Thursday July 12 09:39 PM EDT
The Wolf Files: Everybody's an Ape!
We all remember Charlton Heston over-emoting in that final scene in Planet
of the Apes. But did you know that John Huston, Sal Mineo, Edward G.
Robinson, John Landis, Mervyn LeRoy, and Claude Akins also put on monkey suits?
Peel yourself a nice big banana and read The Wolf Files Ape Alumni Honor Roll.
It's more than the ever-thickening tufts of hair on my back that has brought
me to write this: Monkeys are star-makers in Hollywood.
It goes back at least as far as King Kong. Apes are a box office sensation,
and while it may seem like cheap theater, you'd have a tough time counting up
all the Oscar-winning actors and familiar faces who've taken a turn in a monkey
suit … or alongside co-stars who did.
We all remember Charlton Heston on his knees, over-emoting before the ruins
the Statue of Liberty.
"Oh my God! I'm back! I'm home … You maniacs!" Heston cries out
in the shocking finale of The Planet of the Apes. "You blew it up!
Damn you! Damn you all to hell!"
But few recall the scene a few sequels later, when legendary actor/director
John Huston as the orangutan lawgiver, preaching to a mixed-species congregation
about the evils of man and nuclear war in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
The man who gave us such classics as The Maltese Falcon and The
African Queen and tells us:
"Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil's pawn.
Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or
Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's
Let him not breed in great numbers,
for he will make a desert of his home and yours.
Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair,
for he is the harbinger of death."
"It's hard to say why Huston put on the monkey suit," says David
Hofstede, author of Planet of the Apes: An Unofficial Companion (ECW
Press). "According to his biography, he needed the money for his Friday
night card game. But he was probably joking around. He probably just had an
affection for Planet of the Apes, like so many of us."
The 1967 original spawned four sequels, a TV show, a Saturday morning
cartoon, two comic book series and paved the way for the sort of toy
merchandising of Star Wars and other sci-fi film franchises.
In small, large and — sometimes — unusual ways, the Apes have touched the
careers of such show business luminaries as Sal Mineo, Edward G. Robinson, John
Landis and a host of others.
Now, we are at the dawn of a whole new simian revival. You can barely turn on
the TV without seeing Planet of the Apes remake hype. The film is set for
release July 27.
And with that magic moment approaching, The Wolf Files called on Hofstede to
help honor Ape alumni.
Note to Helena Bonham Carter and Mark Wahlberg — stars of the new flick —
you're in good company. At least seven Oscar-winning actors, writers and
directors have engaged in monkey business.
Claude Akins — A fine veteran of the simian theater. As the evil
gorilla General Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, he murdered
Roddy McDowall's son. Later, TV audiences loved him as the bumbling Sheriff
Elroy P. Lobo in B.J. and the Bear. Akins came along late in the Apes
saga, and apparently saved producers money because he didn't need much gorilla
Pierre Boulle — The French author who wrote Monkey Planet,
which eventually became Planet of the Apes. He wrote the book Bridge
Over the River Kwai, and won an Oscar for the screenplay.
James Gregory — The rumpled inspector Frank Luger from Barney
Miller played the diabolical gorilla General Ursus from Beneath the
Planet of the Apes. Memorable line: "The only good human is a dead
Linda Harrison — Charlton Heston's cage mate in the first two ape
films didn't disappear off the face of the earth. She was last seen in the Julia
Roberts/Richard Gere romantic comedy The Runaway Bride.
Phil Hartman — Troy McClure character on The Simpson's stars
in the musical adaptation Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off.
Inspired lyric: "I hate every ape I see, From chimpan-A, to chimpan-Z, But
you'll never make a monkey out of me."
Charlton Heston — Need a good laugh? Consider Heston's best line
from Planet of the Apes: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn
dirty ape!" Now picture some of the other actors considered for that role:
Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon and Rock Hudson.
Kim Hunter — Hunter, who plays Dr. Zira in three Ape movies, won an
Oscar for her portrayal of Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Memorable line: To Charlton Heston: "You're so damn ugly."
John Huston — It's unclear why this multiple Oscar-winner donned an
orangutan outfit in the last and least of the original Ape movies. Around
the same time, he acted in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, which seemed much
more suited to his distinguished career.
Arthur P. Jacobs — The legendary publicist, whose clients included
Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Gregory Peck, produced the Ape series.
Jacobs also brought another talking animal movie to the big screen — Doctor
Dolittle (the Rex Harrison version).
Gordon Jump — He played a slave auctioneer in Conquest of the
Planet of the Apes. You probably remember him as Mr. Carlson WKRP in
Cincinnati and the Maytag repairman.
John Landis — The man who directed Animal House played an
animal — a young chimp in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. He was a
complete unknown at the time.
Mervyn LeRoy — A true Hollywood great, he directed such classics as Little
Caesar and Mr. Roberts. He is also one of the slave apes who take
over Century City, Calif., in the apocalyptic final scene in Conquest of the
Planet of the Apes.
Roddy McDowall — Everyone remembers him as Cornelius. But in later
and lesser Ape installments, he played the monkey-messiah Caesar, who
rescues ape slaves from oppressive humans. When the film franchise was nearly
spent, he led an ape-human army against a band of mutants. Who can forget his
battle cry: "Now fight like apes!" Later, he emerged on the Planet
of the Apes TV show as Galen.
Sal Mineo — The 1950s Hollywood heartthrob who played opposite James
Dean in Rebel Without a Cause was a super-intelligent chimpanzee
astronaut in 1972's Escape From the Planet of the Apes. He hated putting
on the simian makeup, and his character was killed off quickly. It turned out to
be one of Mineo's last performances. He was killed a few years after the movie's
Ricardo Montalban — Years before William Shatner would be screaming
his character's name in a Star Trek movie ("Khaaaaaaaaan!"),
Montalban played the humble circus trainer who sided against his species and
helped the apes take over. Traitor. He should be banished to a desert island
with the ghost of Herve Villechaize.
James Naughton — Yup. Ally McBeal's dad was an astronaut who
crash-landed near Ape City in the short-lived TV incarnation of The Planet of
Burt Reynolds — He turned down the roll of the Charlton Heston
clone, Brent, in the first Ape sequel. It went to James Franciscus.
Edward G. Robinson — An Oscar winner for lifetime achievement, he
was originally slated to play the orangutan Dr. Zaius. He can even be seen with
orange whiskers in a five-minute screen test. But he hated putting on the
makeup. The part that eventually went to Maurice Evans.
Franklin Schaffner — The director of the original Ape flick
went on to win an Oscar for Patton. He later directed Papillon and
The Boys From Brazil.
Gregory Sierra — The Chicano detective from Barney Miller
played a gorilla sergeant.
Rod Serling — The creator of The Twilight Zone is one of
several writers credited for the original film. The shot of Heston falling to
his knees before the Statue of Liberty was his most vivid contribution.
Paul Williams — When this 1970s singer-songwriter sang "You and
Me Against the World," was he talking about Roddy McDowall? Perhaps.
Williams, who played an orangutan adviser to Cornelius, went on to win an Oscar
for writing "Evergreen" for A Star Is Born.
This list would get really long if it included every distinguished actor
outside the Planet of the Apes universe who played alongside a simian.
Folks like Clint Eastwood in Every Which Way But Loose.
Let's not forget, President Ronald Reagan was so popular playing the
surrogate father of a chimp in Bedtime for Bonzo that he went on to do Bonzo
Goes to College.
You know what they say on Monkey Planet, it's human see, human do.
Personally, I never met a talking Ape movie I didn't like.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and