Roddy McDowall’s behind-the-scenes look at the making of the classic film Planet of the Apes in 1968. The quality is incredible as we watch McDowall slowly made-up to look like Cornelius, and then join his co-stars, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Charlton Heston, on the beach at Malibu for the film’s shock ending. I can still recall the playground buzz over this film, months before its arrival in the U.K. The bubble gum trading cards came first, only one grocery store stocked them, its owner, a thin, waxen-faced man in his late 50s, couldn’t fathom the film’s attraction. “Talking apes? What utter nonsense…tsk..tsk…tsk. Whatever next?” But it was believable to our fertile minds, and revolutionary.
This was the film that inspired my admiration for Roddy McDowall - how could he wear all that make-up? What was it like to act with it on? McDowall later said:
“A year before production, [the producer] Arthur Jacobs talked to me about the project. I was one of the few people he explained the whole thing to, including the ending. He talked with me about playing Cornelius, and I thought it was all intriguing. About a year later, I signed to do the film, and to have my face molded for the makeup. The first film was very difficult because it was made in the summertime, at the Malibu Ranch. In August, with all those quartz lights, it hits like 140*, and it’s just unbearable. Although it was a wonderful experience, because I like [director] Frank Schaffner very much, I thought I would never do one again….”
“The heat made us perspire, which in turn worked on the spirit gum which in turn forces the reapplication of the adhesive - which in its turn works on the skin….”
“Planet of the Apes is a very hard film for me to judge because it was such a physical agony doing it. I’d begin to sweat remembering the heat. I think it’s a fabulous movie, up until I come into the film, and then it’s just purely a subjective reaction.”
The difficulties of wearing his make-up didn’t stop McDowall returning to the role of Cornelius in Escape from Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), and a Planet of the Apes TV series, all which I followed through the books, the comics, the cards and the films.