In 1963, Arthur P. Jacobs, a former Hollywood publicist turned film producer, was looking for something special as his next project – “the next King Kong”, in fact. When a French literary agent handed him a copy of “Bridge on the River Kwai” author Pierre Boulle’s latest book “La Planete des Singes” (or “The Monkey Planet”) – the tale of a planet where apes are the dominant species and men are hunted as animals and kept in zoos. And so a five film franchise was born, which also spawned two TV series, one of them a Saturday morning cartoon!
Armed with the rights to the book, Jacobs went about presenting the idea now re-christened “Planet of the Apes” to various movie studios, armed with several pre-production drawings and a script by Twilight Zone legend Rod Serling. Jacobs went to work, but no studio would bite, the expense and that it would look ridiculous on screen being the main barriers for the project to hurdle before a greenlight was given.
Directors Lee J. Thompson (The Guns of Navarone) and Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) at various times wanted to direct the project. Stars such as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Rock Hudson had all been attached at one stage to star, but the film languished in development hell.
Then along came Charlton Heston.
Arthur Jacobs approached Heston with his idea for the film; intrigued, Heston said yes, even though at the time Jacobs had no deal with a studio.
Jacobs and Heston managed to get Edward G. Robinson to co-star as Heston’s screen nemesis Dr Zaius, and director Franklin Schaffner, with whom Heston had made The War Lord, was interested in directing. With this nucleus attached to the project, they then approached the then head of Twentieth Century Fox, Richard Zanuck, who authorised the making of a test film to show the board at Fox the viability of project, there being some doubt that the make-up needed for the actors portraying the apes would be effective.
The test was successful, but still Fox had doubts. But Arthur Jacobs was prepared, pulling one more trick from up his sleeve, he asked Zanuck to look at the box office receipts of the then in-release Fox science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, he asked if this film had ‘legs’ at the box office weeks after release, would Fox greenlight Apes?Fantastic Voyage was a certified hit, and the greenlight was given!