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Wednesday, July 15, 1998

Story last updated at 6:33 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14, 1998

Special goes 'Behind the Planet of the Apes' on 30th anniversary
Times-Union television writer Nancy McAlister is in Pasadena, Calif., this week for the summer press tour.

By Nancy McAlister
Times-Union television writer

PASADENA, Calif. - He's played a prophet, a cardinal, a painter and the big screen's greatest chariot driver. But for fans of The Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston is Taylor, the leader of a group of American astronauts who discover a world where apes are the master race.

Heston, along with such co-stars as Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and Linda Harrison, is interviewed in Behind the Planet of the Apes, a two-hour special set for Sept. 6 on American Movie Classics. The show is timed around the 30th anniversary of the hit sci-fi film and will accompany the airing of all five Apes movies.

The original screenplay was a hard sell, Heston recalled during a meeting with TV critics, in part because studio executives didn't understand the film's so-called ''talking monkeys.'' The movie endures because it's a good story with what the actor considers one of the best endings he's ever seen.

''It sort of created a genre of the space operas, which still thrive, of course. You could call Armageddon a space opera, except it doesn't have any dialogue.''

The closing sequence, when Taylor discovers the ruins of the Statue of Liberty and realizes Earth's civilizations have been destroyed by humankind, was filmed on a secluded California beach. The ending was written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, co-producer Mort Abrahams said.

Though there have been rumors of a remake of The Planet of the Apes by director James Cameron, none of the original actors or producers has been approached with any seriousness. In addition to four Apes sequels, there have been a TV series, an animated show, comic books, toys and other merchandise.

''I think the film is highly re-makable,'' Heston said. ''Arnold [Schwarzenegger] has been talking about doing it for three or four years. And he would be good in the part.''

Behind the Planet of the Apes chronicles the Apes phenomenon, exploring the history of the making of each film. The 1968 original was followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

McDowall appeared as the ape Cornelius in three of the films and as benevolent leader Caesar in the last. This was after some serious initial reservations about the makeup and his claustrophobia.

McDowall said he went to the zoo to observe the monkeys, which turned out to be pointless. Ultimately, he found his inspiration in Groucho Marx and decided it was partly a matter of posture and partly what went on beneath the makeup. ''It was dead on the face unless you did something bizarre underneath.''

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