Hollywood's Greatest Monkey Suits

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.

Ape Alumni

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."

Linda Harrison — Charlton Heston's cage mate in the first two ape films didn't disappear off the face of the earth. She was last seen in the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere romantic comedy The Runaway Bride.

Phil Hartman — Troy McClure character on The Simpson's stars in the musical adaptation Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off. Inspired lyric: "I hate every ape I see, From chimpan-A, to chimpan-Z, But you'll never make a monkey out of me." Charlton Heston — Need a good laugh? Consider Heston's best line from Planet of the Apes: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" Now picture some of the other actors considered for that role: Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon and Rock Hudson.

Kim Hunter — Hunter, who plays Dr. Zira in three Ape movies, won an Oscar for her portrayal of Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Memorable line: To Charlton Heston: "You're so damn ugly."

John Huston — It's unclear why this multiple Oscar-winner donned an orangutan outfit in the last and least of the original Ape movies. Around the same time, he acted in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, which seemed much more suited to his distinguished career.

Arthur P. Jacobs — The legendary publicist, whose clients included Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Gregory Peck, produced the Ape series. Jacobs also brought another talking animal movie to the big screen — Doctor Dolittle (the Rex Harrison version).

Gordon Jump — He played a slave auctioneer in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. You probably remember him as Mr. Carlson WKRP in Cincinnati and the Maytag repairman.

John Landis — The man who directed Animal House played an animal — a young chimp in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. He was a complete unknown at the time.

Mervyn LeRoy — A true Hollywood great, he directed such classics as Little Caesar and Mr. Roberts. He is also one of the slave apes who take over Century City, Calif., in the apocalyptic final scene in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Roddy McDowall — Everyone remembers him as Cornelius. But in later and lesser Ape installments, he played the monkey-messiah Caesar, who rescues ape slaves from oppressive humans. When the film franchise was nearly spent, he led an ape-human army against a band of mutants. Who can forget his battle cry: "Now fight like apes!" Later, he emerged on the Planet of the Apes TV show as Galen.

Sal Mineo — The 1950s Hollywood heartthrob who played opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause was a super-intelligent chimpanzee astronaut in 1972's Escape From the Planet of the Apes. He hated putting on the simian makeup, and his character was killed off quickly. It turned out to be one of Mineo's last performances. He was killed a few years after the movie's release.

Ricardo Montalban — Years before William Shatner would be screaming his character's name in a Star Trek movie ("Khaaaaaaaaan!"), Montalban played the humble circus trainer who sided against his species and helped the apes take over. Traitor. He should be banished to a desert island with the ghost of Herve Villechaize.

James Naughton — Yup. Ally McBeal's dad was an astronaut who crash-landed near Ape City in the short-lived TV incarnation of The Planet of the Apes.

Burt Reynolds — He turned down the roll of the Charlton Heston clone, Brent, in the first Ape sequel. It went to James Franciscus.

Edward G. Robinson — An Oscar winner for lifetime achievement, he was originally slated to play the orangutan Dr. Zaius. He can even be seen with orange whiskers in a five-minute screen test. But he hated putting on the makeup. The part that eventually went to Maurice Evans.

Franklin Schaffner — The director of the original Ape flick went on to win an Oscar for Patton. He later directed Papillon and The Boys From Brazil.

Gregory Sierra — The Chicano detective from Barney Miller played a gorilla sergeant.

Rod Serling — The creator of The Twilight Zone is one of several writers credited for the original film. The shot of Heston falling to his knees before the Statue of Liberty was his most vivid contribution.

Paul Williams — When this 1970s singer-songwriter sang "You and Me Against the World," was he talking about Roddy McDowall? Perhaps. Williams, who played an orangutan adviser to Cornelius, went on to win an Oscar for writing "Evergreen" for A Star Is Born.

This list would get really long if it included every distinguished actor outside the Planet of the Apes universe who played alongside a simian. Folks like Clint Eastwood in Every Which Way But Loose.

Let's not forget, President Ronald Reagan was so popular playing the surrogate father of a chimp in Bedtime for Bonzo that he went on to do Bonzo Goes to College.

You know what they say on Monkey Planet, it's human see, human do. Personally, I never met a talking Ape movie I didn't like.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.