“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
PLANET OF THE APES
Pierre Boulle, the French author who won an 1957 Oscar for not scripting his novel, The Bridge on the River Kwai, also wrote this book about talking apes ruling the world. Our world. Arthur P Jacobs, ex-flack to the stars (Cooper, Dietrich, Marilyn, Peck, Stewart) bought it for his second film as a producer; it became his third and a mulit-million-dollar franchise. Pierre Boulle, the Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, Michael Wilson (one of the two real, blacklisted and, eventually, posthumously Oscared River Kwai scenarists), Charles Eastman (All American Boy, 1973), and script doctor John T Kelley wrote it. Charlie Hero, as Roddy McDowell called Charlton Heston, starred in it. And an unknown, or at least unpraised backstage production artist called Don Peters suggested - and drew - the Statue of Liberty pow! climax.
None of this would have happened if the venerable movie icon Edward G Robinson had not expressed interest - and willingness, at an advanced age and reputation, to test the simian make-up and help prove that the whole talking apes concept could be accepted by Joe Public and his family. Jacobs took the $7,455 test to show to the suits at the Fox HQ in New York. If they laughed, Jacobs and his apes would be dead ducks. However, as the finest historian of the series, Scottish journalist Brian Pendreigh, reported: No one laughed.
The film was a go.
And Eddie G was a gone.
Having saved the movie and the series to come, Robinson was quite suddenly dropped, fired, let go, deep-sixed. Because, said the Fox spin machine - well, take your choice, people... 1. He was ill. 2. Recovering from a car crash on Santa Monica Boulevard, caused by a seizure. 3. He found the make-up too claustrophobic (more true in the fast exits from Zira and Maximus by the unrelated Julie Harris and Jonathan Harris). 4. He wanted too much money: $150,000. 5. He’d grown a little beard that he loved - and the make-up designer John Chambers did not.
Eddie refused to cut salary or beard. And quite suddenly, the veteran was starring in a whole different scenario. No longer Dr Zaius, the orangutan, he was... The Edward G Robinson Situation.
Above all, the spin insisted, his health was so bad that insurance companies would not cover him. So very ill, in fact, that during 1967-68 - the years Apes went from production to release - Robinson could be seen in a mere six other movies!
He was paid off with $50,000 and made another six films before his 1973 death after stealing his finale, Soylent Green Solent, from his co-star. Charlie Hero.
Arthur Jacobs had fallen for the Boulle book (unread) during a Paris soujourn in 1963 when a literary agent excited him by remarking:
“I’ve got a thing here and it’s so far out,
I don’t think you can make it.”
“Watch me!” was the Jacobs attitude. Not realising it would take over his life for the next four years as his pet project switched studios, directors and budgets - from his own ridiculous $957,600 guestimate to Paramount’s $3m, Warner’s $7.5m and, finally, Fox’s $5.8m.
After The Edward G Robinson Situation, the rest of the casting was less hissy...
Taylor . Jacobs first mailed copies of Boulle’s book to Brando In August of ‘63 Jacobs and British director, J Lee Thompson, turned to: James Brolin) who had co-starred in Edward G’s make-up tests), Sean Connery Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George Peppard, Rod Taylor. Newman was still keen in January ’65 when Jack Lemmon entered the bidding. Then: Burt Lancaster. Next: James Garner, Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, Cliff Robertson, Stuart Whitman.... For awhile, Fox almost decided upon a bigger name. And frame. John Wayne - perfect for the movie’s most famous line. (With Duke, the cadence would have been changed to: “Take your. Stinking paws. Offa me. Ya damn. Dur-ty. Ape!” Finally Jacobs sat down with Chuck Heston on June 5, 1965 to discuss playing the hero. He was still Ulysse at first, then in jest, scripter Rod Serling called him John Thomas (British slang for penis) before becoming Taylor. And, indeed, Heston.
Nova . Ursula Andress was the first thought, all the more so, when Sean Connery was a potential Taylor - Jacobs liked to cash in on the casting risks taken by other producers. (After chosen for the never finished Something’s Gotta Give, Marilyn and Dean Martin were signed by Jacobs for What A Way To Go; and if not them, Newman and Woodward). Next: Yvette Mimieux, having made her debut in another sf hit, The Time Machine, with the Taylor-possible, Rod Taylor. However, Linda Harrison, had something the others did not - studio boss Richard Zanuck for a lover. The statuesque Linda was Zira in a short to test John Chambers' make-up. For the full movie, that role went to the more experienced Kim Hunter, while Linda became the hero's babe... and the boss' wife. They went on to wed for ten years: 1968-78 and she had a walk-on in his abysmal 2001 re-make.
Dr Maximus . Jonathan Harris, Lost In Space’s Dr Smith on TV, was offered the gig but gagged in the make-up. Woodrow Palfrey substituted.
Dr Zaius . One Eddie Robinson was elbowed out of his $125,000 deal (after his test convinced Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, etc, to go ape), other stars, not necessarily cheaper, were rushed up the flagpole: Yul Brynner, José Ferrer, Alec Guinness (Oscar-winning star of the previously filmed Pierre Boulle novel: The Bridge On The River Kwai), Edmond O’Brien, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Orson Welles Zaius went to a hammy stage thesp Maurice Evans... who just happened to have made The War Lord with the Apes duo of Charlton Heston and director Fraklin Schaffner. Cheaper, too, at $125,000 less than Robinson.
Footnote: Orson Welles also refused to be the gorilla General Ursus in the first sequel, Beneath The Planet of the Apes, 1970).
“You can’t act with a mask,”
thundered Orson Welles.
[This page could not have been compiled without the enormous research
by Brian Pendreigh for his superb book, The Legend of the Planet of the Apes, Boxtree, 2001]