Films of Emil Sitka: MICROSPOOK (1949)
by Saxon E. Sitka
Correctly spelled MICROSPOOK, the thirty-sixth movie in Emil's Hollywood film career was also his thirty-second role in a Columbia short subject, and he was working once again with Harry Von Zell. This was the seventh of eight comedies former radio star Von Zell would make at the studio before going on to join the cast of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
MICROSPOOK was written and directed by Stooge director Edward Bernds, and as usual for a Von Zell comedy, the cast included several Three Stooges co-stars. Christine McIntyre and Dudley Dickerson join Emil in the supporting cast, which also features Jimmy Aubrey and Harry Tyler. Ray Corrigan also appears in an uncredited role as a gorilla named "Congo."
For MICROSPOOK, Emil plays "wise-guy George," a reprise of his character from SHEEPISH WOLF (1948)
, who is on the receiving end of fellow radio announcer and practical joker Harry Von Zell's numerous annoying pranks. Christine McIntyre plays "Jean," another radio announcer who, like Emil, is fed up with Von Zell's practical jokes, and she and Emil scheme together to get back at Harry.
First they trick Von Zell into broadcasting a late-night radio show from an old abandoned "haunted" mansion (quoting the script) as a publicity stunt to show that he's not afraid of "ghosts." Then they plot to sneak in on him during his broadcast and scare him with a gorilla costume as revenge for all the practical jokes they've been victim of.
Coincidentally, a real gorilla from a nearby circus has disappeared with its keeper after going berserk and killing one of the circus workers. Unknown to anyone, the gorilla keeper has taken the animal and is hiding it, by chance, in the same old mansion from which Harry plans to make his broadcast.
That evening Harry shows up with his assistant Zack, played by Dudley Dickerson, at the "haunted" mansion, which is now occupied by the real gorilla and his keeper. To avoid being discovered, the gorilla keeper tries to scare Harry and Zack away with a "grotesque" mask.
At the same time, George (Emil) and Jean (Christine) show up, sneaking in through a window into the old house and making their own plans to frighten Harry and Zack. To heighten the effect, they brought along the gorilla suit, which Emil puts on as McIntyre goes looking for Harry. As all this activity gets underway, the real gorilla gets loose.
So now there's Harry and Zack preparing for a radio broadcast and thinking they're alone, the gorilla keeper in his mask trying to scare Harry and Zack, Jean sneaking around looking for Harry, George wandering around in a gorilla costume, and a man-killing gorilla on the loose. Amidst the sneaking, hiding, chasing, shrieking, screaming, and confusion between the two "gorillas," pandemonium breaks out and chaos ensues.
When it finally subsides, all is well and the escaped gorilla is captured by the police, who mistakenly think Harry was a brave hero during the ordeal, which he was not. Nevertheless, Harry accepts the police sergeant's admiration for having "nerves of steel" just as a cat rubs against his leg. Harry shrieks with fright and jumps into the arms of the startled sergeant.
When Emil received the call for this role, he was still experiencing persistent head and neck pains that resulted from the stunts he performed while making BILLIE GETS HER MAN (1948)
seven months earlier. They asked him to come to Columbia's wardrobe department several days before shooting, as described in the following entry from Emil's diary for Thursday, August 12, 1948:
A thrilling day. My scheduled time of fitting for wardrobe at Columbia Studio this morning started me off in life with a very cheerful and happy outlook, in spite of the never-yet settled pain in the neck & head.
Ed Bernds, the director, walked in on me when the wardrobe men had me dressed in the most wonderful-fitting and best-looking suit I ever wore. Actually I was a "knockout," they said. But Bernds is a close friend of Harry Von Zell, the star of this forthcoming movie -- and so naturally Ed didn't want me to appear better-in-dress than Harry -- & so hurriedly had me undress before Hugh McCollum, the producer, came. Anyway, I was happy with the much less flattering suit -- & the role!
The physical suffering Emil endured throughout this period of his life weighed heavily on him, and despite preparing for this role in MICROSPOOK, he remained concerned about the future of his acting career, as revealed in his diary entry for the next day, Friday, August 13, 1948:
Since my broken nose and almost broken neck at Columbia, and the subsequent fears and doubts & dejected feeling that my soul suffers ever since, I wonder if I ever shall conquer and reach the goal I've worked & studied so hard for all my life.
But Emil was feeling a little better on the first day of shooting, Monday, August 16, 1948:
My role of "George" in Harry Von Zell's movie comedy for Columbia Pictures at Darmour Studios is a cute one methinks. It is a continuation of the same story & character done earlier this year. I hope it means a steady series with me included.
I did but one or two scenes before the cameras today, but it was fun -- even though I did receive a bump on my already aching head. It wasn't too bad. As I missed a would-be "chair" (Dudley Dickerson) "it" moves & I fall on the floor! All fine, good timing, and all -- but Dudley didn't move back enough, and so our head met with a dull thud!
Emil's diary entry for the following day, Tuesday, August 17, 1948:
Up very early (with the help of a sleeping pill I managed some sleep) and at Darmour Studio for my second day in this comedy with Harry Von Zell, and Ray Corrigan's "gorilla."
Ray is becoming a friend, and I like him as a person. As an artiste with his renowned "gorilla" manners and costume he is supreme too.
My business for today was getting funnier and funnier, and I was commended for doing a good job.
Afterwards, Symona Boniface picked me up with her car -- and treated me to supper at her house. This was preliminary to a rehearsal of "Viper's Fang."
Emil's diary entry for the third day of shooting, Wednesday, August 18, 1948:
A big day, in which I did the most and the most violent "business" of my role as "George" in this Harry Von Zell comedy at Darmour Studio. We topped off a beautiful job as "gorilla" (Ray Corrigan) and me as the guy who would scare Harry with a ridiculous "half-gorilla" costume. Towards the last scene of the day the director Ed Bernds, let the camera roll on while Corrigan and I clowned and acted and "fought" all over the set, to the suppressed delight of all on-lookers.
Ray later gave me a pass to his million-dollar "Corrigan's Ranch" and a real hearty handshake.
Emil's diary entry for the final day of filming, Thursday, August 19, 1948:
My acting today with Harry Von Zell went on very smoothly -- and I noticed a tense and determined attitude (concealed as he tried it to be) on Harry's part as regards my getting laughs with my antics in these first scenes of the story.
This is mightily important to these "stars" it seems. And I was tactfully "hep" to the director's subtle direction. He wanted me to be effective, and yet conform to "watchful Harry." I succeeded.
And, as if everything piles up at once -- tonight I ate supper at Symona Boniface's again -- and soon we were performing "The Viper's Fang" as an audition at KHJ Don Lee Television Station atop Hollywood Hill. My performance as "Jasper" the maniac stood out, they say.
Emil received credit for his role in MICROSPOOK on the one-sheet poster and he is pictured on the title card (see Image Gallery below). Also receiving credit, besides Christine McIntyre and Dudley Dickerson, are Harry Tyler, who plays the radio station boss, and Jimmy Aubrey, who plays "Blinky the gorilla keeper." Ray Corrigan received no credit for his role as "Congo," the man-killing gorilla, but the "Call" sheets for August 17 and 18, 1948, verify his role in this film.
Corrigan, whose real name was Ray Benard, is well-known to movie buffs and film historians for a prolific Hollywood career that began in 1932 as stuntman for TARZAN THE APE MAN. He acted in dozens of movies in the 1930s and 1940s, including small roles in CLEOPATRA (1934) with Claudette Colbert, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935) with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, and DANTE'S INFERNO (1935) with Spencer Tracy. He also appeared as an "apeman" in HOLLYWOOD PARTY (1934) with Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges, as well as in the serial DARKEST AFRICA (1936) in the role of a gorilla.
In 1936, after appearing in FLASH GORDON with Buster Crabbe, Benard assumed the name Ray "Crash" Corrigan and starred in a science fiction serial titled UNDERSEA WORLD. This same year he began portraying "Tuscon Smith" in a series of 24 Western movies featuring a trio of cowboy heroes called "The Three Mesquiteers." A young John Wayne co-starred with Corrigan in eight episodes.
In 1940 Corrigan began starring in another Western series, this time featuring the "Range Busters," and went on to appear in 20 episodes.
Corrigan's early career coincided with the release of the very popular film KING KONG (1934), and he decided to make a niche for himself by studying the mannerisms of the larger primates at a local zoo and promoting himself as a gorilla impersonator to the Hollywood studios. He even had several custom gorilla suits made for himself and portrayed apes in many films between 1934 and 1954.
Although Corrigan was credited for his gorilla roles in some movies, he often performed without receiving acknowledgement, as in the case of MICROSPOOK and numerous other Columbia shorts. Three Stooges fans are familiar with his work though his appearances as an ape in THREE MISSING LINKS (1938), DIZZY DETECTIVES (1943), and CRIME ON THEIR HANDS (1948), all without film credit. It's likely that he also played the ape in GUM SHOES (1935) with Monte Collins and Tom Kennedy, A BIRD IN THE HEAD (1946) with the Stooges, TALL DARK AND GRUESOME (1948) with Hugh Herbert, and HOLD THAT MONKEY (1950) with Gus Schilling and Dick Lane, and possibly others.
Another interesting aspect of Corrigan's Hollywood career involved a large tract of land he purchased in the late 1930's on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Corrigan built a ranch and a small Western-style town on the land and rented it to movie studios for the production of Western films and TV shows. This is the "Corrigan's Ranch" that Emil refers to in his diary.
In 1949, Corrigan renamed it "Corriganville" and opened it to the public on weekends, when he would put on Wild West shows that included stuntmen performing gun-fights, bank hold-ups, outlaw hangings, and rodeo tricks. Throughout the 1950's, Corriganville was the only movie-making facility that allowed public access. It became one of Hollywood's major tourist attractions, drawing film fans from across the nation and even from overseas.
In the mid-1960's, Corrigan retired and sold his ranch to Bob Hope. It was renamed "Hopetown" and continued operation for several more years. In September 1970, a major fire consumed most of the buildings on the property, and it was subsequently shut down.
For Emil, this romp in a gorilla suit with Ray Corrigan for MICROSPOOK would lead to his very next film role, that of a "real" gorilla in THE LOST TRIBE (1949).
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