Monday, September 14, 2009

Marvel's 1974 Trip to the Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes 1 cover, sans logo

The entire nation, nay—maybe even the entire planet, was crazy about the Planet of the Apes in the early 1970s.  My love for the film series started as forbidden fruit.  I saw the original movie on a marquee while on vacation in Hawaii.  The title alone instantly grabbed my imagination.  I desperately wanted to see it, but I knew my parents would never go.  There was an Apes movie marathon that I tried to see at age 11, but the theater turned me away because some films were rated R.  Finally, in 1972, my brother in law took me to see Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.  What an epic Shakespearian movie that was, with Roddy McDowell’s Caesar leading an ape revolt, with that stunning speech at the end!  I caught up on rest of the Apes mythology when the original film was broadcast on CBS (around 1973?).  The high ratings on national TV resulted in an Apes TV show, which I highly anticipated.  Just when I thought the news could not get any better…

Planet of the Apes promo

Marvel Comics announced in the bullpen bulletins that they would produce a Planet of the Apes black and white magazine!  Marvel and POTA, that was like Peanut Butter and Jelly in my mind.  The John Romita illustration of a chimpanzee in chains, with a militaristic gorilla holding him captive, just whetted my appetite even more.  Was that chimp supposed to be Caesar, who led the apes to freedom in Conquest and Battle?  I was desperate for either the TV show or Marvel’s comics to continue the story of Caesar.

It seemed like an eternity between seeing that ad and finding the actual magazine on sale.

Marvel Planet of the Apes 1, 1974, cover by Bob Larkin

When Planet of the Apes #1 did arrive in 1974, it was truly a giant-sized smorgasbord of Ape entertainment.  Two huge comic stories and a plethora of articles sandwiched in-between.  In the front section, Terror on the Planet of the Apes by Doug Moench and Mike Ploog.  I’ll cover that series later, but I will say, even though it didn’t feature Caesar, it was superb.  The feature in the back was a retelling of the first film, with art by George Tuska.  I was a bit disappointed in these film adaptations—just rehashing stuff I already knew—although I see why Marvel did it.

Planet of the Apes 1 inside photo cover of Roddy McDowell as Galen, 1974

What I want to focus on now is—how great a magazine POTA was for hardcore Apes fans.  From the minute I opened the cover and saw this picture of Roddy McDowell firing a rifle (if I’m not mistake, taken from the TV show), I was in heaven.  This was only the beginning of behind the scenes material.

Rod Serling interview in POTA 1

There was an interview with Rod Serling—the freaking creator of Twilight Zone—on the conception of the first film, where he provided the initial treatment.  Serling’s vision featured an Ape City that resembled modern day New York, with automobiles and skyscrapers.  Because Sterling’s version would cost way too much money, producer Arthur Jacobs went in another direction and gave Mike Wilson the script to rewrite.  A few of Sterling’s ideas that made it into the completed film; the Statue of Liberty ending and the scene with the stuffed astronaut’s belonged to him.  The interview just didn’t cover Apes, they also discussed Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and his other work.

How great would a modern day Apes film be if they used some of Serling’s ideas?  Tim Burton hinted at that world in his remake, but didn’t get the chance to make the sequel that would carry it through.

Maurice Evans behind the scenes makeup article in POTA 1

In addition, there was a behind the scenes article on the special effects makeup used to turn the actors into apes.  If you have the Apes DVDs, you’ve probably seen these documentaries that feature John Chambers’ Academy Award winning process.  This article covered that stuff in great detail, and featured this photo of Maurice Evans taking a break during the first film.  It’s odd seeing sneaky Dr. Zaius with an umbrella to keep the sun away!

Roddy McDowell behind the scenes Planet of the Apes #3 photo

Later issues of POTA would have many more articles to satisfy the cravings Apes fans, including interviews with Roddy McDowell (who was the iconic face of the Apes films for me) and a series of interviews/articles on the POTA CBS TV show.  Quite a few of these articles were written by Chris Claremont after he visited the set during the production.

POTA Lawgiver subscription ad in POTA 1

Was there any chance that I would ever miss an issue of this incredible magazine?  No way.  I took a “Lesson From the Lawgiver” (in this ad from the first issue, drawn by Pablo Marcos) and subscribed immediately.  The magazine lasted for three years until issue 29, and while some issues fell apart, almost each of them had something to make you go Ape over. Nuff said!

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