Wasn’t there once a gorilla in front of Circus Circus? Whatever happened to it?
You must be referring to one of several white statues by local artist and worldwide circus performer Montyne, commissioned by Circus Circus developer Jay Sarno for the casino’s 1968 launch. Sarno—who in 1966 opened our city’s first themed resort (Caesars Palace) 23 years before The Mirage existed—next tried a theme that had something for everyone. That Circus Circus offered circus acts and midway games directly adjacent to gambling and a show called Nudes in the Night (never mind the G-string clad “showgirls in the sky” who tossed phallic balloons down to the kiddies every night) is a less-than-subtle example of that peculiar Old Vegas sensibility.
So, where did Montyne’s statues go? According to an October 2006 Las Vegas Review-Journal story by longtime local reporter A.D. Hopkins, four of the five statues (an acrobat balancing on one finger, an acrobat balancing on a cylinder, a lion and Gargantua, the “World’s Largest Gorilla”) were quietly removed from the property in the summer of 2006. While there are a number of places the statues could have ended up (Lonnie Hammargren’s collection, the Neon Museum), there was apparently an agreement between Sarno and Montyne that they be first offered to his family should they be removed. They were not. Although a rumor exists that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas star Johnny Depp ended up with the gorilla, the truth is considerably less pleasant: The removed statues were unceremoniously disposed of in a local landfill. While a shame to Montyne’s family and the memories of many, the loss resulted in little more than a shrug from jaded locals.
Aside from Montyne’s statue, Circus Circus had other gorillas, including a circus act featuring Norbu the Gorilla, and the arcade midway’s Zambora. The latter two were actors in suits created by Philip Morris (whose Morris Magic Company unwittingly sold the gorilla suit seen in the infamous Roger Patterson 16mm Bigfoot film). Zambora was, to this Vegas kid, a terrifying sideshow that featured a woman transforming into a gorilla. If you aren’t old enough to have run screaming from the Zambora show, check out the 1971 James Bond adventure, Diamonds Are Forever, in which Sarno himself makes an uncredited cameo as the Zambora circus sideshow barker—an apropos metaphor for an important Old Vegas personality.