Darwinism gone insane. This is the description I’d use when referring to the 1968 film adaption of Pierre Boulle’s novel. Four movie sequels, a 1974 television series, and an NBC Saturday morning cartoon “Return to the Planet of the Apes” (1975-1976) have spawned from the original film version.
Plus, the films had created mountains of merchandise for the American consumer.
In 1963, producer Arthur P. Jacobs read the French novel “La Planete des singes” (“Monkey Planet”). He saw the futuristic novel as a future film feature and quickly purchased the film rights from the author.
However, Boulle didn’t share the enthusiasm for Jacobs’ vision. He thought his futuristic novel wouldn’t play well for the screen. And also, he considered “Monkey Planet” not to be one of his best works.
Working on the lengthy production of “Doctor Doolittle”, Jacobs came up with a new title, “Planet of the Apes” and pitched the concept to Richard Zanuck, the head of Twentieth-Century Fox, without much success.
Afterwards, Jacobs hired seven studio artist to draw up sketches for the film layout and put Rod Serling of “Twilight Zone” fame to write out the script.
By the time Serling finished writing out his draft, he had written out over 30 different scripts for the project. He had trouble grasping the mechanics of the ape society in Boulle’s book. However, he wasn’t the only one.
When Arthur P. Jacobs pitched the “Planet of the Apes” storyline plot to other studio heads, they didn’t see the potential in making the movie. Throughout early decades, low-budget films had already featured men dressed up in ape costumes playing the unruly beast. For example, a comical version of man playing ape can be seen in Abbott and Costello’s 1949 “African Scream.”
Realizing that he needed a star to get the major studios interested in the film project, Jacobs approached Charlton Heston. Heston had previously starred in such Academy Award movies as “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments.” After Jacobs pitched his idea for turning Boulle’s novel into a motion picture, Heston became attracted to the idea of talking apes and a space ship with men inside landing on their planet.
Also, Jacobs had a director in mind for the film project—Franklin Schaffner. Schaffner had just filmed “The War Lord.” However, the studio heads were still resistance to Jacobs’ vision for “Planet of the Apes.” They saw the whole project as a Saturday morning serial, not worthy of a serious motion picture.
Finally, Richard Zanuck of Twentieth-Century Fox took a meeting with Jacobs. He’d read the script and liked the premise of different ape societies involved in the story. However, he had concerns with the movie audience laughing at the ape costumes and make-up.
Jacobs shot a screen test with Heston and Edward G. Robinson in full orangutan make-up and costume as Dr. Zaius. James Brolin was also in the screen test as Cornelius, but not in ape regalia. After reviewing the screen test, Zanuck found the ape costume suitable for the screen and gave the go-ahead with the “Planet of the Apes” project.
Filming would start in the spring of 1967. However, the main concern was the make-up for the ape characters. Studio makeup artist, John Chambers, was brought aboard the project. His specialty was in the area of creature make-up. He worked on such hit series as “The Outer Limits,” “The Munsters” and “Lost in Space.”
During the next four months, Chambers was responsible for transforming 200 extras into apes. Devices were used to make the mouths more animated, so facial expressions could be seen in the ape characters. Chimps were made to look more sympathetic with man; while the gorillas were part of the military and looked more fierce in nature than their counterparts. Aristocratic orangutans’ appearances were made to show off their nobility. Actors were able to express emotions through the ape mask.
Twentieth-Century Fox were now concerned Serling’s script. Serling kept to Boulle’s original concept of a technological society, with apes driving vehicles and flying helicopters.
It would be expensive to do and go over budget. Finally, it was decided to make the ape society more primitive. Apes would ride horses and live in cave dwellings.
Jacobs hired Academy Award-winning screenwriter Michael Wilson, who had previously worked on turning another Boulle novel, “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” into a movie script. He completed the new version of Serling’s script.
On Feb. 8, 1968, “Planet of the Apes” premiered at Capital Theatre in New York City.