What Gorilla? 1949 Photo of High Wire Stunt in Times Square NYC

Acme News Photo from my personal collection

“Nonsense Makes News (Second of Eleven) The movie industry is responsible for the great majority of publicity stunts and New York, as well as Hollywood, is frequently the scene of the shenanigans. To plug a movie about an ape, press agents strung a tight rope across Broadway and a stunt man, dressed as a gorilla, swung back and forth over over the heads of gasping crowds. Credit Line: Acme 6/8/51”

The gorilla stunt was to promote, of course, Mighty Joe Young which was playing at the Criterion Theatre (partial marquee shown lower right). The Criterion was across the street from the Hotel Astor where Blue Barron & Orchestra kept everyone dancing nightly

To the right of the gorilla’s right leg, the marquee of the Victoria Theatre shows Home of the Brave playing: “A sensitive, educated black man’s World War II-time problems.”

A billboard promoting A Streetcar Named Desire at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre stands above what is probably ad for Maxwell House Coffee (Good to the Last Drop… and with some of the most racist commercials ever.) Above the Streetcar billboard is one promoting Lost Boundaries: “This story is a true account of the lives of Scott and Marsha Carter.” [A review on Amazon calls this a “”Haunting Parable of US Race Relations.”]

In the distance a large neon sign advertises what I think is Miss Youth Form undergarments. Today, vintage Youth Form undies can be found for sale online.

The large statue above the Criterion Theatre marquee puzzled me. At first I thought it was part of the Criterion but a postcard of “Bond’s Clothes” posted on Flickr solved the mystery. The enormous art deco statue of a female was part of the Bond Store, “the cathedral of clothing,” and used to advertise “Apparel for Women.”

A photo of a guy in a gorilla suit hanging from a rope over Broadway is pretty cool in itself but the photo says more than a thousand words. Looking into the story of the Criterion brought me to back back back to 1895. The Criterion Theatre in the photo is not the original Criterion Theatre that stood at the northeast corner of Broadway at 44th Street.

The original Criterion Theatre began as part of Oscar Hammerstein’s colossal Olympia, a block-wide complex on the east side of Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets that included a theatre, a concert hall, a music hall, a roof garden and more.

The story of how the Olympia became a number of theatres run by Broadway producers Klaw & Erlanger, Charles Frohman and Florenz Ziegfeld is a fabulous story full of gossip, intrigue, love, betrayals, scandals, high hopes, and lawsuits. But of course! It’s Broadway!

It should not have surprised me to find Flo Ziegfeld threaded through the saga but it did. And Flo Ziegfeld is someone I know a little bit about. I will write up a short history of The Olympia from it’s beginnings in 1895 up through it’s various incarnations and post it as soon as I’m able.

2 comments on “What Gorilla? 1949 Photo of High Wire Stunt in Times Square NYC

  1. That’s man in the gorilla suit was John ciampa Brooklyn Tarzan l am John ciampa Jr. I have film and scrape book pictures of is feat

    • You can see more stunts of John Ciampa on Brooklyn Tarzan page Facebook old film put on DVD and News paper articles.

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