Beast Meets West

'50s-era B-monster gets star treatment at last, but can't fight the Valley heat

A shift in B-movie fashion put Blaisdell out of the monster business. "The monster thing started to die out, and they wanted to do things cheaper. They came to Paul about doing some picture called Beast of the Haunted Cave [an early effort by cult director Monte Hellman]. And Paul said, 'I think I've proved myself; I want more money.' And they said, 'Nah, you'll take what you always get, or we'll get some high school kid, and give him screen credit, and let him play the monster.' And that's exactly what they did."

Blaisdell and Burns then partnered on a magazine called Fantastic Monsters of the Films in 1962."I came up with a thing called The Devil's Workshop where Paul would write articles about how to build this stuff -- how to make your own mask, or build a miniature set. 'Cause kids were asking about this stuff."

Blaisdell's luck in the magazine game would be even worse than his luck in the movies. "It was going great for seven issues until the publisher guy burned his place down and ran off with all the profits. That was the final blow for Paul. He was just so bitter by then. He ended up, actually, just doing handiwork around Topanga. What a waste."

Paul Blaisdell in the 1950s as Cuddles the She Creature (left), and chatting with Kathy Burns (right).
Bob Burns
Paul Blaisdell in the 1950s as Cuddles the She Creature (left), and chatting with Kathy Burns (right).
Cuddles comes to Tempe Diablo.
Paolo Vescia
Cuddles comes to Tempe Diablo.

Burns, meanwhile, kept his day job as an editor, but began an odd sideline as a "gorilla man," appearing in an ape suit in innumerable TV shows, including My Three Sons, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and Truth or Consequences, as well as Ray Dennis Steckler's shlock movies Rat Phfink and Boo Boo and The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters. In the '70s, he became a regular as "Tracy the Ape" on the CBS Saturday morning kids show The Ghostbusters.

Burns' simian pursuits led to an odd episode here in Phoenix in the mid-'60s. "I was going to be on The Munsters," he recalls. "They were going to add me, as a gorilla, to the show in the third season, as Eddie Munster's new pet." Alas, there would be no third season. "We didn't realize at the time, or at any rate I didn't realize at the time, that the show had already been canceled."

Burns did, however, make a personal appearance in his ape suit with Eddie himself, Butch Patrick, in Phoenix. "This was '65 or '66, and we were supposed to make an appearance at one of the first big shopping malls. So I dressed in the gorilla suit on the plane -- there were a couple of nuns in the back of the plane who thought that was the funniest thing they'd ever seen -- and when we got there, and it was like 125 degrees that day, and we had to ride in a convertible out to the mall. I thought I was going to melt. So we get there, and I'm roaring at the crowd, and I see a little commotion out there, but I don't think anything of it.

"So afterward, the mall cops come up and ask me if I want to prefer charges. I didn't know what they were talking about. It turned out they'd caught this kid in the crowd, and he had a squirt bottle full of liquid lye, and he'd been trying to get close enough to squirt it in the eyes of the gorilla suit. He was 9 or 10, and he said he just wanted to see what would happen. I said I didn't want to press charges, but I guess the mall did anyway -- they didn't want it happening again."

Tough town, Phoenix. Where is that kid now?

Cuddles the She Creature had a hard time in the Valley, too. Her October 5 visit to Tempe Diablo was on the same day as the Diamondbacks' first playoff game against the Mets, so only a handful of curious spectators and journalists, myself and New Times staff photographer Paolo Vescia among them, turned out for this oddball attraction.

The tour had been going well, we were told by Kevin, the AMC PR guy. At an appearance in Minnesota, Cuddles was piloted across the state line into Wisconsin, where she was set down in a cornfield. "It was really freaky," said Kevin. "All these little kids came running out of the cornfield to see us. It was like Children of the Corn. We later found out that there was a soccer game on the other side of the field, but it was really freaky until then."

Bob Burns had turned out for Cuddles' L.A. appearance, at the appropriately primordial setting of La Brea Tar Pits. Kevin said Burns had been treated like royalty, signed autographs and been given a tethered ride.

Paolo and I were supposed to get a tethered ride, too, but it was not to be. We watched as the green balloon was carefully laid out, and a roaring engine pumped a half-hour's worth of propane into it. Slowly, slowly, Cuddles rose from the pavement and began to take shape. Her expressions shifted as her features roiled and billowed in the hot midday breeze. One of her hornlike antennae was crimped in the middle and drooped, refusing to inflate. Cuddles' basket drifted three or four feet above the concrete, but she seemed in no mood to rise higher.

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