In late 1963, Rod Serling was hired by King Brothers Productions to write a screenplay based on Pierre Boulle’s novel Planet of the Apes.
By Gordon C. Webb
For more than two years, Serling, who had earned a solid reputation as a television writer, struggled with the task of adapting this complex story for the big screen. By the time he submitted a final draft in early 1965, APJAC Productions had acquired the screen rights to Boulle’s story. For the next two years, producer Arthur P. Jacobs worked to raise enough funding for what had developed into a very expensive project. Before filming began, another experienced writer, Michael Wilson, was brought in to work on the script. Wilson, whose career suffered through the blacklisting of the McCarthy era, had written many excellent film scripts (including It’s A Wonderful Life and A Place in the Sun)—some uncredited until recently (such as Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia). Finally, in early 1968, Planet of the Apes was released, with both Wilson and Serling sharing screen credit. The film adaptation of Boulle’s novel opened to mostly favorable reviews:
…one of the best science-fiction fantasies ever to come out of Hollywood…
-The New Yorker
There should be enthusiastic word of mouth on this one, and top grosses.
-Independent Film Journal
… I found it one of the most fascinating and entertaining films I’ve seen in a long time.
-Bill Dial, Atlanta Constitution
However, in the thirty years since Planet of the Apes was released, the issue of “authorship” of the screenplay has been raised—especially as it relates to the film’s classic “Statue of Liberty” ending. This analysis chronicles the transformation of Planet of the Apes from the printed page to the screen comparing Boulle’s novel with a dozen versions of the script held in the Rod Serling Archive(1) as well as Wilson’s commercially available shooting script and the home video release of the film.
Adapting the Original Story
Pierre Boulle’s futuristic novel Planet of the Apes begins with a fascinating introduction: a bottle is found floating through the heavens by two vacationing space travelers, Jinn and Phyllis. The bottle contains a manuscript through which the novel’s story is told, in a diary written by a futuristic French astronaut named Ulysee Merou, who had landed on a planet where humans are mute, and are treated like animals by civilized, talking apes. He’d been captured by a gorilla hunting party and taken to a Simian city where his main antagonist is an orangutan named Dr. Zaius. For the remainder of the book, the main character tries to make sense of this “upside-down” society—and in the process, Boulle raises such issues as balance of power, racism, the role of government, and evolution. Eventually, the protagonist, with the help of two friendly ape-scientists; escapes and flies back home, where—after landing at Orly Airport—his craft is met by a truck being driven by a gorilla.
Merou’s story ends here, but the novelist delivers a final twist after the two travelers finish reading the “message-in-a-bottle:”
… Phyllis, after dismissing a last shred of doubt with an energetic shake of her velvety ears, took out her compact and, in view of their return to port, touched up her dear little chimpanzee muzzle.(2)
As he began to translate the story for the screen, Serling faced a challenge that has plagued screenwriters from the beginning: converting a plot conveyed solely through words, into a script for a medium where success is based on visualizing a story through action. Mort Abrahams, associate producer for Planet, is the only member of the film’s senior production team still living. In a 1994 interview, he recalled Serling’s first draft of the screenplay:
It was a very difficult adaptation, and getting to the essence of the plot—translating it from Boulle’s novel—was very, very difficult … and Rod kind of got it right away. I mean, three or four drafts is nothing! It was pretty well complete by the time it got into Frank’s hands [director Franklin Schaffner]. Frank just loved it right from the beginning—and really made only very minor changes, mostly a little dialog here and there.(3)
First, Serling had to decide what to do with Boulle’s “message-in-a-bottle” gimmick. Although the novelist had achieved a clever ending, it represents a clear example of the challenge a writer faces in the screen adaptation of a novel. Boulle’s “twist” is achieved by carefully withholding information from the reader; we don’t know until the last few words that Jinn and Phyllis—who begin reading Merou’s diary on page one of the novel—were apes all along!
Serling had tried a similar effect in a Twilight Zone episode where a young woman, portrayed as hopelessly deformed, undergoes surgery in an attempt to correct her abnormal appearance. In Eye of the Beholder; her face is bandaged throughout, and by careful use of camera angles and other visual techniques, Serling hides the physical appearance of doctors, nurses, and other characters.
Note: We modified standard screenplay format to accommodate multipule viewing formats. Apologies!
MED LONG SHOT – ACROSS THE ROOM
A nurse has just entered and is placing the tray down near the door. The position of the bedlight throws the far end of the room in shadows so that all we can see of the nurse is that of an angular, tall silhouette, her face invisible.(4)
The illusion is continued throughout the episode, which Serling sets in a society where conformity is essential, and anyone perceived as different must either be “corrected” or sent away. By the time the bandages are finally taken off, we’re prepared for a resolution to the protagonist’s conflict, but instead—as the nurses and doctors gasp in horror—Serling delivers an unexpected visual twist:
ABRUPT FLASH CLOSEUPS OF THE TWO NURSES, THE ANESTHETIST, AND THEN THE DOCTOR
Each face is more grotesque than the other. Noses, eyes, mouths, ears, everything, almost as if they were cartoons; almost as if they were some caricature drawings come to life.(5)
To many Twilight Zone fans, this is one of the most memorable episodes of the series, and represents the kind of television writing which earned Serling six Emmy Awards. However, the program’s format required him to sustain his illusion for only about twenty-three minutes of script; pulling off this same kind of gimmick in a two-hour theatrical feature would be nearly impossible.
So, Serling modified Boulle’s basic premise to feature a team of American astronauts led by Thomas, the script’s protagonist (changed to “Taylor” in the film and portrayed by Charlton Heston). And while in the novel a “mother ship” is left orbiting safely around the planet while the explorers land in a kind of shuttlecraft, Serling places the protagonists in immediate peril by having their ship sucked underground by a sort of quicksand. This provides the “inciting incident” which is necessary to set up a good movie story: after traveling at the speed of light for several years, the main characters appear to be stranded on a desolate planet—with no ride home. There’s nothing left for the characters to do except to begin exploring their new home, and this is where critics, such as Joseph Morgenstern of Newsweek started taking shots at the story:
No sooner do Heston and his crewmen scramble from the wreckage of their spaceship than they start jabbering about man’s innate badness or goodness.(6)
The film does, in fact, include a lengthy scene of the astronauts trekking across the unknown planet. Finally stopping to take a rest-they begin to argue about the importance of their “mission.”
Dodge… he’s not like me at all. But he makes sense. He’d walk naked into a live volcano if he thought he could learn something no other man knew. I understand why he’s here. But you… you’re no seeker. You’re negative.
But I’m not ‘prepared to die.’
I’d like to know why not. You thought life on Earth was meaningless. You despised people. So what did you do? You ran away.
Taylor’s eyes are closed. He is silent for a moment. When he speaks, his tone is soft, reflective.
No, not quite, Landon. I’m a bit of a seeker myself. But my dreams are a lot emptier than yours.
I can’t get rid of the idea that somewhere in the Universe there must be a creature superior to man.(7)
The dialogue objected to by Morgenstern even sounds like it could be Serling, who was often criticized for creating characters prone to “preach.” However, careful examination of the script’s many drafts shows that although this scene appears in the shooting script credited to Michael Wilson, it’s not evident in any of the earlier versions by Serling. He even refers to this issue in a letter to Arthur Jacobs (Figure 1) in April, 1964, saying “I’ve diddled around with the opening to simplify and take out a great deal of the small talk.”
The remainder of Serling’s plot is very similar to Boulle’s novel. It’s a story about a Simian culture inhabited by orangutans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, where the only “humans” are found in zoos and museums. Instead of basing the story on physical conflict between Thomas and the apes, Serling uses the plot to explore “who came first-ape or man,” and the effect of this issue upon the social structure in this strange society.
As it was released, Planet of the Apes takes place in a primitive ape “city,” first seen when Taylor (Thomas) escapes from the compound where he’s been held after his capture:
EXT. APETOWN – LONG ESTABLISHING SHOT – DAY
The community we see at the end of the causeway is small and arcane. There are no power lines, no street lamps -indeed, no streets an such, but only a small cluster of buildings around a pleasant mall. The architecture of the buildings is fairly derivative of the simpler and less rococo work of Antonio Gaudi – columns and pillars of brick or exterior masonry look like the trunks and branches of great trees and suggest an arboreal past.(8)
Once again, critics took exception to this element of the story. In his review of the film, Clifford Ridley of The National Observer commented on “the script that Michael Wilson and Rod Serling wrote from a Pierre Boulle novel” as follows:
The Flintstonish sets are craggy, ponderous things-suggesting the American Southwest, The Roman Forum, and so on, but seldom creating a feeling that we are anywhere but on quite familiar terrain.(9)
But Ridley had erroneously linked Wilson’s film concept of the setting with Serling, whose vision of the Apes’ culture was actually much closer to Boulle’s. In the novel, Merou’s narration describes the planet’s appearance as being quite Earth-like:
The houses were similar to ours; the roads, which were fairly dirty, looked like our roads. The traffic was less heavy than at home. What struck me most of all was the way the pedestrians crossed the street. There were no marked crossings, only overhead passages consisting of a metal frame to which they clung with all four hands.(10)
Serling’s version, from his final draft of March 1, 1965 described the setting like this:
EXT. CITY STREET – DAY
SERIES OF SHOTS THE TRUCK
as it moves slowly down the street. It passes stores with ape mannequins in the window; chimps and monkeys walking back and forth on the sidewalk; a gorilla policeman directing traffic; past a movie marquee with a large picture in front of two monkeys in a passionate embrace.(11)
As filming approached, however, producers apparently decided that this “technologically advanced ape society” would be too expensive to produce, (12) and that’s when Wilson was brought in—to create a more primitive simian world. In fact, Wilson’s ape-city required the construction of expensive sets at 20th century-Fox’s Mailbu Ranch,(13) while Serling’s version—like Boulle’s—depicted a typical city “peopled” by ape inhabitants and could have been filmed on location in virtually any metropolitan area.
Film producers often hire special writers to “punch up” the dialogue in a script—often without screen credit. This, according to Abrahams, is what happened during the evolution of the Planet script. By 1965, after a year and a half of working on the screenplay for Planet, Serling had submitted his final draft of the screenplay, and was involved in other projects—including development of a new television series, Night Gallery.
…he got busy, and he felt he didn’t want to return. And, I called in Michael Wilson. Michael did a fix on it. But I wasn’t quite satisfied and then I got a third screenplay writer. The third writer was Kelly… I can’t remember his first name, but he did a dialogue polish. But the backbone of the story was Rod’s.(14)
In retrospect, perhaps the producers should have simply left the dialogue alone, because the press-uninformed about who wrote what had a field-day with some of the dialogue uttered by the simian characters on-screen:
Human cliches are constantly rephrased in simian terms… There is even a visual pantomime of the “see-hear-speak no evil” trio…
-The Hollywood Reporter
… it is unfortunate that Wilson and Serling have tossed in so many asides of the “I never met an ape I didn’t like” variety…
-Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
“Human see, human do,” one chimp mutters, while another quotes a fuzzy philosopher who once said, “I never met an ape I didn’t like”… such monkeyshines are unworthy of Serling.
Tribunal stikes a familiar poseIt’s unworthy of Serling because it isn’t Serling; careful examination of his script drafts reveals none of this dialogue—although this material does appear in the film, and most of it can be found in the shooting script credited to Wilson. In fact, there’s one interesting example which was dreamed up by neither of the credited writers. it takes place during a crucial scene from the film mentioned in the review above, where Taylor (Heston) has been given a hearing. As he tries to explain to his captors that he’s come from another planet in a spaceship, the scene cuts to the monkey tribunal-sitting in the classic “see-no-evil, hear-no evil, speak-no-evil” pose. It took Mort Abrahams to explain how it’s possible that this particular bit of Simian “cuteness” doesn’t even appear in Wilson’s shooting script:
Basically, I think it went through four versions with Rod and three or four with Michael … then I called in Kelly and he did two or three drafts, which was, as I say mostly dialogue polish and added a couple notes of humor, and a couple which Frank [Director Franklin Schaffner] and I added on the set, like the “monkey-see-monkey do” and “see-no evil, hear no evil.”(15)
Regardless of what various critics felt about certain aspects of Planet of the Apes, a literature search shows nearly universal acceptance of the’ film’s climactic ending sequence:
It has one of the most chilling endings of recent years.
-Bill Dial, Atlanta Constitution
The ending is a shocker, I warn you.
-Norman Dresser, The Toledo Blade
..It ends smashingly…
-Bernard L. Drew, The Hartford Times
THE ENDINGS, IN ORDER
Prior to 5/15/64 (Serling)
At archeological dig, they find caskets, a human doll which cries “mama?”—and film showing bombs, explosions, etc. Zaius doesn’t want Thomas to take Nova, but he escapes with her and LeFever, and flies home to earth—which is inhabited by apes.
They find the doll and film showing a mushroom cloud—”filmed by U. S. Air Force.” Thomas delivers a long monologue explaining everything, but gorillas in a helicopter try to “assassinate” him. The apes plan to explain everything as a hoax—using a robot resembling Thomas, but a switch is made at the last minute and he escapes in the landing craft with Nova and flies off, as Zaius muses about his future.
Date unknown (Serling)
Similar to above, but there are references to disease (radioactivity). Explosions near the excavation loosens terrain, which reveals the “giant metal arm.” Thomas reads the ship’s computer tapes—then looks at the Big Dipper and realizes he’s “home” (the first appearance of the Statue of Liberty).
They find the doll, then skeletons and a sign reading “Public Air Raid Shelter.” Thomas presents his hypothesis about an atomic holocaust. He escapes, and sees the “arm” loosened by explosions. At his ship, he’s able to read the computer tapes and realizes where he is. As he flies off in a helicopter toward the jungle he spots the Statue of Liberty.
Thomas escapes to his ship with Cornelius and Zira following close behind, and together they discover the “metal arm.” Aircraft engines are heard, and they tell him to escape, but he stares at the arm, finally realizing where he is. The gorillas arrive and shoot him dead. As they carry him away the camera pans to reveal the full Statue of Liberty in the sand.
2/23/65 (Author. unknown, script bound with 20th Century fox cover)
Essentially the same as above, with a few minor dialogue changes at the end.
Zira, Cornelius, and Thomas escape to the excavation. Zaius arrives with the gorillas, and he promises to give in if solid evolutionary evidence is found. They find a human doll which can talk but Zaius goes back on his word, so Thomas escapes on horseback with Nova, and riding up the beach he discovers the Statue of Liberty.
In the film, Taylor—having finally escaped from his captors with his human girlfriend Nova—rides along the beach on horseback. Suddenly, he spots something unusual in the distance:
THE STRANGE FORMATION – AS SEEN BY TAYLOR
An immense column juts from the beach at a thirty-degree angle. We can now see that it is not a rock, but metal. Green metallic tints show through its gray salt-stained surface. As we draw closer, the object takes on the appearance of a massive arm, its top shaped like a hand holding a torch.
REVERSE ANGLE – FAVORING TAYLOR
Frowning with consternation. His horse proceeds at a slow walk.
TRACKING WITH TAYLOR – WHAT HE SEES:
Near the base of the column, where the shore and water meet, are a row of metal spikes. From this angle they look like tank traps.
CLOSER – TAYLOR
Dumfounded, he slides from his saddle, approaches the spikes, Nova dismounts and follows him.
(a cry of agony)
He falls to his knees, buries his head in his hands. CAMERA SLOWLY DRAWS BACK AND UP to a HIGH ANGLE SHOT disclosing what Taylor has found. Half buried in the sand and washed by the waves is the Statue of Liberty.
Fans of Twilight Zone would recognize this sort of “twist-ending” as a trademark of the series, for which Serling had personally written nearly 100 scripts by the time he began working on Planet of the Apes. However, in Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone, biographer Joel Engel attributed the original concept for the ending to Wilson:
Wilson completely rethought the book and… also invented the movie’s surprise ending: finding the head of the Statue of Liberty washed up on the beach, the man discovers he has in fact landed on earth far in the future, after the atomic holocaust.(17)
Abrahams, however, whose responsibility as the film’s associate producer was to secure a workable script, doesn’t remember it that way: “Not true… not true. That was Rod’s ending. I don’t know where he [Engel] got that information from, but it’s not accurate.” (18)
Serling’s authorship of the film’s ending is further strengthened by a Twilight Zone script he wrote in 1959, four years before Boulle’s novel was published. I Shot An Arrow Into the Air he conceived a plot featuring another ill-fated American spaceship which crashes on a planet. Finding themselves in a lifeless, desert-like area, the spacemen begin exploring in pairs, looking for water. One of the crew, named Corey, is an arrogant, self-centered character who develops a habit of returning to the base camp without his partner. Suspicious, Captain Donlin takes him to search for the others and they find Pierson, his head bashed in, with just enough life left to scribble something in the sand. Corey overpowers Donlin and kills him—then scrambles up a small ridge:
EXTREMELY TIGHT TOP HAT SHOT – OF HIS FACE
As his eyes suddenly narrow. He listens to something and then gradually we hear it. It’s the sound of engines.
As he jerks himself upright staring around wildly and then suddenly stops dead, staring down and ahead.
EXTREME ANGLE SHOT – LOOKING AT HIM
From the other side of the mountain, his mouth wide open, his eyes bugged.
Pierson. Pierson, now I know what you meant. Now I know what you were trying to describe.
Telephone poles! Pierson, you were trying to draw a telephone pole!
Now the CAMERA BEGINS A GIANT SWEEP DOWN the other side of the mountain until we’re on a long shot of a four lane concrete highway. A sign in the b.g. reads: “Reno, Nevada, 97 miles.” Beyond that a sign which reads: “Nelson’s Motel just up ahead. Gas-oil-eats.” Then down the highway rolls a big truck and after a few moments in the opposite direction a big, flashy convertible. The CAMERA STAYS on this establishing it for a long moment, then sweeps back up for a long angle shot looking up at Corey who starts to cry and laugh at the same time.
Hey! Oh my dear God!
ZOOM INTO COREY’S FACE
A big, tight blow up as he shouts.
Captain Donlin. Pierson. Hudak.
DIFFERENT ANGLE OF HIM
As he whirls around and all the names die in his throat as we
LONG ANGLE SHOT LOOKING DOWN THE OPPOSITE
At the distant crumpled figures of the two dead men.
MED. CLOSE SHOT – COREY
As he closes his eyes then tears rolling down his cheeks.
Oh my dear God. I know what happened. We never left earth. That’s why nobody tracked us. We never left the Earth. We just… we just crashed back into it.(19)
As Serling developed his screenplay for Planet of the Apes, he crafted numerous endings for the story (see sidebar). In what appears to be his earliest draft of the script, the conclusion follows Boulle’s storyline very closely. Thomas, whose ship did not crash in this version, escapes with Nova and flies home, where he finds his own planet controlled by apes.
Then, in a draft dated May 15, 1964 he adds a completely new plot point—missing from Boulle’s story—which would evolve into the film’s surprise ending. Thomas is taken to a site where ape archeologists have been digging, and together, they discover an old toy human doll. Thomas turns it over, and it says “mama, mama”—providing the story with a new conflict: until now, the planet’s human inhabitants are portrayed in the script as a lower form of life incapable of speech, but this introduces an entirely new twist on the planet’s evolutionary process. Then, in a Serling rewrite dated just five days later, the excavations reveal another shocking piece of historical information when workers uncover an old can of movie film which depicts an explosion and a mushroom cloud. This is the first time the character Thomas realizes that, instead of being light years away, his ship had crashed back to earth:
CLOSE SHOT – THOMAS – SCREEN’S POV
His face is illuminated and distorted by the reflected light. Now the CAMERA ARCS AROUND so that we’re
LOOKING AT THE SCREEN – THOMAS’ POV.:
A TIGHT CLOSE SHOT ON A FROZEN FRAME
partially destroyed, but containing one line which reads, “THIS FILM HAS BEEN PREPARED BY THE ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION. FILMED WITH THE COOPERATION OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE.(20)
This last bit was evidently rejected as being too obvious, but in another draft dated December 17, 1964, Serling introduced the plot point that would evolve into the film’s memorable conclusion. In this script, the apes blow up the archeological site to hide any evidence of their true heritage, and as they fly with Thomas over the site in a helicopter:
AERIAL SHOT – THE DIGGINGS
as sections of earth, loosened by the explosions, begin to shift and move and then sink. This movement takes the form of a running line like an earthquake fault snaking across the ground until it reaches one point and from the earth emerges a GIANT METAL ARM and around it something resembling a kind of IRON PICKET FENCE.
REVERSE ANGLE – LOOKING THROUGH THE GLASS – THOMAS
as he studies this, bewildered by it.(21)
Thomas is taken back to the city, where he steals a helicopter and escapes (without Nova in this version) and returns to the archeological site for one last look:
AERIAL SHOT – THE HELICOPTER
as it roars across the sky. A PAN DOWN FROM it To SEE what Thomas has already seen. Down, below, protruding from the earth, is the giant metal arm surrounded by its iron picket fence. But this time it is caught in the blaze of the morning sun REVEALING it as what it is—the top part of the Statue of Liberty.
as the helicopter heads toward the jungle area beyond. The CAMERA PANS BACK for a:
SHOT – THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
as we take a
SLOW FADE TO BLACK.
From here, many versions of Serling’s script show slight modifications in the ending, all centered around the Statue of Liberty. At one point, apparently frustrated with countless requests for rewrites, he even crafted a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek ending-as shown in Figure 2 (as far as the author has been able to determine, this version was never seen by anyone but Serling himself). Then, in his last take on the ending, dated January 6, 1965, a confrontation occurs between Dr. Zaius and Thomas at the excavation site. Cornelius and Zira-two friendly scientists encourage Thomas to escape, but he’s still intrigued by the same metal “arm” protruding from the ground.
I’m afraid… I’m afraid there’s no place to run to. I’m afraid there’s no place to go… now.
ANOTHER ANGLE OF HIM
as he moves TOWARD THE CAMERA, BRIEFLY OBLITERATING THE SCENE, and then there is a SOUND OF SPORADIC GUNFIRE.
EXTREMELY TIGHT CLOSE SHOT – A PIECE OF GROUND
as Thomas’s body falls in FRONT OF THE LENS to land, face down, in the sand.
ANGLE SHOT – LOOKING UP AT DR. ZAIUS, CORNELIUS AND THEN ZIRA
who stare down at the prostrate, lifeless body.
We’ll take him back now.
A SLOW PAN AWAY FROM the scene UNTIL we are FOCUSING ON the dark side of the metal “arm,” then INTO THE FRAME, PAST the metal “arm,” COME two apes carrying a pole. Hanging from it is the trussed up body of Thomas.
What did he mean… no place to go?
ANOTHER ANGLE – THE APE CARRIERS
as they step into the sunlight. WE FOLLOW THEN walking TOWARD the sunshine, then a SLOW PAN OVER TO the metal “arm” and we see it now for the first time for what it is. Caught in the blaze of the morning sun, this is the top part of the STATUE OF LIBERTY.
SLOW FADE TO BLACK.
This final draft was submitted by Serling to APJAC Productions long before Wilson ever signed onto the project. But, by the time Planet of the Apes opened in theaters three years later, instead of a screen adaptation of Boulle’s thoughtful, provoking drama, the film had been turned into a full-fledged action/adventure. And, although Serling’s final Statue of Liberty ending remained basically intact, Thomas was allowed to live in the film and he escapes with Nova—providing the opportunity for sequels, of which four were eventually produced.
This article was undertaken in an attempt to clarify how Planet of the Apes was transformed from a novel into a screenplay. As far as the film’s ending is concerned, evidence gathered on both coasts over a period of nearly five years leaves little doubt that Rod Serling dreamed up the concept of “a world turned upside-down” by nuclear disaster, and an astronaut-thinking he’s millions of miles from earth-who finds out he never left home.
However, the overall issue of “authorship” is much more complex, since crafting a screen story isn’t a clearly defined process, like writing a novel. In making a motion picture, the all-important story is given birth in the scriptwriter’s first draft, but never stops evolving until the final edit is made on the film itself.
For Planet of the Apes, this has been complicated by the spread of a great deal of misinformation since the film’s release. For example, the title page for the shooting script itself reads: “Screenplay by Michael Wilson … based on Novel by Pierre Boulle” even though the film’s screen credits clearly list the script as being written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling—in that order. Serling’s name is also missing from the Planet script on file at the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.(24) Most of the newspaper accounts used for this study even link Wilson and Serling together as if the two writers worked in a single room, sitting at twin typewriters. In fact, the various writers’ work on the script occurred thousands of miles and many years apart.
Even the actor who would bring life to the script’s protagonist seemed unclear about whose words he would be reading. In Charlton Heston’s personal journal, dated June 7, 1965, he states, “I finished Arthur Jacobs’s script and the novel too. It seems like a marvelously good idea for a film and I’d like to play in it.”(25) But it was Serling’s words that probably sold the project, since his dialogue was used in the film’s screen test (26) shot with Heston and Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius (actually portrayed by Maurice Evans in the film).
Serling’s cinematic interpretation of Pierre Boulle’s story had incorporated the philosophy he had adopted on Twilight Zone, which is still in syndication on hundreds of TV stations around the country. These scripts were based on universal, timeless stories… situations and images that, three decades later “continue to fascinate and burn in the minds of a nation of viewers.” (27) But, the producers of Planet of the Apes apparently felt that Michael Wilson’s treatment, with trendy dialog and a “cartoonish” setting, would be more effective’ in attracting moviegoers in 1968.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know what Serling’s script would have looked like on film. But another remake of the story has been in preproduction since 1995 at 20th Century-Fox, possibly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.(28) Although first reports put Oliver Stone at the helm, Current press links James Cameron to the project, with Schwarzenegger still listed as the possible lead and the Titanic author intending to rewrite the screenplay himself.(29) Perhaps the next incarnation of the film will explore more of the deep social and political issues evident in Pierre Boulle’s original story.
1. The Rod Serling Archive was established in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College in 1989 by Carol Serling, as a private repository of her husband’s creative work and a source for scholarly research; Serling had taught courses in creative writing at Ithaca College—a few miles from the family’s summer home on Cayuga Lake.
2. Pierre Boulle, Translated from French by Xan Fielding, Planet of the Apes (Signet Books: New York, 1963), p. 128.
3. Mort Abrahams, telephone interview, Los Angeles, November 7, 1994.
4. Rod Serling, “Eye of the Beholder,” original teleplay for Twilight Zone (Cayuga Productions, November 11, 1960), p. 1.
5. Ibid., p. 26.
6. Joseph Morgenstern, Newsweek, February 26,1968,p.84.
7. Michael Wilson, Planet of the Apes, from the novel by Pierre Boulle (APJAC Productions, Inc., Shooting Script, May 5, 1967), p. 16.
8. Wilson, p. 54.
9. Clifford A. Ridley, The National Observer; February 26, 1968, p. 20,
10. Boulle, p. 66.
11. Rod Serling, Planet of the Apes—screenplay from the novel by Pierre Boulle, (APJAC Productions, Inc., March 1, 1965), p. 48.
12. Marc Scott Zicree, The Twilight Zone Companion (Bantam Books: New York, December 1982), p. 432.
13. “When the Apes Rule the World,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, February 2 5, 1968, pp. 12-13.
14. Abrahams interview.
16. Wilson, op.cit., p. 121-C.
17. Joel Engel, Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone (Contemporary Books: Chicago 1989), p. 295.
18. Abrahams interview.
19. Rod Serling, “I Shot an Arrow into the Air,” original teleplay for Twilight Zone (Cayuga Productions, January 15, 1960), pp. 21-22.
20. Rod Serling, Planet of the Apes (screenplay, draft May 22, 1964), pp. 102-103.
21. Rod Serling, Planet of the Apes (screenplay, second draft, December 17,1964), p. 125-126.
22. Ibid., p. 140.
23. Rod Serling, Planet of the Apes, (screenplay, revised second draft, January 6, 1965), pp. 146-147.
24. Tire library’s script collection consists exclusively of donated material; their copy of the Planet screenplay was evidently contributed by Wilson himself.
25. Charlton Heston, The Actor’s Life: Journals 1956-1976. Excerpts: http://www. abacus.ghi.com/sci_fi/apes/apeart8.htm. (November 10, 1996), p. 1.
26. Luis E. Fonesca and Mario Silva, ‘Apes Trivia.” http://www.abacus.ghi.com/sci_fi/apes/ apeart6.htm (November 9, 1996), p. 1.
27. Zicree, op.cit., overleaf.
28. Michael Atkinson, “Son of Apes,” Film Comment, Sept-Oct 1995, Boston Herald, February 5, 1968, p. 62.
29. Lawrence Van Gelder, “Footlights, ” The New York Times, January 8, 1998, p. 1-E.
Gordon C. Webb is a retired Assistant Professor in the Television-Radio Department at the Park School of Communications, Ithaca College, where he taught scriptwriting and audio/video production. Recent creative work includes several screenplays and teleplays, and his radio/TV productions have been honored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (C.A.S.E.), the International Radio Festival, the Clio Awards, the Gabriel Awards and the N. Y. State Broadcasters Association.
April 27, 1964
Mr. Arthur Jacobs
20th Century Fox
Beverly Hills, California
I’m sending a copy of this note to Blake. I’ve diddled around with the opening to simplify and take out a great deal of the small talk. You and Blake may both want even deeper cuts into this. I personally felt that the inclusion of at least some lightness might take it off a single level and give us a little relief. But again, this is first draft stuff and not engraved in any kind of rock.
I’ve had occasion now to look over the script in its entirety and I’m not at all satisfied with the last thirty or forty pages. I think the direction is probably right but it’s going to take a great deal of overhaul, tightening and improving.
One thing that does strike me with force is that I think it’s important that we withhold the suspicion on the part of Zaius that there was a prior civilization. I think this should be discovered at the diggings. Zaius may have had an inkling of something based on a prior discovery, but it must be only an inkling. Following this through to a conclusion, it would eliminate the attempted assassination of Thomas right after his appearance in front of the Academy. I think we could utilize this scene for something just as exciting and bizarre, but something that wouldn’t tip the thing as much as this does.
I’ll talk to you both when I get back from Italy.
656 ANOTHER ANGLE – THOMAS 656
The glory of his twelve paragraphs of speech to Cornelius having tired his already somewhat weakened system, he must carry on just a little further.
THOMAS (into microphone)
…Four score and twenty centuries ago, our Forefathers—
(he is suddenly aware of a “clicking” sound at the other end.)
Cornelius? Cornelius, I haven’t finished.
VOICE (at the other end – terribly curt)
For Christ’s sake, you fool! You ran half an hour overtime. I tried to signal you when your three minutes were up. Think you’d listen? Uh uh – not you! And for your information, your Mr. Cornelius ain’t gonna tell no Dr. Zaius nuttin!! You kept him on the line so long he ran outta gas!
(a catch in her voice)
Tsk, tsk, tsk. And he was such a lovable sonofabitch, too.
Thomas slowly replaces the microphone and in the process looks out the side window toward the ground below. Once again he is flying over the diggings and there, protruding from the earth, is the giant metal arm surrounded by its iron picket fence, but this time caught in the blaze of the morning sun REVEALING, atop the giant metal arm, a SUPER COLOSSAL RAISED THIRD FINGER.
Yep. I knew I’d never left home!
657 EXT. SKY 657
as the helicopter veers off and heads toward the back drop to the TUNE of a “patriotic-type” PIECE OF MUSIC (TO BE SUNG BY THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY CHORALE – who are a bunch of Orangutans anyhow) as we
LIKE FADE, MAN!