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Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Ape Actor and Cowboy Hero - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2005

Films starring Ray 'Crash' Corrigan on (re)Search my Trash


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Ray 'Crash' Corrigan might never have been an actor who did make it quite to the top of the B-movie (and serial) echelon, being easily outranked by the likes of Larry 'Buster' Crabbe or Ralph Byrd, to randomly pick out but 2 he actually appeared on screen together with, he is however fondly remembered by science fiction fans (for his roles Undersea Kingdom and It! The Terror from Beyond Space) and B-Western fans (for his participation in the Three Mesquiteers- as well as the Range Busters-series) alike, but actually his contributions to the realm of B-movies was much greater as these contributions combined, even if in many of his on-screen appearances he was unrecognizable or was simply providing the out-door sets ... because being a leading man of the B's, he carved himself out a name as one of the leading gorilla actors of the 1930's, 1940's and beginning 1950's, and he was the owner of a piece of land he had self-consciously christened Corriganville, on which (allegedly) more than a 1.000 movies were shot ...


But first things first: Crash Corrigan was born Raymond Benitz in Milwaukie, Wisconsin in 1902. He changed his name to Ray Benard sometime in the 1920's, when he ran a radio equipment shop, and later a reducing machne shop, in Los Angeles. At the same time, he, a musclebound man, began modelling. This eventually led to a contract with MGM, and his first job was a stand-in for (the equally muscular) Johnny Weissmuller [Johnny Weissmuller-bio - click here] in Tarzan the Ape Man (directed by W.S.Van Dyke) in 1932.


In the sequel to Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and his Mate (1934, Cedric Gibbons, Jack Conway), can not only be seen as Weissmuller's stand-in, but also as an ape ... obviously Corrigan must have smelled an opportunity, as it was around this time that he had himself tailored a gorilla suit according to his own specificatins, one that would not only perfectly fit his body but also allow the ape to move his mouth ... From today's jaded point of view, the suit does look a bit ridiculous (though still way more convincing than many CGI-ape renditions), but in the mid-1930's the costume was pretty amazing.


The next years Corrigan spent accepting supporting roles that needed either musclebound men (like the role of Apollo in Night Life of the Gods [1935, Lowell Sherman]) or gorillas (Murder in the Private Car  [1934, Harry Beaumont]), and sometimes he was actually needed to be both, like in Darkest Africa (1936, B.Reeves Eason, Joseph Kane), Republic's very first serial [Republic history - click here], where he played both a batman guard and Bonga, the gorilla sidekick of hero Clyde Beatty's kid sidekick Manuel King.


While that might not sound amazingly spectacular in itself, it did lead to bigger and better things: In Undersea Kingdom (1936, B.Reeves Eason, Joseph Kane), Republic's second serial which wildly (and enhjoyably) blends tales of old Atlantis with science fiction clichés and fast-moving action, athletic Crash Corrigan was chosen for the lead (and it was actually then and there that he was rechristened Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, in his previous filmwork, if he was credited at all, he was still Ray Benard).


How did that name come into being?

Rumours differ wildly, but the most believable story might be that it was created by the Republic publicity office because it sounded like action and adventure, and more important, it sounded a bit like Flash Gordon, a then popular comic strip by Alex Raymond, which was at the same time turned into a serial over at Universal (click here), starring Larry 'Buster' Crabbe [Buster Crabbe bio - click here] and directed by Frederick Sephani. Interestingly, Crash Corrigan played another (horned) gorilla in that one whom Flash defeats in a cage fight.


Undersea Kingdom soon led to more serial work at Republic [Republic history - click here], like a supporting role in The Vigilantes are Coming (1936, Ray Taylor, Mack V.Wright) starring Bob Livingston, and The Painted Stallion (1937, Ray Taylor, Alan James, William Witney [William Witney bio - click here]), where Corrigan was supported by silent cowboy star Hoot Gibson, in the following year, but he really hit gold when in 1936 he accepted the role of Tucson Smith in The Three Mesquiteers (Ray Taylor), the Western that is widely regarded as the birth of the cowboy trios. In this one, Corrigan plays the second lead to Bob Livingston while Syd Saylor does the comic relief.


The Three Mesquiteers would eventually be turned into a series running for 51 films (quite an accomplishment for a B-Western series) from 1936 until 1943. Crash Corrigan would stay on for the first 24 of them, siding first Bob Livingston, then for one film Ralph Byrd (The Trigger Trio [1937, William Witney]), then John Wayne (just before his breakthrough with Stagecoach [1939, John Ford]) [John Wayne in the 1930's - click here], while comic relief would be handled by Max Terhune from film 2 (Ghost Town Gold [1936, Joseph Kane]) onwards, until he would be replaced by Raymond Hatton, with whom Corrigan and Wayne made 2 films (Wyoming Outlaw, Frontier Horizon [both 1939, George Sherman]).

At this point, both Wayne and Corrigan left the series, Wayne because he thought with the success of Stagecoach he was predestined for bigger things (and right he was), in Corrigan's case, various reasons are cited, but the most believable seem to be that on one hand Republic refused to give him the pay raise he demanded, on the other hand Bob Livingston did re-take his role from John Wayne, and Corrigan and Livingston just didn't get along. Eventually, Corrigan would leave Republic altogether and Duncan Renaldo (of later Cisco Kid fame) would take over his role as Tucson Smith (though Tucson would be rechristened Rico Rinaldo) ...


Now one entry into the Three Mesquiteers-series deserves special mention in regards to Crash Corrigan's career, Three Texas Steers (1937, George Sherman), as Corrigan can't only be seen as his regular role of Tucson Smith, but also doubles as a circus gorilla, and even though the latter character is kind of under-used for anything other than some throwaway jokes, the episode as a whole is mighty entertaining.


Crash Corrigan's next stop after the Three Mesquiteers was at the newly re-formed second-generation Monogram, who needed a cowboy trio to compete with the Three Mesquiteers, and who better to hire than 2 former Mesquiteers, Max Terhune and ... Crash Corrigan. But more on that later ...


Around 1937, Crash Corrigan invested which what could be considered as amazing foresight (especially for a man who spent part of his life in a gorilla suit) into a stretch of land in Simi Valley, California, where and when land was still cheap (it is rumoured he payed around 10.000 Dollars for it), with the intention of renting it out as a film-location ... and in the next 30 years or so, the stretch of land (which Corrigan christened Corriganville for rather obvious reasons) would be the locatin for over 1.000 films and TV-series, among them literally hundreds of B-Westerns (including films starring Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, and several of the Three Mesquiteers-Westerns), even a few A-films (like Fort Apache [1948, John Ford]), and the Jungle Jim series starring Johnny Weissmuller, among many others.



... and of course, Monogram's cowboy trio series starring Crash Corrigan and Max Terhune was filmed there, a series that became eventually known as Range Busters. The third lead was played by John 'Dusty' King, later Dennis Moore. In 4 of the 24 Range Busters-films, Corrigan was replaced by Dave Sharpe, presumably due to disputes over salary.

The Range Busters were the brainchild of Crash Corrigan and producer George W. Weeks, and even though they were financed and produced  by Monogram, the studio wasn't directly involved into production. Instead, productin was handled by a seperate unit, in which Corrigan somehow had his hands, which would secure Corrigan (as the lead, sort-of-producer and provider of the location) a big share of the films' profits (he once claimed he got 50 percent ... which is doubtful at best).

Most of the films were directed by veteran Western director S. Roy Luby, and would usually look quite accomplished considering their low budgets (even if they would never have the polish or production values of Republic's Three Mesquiteers).



The Range Busters-series ran from 1940 to 1943 (first film The Range Busters [1940, S. Roy Luby], last Bullets and Saddles [1943, Anthony Marshall]) and was reasonably successful, but after that Corrigan - who by the way was not in all of the Range Busters-films - got tired from Westerns and left this genre more or less behind, rather dedicating his attention to flourishing Corriganville.


Corrigan would however continue to accept work as a gorilla, in films like The Strange Case of Dr. RX (1942, William Nigh), Captive White Woman (1943, Edward Dmytryk) , She's for Me (1943, Reginald Le Borg), Nabonga and The Monster Maker (both 1944, Sam Newfield), White Pongo (1945, Sam Newfield) or the serial The Monster and the Ape (1945, Howard Bretherton) throughout the remainder of the 1940's, not only wearing his (traditional) black gorilla suit but also in his white (!) gorilla suit (and you would be surprised about the length some scriptwriters go to throw white gorillas into their films).


The funniest of Corrigan's gorilla films though has to be White Gorilla (1945, Harry L.Fraser), in which Corrigan plays not only the titular beast but also the (human) hero. Because of this, Corrigan the man and Corrigan the gorilla can never been shown in the same frame together, even if the 2 occasionally have to interact. (Several sources claim that Corrigan did not play the white gorilla but a supporting black gorilla in this film, but that wouldn't explain the length to which the director has to go to not show the white gorilla and the hero in the same frame.)

But if you thought that alone would give the film a somewhat schizophrenic feeling, there's more: To add some productin value to his (very) low budget film, producer Louis Weiss dusted off a silent serial in his possession, Perils of the Jungle from 1927 - a chapterplay full of junglegirls, jungleboys riding on elephant's trunks, of course the customary wild beasts, and a bit of fantasy thrown in for good measure - and tried to pass off the silent footage as part of White Gorilla's story ... and of course, Corrigan can't interact with that footage either ... Should you ever happen to come across that film, watch it, this is a forgotten trash gem if there ever was one.


With the 1950's, records about Crash Corrigan's ape appearances get a little hazy, some sources claim he has sold all his apesuits with the beginning of the 1950's and quit the trade, while other sources do feature quite some 1950's gorilla credits like Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952, William Beaudine) and the Ed wood-scripted Bride and the Beast (1958, Adrian Weiss) [Ed Wood bio - click here] ... but it just might be that in these, someone has just identified Corrigan via his gorilla costume (which might have been worn by someone completely else), and maybe the full truth about in what films he has appeared will never be found out.


However, besides his appearances as an ape, he played an array of other monsters as well, in films like Unknown Island (1945, Jack Bernhard) or Zombies of Mora Tau (1957, Edward L. Cahn), and his last monster appearance, in a suit designed by Paul Blaisdell, was in 1958's It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958, Edward L. Cahn), playing of course It.


Corriganville has meanwhile flourished and grown from a mere Western setting with just a few houses on it into a multi purpose setting with its own Western town, a Corsican Village (built for the Howard Hughes production Vendetta [Mal Ferrer, Stuart Heisler, Max Ophüls, Preston Sturges, Paul Weatherwax], released in 1950, but begun in 1946), some locations perfect for Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest (and used in Robin Hood-films like Bandit of Sherwood Forest [1946, Henry Levin, George Sherman]) and mock jungle settings (used in the Jungle Jim series).

In 1949, Crash Corrigan opened his ranch to the public as a theme park where stunt shows, shoot-outs and the like would be performed in the Western town. As this was before Disneyland or the Universal Studios Themepark, Corriganville became a booming success.


Around this time, Corrigan also hosted his own TV-show, Crash Corrigan's Ranch (1950), and after years of absence he made another appearance in a B-Western, Trail of Robin Hood (1950, William Witney [William Witney bio - click here]), starring Roy Rogers [Roy Rogers bio - click here] and featuring an all-star cast of range heroes from the 1940's (and earlier), probably both to promote his new themepark. Corrigan also planned to launch another series of trio Westerns, The Buckskin Rangers, starring himself, Max Terhune and Bill Hale, but the time for trio Westerns was long gone by, and the series never came into being. Reportedly, one film with the trio was shot though, that is now in the hands of Corrigan's son Tommy, who occasionally shows it to Western fans at private screenings, but hasn't yet made it available to the public. It is not known if the film is actually a finished piece of work, a rough cut, or just some material pieced together.


In 1965, Corrigan sold Corriganville (reportedly for several million Dollars) to Bob Hope, who rechristened the place Hopetown ... but closed down the amusement park only one year later.


Crash Corrigan died in 1976, and despite he never made it to the top as an actor, he died a rich man.

and however corny you think some of his performances were, his contribution to B-movies, especially Westerns and gorilla cinema, cannot be overrated.

© by Mike Haberfelner

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In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.


There's No Such Thing as Zombies
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
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directed by
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Tales to Chill
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