Thursday, May 27, 2010

Emil Van Horn Hollywood's Most Famous Motion Picture Gorilla
When I moved to New Orleans in 1965 I met Emil Van Horn. He told me his gorilla suit had been taken by his landlady in Pensacola,Florida because he could not pay his back rent. She kept his trunk with all his possessions as well. So his movie days were over. And his nightclub acts of Beauty and The Beast were over. He had been in Miami though prior to New Orleans because he said he worked as an extra in the movie A Hole In The Head.
It was during the filming of The Cincinatti Kid in Jan. 1965 that he walked in the back patio of Preservation Hall.Even though he looked down and out someone said dont laugh at that guy he is a member of Screen Actor's Guild.
Later in 1965 and 1966 I got to know him. At first he was living in a small apt. on Gov. Nicholls Street with a couple of other men possibly merchant seamen. Then they left and he had no means of making a living so he became homeless.
He would often hang out around the French Market Bar. He could get a small glass of wine or beer there for a dime. He drank as much and as often as he could.
He was one of many characters in the French Quarter at that time. There was the famous Ruthie the Duck Girl who walked around followed by a female duck and her ducklings. People and traffic would stop and they would cross the street.
There was a poet named John Beecher a descendent of Harriet Beecher Stowe living in the Quarter at that time. Read about him here.
I used to see Emil Van Horn during the day and he would tell me stories of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. He told me of drinking with W.C. Fields. He said Fields would sneak off from his set and they would hide out and drink. The movie people would come looking for them calling for Fields but W.C. told Van Horn to be quiet and they kept on hiding out and drinking.
He told me of Clark Gable bringing his new car around to ask Van Horn how he liked it and whether he should paint a small stripe on each side.
One of the things Van Horn still had was a photograph of his own car from around the 1930s. He was very proud of that. It was a very impressive car.
He told me of being the guy in the gorilla suit in the W.C. Fields movie NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK.
Here is a list of movies that Emil Van Horn was in. Click on the link.
Once Van Horn came by our apartment when I had somewhow locked myself out wearing only my underwear. I was sitting four flights up outside our door trying to figure out what to do. The doorbell rang. I went downstairs and it was Emil Van Horn standing there in his old overcoat. I told him my predicament. I borrowed his overcoat and told him to wait there for me as I went several blocks to our realty company Caruso Gall to get an extra key. It worked perfectly. Even though I had nothing on underneath the overcoat except my underwear that old battered overcoat did the trick. I guess I was barefoot also but stranger things than that are seen in the French Quarter every day.
The evening Van Horn walked in the back patio of Preservation Hall during the filming of The Cincinatti Kid in the scene with Sweet Emma The Belle Gal I was working as an extra in the film. They let me and some others sit in the back patio during the filming while they filmed in Preservation Hall itself. Also sitting back there were Al Rose and Bill Russell both big names in the music scene in New Orleans at that time.
Steve McQueen was using an apartment further back in the patio as his dressing room. He would walk by back and forth taking breaks from the shooting. He did not seem to speak to anyone.
Sweet Emma complained about the bright lights shining in her eyes. The movie people adjusted the lights. See my post on this blog about The Cincinatti Kid and the filming in New Orleans in Jan. 1965.
There was no part for Van Horn in that movie. Not even as an extra.
I found out some time later that Emil Van Horn died at Charity Hospital in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 1967.
He was a real gentleman. He was not a bum he was just down and out.
Here is a link to the flickr page with many photos of some the movies Emil Van Horn was in and other things.
I have two other posts about Emil Van Horn. Click on the name Emil Van Horn in the label box below to read them.