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 greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. 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 J. 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 makeup.
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 human."