Monkey Business Makes a Living", in the Oct 9, 1966 edition of the Tuscaloola News (a copy is here: https://bit.ly/3wkJLlO), so if it's a mistake, it's an old one.

Also, I'm afraid that you may be using outdated or regional standards in your criticism of the article's (and many Americans') use of "only". Even the Oxford English Dictionary, in definition 1.1 of the abbreviated entry for its Lexico service, defines it as:
1.1 No more than (implying that more was hoped for or expected); merely.
‘deaths from heart disease have only declined by 10 percent’

Note the position of "only" in the example--next to the verb, as in the article, and the same example is given for both the US and UK editions. Don't feel too bad--the Lexico entry's examples also feature the style that you prefer, so both appear to be okay.
AnnieM 1 month ago
Now this was a very interesting read! And talk about enterprising - the man actually brought work to himself with his ingenuity. 😊
Bob 1 month ago
Am I mistaken or was George and most of his gorilla costume used as the monster in "Robot Monster"?
BrittReid Bob 1 month ago
You are not mistaken. George was Ro-Man.
harlow1313 Bob 1 month ago
Ro-Man: "Hu-mans, I will re-calculate. Your deaths will be indescribable."
Talvo 1 month ago
Don't forget Charlie Gemora. He was probably the pioneer of gorilla men!
kernelmike 1 month ago
Saw Bushman in the 50’s, he was the biggest attraction at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago at the time next to Mike the Polar Bear. He is stuffed and on display at the Chicago Natural History Museum.
MikefromJersey 1 month ago
As Beaver Cleaver would say, "I went ape" for this article. I'm not monkeying around either.
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
It looks like the gorilla (not the gorilla costume) on the train in "Trading Places."
It does look like that gorilla, I think you are right. I understand that scene at the end
with the amorous gorilla and the bad guy in the gorilla suit is now edited out on some
stations because it is "specie biased", unfairly depicting gorilla kind as sexual predators.
I always thought it was funny, and if you ask me there couldn't be more than a dozen
TV owning gorillas watching a given channel at the time of a showing.
I don't think the intention was aimed at Gorillas getting cross-species sexually explicit ideas. I think they are waay smarter than that!!
LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Add: Ray Corrigan who played Gorilla's and Apes in many films from the 30's through the 50's ,at least one Three Stooges short.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Janos Prohaska too (in a famous, though unusual Perry Mason episode for one).
ELEANOR Pacificsun 1 month ago
Yep, very unusual. Perry opposite a gorilla. This was one of ESG's novels; as it was the eighth season and they were probably running out of stuff, they decided to go with it. Can you image the outtakes?
Zip Pacificsun 1 month ago
I believe he also played most of the apes on Gilligan's Island(and reportedly had a fling with Tina Louise).
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