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The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976

By Charlton Heston

The following excerpts are from Charlton Heston's first autobiography, The Actor's Life. These are all the entries relating to the making of Planet of the Apes and Beneath (which he refers to as APES II). I have added a couple of footnotes, which appear in bold. Heston's own commentary from the book appears in Italics. These selections are from Heston's own personal journals, and give a unique perspective on his experiences in making films as an actor. You also get an understanding of just how many years it takes to get a movie to the screen, and just how treacherous that journey was for Planet. The first excerpt I have included is from Heston's own introduction.


At the Beginning

Early in 1956, I started keeping a work journal. Why just then, I have no idea. It would have made more sense in 1946, when I went to New York, or when I got my first Broadway part the next year, or my first leading role the year after that, or when live TV started to heat up for me, or when I came West to do my first film, in 1950. But why 1956? Perhaps because The Ten Commandments was finished, or my son had just had his first birthday. More likely it was because my wife had given me an appointment book for Christmas with room at the bottom of each page for a hundred words or so, and my Scot's soul rebelled at the waste of all that space.


1965

June 5. A damn full day, what with two picture conferences, a TV interview, tennis, and two parties. The high point was Arthur Jacobs's pitch for the film he wants to make of the Boulle novel, PLANET OF THE APES. It sounds marvelous to me, and I haven't even read it yet.

June 7, Chicago. On the plane to Chicago, I finished Arthur Jacobs's script and the novel too. It seems like a marvelously good idea for a film. I'd like to play in it.

* * *

November 3. THE PLANET OF THE APES project seems in limbo. Jacobs is now thinking of trying to sweat the budget down to two million, which seems ridiculous. He also wants to go with a mechanic-director from television. This seems a mistake, too. On the other hand, it'd be very good for me if this one came together. It's certainly the different kind of script I'm talking about.


1966

March 7. This afternoon I went over to Fox for an hour to rehearse the test for THE PLANET OF THE APES. I m a little sorry I agreed to do it, on a film not even approved yet, but I did agree. (So shut up and do it.)

Some weeks previously, Dick Zanuck had said, "Look, this is all fine, but what if people laugh at the makeup?" The point was reasonable, so was his offer to finance the research on the ape makeups. "We'll spend whatever it takes to get them right, then do a test. If the test works, we'll go on the film. " Frank Schaffner and I agreed to do the test, and Eddie Robinson played Zaius, the ape played in the film by Maurice Evans.

March 8. Not a very long, or very hard day, doing my part in what, inevitably, is a selling job for PLANET OF THE APES. Herman's right in saying it's not a good idea, but I think Dick Zanuck needs it. The ape makeup is very good; it remains to be seen what they look like on film.

March 15. The APES test looked good. If the question is whether or not the ape makeup is laughable, the answer is no, it's very plausible.

March 29. Arthur Jacobs's office is going on again about Fox's interest in APES, but I can't help but discount it, in view of Arthur's past history on the piece.

Maybe you're beginning to get the idea of what a long, tortuous, and disheartening process it is to get a film mounted. Arthur Jacobs was a man of absolutely unquenchable enthusiasm. Though he'd taken PLANET OF THE APES to every one of the major studios at least twice and had been turned down, he remained dauntlessly optimistic, a state of mind that seemed laughably unrealistic to me. I was wrong, Arthur was right.

* * *

September 23. There seem to be some stirrings from Fox on PLANET OF THE APES, which I thought had long since disappeared. (The success of FANTASTIC VOYAGE obviously is triggering this interest.)

September 26. A very busy day for deals. It turns out Lew Wasserman at Universal decided he liked WILL PENNY (or me in some film) the same day Dick Zanuck decided to go on APES. We'll do the Western first, as soon as I finish COUNTERPOINT, then off to England in the spring for APES. This is a staggering amount of work, but at least it shows the commodity's still hot.

September 27. Universal still hasn't finalized on WILL PENNY (which we'll have to retitle . . . that won't do, no question). [Wrong again.] Meantime, Herman made the deal at Fox: the usual guarantee against a percentage of the gross. They want to pay a flat sum for expenses in London, which is all right, I suppose. [Oddly enough, Universal didn't make WILL PENNY, and we didn't shoot APES in England, though I'm damned if I can remember why.]


1967

April 16, (Sunday). I'm in firm pursuit of those last few pounds of flab (now hovering around 202) and played tennis pounding around the court draped in Jim Brown's lead belts. (Maybe a masochist is not merely the man who gets pleasure from pain, but the man who can turn his pleasure into pain. Or is that a Puritan?) I also spent some time musing how to get a better script on APES. Arthur Jacobs is so difficult and slippery a character to deal with, I hardly know where to begin. The work must be done, though.

April 17. Now that's it's clear Frank Schaffner can't do PRO (Later retitled NUMBER ONE) on spec, or at least that his agents don't want him to, we must turn elsewhere. Tommy Gries seems a good idea and he seemed interested. APES is now up in the air. Eddie Robinson feels very claustrophobic about the ape makeup . . . we may move to Maurice Evans. [We did.] Julie Harris is anxious about the same thing; probably Kim Hunter will do it. The casting problem's really Nova: who will do it, and how naked can she be. The tests I saw were not good. There's also a problem on how to clothe the astronauts after their capture, to make them blend in with the subhumans.

Logically, since the subhumans in the story were animals, they should have been naked. This was not a feasible option in 1967 and would be a distracting choice even now. We finally arrived at some bark loin cloths that did well enough. (They were naked in the original novel.)

April 28. Fox, in a panic over the projected cost of APES (brought on in part by their decision to shoot the film here instead of overseas), has now decided to bring the budget down a bit. On paper, at least. By cutting the shooting days from fifty-five to forty-five, they seem to save a great deal of money, but the film can't be shot in that time. I wanted Citron to do battle on this, but he counseled against it, as out of my province.

* * *

May 16. I think Frank's new ending on APES is very good . . . Taylor doesn't die, now; he finds the Statue of Liberty, and knows where he is. Fade-out.

May 21, Page, Arizona: Begin PLANET OF THE APES. I've never understood why the first day of shooting on a film, no matter how good the crew is nor how well-organized the schedule, never goes well. We were more than half an hour late starting this morning because the beards weren't sent up for the other astronauts, who of course haven't had time to grow their own. They weren't well applied when they did come; our makeup man could be stronger, also quicker. The heat is bad here. One of the other two actors playing astronauts passed out from the heat.

May 28 (Sunday), Los Angeles/Page. A lovely day at home. Actually, it was overcast all day, but just to be there was lovely. To waken beside my wife, to see my daughter come in the bedroom in her little silk nightgown, a rumpled angel with tangled gold hair; to sit beside my son at the pro tennis matches and point out the strokes to him... all this was worth twice the trip I made to get home. So now I'm back at work, with another week ahead of me. It's a short location, but it seems long just now.

May 31. We had a fantastic day's work, in consistently good light, catching up what we missed yesterday, finishing off the apes on the location, which is a blessing. The makeups are only just bearable for them, and the more days off they can get the better they'll be. I'm impressed at how well Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter act in the makeup; you can actually read emotion through those animal faces.

June 7. The usual problems attendant on moving back on stage from a location. The prop truck isn't back yet, the crew has to shake down. In addition, the makeups are so rough for the apes, their calls are so bloody early, that we've decided to start at ten in the morning and finish at seven in the evening. Personally, I'm not delighted with this plan, but it makes sense overall. I was unconscious through most of the scene today and thus had little to contribute, but Frank shot it well.

June 13. Today was really a horrible day. I'd caught a cold, something I almost never do while working. I felt lousy when I came to work, and worse every time that damn fire hose hit me, topped off when I had to scream the last speech of the sequence, dripping and hose-battered. The hoarse rasp I was able to produce is really ideal; this is the first scene where we hear Taylor speak after his throat wound. Frank's staging was very telling. The cage stuff looks good in dailies, the ragged blanket's appropriately ratty and unheroic.

June 14. We had a very physical scene today, cleaning up the escape, followed by Maurice Evans's first appearance as Zaius. His orangutan makeup is excellent, and he is learning how to use it.

June 15. We moved faster today than we have been . . . perhaps because we're finished in the cages, which made an extremely difficult set to shoot. I had a meeting with Dick Zanuck and Frank on whether or not to make a script point of the fact that the apes speak English. To me, it's patently obvious we should ignore this. English is the lingua franca of film, which is reason enough to use it, but it seemed to require a meeting to arrive at this conclusion. This film begins to shape up well. It may not be great; I don't see how it can avoid being successful. I seldom say this... let's see if I'm right.

June 16. The main thing we have going for us in this film is that the damn thing's interesting. On top of this, I like Frank's ideas about the scenes; I think Maurice, Roddy, and Kim are excellent. Linda H. has problems, but Frank's keeping her nearly immobile in her scenes, which works.

June 19. We began the trial scene today. If this comes off, we'll have something special. I said to Frank, "I thought from the beginning we'd have a hit, but we may have a helluva picture, too." Frank's thought of several telling touches to underline the dehumanizing of Taylor: stripping him in court, for one. It's the first time I've ever done a nude scene, even photographed from the rear.

June 20. What with shooting all day, negotiating all night (we quit at midnight, still a good way apart on respective proposals) I'm beginning to bend a little.

I led the SAG negotiating team working out a new contract with the producers. Labor negotiations frequently seem to involve marathon sessions into the morning hours, with people napping on couches and nodding at the conference table over cups of black coffee. It seems the wrong way to go about it, though very dramatic.

The pressure of the scene, the problems of makeup calls for the other actors all combine for a helluva workday for me, too. We have, thank God, some first-class people with us. Jim Whitmore, Jim Daly, and of course Maurice, are well worth much more than their salaries. Whitmore, particularly, makes a frightening orangutan. (I don't know how complimentary he would consider that observation.)

June 21. The first day of summer was a bitch for me. The trial scene involves, as so many of my parts seem to, another manhandling (or ape-handling, in this case). It hurts after ten takes. They're trying to think of a different way of tying me up from those used in TEN COMMANDMENTS, BEN-HUR, etc., etc., etc.

June 29, Fox Ranch. I spent the entire day pattering barefoot (barefoot!.?, bare ass, for God's sake!) through the undergrowth, picking up more than a touch, I fear, of poison oak; it was luxuriating on every hand. A chase sequence is always easy to act, no matter how complicated it may be to shoot. The fugitive syndrome must lie very near the surface in all of us, ready to burst into the open, panic-stricken.

July 6. A helluva long day, in the course of which I was finally brought to earth as Taylor. Having evaded clubs, whips, horsemen, crowds, they tripped me ass over tea kettle into a thrown net and hoisted me high. It should make a damn good sequence; shooting it took about all the stamina I was relieved to discover I can still muster. It's surprising the perspective an experience like this gives you. Upside down in a net, a man isn't worth much.

July 17. Our best effort failed to finish the hunt sequence today, though I was successfully shot through the throat before the day was done. We have less than a day's work left out there, but we'll have to leave it and go into the studio Tuesday.

July 18. We're back on the sound stages again. After the Fox ranch, this is luxury. Included in the cast today (as the long-dead Stewart) was an eighty-year-old woman who played what must surely be the only role in the history of the drama as an octogenarian lady astronaut. The dialogue between the casting director and the agents on this one must have been marvelous.

July 19. Another long day sloshing around inside that space capsule, gargling my lines through torrents of water spraying in from off camera. It occurs to me that there's hardly been a scene in this bloody film in which I've not been dragged, choked, netted, chased, doused, whipped, poked, shot, gagged, stoned, leaped on, or generally mistreated. As Joe Canutt said, setting up one of the fight shots, "You know, Chuck, I can remember when we used to win these things."

August 3. The fog didn't creep in on little cat feet; it squatted sullenly on the sand all morning. Not a camera turned till after lunch. Frank still got most of what he planned, though. Mort Abrahams [executive producer for Jacobs] drove out for an inconclusive discussion on what I should say in the final speech, looking at the ruined Statue of Liberty. Fox wants to shoot three versions, giving them all possible choices. I obviously prefer to shoot only the speech I wrote, since this is my only chance to put muscle behind that choice. Besides, it's the best. I can't believe the Code still forbids the use of "God damn you!" It s surely acceptable in the context of this speech; Taylor is literally calling on God to damn the destroyers of civilization.

It did make a good scene, and the line was right. We only shot one version.

August 10. The last day of shooting on PLANET OF THE APES. An ideal kind of scene for any actor... everybody else lay mute and motionless while I had all the words. More than three minutes of them, for that matter, and they were pretty well worked out, too, after the usual intense effort with a red pencil. We did two different masters on it, then the usual coverage. I think it's good. I think the picture will be, too. It'll certainly be different. If the social comment comes off as well as the wild adventure, we may get some attention.

August 11. For the first time in a year, I have the lovely release of waking in the morning without a shooting schedule staring at me, no camera crouching in waiting... and I savor it.

* * *

October 31. We saw APES today, with no score, no looped dialogue, and an unbalanced print. I liked it enormously. I think it may find a bigger audience than anything I've done since BEN-HUR (well, since EL CID, anyway). I also think we may get notices reflecting the comment in the film. Lydia (Heston, Chuck's wife) concurs, displaying her taste and acumen.

* * *

November 15. I just heard Universal has decided to release COUNTERPOINT at Easter, simultaneously with APES and WILL PENNY. Why do they do this?

* * *

December 31 (Sunday). It was a busy year, though the results are still in question. Of the three films finished, COUNTERPOINT looks now to be insignificant, WILL PENNY is beginning to dim a little (ahead of its openings, and perhaps only in terms of the London fiasco), PLANET OF THE APES is still an unknown quantity. I wouldn't say this has been the best year I've ever had professionally, but personally, it's been a happy, growing time.


1968

January 30. I seem to be facing an awful lot of TV cameras, damn few of them talking about acting, oddly enough.

This was my public figure period. Newsmen had gotten to the point where they'd ask anybody about anything. Congressmen, lady tennis players, actors, anybody. It's surprising how readily you can get people to display their areas of ignorance.

The APES running tonight was successful. The film comes off very well, including the black comment. I was a little disappointed in my own performance. There didn't seem to be enough weight to it, somehow. Some of it was cut, of course, but I still felt let down. All the talk afterward was good, but you can discount most of that.

This seems to have been my opinion when I first saw APES, though I'm very proud of the film now. I guess I expected a little more. You always expect a little more.

* * *

February 15. The New York opening on APES seems to be better than good. If reports I've gotten prove out and are duplicated in other cities (several qualifications there, but I've learned to keep my jaundiced eye well polished for just such purposes), this will be the biggest hit I've had since EL CID. The notices we have so far are split, with the majority positive. A huge hit would be valuable just now. (I can use the money, too; both the BECKETT production and PRO will be almost for nothing.)

* * *

March 2. Lydia spent the whole day in the kitchen, I spent most of it on the court. I felt I'd earned every bounce of the ball after this past week on the road, flacking. The word from New York on APES continues to be astounding. If it holds like this through one more domestic city, and one foreign, we'll have a big, big hit.

* * *

March 31 (Sunday), New York. Not a hard day, really. I woke up slowly over the Sunday New York Times, then to an easy rehearsal for the Ed Sullivan Show. I think I did the show well, later. The limo got me to my plane with no strain. I phoned Lydia from the VIP lounge at Kennedy and was shocked to hear that LBJ had announced his withdrawal from the presidential race. I think this is a mistake.

I'd stopped in New York to do the Sullivan show, en route to a quick European tour ahead of the PLANET OF THE APES openings there.

* * *

April 1, Rome. I slept well on the plane, waking as we tilted down through the clouds. The campagna was mostly green, white with blooming clover as we drove into Rome. The city's more crowded than before, but still beautiful, beneath all the Fiats. A proper dose of sleep and tennis put me in shape for the evening's press chores.

April 2. They insist Milan is worth a day, though I don't see it. [I meant a day of publicity.] We came up here primarily to do one TV show, which they insist is very important. I suppose it all counts. Meanwhile, a cable from L.A. said the first five days of the APES run broke the record for the week there.

Forgive me these fiscal gloatings. It's like presidents boasting about how many states they carried.

* * *

September 30. Fox is now willing to accept my proposal to do a brief transition bit for them in their new version of APES. I don't think it's a good idea, but of course I'll carry out my promise to them.

The overwhelming success of PLANET OF THE APES reasonably enough prompted Fox to undertake a sequel. I pointed out to Dick Zanuck that, while I sympathized with him from a corporate point of view, as an actor there was really no sequel possible. The only story you could tell had been told; anything further would just be adventures among the monkeys. While this might well be profitable (as indeed it was; I think they made five of them, plus a TV series) there was nothing new to act in it. Still, as Dick said, they couldn't really undertake a sequel if I weren't in it at all. Moved by this wistful observation, I offered to appear in the opening sequence, if they'd then kill me off: This proved agreeable, though they asked me to simply disappear in the opening sequence, and be killed off in the end. I agreed, thinking I could end the whole thing with a death that included the end of the world. I sold them on this, but they were cleverer than I; they still made several more sequels, though without me.


1969

February 13. Citron's upset with Fox over my appearance in the APES sequel. The part's longer than I want to do and the latest script's not good, but Fox insists I have to be in the film or they can't make it. Citron feels my relationship with Zanuck is such that I should make some compromise. I'm inclined to agree.

* * *

March 25. I had a chance to talk a little with Tom Gries again about HAWAIIANS, but found little inspiration there. It may be this film is not his kind of thing. Nothing has yet ignited me on it, I'm ashamed to say. Meantime, Jim Franciscus called, frothing at what he feels are the inadequacies of the APES II script. I'm inclined to agree, but I don't know how much can be improved.

March 26. I was dissatisfied with almost everything about the day, though I got a helluva lot done. I (or Citron, really) put the fear of God into the studio re the APES II script.

It was not only foolish, but wrong of me to expect to. participate seriously in the script revisions on a project I was only peripherally involved in.

* * *

April 14. After the mix-up yesterday, when I made my position clear on kiting off to the desert to spend three days there on these scenes [for the APES sequel] (not possible of course, with all I have to do), they flew me up on the crew's charter this morning and choppered me back home to the Mulholland fire station when I'd finished for the day. The script is still nothing much, the direction (by Ted Post of the old New York days) very brisk and permissive. This was all complicated by a terrible, tearing wind all day, plus the fact that the fall they made to match my long hair from the original APES is not good. I'm not hopeful of the result... but then, I won't be long in it.

April 15. The wind was blowing just as hard in the desert, the material's just as unappealing as before, but the day passed quickly, and I was whisked to and from location as briskly as I could've hoped for (tiny spring flowers spilling under us like yellow paint across the desert floor; from eight hundred feet in a chopper, it's breathtaking).

* * *

April 28, Los Angeles. I'm still slaving away on my promised chore in the APES sequel. I'm beginning to regret it, for more than obvious reasons. This is the first film... first acting... I've ever done in my life for which I have no enthusiasm, which is a vital loss. To choose always the most expedient solution to a scene, to work without watching dailies... I can't adjust to this image of myself. I was comforted by the marvelously creative sport of redacting the CAESAR script to send back to Snell, indicating my proposed cuts. I think I've found valid and filmic solutions to several scenes.

April 30. It's very difficult to adjust to working on APES II. I thought there'd be nothing for me but a few simple physical scenes; instead, I find myself tangled in creative discussions in aid of a project in whose creative validity I have no confidence.

May 2. I was distressed to realize one scene of what we did in the cell (at least one scene) will not play. We also had to reshoot the stuff with the girl after she's shot, partly because she couldn't lie dead without blinking, but mainly because I simply failed to make it work at all. Maybe I played a fair death scene. The concept was good, in fact. At least I've done what I told Dick Zanuck I would do.

I did my best during the shooting of the few scenes I had in the APES sequel to keep my mouth shut and do my work, a salutary experience for me. Still, I detect in these entries an excess of self-pity, the worst of human failings.

May 3. APES II is finished, now I should concentrate on THE HAWAIIANS before I take off for CAESAR.