Scotty del la Roche — The Friendly Gorilla (1969) 🇺🇸

Scotty del la Roche — The Friendly Gorilla (1969) |

January 15, 2024

In the early 1930’s Scotty’s father was a circus acrobat who specialized in clowning with an ape suit. Hearing about the new movie, and needing a job, the elder del la Roche applied. For a while things went great, then when the producer started asking for dangerous stuff like climbing walls, and dodging tanks and planes, Scotty’s dad got cold feet.

by John Ringo Graham

No one to let good money get away, del la Roche gave his son the suit and told him to finish up the picture. Scotty did, and he has rarely been out of monkey costumes ever since. Because of his circus background, Scotty has a build that would make most of the Muscle Beach crowd look like the so-called “90-pound weakling.”

The del la Roche’s had their own one-ring circus and the seven boys and one girl were put to work in the various acts. “I’m the only one who stuck with it, though, Scotty admits. Since donning the monkey suit, Scotty has taken 13 tours around the world as a performing ape.

An expert in several languages, Scotty’s act needs no translation. “When I hop into that suit,” Scotty explains with a grin, “it’s instant fun wherever I go.” Some of the oriental audiences he has played to aren’t sure if he is real or not. Until a whole theatre audience of people stampeded for the exits, Scotty used to jump into the crowd once in a while as a joke.

Not even his pretty wife Diana was able to convince the frightened patrons it was all a fake stunt. The manager was worried ticket sales would fall off, but instead the next show was jammed with eager customers wanting Scotty to scare them to death. “I never tried that gag again,” Scotty said, “somebody might get hurt.”

Scotty has one of the best gorilla suits in the business. His costumes cost nearly $7000 and come from West Germany. When a wag asked him where the costumer found gorilla hair in West Germany, Scotty told him: “It’s simple, they go into a gorilla barber shop and sweep it off the floor.”

Suit replacement is one of his biggest problems. In the Orient, the high humidity and rain will rot a suit in less than a year. Elsewhere they will last approximately two years. In the last 35 years, Scotty has ordered 15 new suits. Each one has to be custom fit and takes months to complete. “I have some of the most expensive suits in the world,” Scotty points out, “and I don’t have to worry about someone else having one just like it.”

Scotty is in demand for publicity appearances and shows at shopping centers, but not everybody thinks he is the kind of ape they want to meet. At a pancake house opening, a public relations man asked Scotty to eat the first plate of griddle cakes t6 roll off the stove. But, when the waitress tried to hand him the plate, her hand shook so hard she dropped it.

The next platter did the same, and by the time it was decided to abandon the whole idea, four sets of crockery lay in pieces on the floor. “That little girl was scared to death of me,” Scotty explained, “and nothing I could say or do would keep her from trembling with fear.”

Movies have been a constant source of income for Scotty, but one picture had nearly fatal results. The script called for him to chase a housewife through the Hollywood Hills uttering growls and screams while the woman fled in terror. In the middle of a re-take, an off-duty policeman spotted Scotty crashing through the brush in hot pursuit of the frightened woman.

Pulling out his gun, the man gave chase and was ready to blow Scotty into the next world when he was stopped by a shout from the camera crews. “That has been several years ago and I still get the jitters when I think about it,” Scotty told me.

Once when he was given a booking in a remote part of Asia, Scotty demanded an air conditioner in his room. “Oh sure,” the promoter told him. “We will get you an air conditioner, don’t worry about it.” After he arrived for the engagement, Scotty found out too late the room had an expensive air conditioner alright, the problem was, there was no electricity to run it.

When his gorilla suit foot ripped during a show in Ipoh, Malaya, Scotty walked into a shoe shop run by a Chinese to have it repaired. Putting the torn shoe on the counter, the burly actor called for service. The owner came out, took a look at the gorilla foot and ran out the front door leaving the cash box open and store unattended. No amount of coaxing would get him to return and repair the torn foot. “He was just too superstitious,” Scotty remembers.

After years of holding his slim wife over his head in the gorilla act and tossing her about the stage, Scotty has a barrel chest and arms to match, that would be the envy of all weight lifters. But he is a gentle man who would rather cook a fine gourmet meal or some other non-physical pursuit around the house, than do body building.

His meals are famous around the Sunland neighborhood where he lives, and in almost every nation his work takes him, he is able to whip up the national dish in short order. His home frequently resembles a United Nations, as friends from around the world show up for a visit. There seem to be as many show people as ordinary folk in the line-up.

At a recent dinner, a magician and his family were eating next to a former circus acrobat and next to him was a writer, while some other friends who had popped in to say hello were arriving. “I’m a Universalist,” Scotty grins, “I like people as people, I don’t need to know anyone’s nationality.”

“Nobody can be mad at a monkey,” Diane smiled, giving her husband an affectionate pat. People are used to seeing a gorilla shopping in Sunland markets or reading the paper next to the living room window of the del la Roche home. A few still get a start when a black gorilla drives up for gas, but most of the time he is accepted without question. Of course, the suit is a bit hot in the summertime, so Scotty hopes to land bookings in cool climates each new season.

“That suit is a mobile hot house,” he said recently, “so I stay out of it as much as I can.” But once in a while when he is late for a show date, Scotty is likely to hop in the family bus for a trip through the streets of the San Fernando Valley. The strange double life of Scotty del la Roche is not one everyone might envy, but neither is it boring. Being a gorilla isn’t all bad, just ask Scotty, he’s been at it for almost 40 years and wouldn’t trade jobs with anybody.

Scotty del la Roche — The Friendly Gorilla (1969) |

New Chef – Visitors to the Scotty del la Roche household in Sunland are sometimes startled by the appearance of Scotty on his way to work in a Gorilla costume stopping to grab a bite to eat as he goes out.

Scotty del la Roche — The Friendly Gorilla (1969) |

STARTLED DRIVERS – Drivers on their way through the Sunland area are used to the sight of del la Roche racing past in his gorilla costume.

ODD JOB – In getting husband Scotty off to work, Diane del la Roche sometimes spends an hour helping her actor-husband ready for work.

Scotty del la Roche — The Friendly Gorilla (1969) |

Collection: Hollywood Studio Magazine, August 1969


see also Jacques Lerner — A Man Who Makes a Monkey of Himself (1927)