July 25, 2014

KONGA returns! Paul Stockman - the man behind the masks

Out of the Konga suit and into Doctor Blood's Coffin!

You may have seen Paul Stockman's most famous roles, but not his face. He played the undead occupant of Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961) and the giant gorilla-chimp in Konga 
(1961). In his brief spate of screen roles, he also appeared with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. After a break of twenty-five years, he's acting again and has just started making public appearances.

The London Film Conventions are currently inviting celebrities as interesting as the gigantic Film and Comic Cons, focussing on British cinema and TV from the sixties and seventies. I couldn't believe it when they announced that Paul was appearing. He was a zombie in the first zombie film I ever saw! Made up as the walking dead, his photos were in monster magazines and books on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Looking up his other credits I was amazed to see that he'd also been in Konga. Not just in the film, but in the gorilla suit! I've written maybe too much about Konga already... because it's a British giant monster movie, that it starred Michael Gough and that it was shot at Merton Park Studios. But here was a chance to meet Konga himself!

The convention, held as usual in the Westminster Methodist Hall opposite the Houses of Parliament, was on July 19th. Incongruously parked next to a row of comedy actresses was the man himself. Defying his age of 82, Paul Stockman has been racking up new screen credits since 2010 but of course, I was more interested in 1961. 

Paul is friendly, enthusiastic and still tall! He described how he got the role of Konga, when producer Herman Cohen put out a casting call for actors who were six feet tall. About fifty guys turned up and Cohen enters the room with the box with the gorilla suit in it (which he'd hired from the US). For the suit to fit, the actor would have to be exactly six feet tall, to the inch. This disqualified most that were present and, of the three remaining, Paul was the only one with brown eyes, so he got the job!

I complemented him on his performance in Konga. Despite his eyes being set deep under the mask, the lighting always catches them, revealing his cheeky, rather human actions during his scenes, adding an intentionally humorous layer to the film.

He remembers the main sound stage at Merton Park as being quite small and that he didn't have too many scenes with the rest of the cast, as he was stomping around miniature sets and doing blue screen work. I asked if he was a stuntman but that's not the case. Actors simply get asked to do their best, even when they're destroying large-scale models that happen to be on fire!

Paul remembers being roughly directed by the assistant director 'Buddy', being manhandled into position rather than asked. But Konga was paying him three times what he'd been getting in other roles. And when filming had wrapped, it was Buddy who rang him up having suggested him for Doctor Blood's Coffin. Another ten days work!

The downside, and the main reason I didn't associate him with the role, is that he starred in Konga without being credited! Not in the end credits or on the posters, for the ludicrous reason that Cohen wanted the audience to think that Konga was a real gorilla!

But onto Doctor Blood's Coffin, where he plays Hazel Court's deceased husband, secretly being revived by renegade surgeon Kieron Moore. This included location work in Cornwall, in the mines, as well as a London studio. Paul remembers the Cornish winter, made colder by the latex rubber that was applied to his face being kept in the fridge overnight. It wasn't a mask as such, but made from scratch every day. Mixed in with the latex was ether, which seeped out of the make-up under the studio lights. He remembers lying on slab, to be operated on by Dr. Blood, and falling asleep because of the fumes!

Appearing with him on the day was a full-size replica of the make-up and costume that was made by an American fan (photo at top). I suggested that his image in the role was one of the few realistic looking zombies at a time when there very few zombie movies.

Konga is on DVD in the UK and US, but Doctor Blood is only on DVD-R in the US (see my review). But later that day, I discovered that Doctor Blood's Coffin will shortly be released on DVD in the UK for the first time.

Paul Stockman (left), with Peter Cushing in The Skull

Of course, Paul has many other credits and is currently adding to them. I also didn't think to ask him about when he appeared, without make-up, with Peter Cushing in Freddie Francis' The Skull (1965). But Paul did mention how he'd worked with Christopher Lee on their first film, Penny and the Pownall Case (1948), when Lee was 25 and Paul was just 15. What a way to start!

So, keep an eye out for Paul Stockman on TV, in movies and at movie conventions for your own chance to meet a very charming monster!

(Thanks to Lee Kaplan, for his ideas, enthusiasm and actually wanting to read this!)

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