Skunk Ape Confidential
From his humble roots as a woodland myth to his starring roles in several '70s monster movies, Bigfoot remains the Me Decades most misunderstood manbeast -- and most unlikely cultural icon.
He is truly a lost icon of the '70s, a celebrated figure who, along with his sea serpent buddy Nessie and that everpresent pack of ancient astronauts, helped define the era's obsession with monsters, myths and legends. For over a decade, he provided a kind of escapist excuse to focus on the environment while giving low budget filmmakers fodder for dozens of minor motion picture excursions. Today, he is viewed in the same slightly camp light as Earth shoes, space food sticks, and Avocado colored kitchen appliances. But in his day, nothing could compete with his humongous hair covered frame, elephantine shoe size, and infamous decaying cabbage stench.
Call him a figment of some mountain man's imagination or a Halloween costume gone horribly wrong, but this month, The Outré Oeuvre got a chance to sit down with Bigfoot, aka Sasquatch, aka The Fouke Monster, aka Funk-Master B-Footy, to get some insights into his career, his sudden rise to stardom, and his equally rapid decline into cultural obscurity. Seated comfortably in his home somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, our host was candid about his inadvertent celebrity, interspecies excesses and the legitimate professional missteps he made along the way.
OO: Tell us a little about how you got started in show biz?
BF: Well, I was always around, you know? Hanging in the forests, minding my own prehistoric bee's wax? Sure, the Native Americans had been singing my spiritual existence for eons, and I was frequently glimpsed by the surrounding indigenous population. But it was those biological buttinskis, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimiln. It's all their fault. They're the ones who permanently took my privacy and flushed it down the proverbial composting toilet.
OO: How so?
BF: The film, man! The film. You know, that clip of me from 1967? You see, I was just wondering around my favorite patch of forest, looking for some unexplored terrain to 'mark', when these two thrill seekers – Patterson and Gimlin – come barreling in, Bolex in hand, and start shooting. The paparazzi of today have nothing on these two. It was like they were stalking me, waiting for the right moment to capture my quintessence in its natural element. Next thing I know – there I am. Lumbering around like some opportunist in a fake animal fur. After that, the woods became crowded with such pathetic publicity hounds.
It's safe to say then that the mid to late 60s was the beginning of your reign as America's favorite unexplainable natural phenomenon?
BF: Well, the film definitely fueled my cult of personality. It got people's interest. Even as the experts were questioning its authenticity and skeptics were shrieking "HOAX", the curiosity surrounding a previously unknown creature called Sasquatch…
BF: Yeah, let me clarify that once and for all. I don't MIND being called Bigfoot. It's kind of a term of endearment. I get it. But the real name is Samuel S. Squath, or Sasquatch for short. Over the years, a lot of my brethren have taken issue with the whole 'foot' thing. I understand their point – it's like calling a deer "Antlerhead", or a squirrel "Nutstuffer".
Anyway, once my sexy shape was out there for the world to ogle, it wasn't long before the exploitation experts came calling. I remember talking to Robert F. Slatzer, the guy who directed one of my favorite drive-in movies, the biker classic Hellcats. He had this idea about featuring me, prominently, in another example of motorcycle mayhem. I was to kidnap some women – a favorite pastime, I might add and find myself challenged by a bunch of dudes on choppers. It sounded absolutely epic. Sadly, my schedule was full at the time and I couldn't do it. Without my input, what resulted was that horrid 1970's hatchet job Bigfoot. He turned me into a full blown b-movie monster. I told him – "I'm a lover, not a biter", but, you know…out of the loop…no control…
Writer/director Lawrence Crowley took a different approach with his 1971 quasi-documentary Bigfoot: Man or Beast?
BF: Crowley? Don't get me started on that guy. He never even tried to get my cooperation – "matter of public record" and all. Frankly, he got what he deserved. For Man or Beast and his insipid In Search of effort in 1976. I wasn't meant to be explained. I was meant to kick butt and look good doing it.
OO: So it's safe to say then that The Legend of Boggy Creek was your breakout effort?
BF: Absolutely! Look, it's about the only Bigfoot film from the era that people still talk about, and consider something of a classic. Clearly, my buddy Chuck Pierce knew how to combine fact with fiction. He took all those silly swamp legends from the Arkansas backwaters and bayous, tossed in a little humor, added some sensationalized shock value, and VIOLA! – instant cult classic.
OO: Pierce sure did understand the air of mystery surrounding your existence…or lack thereof.
BF: Precisely! He got it. He knew people responded better to insinuation than illustration. Why over-expose your featured fiend when simply a glimpse of arm, a hint of a muscled torso would do. He was like a Jaws-era Spielberg in that sense – suggest the beast, but don't show it. Everyone else was using Patterson and Gimlin as the standard for Sasquatch, but not Pierce. He shrouded me in an aura of tradition and heritage that allowed me to then settle in perfectly with the surrounding rural region. I was a part of everyday life for the people of Fouke, Arkansas and, that made me all the more powerful. And dangerous. Pierce really knew how to make Bigfoot dangerous…and as a result, sexy.
OO: In a skunk ape kind of way…
BF: Yes, in a skunk ape kind of way.
OO: When fans remember the movie, one of the first things that comes to mind is the blood curdling shriek that begins the narrative. You know, the moment over the dropping sunset where we learn that something…sininster…may be living in the vast wetlands on the horizon? Was that you?
BF: Sadly, no. Pure ADR. You know, a little post-production 'Additional Dialogue Recording'? Pierce and I had a lot of discussions about that. It is an effective little yowl, isn't it? Anyway, we talked for hours about how best to capture my overpowering presence amongst the townsfolk. At first, I suggested chasing some scantily clad co-eds around a camp grounds for a few minutes, but for some reason, Pierce didn't see me as a sex farce kind of creature. No, he wanted the scream. But I'm something like 8' 11", 790lbs of overdeveloped biped machismo. Screeching like a Shesquatch during courting was completely foreign to me. So we left that signature sound to someone – or something – else. It is, in my opinion, the movie's defining aural cue.
OO: And what about the climatic cabin attack? Did you do you own stuntwork?
BF: Does a Foot fart in the woods? OF COURSE I did my own stunt work. Pierce had promised that this would be the movie's main setpiece, a conscious culmination of everything that I, as a supposedly primitive manbeast living on the edge of extinction and fighting for my right to survive, would stand for. And I have to give him credit, he choreographed it beautifully. Just watch the scene today and tell me if it doesn't hold up. You've got the unknowing victims hanging out, having a good time. You've got the stifling sense of dread. The typical bait and switch shock tactics. The final animalistic frenzy. Heck, it ain't Hitckcock, but for audiences in the early '70s unsure of what to make of the entire Bigfoot concept, my little lesson in fear sure was successful.
OO: Creek was indeed a hit, and with it, you were a superstar. How did that feel?
BF: Fan-friggin'-tastic, that's how. Remember, just a decade before, I was battling my continental cousin The Abominable Snowman for a little name recognition. Sending out props to my strong Yeti peeps! (Flashes an empowering salute) Beast Power! Beast Power! Sorry…right, stardom. It was intoxicating. Everywhere, people knew your name. I got the standard treatment – face on a lunchbox, iron-on t-shirt transfer, my own Match Game question – "Bigfoot's feet are so big, they make Martha Mitchell's mouth look like 'BLANK"" While it lasted, it was sensational. It was the sweet life on easy street. Key to the Playboy Club. Mentions in the legitimate – and tabloid –press.
OO: Yet as quickly as it came, it was all…
BF: Yep, by 1977 it was all over. I should have NEVER agreed to play myself alongside that wooden waste Lee Majors on The Six Million Dollar Man. I mean, ME? Controlled by ALIENS? Come on. Anyway, I was cocky. I was pissing away my money like it was warm near beer. And trust me, no one could get me to stop. Soon, I was desperate, and that's when those pathetic Pufnstuf boys – Sid and Marty Crap…I mean Krofft (wink) approached me about a show of my own. Bigfoot and Wildboy – all adventure, all action. It ended up being all AWFUL! It destroyed me.
Even worse, I couldn't shake the kiddie thing once it took hold. While The Kroffts crucified me, some hack named Tom Moore took my Boggy Creek cred and buried it. They turned me into some kind of hirsute babysitter. It was just one flop after another – Return to Boggy Creek, Snowbeast, Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot, The Creature from Black Lake, The Curse of Bigfoot, The Capture of Bigfoot…it's too painful to go on.
OO: Need a moment?
BF: No, no. I'll be fine. I'm still learning to live with the shame.
OO: In retrospect, why the 70s? Why do you, someone who was involved right up front in the cultural dialectic, think that phenomenon like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the supposed Chariots of the Gods were so popular – and more significantly – so important to the era?
BF: Why?…that's a tough one, me being so close to the subject and all. Still, I would have to say that, in a world gone wild, we mythical beings made some surreal sense. See if you can understand my logic. The '60s was a dicey time, man – a social period that simply exploded with uncertainty and distrust. For all the peace and love that was floating around – and believe you me, I got my share of both, if you catch my drift – it was citizen vs. citizen, ideology vs. ideas, with a generational divide growing wider and wider…damn! What a downer!
Anyway, the '70s was like the bad taste of dead monkey one has in their mouth after a night of binge drinking. The focus shifted from politics to the problems of the planet. Overpopulation, ecology, preservation became big things – and there was me and my fellow prehistoric pals just waiting to be discovered. We represented lineage, a link back to the Earth's earliest times. If we could be explained, and embraced, perhaps our poisoned planet could be saved. At least it might stop that stupid Indian – sorry, Native American – from weeping all the time.
OO: So your popularity was nothing more than a response to environmental activism?
BF: Yes and no. Any look back at genre cinema sees a direct link between monsters and the movies. In some ways, we were just the new beasts on the block. But it is interesting to note that, in an era where all film was becoming more realistic and artistic, a big hairy dolt like me could become an instant celebrity. Yeah, the treehugger crowd helped. It gave us a legitimacy that otherwise might not have existed. Still, why something like Bigfoot became synonymous with the era that gave us Watergate, Jimmy Carter and disco is still something of an entertainment enigma.
OO: Any plans for a comeback?
BF: Ever since that horribly hokey Harry and the Hendersons back in '91, I've been keeping my profile as low as possible. I lost the rights to my name and image back in '83, when that stupid monster truck took me to court. After that, the home video floodgates have more or less kept my mangled myth alive. Every month a few residual checks arrive in my mailbox. I have my friends, my macramé, my two weeks a year in Branson. I can't complain.
OO: Still, don't you long for the days when your image inspired fear and folklore, not snickers and sneers.
BF: Look, I had my time in the public eye. I enjoyed my elongated fifteen minutes of fame. Boggy Creek is still out there for anyone interested in revisiting my creative canon. Hollywood is a young man's game, and I am no longer young – nor am I really a man. I'll disappear back into the underbrush and live my life, happy. I am holding out for one thing though – my dream project. If they ever make a biopic of Robin Williams, I am so there.