Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Planet of the Apes Craze Remembered

It was fifty years ago today that the movie Planet of the Apes premiered at the Capitol in New York City. I plan to do a more in-depth post on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its wide release (April 3), but today I would like to take a moment to remember the Planet of the Apes craze of the mid-Seventies.

Upon its initial release in 1968 Planet of the Apes proved to be a huge success. It made $32,589,624 at the box office and was the 9th highest grossing film for the year. Such success was not lost on 20th Century Fox, and as a result it would be followed by four sequels: 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). Each film made less than the one before it, so that in 1973 it looked like Battle for the Planet of the Apes would be the last in the franchise. As it turned out, however, the franchise's brightest days were actually ahead.

Quite simply, on September 14 1973 CBS showed Planet of the Apes on the CBS Friday Night Movie. It was followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes on October 26 and Escape from the Planet of the Apes on November 16. The Planet of the Apes movies achieved very high ratings for CBS. They also created a Planet of the Apes craze, five years after the first movie was released. Quite simply, there would be more Planet of the Apes merchandise available than had been when the movies were still being made. In 1974 20th Century Fox would even release all five movies to theatres, so that cinemas could show them back to back. Posters for the movies featured the tagline, "20th Century Fox wants you to...Go Ape!"

In 1974 Marvel Comics (under the Curtis Magazines imprint) began a black and white comic magazine titled Plant of the Apes. The magazine featured both adaptations of the movies as well as original stories. It ran until 1977 for 28 issues. It was followed in 1975  by a more traditional, colour comic book titled Adventures on the Planet of the Apes. Adventures on the Planet of the Apes adapted the first two movies and ran for eleven issues, from October 1975 to December 1976.

It was also in 1974 that Mego Corporation started a line of Planet of the Apes action figures, which proved to be one of their most popular lines. The first year included figures of the Planet of the Apes figures Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, a gorilla soldier, and an astronaut. In 1975 they issued figures based on the Planet of the Apes TV series (more on that in a bit), which included Galen, Alan Virdon, Peter Burke, General Urko, and General Ursus. The Apes Craze would come to an end, and Mego issued no new Planet of the Apes figures after 1975.

There would also be a wide array of other merchandise in addition to comic books and action figures. In 1974 ADDAR Plastics Co. issued a series of models based on Planet of the Apes. The models included figure kits of such characters as Caesar, Cornelius, Dr. Zira, and Dr. Zaius, as well as such kits as the Jail Wagon and the Tree House. Power Records issued book-and-record sets based on Planet of the Apes. There were such diverse Planet of the Apes items on store shelves in the mid-Seventies as Halloween costumes from Ben Cooper, masks by Don Post Studios, a plastic cup, a sub-machine gun by Mattel, and so on. Topps, who had issued trading cards based on Planet of the Apes (1968) in 1968, issued a series of cards based on the Planet of the Apes TV show.

Among the best remembered products of the Planet of the Apes craze was a short-lived, live action TV series. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had conceived of a Planet of the Apes TV series as early as 1971, thinking that Conquest of the Planet of the Apes would be the last film in the series. As it turned out, there would be one more film (Battle of the Planet of the Apes). Unfortunately, Arthur P. Jacobs died on June 27 1973. That did not mean that there would not be a Planet of the Apes TV series. With the success of the Planet of the Apes movies on CBS, CBS and 20th Century Fox then went forward with a TV show based on the films. The TV series Planet of the Apes debuted on September 13 1974. Unfortunately, it met with low ratings. It ended its run on December 20 1974 after 14 episodes.

The 1974 Planet of the Apes series would not be the last TV show based on the movies. In 1975 a Saturday morning cartoon based on the films debuted. Return to the Planet of the Apes differed from the movies in that the apes had 20th Century technology, not unlike Pierre Boulle's original novel. The apes had cars, movies, television sets, and so on. Return to the Planet of the Apes did not prove successful, ending after thirteen episodes. With the Planet of the Apes craze coming to an end, Return to Planet of the Apes would be the last new Planet of the Apes material with the exception of comic books published in the Nineties by Malibu Comics until Tim Burton's re-imagining of Planet of the Apes in 2001.

In all the Planet of the Apes craze lasted only from about 1973 to 1975, with Marvel's black and white magazine ending its run in 1977. That having been said, the craze would have a lasting impact. Quite simply, it introduced the Planet of the Apes to many youngsters who were too young to see the first movie when it came out in 1968. This would in turn insure the continuing popularity of the franchise. While Planet of the Apes merchandise would not remain on store shelves past about 1976, the movies would continue to be shown frequently on television, sometimes back to back. The revival series that began in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes owes a good deal to the Planet of the Apes craze of the Seventies.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

You put the impact of the "Apes" into perspective for me. Sometimes you simply accept something as is, and that's me with the monkeys (as my collector sister calls them).