Charlie Gemora

One of the more interesting booths I came across at Monsterpalooza was one promoting the new Charlie Gemora web site. Gemora was a native of the Philippines, who worked as  a set designer for the Lon Chaney films The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera and in the makeup department at Paramount Pictures. In 1928, he began playing gorillas onscreen and continued to do so until 1953.

Bela Lugosi fans may know Gemora as the man who played Erik the Gorilla in Murders in the Rue Morgue. By 1932, when Gemora made the film, he had already played a gorilla to great effect in 13 films, including the 1930 Lon Chaney film The Unholy Three. In addition, Gemora also created his own ape suits for the films, including Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Charlie Gemora and Bela Lugosi in “Murders in the Rue Morgue”

Inexplicably, despite his experience playing gorillas on film, Gemora’s closeups were cut and replaced with unconvincing stock footage of a chimpanzee. The reasons behind this remain unknown.

Gemora appeared in one other Lugosi film — Island of Lost Souls — in a brief role as a caged gorilla aboard Dr. Moreau’s ship.

Of special interest to fans of Atomic Age cinema is Gemora’s work in the 1953 sci-fi classic War of the Worlds. Gemora designed and built the Martian suit, as well as playing the Martian on screen.

Charlie Gemora putting on the Martian suit for War of the Worlds

Most of Gemora’s roles were uncredited.  Hopefully the new Web site will help illuminate the important role he played in classic genre films.

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