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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