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Q&A with BOB BURNS!

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1: We Go-ers (fans of ‘The Ghost Busters’) theorized that Tracy could be the missing link between man and ape. I (Tiziano) created a sort of background for Zero, where he’s a time traveller from a distant future who created all the paraphernalia we can see in the 1986 cartoon. Tracy could be an ancient, unknown humanoid from the past that Zero used to battle ghosts. Since even your Tracy displayed a genius-like intelligence and traits beyond the simian ones, you’ve been told to play Tracy this way? Or was it your interpretation? What is Tracy, in your mind?

Bob Burns: In our show Tracy was never explained where he came from or how he got together with the boys. He was just part of the trio. When I auditioned for the show in Lou Scheimer’s (the producer) office. I was in my gorilla suit so they could see how I looked. Marc Richards, who created the series, said to me “Tracy is a real gorilla so he can’t speak but he can draw and do pantomime. What would you do if you were him”? I looked around the room and saw Lou’s desk. I went over and sat down in his chair and saw a copy of the Daily Variety and picked it up and crossed my leg and started reading. After a moment. Marc Richards said “We have Tracy the Gorilla”. That’s how I got the part.

As far as how Tracy was played was pretty much left up to me. Marc said just to remember “you are a gorilla”. One problem I did have is I was in such awe of Tuck and Larry. I loved them in ‘F TROOP’ and loving old western movies Tuck was always a favourite of mine. I used to watch Larry on TV when I was a kid and he would do these imitations of stars and I would laugh my head off. Now here I am in a series with them. How cool is that!!! When we did our first rehearsal I did all kinds of schtick and I happened to look over at Tuck and he looked like he wasn’t that happy with me. Now remember I didn’t know these guys at all at this time. Anyway I knew that a guy in an animal suit or a kid can upstage anyone. So when we actually shot the scene I pulled way back. Norm Abbott, the director, came over to me and said “Bob you did great in rehearsal but in the take you didn’t do your stuff”. I told him that I was worried about Tuck and he said “Well, you better talk to him as we have fifteen shows to do in nine weeks and that’s a rough schedule. I was so nervous when I walked over to these incredible guys my mouth was so dry I didn’t know if I could even speak. I looked at Tuck and finally said “Mr. Tucker the director sent me over to talk to you about a problem I’m having”.

Tuck gave me a long look and said “What could possibly be your problem. Hell! We just started shooting”. Now I didn’t know that Tuck had a very dry sense of humor. I took a big dry swallow and said “I’m the new kid on the block here and the last thing I want to is upstage you guys. He looked at me and started to smile and said “Is that your problem”? I said “Yes sir it is”. Good God! I’m too old for ego crap and Larry’s too out of it”. Larry looked over and said “Yep! that’s the truth. Tuck said “Look kid, we know that you’re going to be the star of this show and we’ll be second bananas to a gorilla and that’s just fine with us. We’re here to make people laugh so if you can do anything to accomplish that it’s why we’re doing this show in the first place”. After that, I never had a problem. In fact, Tuck became a father figure to me and made sure I took breaks when I got over heated or just needed a rest. It gets really hot in the gorilla suit. My wife, Kathy, once put a thermometer inside the suit and it read a hundred and ten degrees.



2: Could you share with us some background info on influences which lead you to get the Tracy suit and sparked your passion for science fiction, horror, and fantasy?


Bob Burns: As a kid, I always liked the jungle movies that had gorillas in them. I also loved monster, Science fiction, fantasy, and horror films. For some reason I wanted to be a gorilla man even when I was a kid. One day in 1963 I said to my wife, Kathy, “I’m really serious about building a gorilla suit”. My first gorilla suit was named Kogar. Kathy ended up making the suit and Don Post Sr. made the head, hands, and feet. Kogar was a pretty mean looking gorilla. It sort of looked like Ray Corrigan’s suit. He played gorillas in the 1940s and into the 50s. I had met a 13 year old Rick Baker and was very impressed with his make up work. He of course, is now one of the best make up artists in the world. When he was around 20 years old I decided that I needed a less fierce gorilla head as I was starting to do TV commercials. Rick said that he’d make me a new head. That head became Tracy when I did the series and I still use it along with the old Kogar head as well. Of course, I’m much older now so my gorilla days are pretty much behind me now plus, I have to walk with a cane now as my legs and feet are giving out. The last gorilla gig I did was in an old haunted house spoof called ‘DARK AND STORMY NIGHT’. I hadn’t had the suit on for about 7 years and everyone including my doctor and Rick Baker said that being in my 70s I had no reason to put on the gorilla suit again that I would probably fall over and die from the heat and strain of the suit. Well, I have to say I never felt so young as I did when I put the suit on again. I think it holds some magic or something for me as no one could believe there was an old man in the suit. I call it the spirit of Tracy.


Q&Aimage

Norm Abbott & Bob Burns on location


3: What make and year is the Ghost Busters car, and how was it like to drive the car?


Bob Burns: The car was a 1929 Whippet. Luckily, I only had to really drive it for the outdoor scenes and we shot all of that in two days. It was very hard to drive wearing the gorilla suit. The rest we shot on a sound stage.



4: Did you have any fond memories in regards to the kit (Ghostbusting Bag)?


Bob Burns: Oh Man! That thing was a thorn in my side. Being as big as it was it was so hard just to move around as I think I just about ran into anything on the set. It was, of course, empty until I sat it down and the prop guys would load it with all the stuff I had to pull out of it. The gag was sort of like Harpo Marx when he would pull all kinds of things from underneath his coat.



5: There has been interest in making prop-replica of the Dematerializer (gun). Do you by any chance know what the original prop was made of? What fond memories of the prop do you have?


Bob Burns: When the show was cancelled I tried like the devil to get that prop as it was so cool. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it. It was made out fiberglass and had a motor in it that when Tuck turned the handle the little radar dish would spin and when he turned the other handle the round window would open and they superimposed the ray coming out of it. They also had a second one that didn’t do anything and that was the one that I would toss to Tuck, etc. I guess you might call it the “stunt” prop.



6: Are there any thoughts on the Zero character that would give the cases to the Ghost Busters?


Bob Burns: Lou Scheimer, the producer of the show, was the voice of Zero. He was just a mysterious voice who gave us our ghostbusting assignments. It was a take off on ‘Mission: Impossible’.



7: Forrest Tucker. What’s your personal experience working with him? Any thoughts about his character Jake Kong that he portrayed? What’s the deal with the number on the shirt, “5”?


Bob Burns: I talked earlier about Tuck in this interview. He was just the greatest guy ever. He had a photographic mind, he would read the script at home and never brought it in with him. He never blew a line. It was incredible to watch him. I got the feeling that the Jake character was sort of based on his role as The Sgt. O’Rourke in ‘F Troop’ as he was definitely the leader of the Ghost Busters. I don’t think there was reason for number 5 on his shirt. The costume people came up with the costumes.



8: Larry Storch. What’s your personal experience about working with him? Any thoughts about character Eddie Spenser that he portrayed? Is it “Spencer” or “Spenser”? (likely, the latter one).


Bob Burns: Larry is the sweetest guy you’d ever want to know. He didn’t drive so Tuck would bring him in to the studio and I would take him home after the day’s shoot. He would start doing impressions of stars and I darn near wrecked the car a couple of times as I was laughing so hard. We’re still friends to this day. We both miss Tuck a lot. Larry’s Spenser character was his own creation. Marc Richards, the writer, wanted him to be pretty “hep” so the costume people put him in a zoot suit.



9: Any fond memories about the series? What do you think the series accomplished back in its heydays? Do you think it was the success you hoped for, or was it disappointing?


Bob Burns: Gad! There are so many wonderful memories that it would take another interview to list them all. Just getting to work with these two incredible guys was the best time I’ve ever had in the business. The series was very popular and had a great audience. It was number two in the ratings only behind ‘Shazam!/Isis Hour’. I still have fan mail from folks who thought the gorilla was real. I’m sure that part of the reason for that was that my credit said “Tracy trained by Bob Burns”. When they asked me how I wanted my credit I just came up with that as a joke. I guess it kind of backfired on me. The disappointing part was that we were set to go another season but at the last minute Filmation decided to drop our show and put the money in ‘Shazam!/Isis Hour’. It was a bad decision as Shazam really fell in the ratings and was cancelled. Tuck was so disappointed as he was ready to finish his TV career with ‘The Ghost Busters’. As it was CBS ran the repeats for another year as they loved the show.


Continued to the second page of Questions and Answers



Compiled and conceived by Tiziano Caliendo a.k.a. Prime Good.
Supervised and graphically arranged by Matthew Jordan a.k.a. Devil of the Ghostbusters/Devilmanozzy.

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