- Philip Morris may own one of the nation's largest wholesale
costume retailers, but in his heart the 70-year-old is still a suave magician
- Now, one of Morris' stories has put him at the center
of a debate over one of America's most enduring legends -- Bigfoot.
- Since starting his Charlotte business in the early 1960s,
the entrepreneur has built Morris Costumes into an empire, whose costumes
have appeared in big Hollywood films. Some 10,000 businesses buy his costumes,
props and other stage products. On Friday he'll hold court at his Monroe
Road store to host a dinner and tour of its haunted house for HauntCon,
a trade and convention show for the amusement industry at the Adams' Mark
- Although a giant in his field, the tale of one of his
gorilla suits is generating buzz outside the amusement industry and has
some Bigfoot believers stomping mad.
- In "The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story,"
(Prometheus Books) published in March, author Greg Long devoted a chapter
to telling Morris' alleged connection to the famed Bigfoot film shot by
Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. The film, which has aired on TV specials,
shows a grainy image supposedly of Sasquatch walking in a Northern California
national forest in October 1967.
- Morris says the Patterson-Gimlin film depicts a man wearing
a gorilla suit, which had been hand-sewn in the basement of his Kistler
- When he started his costume business more than 40 years
ago, Morris, a Michigan native, was a touring magician who recruited his
wife and her friends to help make gorilla suits from their Charlotte house.
- In 1967, a man called, identified himself as Roger Patterson
and said he was a rodeo cowboy who wanted to buy a gorilla suit for a gag,
- Morris Costumes was one of the few companies making relatively
inexpensive gorilla suits. The suits were in demand because of the popular
carnival trick in which a woman morphed into a crazed gorilla and sent
patrons screaming from fair tents. Patterson paid $435 plus shipping and
handling for the suit.
- "I didn't think it was a real big deal," said
Morris. "It was just another sale."
- Patterson later called asking how to make it more realistic,
Morris said. Use a stick to extend the arms, brush the fur to cover the
zipper and wear football pads to make the shoulders bigger, Morris told
- He never heard from Patterson again.
- Sometime in October 1967, Morris was in his living room
when he saw the now-famous Bigfoot footage on TV.
- Even after what would become known as the Patterson-Gimlin
film became a disputed piece of Bigfoot evidence, Morris said he never
heard from Patterson. Morris told friends and relatives that the creature
shot with a 16 mm camera was actually someone wearing his gorilla suit.
- He says he refrained from going public because he didn't
want to undermine the still-popular girl-to-gorilla trick, or expose a
- "In my mind it was a magic trick," he said.
- Morris never met Patterson, Gimlin or Bob Heironimus,
the man identified in Long's book as the wearer of the suit.
- "I wasn't there when they shot the film," Morris
said. "I didn't know they were going to do that."
- Morris didn't start speaking publicly about the Bigfoot
suit until Patterson died in 1972. Even then, he mostly told his story
at trade conventions. By then, his white gorilla suit appeared in the James
Bond movie "Diamonds Are Forever." His masks were used in the
movie "Point Break," starring Keanu Reeves.
- Long, a Washington state-based writer, found Morris after
a Bigfoot researcher sent him an e-mail about a Morris interview on a Charlotte
radio station in 2002.
- When Long called Morris, he had finished most of his
book. After interviewing Morris four times last November, the writer believed
the Charlotte costume maker because many of his comments corroborated things
Heironimus said about the suit.
- "I couldn't see any motive beyond that he wanted
to tell the truth," Long said. "This was just a good story that
he decided to tell."
- Bigfoot researchers say Morris' claim is just that --
- "For him to suggest that is just wishful thinking
on his part," said Jeff Meldrum, an associate professor of anatomy
and anthropology at Idaho State University, who's studied the Patterson
film. "Everyone in the film industry wishes they can do something
as compelling as the Patterson film, but no one has."
- Bigfoot researchers save most of their venom for Long,
who they say assassinates Patterson's character in the book. Still, on
the Internet and in interviews, they question Morris' motives and dissect
his statements about why the creature moves the way it does in the film.
- Among other things, they say the bend of the human elbow
debunks Morris' theory that a stick extended the arms because the creature's
elbow joint is proportional to its body, its fur looks real and its torso
is longer and wider than an average person's.
- "Morris' costumes are fine for circuses, fine for
movies, but the hair doesn't lie down in the same way as the hair shown
on the Patterson Bigfoot, on the live creature," said researcher Loren
Coleman, author of "Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes In America."
- Morris ignores the skeptics.
- "You're interfering with their belief system,"
he said, with his wide grin. "It's like telling a child there's no
- Or Bigfoot.
- Morris Costumes
- 1962 Begins manufacturing gorilla suits from his house
on Kistler Avenue. Ships an average of one suit every month or so.
- Late '70s Bought national costume distributors House
of Drane in Chicago and House of Humor in Los Angeles.
- Early '80s Built retail store on Monroe Road in Charlotte
to separate retail from distribution.
- 1999 Branched into the amusement park industry; provides
costumes, props, Halloween attractions.
- 2004 Ships about 5,000 costumes to stores during Halloween
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