By John L. Flynn

    PLANET OF THE APES, Twentieth Century-Fox's stunning

and profound science fiction thriller, first hurtled

viewers into the strange simian civilization where man was

regarded as a savage brute to be controlled and ultimately

exterminated in the spring of 1968.  The Arthur P. Jacobs

production opened so big in New York that for the first

three weekends the motion picture not only beat out

previous record holders but also bested records it set on

preceding weekends.  Eventually, the film emerged as the

second highest grossing, non-roadshow feature in the

studio's history.  Critical reaction to PLANET OF THE APES

was also very favorable.  Liz Smith in Cosmopolitan called

it "a blockbuster movie!  A genuine fourteen-carat film.  

Big, fascinating, and totally entertaining."  Pauline Kael,

one of genre's harshest critics, proclaimed in the New

Yorker that it was "a very entertaining movie" as well as

"one of the best science-fiction fantasies ever to come out

of Hollywood."  She urged potential ticket-buyers to "see

it quickly" as it had "the ingenious kind of plotting that

people love to talk about."  Joseph Gelmis in Newsday wrote

that it was "a first-rate adventure with serious moral,

theological and social implications."

    Although well able to stand on its own as a first-rate

science-fiction adventure with plenty of action, suspense,

thrills and intrigue, PLANET OF THE APES was also an

intelligent allegory.  The questions that the film raises

about man's war-like habits and his threat to the natural

balance of the universe have the flavor of Jonathan Swift

or Aldous Huxley.  Science fiction, at its best, has often

dealt with these issues.  In the classic models of literary

science fiction, including Plato's Republic, Campanella's

City of the Sun and More's Utopia, shrewdly-conceived

satires about contemporary society reveal problems inherent

in man's attempt to separate thought from reason, passion

from creativity and truth from fact.  Perhaps, the real

genius of PLANET OF THE APES, with its savage and often

biting commentary about human folly, was its connection to

these classic works and many others like them.


    Origins for PLANET OF THE APES can be traced straight

back several centuries to the first great satirist.  Swift

(1667-1745), the Irish satirist and poet, wrote one of

literature's most famous works of satire, Travels into

Several Remote Nations of the World by Lemuel Gulliver

(1726), and imagined a world not dissimilar to Boulle's. 

Popularly called Gulliver's Travels (collected and revised

in 1735), this four-book epic found the titular character

marooned in several uniquely alien cultures.  The

uniqueness of each alien culture was then contrasted with

that of Lemuel Gulliver's world, and subsequently revealed

many of the absurdities of the 18th century British society

from which he came.

    Swift's most biting parody--and the one which Boulle

must have borrowed as a basis for his novel--was Book IV:

"A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms."  Gulliver finds himself

stranded in a society of intelligent horses, who do not

(for example) understand human concepts such as war, the

telling of lies, or sexual passion.  In fact, humans are

commonly referred to as Yahoos by the Houyhnhnms, and are

shunned by the graceful creatures.  When Gulliver's ship is

wrecked and he first washes ashore, he is mistaken as a

Yahoo by the Houyhnhnms.  He is caged and marked for

extermination.  Gradually, though, his intelligent actions

reveal Gulliver to be "civilized."  He is adopted by one of

the Houyhnhnms, and quickly learns much about their

advanced but emotionally sterile society.  The Houyhnhnms

(like their Vulcan descendants, a few centuries later) have

purged all emotion from their society, and structure lives

devoted to pure reason.  While Gulliver may admire the

horses for their intellect, he finds them soulless; and

yet, he has nothing in common with the bestial humans.  By

the end of the story, the ship's Captain is ready to return

to his less than perfect English society.  Swift reminds us

that no matter how bad we may find some of the political or

cultural aspects of our society, ironically, it is still

our own society.

    Similarly, the great English novelist Aldous Huxley

(1894-1963) wrote about another Dystopia, set in 2108 after

an atomic and bacteriological war has devastated most of

the world and apes now rule in place of man.  Written in

1948 as an original screenplay (then later released in book

form), Ape and Essence follows the attempts of a human

biologist to make sense out of the topsy-turby world.  When

a group of researchers from New Zealand, the last bastion

of human society untouched by the final war, arrive in post

holocaust Los Angeles, Alfred "Stagnant" Poole is captured

by ruthless, de-evolved humans.  He discovers their society

has gone savagely wrong, with science being replaced by a

type of devil worship.  A baboon culture, on the other 

hand, living concurrently with the humans, is far more

civilized, and has replaced man's society with one modeled

after Hollywood's golden age.  The baboons are contemptuous

of the savage humans, and take steps to limit their

reproduction by introducing the new creed of Belial, which

preaches sexual abstinence (for all but two days out of the

year).  Poole is shocked by all he sees, and returns by his

schooner to New Zealand with news that America is beyond

all hope of salvation.  The pessimism of Huxley's book is

unalleviated, and its presentation, as the work of a

misanthropic screenwriter, pokes fun not only at human

folly but also the system of Hollywood.  His work nicely

anticipates the kind of struggle that Arthur P. Jacobs went

through to make Boulle's novel a film.


    La planete des singes, a witty, philosophical tale

belonging properly with Karel Capek and other social

satirists of the day, was first published in 1963.  The

idea of a world where apes had evolved into an intelligent

society and where human were hunted or enslaved was hardly

a new one.  Both Swift and Huxley had imagined similar

worlds, but Boulle's ironic yet compassionate message,

pinpointing many of the problems he saw in his world,

struck a raw nerve.  His novel was translated by Xan

Fielding into English, and released in Great Britain as 

Monkey Planet; later, it was retitled Planet of the Apes

for its American release.  Few realized at the time the

kind of impact the novel would have upon Jacobs and the

Hollywood establishment, but the author simply regarded it

as one of his minor works.

    Pierre Boulle was born in Avignon, France, on February

20, 1912.  Trained as an electrical engineer, Boulle spent

eight years in Malaysia as a planter and a soldier.  He

wrote both William Conrad, his first novel, and his best

known work, The Bridge On the River Kwai, while he was

stationed there.  (He later received an Academy Award for

scripting that novel into film.)  When he returned home a

disillusioned ex-patriot, he began writing moral fables to

contrast his profound experience in the Orient with those

absurdities of life he found in France.  Three of his

books, Contes de l'absurde (1953), E=MC2 (1957) and Garden

on the Moon (1965), took to task his distress about science

and man's overdependence on machines.  They have been all

classified as works of science fiction by the world press,

but Boulle has rejected that label, preferring to call his

work social fantasy.

    When he wrote the original novel, which became Planet

of the Apes, Boulle was inspired by a visit to the zoo

where he watched the gorillas.  "I was impressed by their

human-like expressions," he explained.  "It led me to dwell

upon and imagine relationships between humans and apes." 

Sketching out the novel over a period of six months, Boulle

called upon several familiar devices--almost cliches--to

tell his story.  He wasn't really interested in writing a

science fiction novel; but to get his characters from the

earth to his imaginary world, he relied on space travel and

Einstein's relativity theory.

    Monkey Planet, structured in many ways like Swift's

Gulliver's Travels and other incredible journeys from the

18th and 19th centuries, begins within a story frame.  Jinn

and Phyllis, a wealthy couple of leisure, are rocketing

around the cosmos on holiday when they discover a message

in a bottle.  Written in some ancient dialect that Jinn

thinks might have originated on a forgotten green world

known as Earth, the multi-lingual space traveler translates

for his wife. . .

    "I am confiding this manuscript to space, not with the

intention of saving myself, but to help, perhaps to avert

the appalling scourge that is menacing the human race. 

Lord have pity on us. . ." the narration begins.  Ulysse

Merou, a little known journalist from Earth, has spent the

last few months on a planet where apes have evolved into

sentient beings and humans are ignorant savages.  When he

and his two companions first left Earth in the year 2500

bound for the star Betelgeuse, some 300 light years away, 

they had hoped to make contact with some intelligent alien

civilization.  Professor Antelle, a learned French

scientist, had perfected a new acceleration rocket (which

travels at the speed of light), and they made the journey

in less than two years.  Back on Earth, according to Albert

Einstein's theory of relativity, nearly three and a half

centuries had passed.

    Once their ship started decelerating toward Betelgeuse,

Merou, Antelle and the expedition's physician Arthur Levain

began making calculations to land on a planet revolving at

a distance equivalent to the Sun and Earth.  The planet had

apparently developed a similar atmosphere, collection of

continents and cities, and many of the same plants and

animals.  Descending in their space "launch," while the

ship remained in orbit, they were surprised to discover the

planet's strange resemblance to the Earth.  They could see

roads, landmarks, cities and towns that had twins back at

home in France.  The three explorers, with their chimpanzee

mascot Hector, simply accepted the parallels, and named the

new planet Soror.

    But before any of them could explore further, several

savage humans, resembling primitive cavemen, descended from

the trees and killed Hector.  The primitives then welcomed

the three astronauts with strange grunts, and offered to

feed them.  Merou was, at first, shocked by their murder of

the chimpanzee, but gradually accepts his new "friends," in

particular Nova--a beautiful cave girl.  Professor Antelle

and Arthur Levain study the primitives with a much more

discerning eye; Levain, a misanthrope, does not expect much

from man, and is not surprised by the actions of the savage

humans.  To him, man has always been a primitive savage,

and nothing in man's history has proven otherwise.  Antelle

takes a more scientific approach; he studies their simple

customs, and discerns that man has devolved into primitives

leaving his vast civilization in ruin.  But the professor

believes they can be re-educated.

    Mere moments later, their study of the primitives is

interrupted by the sounds of four-wheel drive vehicles

speeding through the jungle paradise.  The human savages

scatter in all directions, leaving Merou and the others to

wonder what has frightened them.  Ulysse Merou is surprised

by what he finally sees.  Gorillas wearing pith helmets and

carrying high-powered hunting rifles drive into their view,

and begin shooting the primitives.  The three astronauts

run for their lives, and are separated from each other: 

Levain is killed and ends up as a mounted specimen in the

simian's museum of natural history.  Antelle suffers a

severe blow to the head, and shows up later as an exhibit

at a local zoo.  The narrator is wounded and hospitalized

for medical attention.  (Nova is likewise captured, and

caged with Merou.)

    Though temporarily dazed by his situation and new

surroundings, Ulysse Merou manages to convince Dr. Zira, a

female chimpanzee veterinarian, that he is intelligent. 

She naturally doesn't understand French (being his native

tongue on Earth), but Merou is able to make his meanings

known by sign language.  Gradually, he learns to speak the

simian language, and Zira learns a few phrases of French. 

Merou explains that he has traveled light years to her

planet from Earth, and is delighted to communicate with

such an intelligent creature as herself.  She is charmed by

his manner, and introduces him to Cornelius, a young member

of the Academy of Science and her fiancee.  Cornelius is

also astounded by the intergalactic traveler.  Their

interest in Merou is strongly discouraged by Dr. Zaius, a

stately orangutan who is one of the chiefs of state.  He

fears that the human is some type of mutant sent among them

to destroy the simian culture.

    Ulysse Merou is released from his captivity, given an

apartment in a city not that dissimilar from Paris, and

allowed to speak before the President.  His speech before

the President and the Scientific Congress is carried live

on all the television stations.  He states:  "Illustrious

President, noble Gorillas, learned Orangutans, wise

Chimpanzees . . . I know my appearance is grotesque, my

figure repulsive, my features bestial, my smell sickening, 

the color of my skin disgusting.  But I am a rational

being, not a mechanical toy or parrot, and I come from a

distant planet known as Earth."  

    At first, the simians react to him with laughter and

disgust; but then, little by little, they accept Merou as

an equal.  He becomes the toast of the town, the hit at

every party and the celebrity that everyone wants to meet. 

Merou adjusts to this life of fame, and takes Nova as his

common-law wife.  (Apparently, only apes are allowed to

marry in this society.)  He teaches her how to talk, and

surprises Zira, Cornelius and Zaius with her ability to

learn.  Ulysse Merou also reveals that his "wife" is

pregnant with their first child.  Cornelius has important

news of his own; he has discovered in his archeological

digs a burial mound with human skeletons.  The mound itself

is meaningless, but the implication that humans once buried

their dead confirms a theory Cornelius has had about the

evolution of their species.  Naturally, Zaius is alarmed by

the two revelations, and is now convinced more than ever

that Merou represents a clear and present danger to the

future of the simian race.  (Zaius secretly orders his

gorilla henchman to have Merou sterilized and Nova killed

before she can give birth.)

    During a routine visit to the zoo, Merou discovers his

fellow astronaut, Antelle, caged behind bars with the other

savage humans.  He attempts to talk to the old professor,

but the man no longer understands or recognizes him.  Merou

is saddened by this chance meeting, and realizes that the

simians will always look upon him and other humans like him

as nothing more than animals.  He brings his concerns to

Cornelius, but the chimpanzee scientist is too involved in

a new experiment.  Cornelius is using brain surgery to make

primitive humans talk.  Merou is not amused by his

"marvelous achievement," and returns home disgusted and


    Zira soon learns of the orangutan's secret plot, and

arranges for Ulysse, Nova and her newborn child to escape. 

They have been kept under close watch, but not close

enough.  Cornelius substitutes one of his experimental

humans for each of them, and they slip away to Merou's

space ship.  Zaius, who cannot make the distinction between

one man or another, celebrates his triumph, while the

fugitives blast off for home.  Three and a half years

later, Merou and his family arrive back on Earth to

discover that, in the centuries since his absence, simians

have risen to dominance and man has de-evolved into

primitive animals. . .

    Phyllis and Jinn finish reading Ulysse Merou's

narrative and conclude that it is a work of fantasy.  Man

is incapable of rational thought; only apes have the 

capacity for knowledge and intellect.  Phyllis and Jinn are


    Pierre Boulle's La planete des singes is a very witty

tale full of irony and social satire.  The novel works

nicely on a number of levels; first, as an action-adventure

featuring a reluctant hero, evil villians and an exotic

location; then, as a biting parody of human conventions and

folly, and finally, as a historical indictment revealing

man's dangerous flirtation with powerful forces beyond his

control.  Like Swift, the book can be read by both children

and adults, with enough substance to satisfy both tastes. 

Like Huxley, the notion of a world where simians have

evolved into an intelligent society and where man is the

animal provides a wonderful balance of contrasts, both

philosophically and morally.  Even the wraparound story

featuring Jinn and Phyllis helps to punctuate the ironic

ending.  The ending of the book is unexpected; most who

read it for the first time (after having seen the movie)

expect Merou to discover the Statue of the Liberty.  But

from Boulle's perspective, his ending is far more rational

and unexpected, even if it's not cinematic.

    The book was an immediate success when it was first

printed in Great Britain (under the title Monkey Planet),

then later released in the United States as Planet of the

Apes.  Most critics drew the immediate connection to 

Jonathan Swift's work, and hailed Boulle as the next great

satirist; others identified the tale properly with Karel

Capek's R.U.R. and Huxley's Ape and Essence.  Before the

book was even released in the English language, Arthur P.

Jacobs had purchased the rights.  He had been in Europe

shopping for "a new KING KONG."  Jacobs didn't want to

remake KING KONG, but he was looking for material that

might make a big picture like KONG.  A literary agent

called from Paris, and invited him to read the work of

Francoise Saigan.  Jacobs complied with his wishes, but

wasn't particularly thrilled with the work.  During the

meeting, the agent mentioned Boulle's novel, and the

Hollywood producer purchased the rights based on a short

description by the agent.  Jacobs later read the novel, and

found that it far outpassed his expectations.  To him,

Boulle was a genius.

    After the success of the original film, Arthur P.

Jacobs did ask Boulle to write a sequel for him.  Boulle

conscented, and presented them with an interesting story

treatment, titled "The Planet of Man."  As with most motion

pictures, the story underwent a number of changes to become

BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES.  Of course, the changes

were so numerous that Boulle considered the second film an

inferior sequel.  In his treatment, Taylor realizes that

man is still capable of learning, and attempts to educate

them back to normal life.  The apes view his teaching as a 

great danger, and a terrible war breaks out between the

simians and the humans.  Some of the primitives challenge

Taylor's leadership because of his desire to make peace

with the apes, and in the end the humans totally destroy

the simian culture.

    Taken together, Boulle's original novel and treatment

for a sequel are highly imaginative works.  But neither are

particularly cinematic.  In fact, once Arthur P. Jacobs had

purchased the rights to Monkey Planet, he had to find a

talented screenwriter who knew how to turn an abstract

piece of satire into a saleable motion picture.  Jacobs

turned to one of Hollywood's most skilled scripters--Rod


                    ENTER: ROD SERLING

    Rod Serling, the creator of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT

GALLERY, had been born on Christmas Day in Syracuse, New

York, 1924.  An army paratrooper in the Second World War,

he later studied at Antioch College under the GI Bill.  In

1948, he went to New York as a fledgling writer. 

Freelancing in radio and then television, he wrote ninety

scripts before signing a contract with CBS.  He worked as a

teleplay writer for KRAFT THEATRE, PLAYHOUSE 90, THE

HALLMARK HALL OF FAME--from which came his Emmy-winning

scripts "Patterns" (1955), "Requiem for a Heavyweight" 

(1956) and "The Comedian" (1957).  In 1959, he created the

science fiction anthology series, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and

won a Peabody Award, two Sylvania awards, and four Writer's

Guild awards for his work.  Soon after, he turned to

writing motion picture scripts, adapting two of his winning

television plays and the screenplay for Frankenheimer's

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964).  Serling was considered one of

the finest talents in the industry, and the ideal writer to

cleverly adapt Boulle's novel.

    While Arthur P. Jacobs spent the next three and a half

years trying to sell the idea to one of the studios, Rod

Serling labored to produce a useable screenplay.  He could

hardly be considered an original writer, but he did have a

knack for turning existing ideas into workable stories. 

Rod did his best with the book, replacing some of its more

labored allegories with tight dramatic situations and

action sequences.  But no amount of creative writing could

hide Boulle's weak plotting, stilted characters or the

novel's overblown parody.  Serling simply stuck to the

basics of the story, overlaying many of his own ideas and

commentaries.  The resultant screenplay was an effective if

not highly original effort.

    "In my initial version, the ape society was not in

limbo as it was in the film," Serling revealed.  "It had an

altogether twentieth-century technology--a modern city in 

which the doors and automobiles were lower and wider.  All

living was adjusted to the size of the anthropoid, and I

felt the overall concept was much more accessible for

contemporary audiences.  But of course it was much too

expensive to do."

    Unlike the original novel, Serling's script begins in

space aboard an interstellar craft just as three astronauts

are awakened from deep sleep.  John Thomas, a tall

broad-shouldered man in his mid-thirties, is the captain of

the mission, and the narrative's cynical hero.  William

Dodge, a stocky man in his twenties, and Paul Lafever, a

soft-spoken, introspective man in his forties, are the

other two members of the expedition.  They have traveled

several light years to reach this unknown planet orbiting

the giant star Betelgeuse.  According to Einstein's Theory

of Relativity, more than a century has passed on earth,

while they've aged hardly a day.

    Descending to the planet in a small pod, they land on

the earth-like planet.  They emerge amidst trees,

mountains, lush foliage and waterfalls; they hear the sound

of birds, feel a light wind and recognize the semblance of

human laughter off in the distance.  Thomas, Dodge and

Lafever feel as if they have discovered paradise, and climb

out of their spacesuits to take a swim in an unspoiled

lake.  At the beach, however, they find the footprint of a 

woman, and trace other evidence of humanoid life to people

living in the trees.  Thomas warns them not to show any

hostile movements and urges his men to put away their

weapons.  The primitives are naked, and react to the men's

strange clothes.  Thomas divests himself of his shorts and

the savages react positively to him.  He then shows them

how to open a coconut with his knife, and they react

positively to his prowess with the weapon.  They are like

animals in a zoo--Thomas reasons, with a big smile.  A

woman (later identified as Nova) tries to smile back, but

she can't quite make a smile; the facial expression is

difficult for her.

    Later that night, around a campfire, the astronauts

continue to study the primitives.  The humanoids are

gentle, tentative, curious and basically intelligent, but

they are clearly low on the evolutionary ladder--not even

to the stage of the Neanderthal on Earth.  They have no

culture, no language, no art, and are surprised by the

fire.  Dodge considers setting himself up as king, with

seven wives (one for each day of the week), while Thomas

exchanges smiles with Nova.  Lafever warns both of them

about Cortez and the Aztecs.  His words echo coldly in the

darkness as they turn in for the night.

    Thomas and Lafever are awakened in the morning by the

sound of a car straining in low gear.  They wake their 

friend, and climb a nearby hill for a better look.  Two

apes dressed immaculately in the white garb and pith

helmets of British hunters emerge from the vehicle.  Other

apes quickly join them for a mass hunting expedition as

literally hundreds of clothed apes and monkey forms fire

shots at the fleeing humans.  Literally hudreds of

primitives are wiped out in the first few seconds by the

gunfire, while others flee in terror.  Thomas falls,

clutching his hand to his throat, the victim of a stray

bullet.  Lafever is scooped up in a giant net, and Dodge is

simply killed outright.

    Sometime later, in an animal hospital, a veterinarian

chimpanzee named Zira pays Thomas a visit.  She is alert

and intelligent; she carries a leather briefcase, and tends

to his throat wound with great kindness and expertise. 

Because of Thomas's ability to move his lips but not make

sounds, they think he's probably an escaped circus animal. 

He still wears trousers and a ring from Annapolis.  Days

turn into weeks as Thomas continues to heal; the guards are

cruel to him, but Zira treats her pet "blondie" (Thomas)

with utmost care.  She believes that he can talk, and is a

most prime specimen to her.  The Earth astronaut tries to

write words on the wall and in the sand, but Zira simply

doesn't see them.  Frustrated, Thomas grabs for her pen,

but is shoved back into his cell.

    Once Thomas is fully healed, Zira introduces Dr. Zaius,

an orangutan official, to her "man," promising the eminent

ape that they'll learn something special from him.  Zaius

dismisses Thomas' attempts to speak as mere mimicry.  "Man

cannot learn," he decries.  "He can respond to conditioned

reflexes, but no more."  Zaius then recalls a situation in

which a female, aged 18, could actually speak about a dozen

words, but could not relate the words together.  The

oranguntan is frightened by Thomas, and suggests that Zira

try experimental brain surgery to discover just how

intelligent the creature really is.  Then, for laughs,

Zaius taunts Thomas with Nova, before finally shoving the

primitive woman into his cage.

    When a delivery truck arrives with supplies, Thomas

seizes the opportunity to escape.  He hides out in the

truck as the vehicle moves out into the city.  He watches

as it passes stores with ape mannequins in the window; sees

chimps and monkeys walking back and forth, and a gorilla

policeman directing traffic.  Outside a movie theatre (in a

tip of the hat to Aldous Huxley), Thomas views the large

poster of two monkeys in passionate embrace.  The astronaut

nearly manages to get out of the city when he is spotted by

two children.  Cries from the frightened children summon a

nearby gorilla cop who pursues the human.  Thomas is chased

down the sidewalk, then recaptured.

    Three weeks pass, while Dr. Zira continues a series of

intelligence tests.  Thomas again tries to write Zira a

note, and succeeds with a simple message:  "I can speak.  I

am a civilized man.  I am from another planet."  Zira takes

her pet to a special lecture hall for conversation, and in

the course of an hour learns about Thomas' incredible

ordeal.  He reveals through notes that he is from Earth and

that a shuttle from his atomic-powered spaceship landed on

their planet.  He also demands to know what happened to his

fellow astronauts survived.  But she has no answer.  She is

completely astounded by him.  Even though she's still not

convinced that this is a clever hoax, Zira puts a call into

animal control and learns that they captured at least one

other who was wearing strange clothes.

    Thanks to a mutual friend of Zira's, Thomas finds

Lafever behind bars, caged like a wild animal.  Thomas is

initially elated until he realizes that Lafever is no

longer the same--he has been changed.  His brain has been

cut open, and he is missing the key elements that had made

him intelligent.  Thomas begins to sob.

    At the National Academy of Science, Zira presents her

astounding discovery to a group of scientists.  They are

skeptical.  They find it hard to accept that, on Thomas'

home planet of Earth, humans are in the ascendency and apes

are kept in cages.  They dismiss it as a joke.  Even Dr. 

Zaius thinks its some kind of hoax perpetrated by a ape

training the human.  "Within a week, he will regain his

voice, and I'll expect your apologies then," Zira concludes

leaving with Thomas.  Dr. Zaius has other plans for the

human, and sends him to the surgical wing for experimental

brain surgery.  Zira is aghast, but powerless to save him. 

However, just as the surgery is to begin, Thomas exclaims,

"No.  Get away!  Let me alone!"

    News of the talking human spreads quickly through the

simian community, and a congressional committee is hastily

convened to consider the matter.

    Thomas is ushered down the long central aisle of the

Congressional chamber toward the podium.  Flashbulbs go off

in his face; television cameras grind; laughter fills the

room until the Gorilla president, wearing a frock coat and

bow tie, rises from the speaker's diadem and walks to the

lectern.  He introduces Thomas, who has asked to talk to

the assembly members.  Thomas is dressed in an ill-fitting

suit, and talks to them about the world he is from.  He

says that men are the intelligent ones on Earth, but he is

pleased by the wisdom of the apes to let him talk.  He

tells them that he came to the ape planet in a

nuclear-powered spaceship, but his plans are not hostile. 

He wants just to make contact with them.  He is then

questioned by reporters.  They want to know where his craft

is, but he remains guarded.  He is a success, however,

redeeming himself admirably.

    Dr. Zaius continues to be annoyed, and meets secretly

with the Gorilla president.  He's worried that Thomas may

well be far superior to them in technology, and might

unlease his superior power in wars of conquest.  The

President reluctantly agrees with the learned orangutan,

and discusses ways to control and/or silence their space

faring visitor.  Meanwhile, Zira introduces Thomas to their

way of government, their religious institutions, and her

fiancee Cornelius.  Thomas finds many similarities and many

differences between their two cultures.  For example, he is

surprised to learn that Church attendance is mandatory, and

that young people are placed in apprenticeship programs to

learn skills.  What strikes Thomas the most is the fact

that the simian culture is a fairly young one, with little

in the way of ancient schools of art.

    At a museum, Thomas sees Dodge stuffed in an exhibit

about primitive man, and becomes enraged.  Zira comforts

him by arranging to have Nova brought to him.  Thomas tries

to adjust to his new life, taking Nova as his common-law

wife.  He teaches her how to talk, and surprises Zira,

Cornelius and Zaius with her ability to learn.  "He has

proven himself remarkably adaptable," Zaius comments with

irony.  "He goes from the floor of a cage to the giver of 

social teas."  At the tea, Nova begins to talk--asking if

they want lemon or cream in their tea.  Zaius is upset; he

sees the writing on the wall about their future.  (He wants

Thomas sterilized before he can impregnate Nova with his


    Cornelius has important news of his own.  While the

leader of the Fourth Northern Archeological Expedition, he

discovered evidence of an earlier culture--possibly older

than the apes.  He invites both Zaius and Thomas to review

artifacts and potteries at the main camp, in particular a

large rectangular box.  Later, when they open the box, the

two apes find a human skeleton.  (The box is a coffin, and

they have stumbled upon a burial ground.)  Zaius dismisses

it as a pet semetary, but Cornelius has also found a

tombstone with human writing.  (Apparently, man was once

civilized enough to bury the dead.)  Zaius is not

convinced, but Thomas begins reconstructing in his mind a

human civilization not that different from his own.  The

evidence mounts when they discover a human doll that talks,

and this revelation opens the door to the knowledge that

man was first.  Man was once the dominant creature on the

planet, but somehow his great civilization collapsed and

was replaced by a simian one.  

    When they discover an old reel of film, which is mostly

damaged, the truth becomes shockingly clear.  Thomas 

expertly threads the film into a projector, and they all

watch a section of the film showing the mushroom cloud from

a hydrogen bomb.  The credits then roll, revealing "This

film has been prepared by the Atomic Energy Commission. 

Filmed with the Cooperation of the United States Air

Force."  Thomas is stunned; he tells everyone that this is

Earth, and that they've uncovered the remnants of his Earth

society from 1000 years before.  His spaceship must have

traveled in both time and space, and he ended up back on

Earth in a time warp.  Man must have bombed himself back to

the stone age, and in the ensuing centuries apes must have

emerged as the dominant creature.

    Zaius doesn't like Thomas' rewriting of history, and

orders his gorillas to strike.  The astronaut struggles to

retain his freedom, but ends up in hospital.  Zira is

there; Thomas is afraid he'll be lobotomized, but Zira

promises to protect him; she has also hidden Nova. "History

has been rewritten again," Zira decries, holding up a

newspaper revealing:  "Earth Man--Space Traveler a Hoax" 

"Scientific Academy Admits 'Creature was a Mechanical

Man'"  Thomas is scheduled for experimental brain surgery,

but Zira has no desire to see him lobotomized.  Later, in

the operating theatre, Zira rescues her pet by switching a

mechanical man for Thomas.  Zaius operates on the

mechanical man, while Thomas and Nova escape with Zira's

blessing.  As they blast off into space, Cornelius and Zira

watch them go, and Zira tells him that man might yet build

a good world.

    Serling does manage to streamline Boulle's overblown

parody into a harrowing, bizarre and masterful story, but

the first few drafts of the screenplay are less than

perfect.  The action is reduced to a few key sequences that

move the story along at a far greater pace than the

original novel.  From the astronaut's landing and their

first contact with the primitive humans to the torturous

hunt and Thomas' eventual capture, Serling's plot moves at

a breakneck speed.  Regrettably, the story slows down to a

snail's pace (as in the novel) in the second act, while the

experienced TWILIGHT ZONE scripter indulges in his own

brand of sermonizing.  Boulle's imaginative satire may well

be gone, but it has been replaced by Serling's need to

bludgeon the audience with his views on society, cultural

pretenses and nuclear annihilation.  Far too much time is

wasted moving Thomas from his cage to the Congressional

Chambers and finally into the public sector.  The menace of

Dr. Zaius is moved into the background, and the overall

tone of the piece becomes comedic (following Thomas from

one simian function to the next).

    By the third act, all the tension of the opening scenes

has been lost, and Serling has to rebuild that sense of

anxiety and terror with an entirely new threat.  He also 

waits until the later scenes to introduce Cornelius, Zira's

fiancee, then assigns him far too many duties.  In fact,

his expedition almost seems like an after-thought in order

to provide Serling with an excuse to introduce the lost

film on the atomic bomb.  By this time, the ending of the

motion picture is no longer a surprise.  We all know that

the planet is Earth, and his surprise revelation is not

particularly effective.  Any person who has seen an episode

of THE TWILIGHT ZONE is well aware of Rod Serling's

fondness for twist endings, but he has telegraphed this

ending all along.

    In an interview shortly before his death, Serling

claimed that he had written another ending which reflected

Boulle's original notions.  "The book's ending is what I

wanted to use in the film, as much as I loved the idea of

surprise twist.  I always believed that the original ending

would have been better," he defended.  But in the final

version of the script submitted by Serling, he had

abandoned the novel in favor of a completely different

ending suggested by Jacobs.

    The famous and most visually-striking scene in PLANET

OF THE APES, when Thomas (later renamed Taylor) and his

primitive bride Nova come upon the half-sunken Statue of

Liberty, was the result of two or three people thinking

exactly the same thing at the same time.  While having 

lunch with Blake Edwards, the director who was originally

chosen to helm the picture, Arthur P. Jacobs suggested they

needed some dramatic way to inform audiences that the whole

adventure had taken place on Earth.  He and his lunch

companion discussed many alternatives, including the latest

draft that Serling had submitted with the lost spool of

film.  Edwards complained that it didn't work because it

was too predictable, but couldn't think of an alternative

that might be used.  Jacobs felt equally pressed for an

original idea.

    As the two filmmakers finished their lunch, and

prepared to walk out, they looked up at a mural of the

Statue of Liberty painted on the back wall of the

delicatessen.  Jacobs and Edwards both looked at each other

and exclaimed, "Rosebud."  Arthur P. Jacobs added, "If we

never had lunch in that delicatessen, I doubt that we would

have had the Statue of Liberty as the end of the picture." 

They contacted Serling, and yet another draft of the

picture was prepared with the new ending.  (Years after the

film was released, Boulle commented that he "disliked the

ending that was used," preferring his own.)


    Rod Serling completed several additional drafts for

Jacobs, working well over a year and finishing between 

thirty and forty drafts.  He jokingly said, at the time, he

could have "taken the excess pages and made a series out of

them."  But his work still lacked the narrative punch that

the studios were looking for in the screenplay.  For one,

Serling had placed (in keeping with Boulle) the ape society

in the Twentieth Century, and for two, the dialogue was

still far too stilted, allegorical, even for a science

fiction film.  

    When Serling departed, he was replaced by a young

screenwriter from Hermosa Beach, California--Charles

Eastman.  Jacobs provided Eastman with a copy of the

original novel, several of Serling's best drafts, and

instructions to punch up the dialogue and breath some life

into the characters.  Eastman wrote roughly forty pages,

and was then discharged.  His screenplay was almost

completely unusable.  The following summary may provide a

clue as to why.

    Fifty light years away from Earth, a spaceship begins

decelerating around the main sequence star Rumford in

preparation for a landing on the third planet.  According

to the ship's chronometers, four hundred and fifty years

have passed on Earth, while less than a few years have

passed on the ship.  A map of the universe shows its course

through space, listing Andromeda, Tau Ceti, Betelgeuse and

the Sol systems.  In the pilot's seat, a skeletal figure 

sits, watching over the command station with lifeless

eyes.  The figure has been dead for years, and the rotting

decay has left only an empty spacesuit and bones.

    The ship's computer brings members of the crew to life

from their hibernation chambers.  Several dozen members

stir to life, and climb out of their deep-sleep stations,

disoriented, covered in a chemical pudding.  Each of the

members of the crew are classified as a Command (for

administrative and command duties), an Index (for computer

access), an Elite (for reproduction) and a Drone (for heavy

labor).  The classifications are designed to correlate work

assignments, and prevent overlap.  Elite 25 Petchnikoff, a

rosey blindman in his 60's, is one of the first to arise,

and carries his pet monkey to his quarters.  Index 0

O'Toole, a young man, helps Index 53 Reverse Maryanne, a

sleek woman who knows about agriculture, to her feet, and

proceeds to tell the woman how attracted he is to her. 

Command 81 Boise, the communications' expert, reports that

they are unable to contact Earth.  Command 60 Maddox, the

nominal hero of the story, pulls himself together, and

orders all the others to their stations.  The ship itself,

christened "Immigrant One," is an agriculture vessel

designed to transport farming samples and colonists to

another star system.

    Their first crisis arises when they discover that

Command 1 Duffy, the ship's senior officer, has died en

route to their destination.  He has apparently tampered

with their controls, and they are nearly a year ahead of

schedule.  Petchnikoff says, "Things are not as they should

be . . ."  And his sentiments are echoed throughout the

entire crew.  What they don't know is that their mission

was purposely destined to fail.

    Command 60 Maddox takes command of the ship, arranging

to have Duffy's computer chip installed in his head so that

he can control the ship . . .

    Charles Eastman's script ends at this point in the

narrative, roughly forty pages (or forty minutes) into the

story.  One of the most obvious problems with his effort

has to do with exposition.  So much time is spent on

exposition, establishing all the characters and their job

classifications, that there is little time left to

introduce menacing apes.  In point of fact, there is very

little menace to the story, and that translates as very

little action.  Admittedly, the mysterious death of Captain

Duffy and our desire to learn what he has done to the space

ship pique our interest.  But isn't this supposed to be a

movie about apes?


    When the Charles Eastman script proved unusable, Jacobs

hired Michael Wilson to write a new draft of PLANET OF THE

APES based on one of Serling's treatments.  Contrary to

popular belief, Wilson did not actually collaborate with

Rod Serling on the script.  But Wilson was the ideal choice

for this work as he had provided uncredited rewrites of THE


great cinema epics of the day.  Years earlier, he had won

an Academy Award for his screenplay for A PLACE IN THE SUN

(1951) and a Writer's Guild award in 1957 for FRIENDLY

PERSUASION.  He had also distiguished himself with the

screenplays for FIVE FINGERS and the critically received


    "Rod Serling and I did not collaborate," Michael Wilson

explained.  "He wrote the first draft screenplay.  I wrote

the second, third and final drafts."

    Wilson liked much of what he read in that first draft

screenplay, including the scene breakdown, the concept of

the piece and the overall thrust of action.  Like Jacobs,

he found the dialogue stilted, and never believed in the

contemporary feel of the story.  Much of his rewite focused

on those two areas.  He shortened the story, choosing to 

restrict the central human figure to long-term captivity

and thus reduce the number of scenes (and ultimately scene

changes).  He displaced the ape culture to one that was

both socially and politically in a state of limbo; even

though the dialogue was purposely contemporary, the look of

the simian world was somehow removed from modern times. 

Wilson also renamed two of the key players, and took a

crack at incorporating Jacob's twist ending more into the

overall makeup of the story.  His final draft became the

blueprint for the highly successful and award-winning

motion picture.

    Hurtled some 2,000 years through time and space,

measured in terms of interstellar mathematics and two

onboard clocks, four American astronauts crashland in the

wilderness of an unidentified planet around the giant star

Betelgeuse when their spacecraft suffers a malfunction. 

The lone female in the quartet dies; but the male

survivors, including Taylor, a misanthrope, Dodge, a

scientist, and Landon, an all-American, trek across

countless miles of arid desert until they discover

life-supporting vegetation.  A footprint in the sand causes

them to stumble upon a sub-human populace living like

animals in the woods.

    Their freedom is short-lived, however, for they are

hunted and eventually captured by a band of mounted 

hunters--uniformed gorillas on horseback.  During the

frenzied hunt, the three astronauts are separated from each

other:  Dodge is killed and ends up as a mounted specimen

in the simian's museum of natural history; Landon is used

in a laboratory experiment in which his frontal lobs are

removed.  Their leader, Taylor is wounded in the throat and

hospitalized for medical attention.

    Though temporarily mute, he is able to convince Dr.

Zira and Cornelius, a young archeologist--both of whom are

chimpanzees--that he can speak, read and write.  Their

interest in Taylor is strongly discouraged by Dr. Zaius, a

stately orangutan who is one of the chiefs of state.  Zaius

suspects that Taylor is a mutant, and part of a much larger

threat to the simian culture.  When Taylor demonstrates

that he can speak, and think, the orangutan orders him

emasculated and labotomized.  (Zira and Cornelius are also

charged with heresy, and accused of "creating" Taylor

through a laboratory experiment.)

    Zira, Cornelius and Lucius resent the infringement upon

their freedom of thought and speech, and arrange for

Taylor's escape from captivity.  Because he has grown fond

of a sub-human woman named Nova, Taylor insists that she

accompany them.  Fleeing into the Forbidden Zone where the

spaceship crashed, they head for an important archeological

dig that may have some answers about the ape's fear of 

humans.  The party is overtaken by Zaius and his gorilla

militiamen, but Taylor seizes Zaius as hostage, and the

gorillas are ordered to retreat.

    Once inside the cave, which is the site of the

archeological discoveries, Cornelius displays artifacts

that tell a different picture of their past.  In

particular, a talking doll confirms that man was first, and

the simian culture evolved later.  Zaius has known the

truth all along.  He reveals his fear of human

civilization, pointing out that alone among God's primates,

the human kills for sport, lust and greed.  The simian

religion preaches that "the human will make a desert of his

home and yours . . . he should be driven back to his jungle

lair for he is harbinger of death."

    Taylor offers to release Zaius unharmed if the latter

will promise not to press charges of heresy against Zira

and Cornelius.  Zaius agrees.  The human astronaut then

climbs on a horse with Nova, and heads down the beach to

"his destiny."  Not far from the cave, Taylor discovers the

remains of the Statue of Liberty, sunken in the sand.  He

then realizes that he is still on Earth, having unknowingly

passed through a time warp, thousands of years into the

future.  In agony, Taylor pounds the sand, decrying man's

folly at destroying himself.

    "Virtually all my work was in the final film--with one

significant deletion," Wilson commented after the film was

released.  "In the penultimate drafts of PLANET OF THE

APES, Nova was pregnant with Taylor's child.  In this

version, Taylor was killed by the bullet of an ape sniper

just after he sees the Statue of Liberty.  The meaning is

clear:  if her unborn child is male and grows to manhood,

the species will survive.  If not, modern man becomes

extinct.  Such an ending left open the possibility of a

sequel long before sequels were discussed.  Nova's

pregnancy was deleted from the film, I'm told, at the

insistence of a high-echelon Fox executive who found it

distasteful.  Why?  I suppose that, if one defines the mute

Nova as merely "humanoid" and not actually human, it would

mean that Taylor had committed sodomy."


    PLANET OF THE APES proved to be a surprisingly

successful motion picture, and inspired four sequels (soon

to be a fifth), a short-lived television show, a Saturday

morning cartoon series, and a whole collection of tie-in

books, comics and toys.  The film was very well directed,

and provided winning performances from Charlton Heston, Kim

Hunter, Maurice Evans and Roddy McDowall.  It also

demonstrated that science fiction films could deal with

very difficult and often profound subjects, and still be 

extremely entertaining.  In retrospect, in spite of its

singular major flaw (that all the apes seem to speak

perfect English), PLANET OF THE APES is a classic work of

cinema.  Credit for its enduring legacy belongs clearly

with the original novel by Pierre Boulle, the bold

determination of producer Arthur P. Jacobs and the inspired

screenplay by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson.

Article Copyright by John L. Flynn