Posted by Richard Harland Smith on March 13, 2007
Here I am… writing about death again.
Some deaths stick with you even when you don’t know the person. I didn’t know Janos Prohaska, a Hungarian émigré who made a career in Hollywood buried under Latex and faux fur but I remember reading about his death when I was 12 and the tragic details made an impression on me.
Prohaska was born in Budapest on October 10, 1919. An intense and mercurial man with a devilish attention to detail, he had an early role as a circus performer in Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962) but seemed most comfortable when least recognizable. From his Santa Monica studio, the talented sculptor fashioned a menagerie of creatures great and small, of this earth and out of this world. On The Outer Limits, he was Darwin the Monkey in the classic episode “The Sixth Finger” and a Thetan raygunman in "The Architects of Fear" (pictured below). In David J. Schow’s indispensable Outer Limits Companion, director Byron Haskin is quoted as having met Prohaska the day “he came into my office, put a beer bottle on the table, and then stood on his head with his finger in the bottle, supporting himself. He could defy the law of gravity."
Apes were Prohaska’s forte and he played them in episodes of Perry Mason, Gilligan’s Island, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants. On Lost in Space and Bewitched he played giant birds but for Star Trek he crafted a panoply of interstellar critters, from the horned Mugato of “A Private Little War” to the rolling Horta in “A Devil in the Dark.” As Heloise the gorilla, Prohaska strangled intelligent chimp Sal Mineo in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and was still doing his simian thing as late as the short-lived hospital sitcom Temperature’s Rising in 1973. He also had a profitable sideline playing bears, due to his regular gig as the insatiable Cookie Bear on The Andy Williams Show between 1969 and 1971. (It has long been speculated that the computer term "cookie" comes from its coiner's love of The Andy Williams Show, specifically Prohaska's weekly attempts to beg a snack from the stingy host.) Ursine bits followed on Mayberry RFD, Here’s Lucy and Dusty’s Trail. Prohaska was cast as a talking bear masquerading as a man in a bear suit in the 1972 half-hour The Bear and I, opposite Soupy Sales and Joe Flynn, but the pilot went unsold.
Janos Prohaska died on March 13, 1974, when his chartered Convair CV-440 crashed in Bishop, California. Prohaska was on his way to participate in the BBC miniseries The Ascent of Man. He was 54 years old. Killed with him were his 28 year-old son, Bobby Prohaska, and 33 others.
Lovers of ersatz simians celebrate National Gorilla Suit Day on January 31st of each year. This gives you plenty of time to plan for next year. Do it up big. Do it for Janos.
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D Academy Awards Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Art Direction Art in Movies Asians in Hollywood Australian CInema Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Black Film Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films About Gambling Films of the 1960s Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Memorabilia Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes movie flops Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movie titles Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival TCM Underground Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies