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‘The Unofficial Oral History of Planet of the Apes – Volume 1: 1963 – 1973 (book review)

Written by by Joe Russo,
Larry Landsman & Edward Gross
Foreword by Charlton Heston
Published by Bear Manor Media

 

NOTE: By way of full disclosure, today’s book’s co-author Ed Gross interviewed me about McHale’s Navy back at the beginning of the year. We now return you to our regularly scheduled review—in progress.

When Planet of the Apes came out in 1968, I was 9 years old and really didn’t have any interest in it. I vaguely recall the posters in theater lobbies or the TV commercials with their oddly stark music but I did not see the movie then.

Now, by the time Beneath the Planet of the Apes came out two years later, I was reading Famous Monsters magazine and the second Apes movie made the cover of an issue of FM. There was also a Gold Key comic book, with a poster.

Needless to say, 11-year-old me was interested. I know Beneath gets a lot of grief from Apes fans but I still think it was a very clever way to do a sequel to a film that was pretty self-contained and didn’t really scream for a sequel. Luckily, with that ending, they made sure that there couldn’t possibly be a third Apes picture. Well…you’d have thought.

Just a year later, Escape from the Planet of the Apes arrived on the screen and the way they accomplished that was even cleverer than before! It remains my favorite, and introduced me to Bradford Dillman and Eric Braeden, two favorites forever after that.

And Roddy McDowall became one of my all-time favorite stars with Escape. I began to seek out anything and everything in the TV Guide or big screen movie listings with Roddy. One such appearance was in the original Planet of the Apes, which I talked my friend into talking his mom into taking us to see at the drive-in, where it was playing along with Beneath and Escape. I finally saw Planet of the Apes as part of the whole full circle trilogy.

Who knew there would be two more? I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Conquest as some and to be honest, Battle looked cheap and messed up the series’ own continuity.  I did attend the infamous Go Ape! Marathon of all five movies though, at Cincinnati’s International ’70 theater! After the TV series, the Marvel magazine, and the cartoon series, I was actually glad it finally all ended.

Nostalgia being what it is, though, I loved the episode of 20th Century Fox’s late ‘70s TV series, That’s Hollywood that was all about the Apes movies. Surprising, then, that I did not buy 2001’s Planet of the Apes Revisited by Joe Russo, Larry Landsman, and Ed Gross. Oh, I read it, from the Public Library, but for some reason never got my own copy, even though I was still getting bookstore discounts at that time. Hm…Who remembers?

Anyway, it’s good that I waited because now we have The Unofficial Oral History of the Planet of the Apes Volume I: 1963-1973, a revised edition of that same book, now published in two volumes and dealing with the more recent Planet of the Apes reboots in the second. Sorry to say I haven’t seen any of those either so this first volume, dealing with the original series, is the one for me.

I’ve mentioned before that I love oral histories but they’re problematic in that they tend to present various different people’s different recollections of the way things happened. Sometimes these conflict wildly. Perhaps the biggest example here is the story of just who came up with the Statue of Liberty ending to the original film. It wasn’t in the original novel by Pierre Boulle, nor the draft screenplay by Rod Serling, although Mort Abrahams said it was Rod’s idea. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had a stock story about how he and original intended director Blake Edwards came up with it but Edwards denied it completely. Ultimately, early storyboard artist Don Peters seems to have been the one. Maybe.

All the early development of the first film is entrancing, as well, although Jacobs tells it in much more positive terms than were likely since he had just tanked with the disastrous expensive musical Doctor Doolittle (1967) at the time.

The fact that the authors did the original book while so many of the folks involved were still around is a major plus. Charlton Heston himself provides the Foreword and some wonderful memories. The contributions of Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall are priceless. People the authors didn’t get to speak with are often quoted from other sources so their voices are heard, too.

The story of how Linda Harrison (sadly mis-identified as Linda Hamilton in one photo) came to be involved is another of the many interesting details I’ve never seen nor read about anywhere else. One of the last of the Fox contract players, she also happened to be the girlfriend of studio head Richard Zanuck. In fact, they married between Planet and Beneath.

In the end, it’s the story of John Chambers, Dan Striepeke, the makeup, its development, and its utilization that really made the book for me.

All in all, The Unofficial Oral History of the Planet of the Apes Volume I: 1963-1973, exemplifies both the strengths and the limitations of oral histories, but when they’re written on such an endlessly fascinating subject, it’s those strengths that shine through.

Booksteve recommends.

 

 

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