Yep, apes are cool. From King Kong to Mighty Joe Young and from Congo Bill's Congarilla to Gil Brewer's "The Gorilla of the Gas Bags," these mighty creatures have fascinated discerning aesthetes (such as me, and probably a few others) for years. One of the coolest is Steven Carpenter, the man who became The Whispering Gorilla.
The Whispering Gorilla first appeared in a story by Don Wilcox in the May 1940 issue of Fantastic Adventures. Wilcox (1905-2000)* was a popular writer for the the Raymond Palmer-edited magazines during the Forties and Fifties. (Palmer was the SF editor/huckster who transformed Amazing Stories into a slam-bang juvenile action-adventure magazine either loved or despised by fans, and starting the similar fantasy-ish based Fantastic Adventures. Palmer was also instrumental in starting the 1950's flying saucer craze, the so-called "Shaver Mystery" -- parts of which seemed to have been morphed into Scientology -- and in fostering the claims that Jesse James was not killed by "that dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard.")
After a space of three years, the Whispering Gorilla came back, again in the pages of Faantastic Adventures (February 1943 issue), this time in "Return of the Whispering Gorilla" by Wilcox's stablemate David Vern (1914-1994) under his "David V. Reed" pseudonym**. (Vern and Wilcox were just two of a number of writers who churned out stories under a variety of names for Palmer and the Ziff-Davis magazines he edited; other writers include William P. McGivern, Robert Bloch, and Charles F. Myers -- all of who went on to bigger things, Myers under the pen name Henry Farrell. Later members of the Ziff-Davis stable included Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Henry Slesar, and Randall Garrett.) Vern also wrote the not-quite classic book The Thing That Made Love (aka, "The Metal Monster Murders") (1954).
Both stories were then published as The Whispering Gorilla in paperback by England's World Distributors in 1950. Both were then reprinted in 1998 by Gary Lovisi's Gryphon Press as The Whispering Gorilla/Return of the Whispering Gorilla.
What about the stories themselves? Steven Carpenter is a crusading journalist who has gotten too close to a story about a large crime syndicate dealing in weapons to potential enemies of America. An attempt on his life led to the death of two of his colleagues and Carpenter's editor sent him to Africa for his safety and to allow him to continue his expose. Rather than stay in a large city or town, Carpenter opts to stay at Dr. Devoli's compound at the edge of the jungle. Devoli, it turns out, has been experimenting on a gorilla in ways to give the animal human speech. Meanwhile, the syndicate has discovered where Carpenter is hiding and has dispatched an assassin to Africa.
The assassin does his dirty working, killing Carpenter. Dr. Devoli, mourning the young reporter, makes a desperate attempt to bring Carpenter back to life by transplanting his brains into the gorilla's body. Over a period of weeks, Carpenter's brain assumes control of the beast, slowly learning to speak and slowly remembering what had happened to him. Two things become foremost in Carpenter's mind: the bride he had left behind in America and the thirst for revenge on the crime cartel. Carpenter sneaks out of Dr. Devoli's compound and makes his way back to America. (Impossible, you say? Read on, o doubter.) It happens that a ship travelling to America also carried Roland Fuzziman and his troupe of actors returning from an African tour. Carpenter, having gained money to puchase passage, was assumed to be a man wearing a gorilla suit for publicity purposes. Fuzziman agreed to take Carpenter on and soon produced a long-running show that starred "The Whispering Gorilla." Carpenter was also determined to take down the syndicate and began penning expose articles signed "W.G."
Of course, no one knew that the Whispering Gorilla was really Steven Carpenter. Carpenter's
Fast forward a couple of years. Dr. Devoli has taken the gorilla back to Africa where he has managed to devise a potion that allows Carpenter's personality to regain temporary control of the gorilla. But the ingredients for the potion are now impossible to find because of the war. A Nazi major connects some dots and believes he can us Devoli to create a race of super-apes that will win the war for Germany. As Carpenter devolves more and more into a mindless ape, will he be able to stop the evvil Nazi's nefarious plan?
Yeah, I think you know the answer to that one.
I found these stories to be great fun. They would have made a great series of B-movies in the Forties or early Fifties. Consider that praise from a googly-eyed fanboy.
You can find ut for yourself. Here are the links to the two issues of Fantastic Adventures containing the stories:
* His full name was Cleo Eldon Wilcox, although he at one time claimed (evidently falsely) that his true name was Cleo Eldon Knox
** One source claims that David V. Reed was the author's true name and not a pseudonym.