Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni-The First Gorilla Story

Joseph Faus & James Bennett Wooding's Story:

"The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" is a short story in three chapters and told in the first person. It takes place in Belleville, a small town in a mountainous valley "something like a day's run from New York." The setup is that a mysterious Dr. Calgroni has come to town, from Vienna, and has rented the old Thornsdale place. The narrator knows Calgroni to be a surgeon. He also knows that Calgroni has made extraordinary claims regarding the transplantation of organs from primates into men. Dr. Calgroni brings in some medical equipment and an assistant. He also acquires a gorilla from a traveling circus. All indications are that he is about to perform an extraordinary experiment.

Faus and Wooding's story is the first collaborative story in Weird Tales. It's also the first gorilla story. And it's the first brain-transplant story. The setup is good, more skilled and intriguing than the setup of several other stories in that first issue. It and the story as a whole anticipate weird tales to come. The narrator isn't identified until the end, and then in an interesting twist. I like how he, in a seemingly detached way, keeps an eye on Dr. Calgroni and his activities. (He reminds me of the silent girl in the black beret in Stop That Ball! by Mike McClintock, illustrated by Fritz Siebel [1959].) You begin to think of him as just an observer, except for some reason he knows who Calgroni is and what his "unprecedented theory" is, too, for he has read about both in a "strange article" in The Surgical Monthly. As with several of the other stories I have covered so far and will cover in the last few parts of this series, there is a break in the narrative. The break in these stories is in the form of a journal entry, newspaper article, or other source transcribed into the text of the narrative. In this case, the story closes with a transcription of a note from Dr. Calgroni to the narrator in which the truth of what has happened is revealed. It looks like the inclusion in a story of documentary evidence will become a pattern in weird fiction.

"The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" is a Frankenstein kind of story (or an "Ooze" kind of story), a story of a mad or hubristic scientist and of science run amuck. Call it another tale of a lab leak (as long as you don't mind being labeled a racist and a conspiracy theorist). As in "The Unknown Beast" by Howard Ellis Davis, there is also a physically powerful but mentally disabled man who wreaks havoc. As for the title, there can be no doubt that it was inspired by that of the 1920 German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Gorilla stories and gorilla covers became a staple of comic books during the 1950s and '60s. Here's an example, Tales to Astonish #28, from February 1962, with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. I wonder when the gorilla theme began. Was it with the coming of Tarzan?

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Interesting! Good research as always. And yes, gorilla comics were extremely popular. There were scores of covers and stories. I think you may be right about Tarzan (and perhaps some of the early movie and TV travelogues, too).

    1. Hi, John,

      Thanks for writing. Your comment has prompted me to do more research. The posting that follows this one is the result. I guess I should dedicate it to you.


  2. Well, thank you, sir. Looking forward to more gorilla posts as they come along.