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|It Came From
Inside one of the largest collections of movie props anywhere
It may be hard to believe, but there is a house on a quiet residential street in the San Fernando Valley where countless monsters and alien creatures are hiding. There you can also find several space ships, an arsenal of futuristic weapons, a Victorian submarine... and, oh yeah, a time machine.
Before I tell you more about how all these things gathered under one roof, let me first tell you about the owner of the house - a dear friend of mine who's life is as full of stories as his house is full of things from other worlds.
Bob Burns has had an amazing career in Hollywood, having worked as an actor and special effects artist since the 50s. He has appeared in episodes of "I Love Lucy," "Laugh In," "My Three Sons," "The New Mickey Mouse Club," and many others. He's worked on several classic science fiction films, including "It Conquered the World" and "Invasion of the Saucermen."
In the late 50's, Bob created make-up effects of casualty wounds for US Army medical training films - which had to pass approval by the Surgeon General prior to actual filming.
He has played a gorilla in many television appearances, including commercials for Ford, McDonald's, and several ads for radio stations. He even roamed the California roller coaster theme park Magic Mountain in its early years, as Kogar the gorilla. His partner in this act, Art Laing, played his trainer. During the routine, Kogar would try to break free from his cage. "People panicked and took off in all directions. Women ran off, leaving their babies in strollers. You could always tell where we were by the hot dogs and soft drinks that were all over the ground," Bob said. "One guy ran and jumped in the fountain. I guess he thought gorilla's were afraid of water. The gag worked every time."
Probably his most notable gorilla appearance was as Tracy the gorilla in the Saturday morning series "The Ghost Busters." The CBS show also starred Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch and was on the air in the mid 70s.
Oh, and remember the "Mac Tonight" McDonald's campaign in the late 80's that featured that character with a crescent moon-shaped head? That guy's mouth was puppeteered by Bob.
BUT... Aside from his acting and special effects work, what Bob Burns is most known for in the Hollywood community today is his position as curator of what is probably the largest private collection of movie props anywhere.
Entering the main room of Bob's collection is like stepping into a giant toy box filled with one-of-a-kind treasures. Everywhere you look is something amazing you instantly recognize from a film. There are so many historical artifacts here that even before your eyes can focus on one, you suddenly notice another and another and another.
Hanging from the ceiling is the flying saucer from "The Day the Earth Stood Still." In the center of the room sitting on a custom wood cabinet is an unfinished model of the Nautilus from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," which was actually cast from the original mold. Also here from "20,000 Leagues" is Ned Land's turtle-banjo, and a diving helmet from the film - which is sitting in a row with other helmets from films including "Alien," "The Andromeda Strain," and "Robot Monster."
There are alien creatures and monsters everywhere... a dead alien Drak from "Enemy Mine," the Gill Man from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," and many "Gremlins" from the first film and its sequel.
Remember the first creature you see in the "Star Wars" Cantina scene, the alien with the "T-head"? He's here, along with several of his friends from the same scene - including the big fuzzy guy with eight eyes that scratches his head after Greedo is shot.
The enormous Queen Alien that stalked Ripley in "Aliens" lives in Bob's home, hiding in an alcove as if she's ready to leap out and attack at any moment.
An item in Bob's collection of major historical significance is the original metal armature that was inside the figure of King Kong used for stop-motion animation. Although the surrounding fur and head for this model has not survived, the metal bones and joints are in excellent condition and just as fully posable as they were when special effects genius Willis O'Brien built them.
Even the very first piece in the collection Bob received when he was 13 years old is as remarkable as any other - the silver wolf's head from the top of Lon Chaney Jr.'s cane in "The Wolf Man."
But perhaps the most amazing item to see here is "The Time Machine" from the George Pal film. Beautifully restored by Bob and his friends, it sits quietly in the corner of the room, as if patiently waiting to take its next traveler on a journey through time.
Speaking of time, Bob has always been extremely gracious and generous with his time - allowing certain friends and fans to visit the collection for either serious study or sheer appreciation. And on rare occasions, he has even parted (temporarily) with certain items.
When special effects wizard Phil Tippett was designing the stop-motion models of the Tauntauns for "The Empire Strikes Back," he visited Bob's collection to closely examine an armature that was used for the original "Mighty Joe Young."
The Time Machine you see in the background of the Inventor's Convention in "Gremlins" is indeed the actual Time Machine, on loan from Bob for use in the production.
And when Fox asked Bob is they could use the original Queen Alien from "Aliens" for use in the forth film in that series, Bob loaned it back to the studio. Not only did they invite him to visit the set during the production of "Alien: Resurrection," but when the queen alien was returned to her home in Bob's collection, it was fully restored and articulated by remote control.
Not only has Bob loaned physical props to films, but sometimes just their sound. When sound designer Ben Burtt was assembling and creating the sounds needed for "Star Wars," he gave his friend Bob a call to ask him if he had any toy ray guns that made interesting buzzing sounds. Being an avid toy collector, Bob had quite a few - and selected one to record for Ben. "That ray gun was a Buck Rogers Sonic Ray pistol. It was really a flashlight with a built in buzzer," Bob told me recently. Later, when Bob was enjoying "Star Wars" in a theater for the first time, he heard his ray gun in the movie. "It was used when the Jawa zaps R2-D2 when Luke is buying the droids."
Many props that are created for a film never survive the actual production. Either they're used and abused so much during filming that they're thrown away, or they're purposely destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Stanley Kubrick, for example, ordered the model of the space ship Discovery destroyed after filming for "2001: A Space Odyssey" was completed because he was afraid it would turn up in other science fiction films. (An exact copy had to be constructed for the 1984 'sequel' "2010.")
Some people in the film making community are very thorough about making sure their props and other artifacts from a film's production are recovered and looked after. A few studios such as Disney and Lucasfilm have extensive archives where items from their films are carefully catalogued and stored. Others send their props straight to Bob Burns.
Being custodian of such a huge collection has made Bob a sought after consultant on motion picture memorabilia. He has appeared on countless film making segments for the Discovery, Learning, and Sci-Fi Cable Channels, as well as "Entertainment Tonight."
When I asked film historian and author Leonard Maltin, a contributor to "Entertainment Tonight," to send his thoughts about Bob Burns, he had this to say:
Bob has literally hundreds of friends in the film making industry, many of which credit Bob as their mentor. Make-up effects genius Rick Baker, whose extraordinary work is currently on display in "The Grinch," is an old friend of Bob's. "Rick Baker was 13 when I met him," Bob told me. "I knew after his second visit that he was destined for greatness. So I'm not at all surprised that he's the best today." Rick has given Bob many items to be kept in the collection, including the ferocious werewolf from "An American Werewolf in London" - a film which Rick won the first Oscar in the category of Make-up effects for.
One of Bob's greatest loves is Halloween. For many years he organized elaborate Halloween shows in and around his own house, with many of his industry friends volunteering their time to the productions.
"Our first Halloween show was in 1967. It was a Frankenstein lab set up in my living room. The trick-or-treaters would look through my front door. I had a dummy of the Monster on a table." Glenn Strange, who played Frankenstein's monster in "House of Frankenstein" and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" visited Bob's house to see it. "He came over on Halloween night and stood by 'himself' on the table. What a great night."
Over the years, the shows got more and more elaborate, with some of the best special effects people in the business contributing their talents - including Dennis Muren, Rick Baker, Bob and Dennis Skotak, Mike Minor, Tom Scherman, Doug Beswick and Joe Viskocil.
This last Halloween, I stopped by Bob's house to say hi, and found him there handing out candy with several of his friends... including, I was surprised to see, Dorothy Fontana - one of the main writers on the original "Star Trek" television show.
Although he hasn't coordinated a Halloween show in a while, I asked Bob if he had thought about putting one together anytime soon. He mentioned casually that they were already thinking that maybe - just maybe - 2001 would be a good year for a new show. "We are planning on doing a scene from the original 'THING,'" he said.
Talking to Bob is pure delight for anyone who loves movies. His enthusiasm is contagious when hearing him share some of his amazing stories.
For those who aren't able to visit Bob's museum, his upcoming book, "It Came from Bob's Basement" is the next best thing. Along with co-author John Michlig, Bob gives his readers a look into his collection, and shares many of the stories behind the items in it.
The book features an introduction by Dennis Muren, another friend of Bob's who is one of the special effects wizards at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic - and who was recently honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
If you'd like a chance to meet Bob and have him sign your very own copy of his book, you can catch him this Saturday (12/16) at Dark Delicacies Bookstore in Burbank. He'll be there from 2 pm to 4 pm, and will have a few items from his wonderful collection as well. Don't miss it!
For information on Bob and his book signing, check out the sidebar.
I'll see you there!
Bob Burns' official website can
be found HERE
...And we'd like to thank Bob and his website manager Joyce K. Meyer for
the pictures presented here on MousePlanet.
Please feel free to email me at DestinyELaw@aol.com
I can't guarantee a response... but I'd still love to hear from you!
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