Making The Planet of the Apes: Roddy McDowall’s Home Movies and a 1966 Makeup Test

By most accounts, when Rod­dy McDowall appeared on The Car­ol Bur­nett Show in full Plan­et of the Apes make­up, the host was gen­uine­ly fright­ened, a tes­ta­ment to the extra­or­di­nary work of leg­endary, Oscar-win­ning make­up artist John Cham­bers (who as Ben Affleck’s new film Argo reveals, also did work for the CIA). The hand­some char­ac­ter-actor McDowall spent a good por­tion of his film career in make­up, most mem­o­rably as the char­ac­ters Cor­nelius, Cae­sar, and Galen (on the 1974 TV show) of the Plan­et of the Apes series. A home movie buff and pho­tog­ra­ph­er, McDowall doc­u­ment­ed the lengthy process of his Apes’ make­up (above), applied here by artist Don Cash and his assis­tants. Shot and edit­ed by McDowall, and set to excerpts from the dra­mat­ic Jer­ry Gold­smith Apes score, the film also includes a quick shot of Mau­rice Evans in the first minute, game­ly smok­ing a cig­a­rette in full Dr. Zaius make­up.

The Plan­et of the Apes fran­chise is one of the most suc­cess­ful and long-run­ning sci-fi series of all time. Adapt­ed from a 1963 nov­el by French writer Pierre Boulle, the orig­i­nal 1968 film spawned four sequels, Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, the 2011 pre­quel Rise of the Plan­et of the Apes, and its sequel, the upcom­ing Dawn of the Plan­et of the Apes, slat­ed for the spring of 2014. Then, of course, there’s a world of mer­chan­dise, com­ic books, and a car­toon series. The longevi­ty of the series is due in no small part to Chamber’s remark­ably durable visu­al real­iza­tion of Boulle’s premise. How­ev­er, few peo­ple know how much dif­fer­ent the film might have looked had it stayed true to the aes­thet­ic of a 1966 stu­dio pitch/makeup test. In the video right above, set up in the first few min­utes with hand-drawn stills and voice-over nar­ra­tion, Charleton Hes­ton plays Thomas (lat­er changed to Tay­lor), Edward G. Robin­son is Dr. Zaius, James Brolin is Cor­nelius and Lin­da Har­ri­son is Zira (lat­er played by Kim Hunter). This film shows a much more advanced, sci­en­tif­ic ape soci­ety than the result­ing first film, lim­it­ed by bud­get con­cerns, would be able to.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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