New York street at MGM has a new look. It’s apocalyptic!
“Planet of the Apes” is going to be a high budget show, and lots of money being spent means lots of potential fun for me! What kid doesn’t like this stuff? Once again, a story I enjoyed on the big-screen has now become something very real that I can be part of.
These type of sets are massive, with tons of people involved–it takes an army of technicians to film an army of apes!
My dad successfully secured passes for me and a guest to watch filming, so there’s no need for me to hide on this shoot! It will take two weeks to film the pilot episode, then a “hold” will be placed on the set until the ratings come in, so please watch!
Jimmy is the lucky friend I choose to be my guest, and our host is stand-by set painter named Glen. On our first morning he’s very busy, clearly being pulled in several different directions at once. Fortunately, we know the place better than he does and can entertain ourselves.
Our invitation to the set includes two meals and unlimited craft service, and we sample everything–fruit loops, bagels, and breakfast burritos. I especially enjoy the perk of having endless chocolate milk.
It’s not long before Roddy McDowall walks by us in a bath robe, already in ape make-up and on his way to wardrobe.
Roddy’s daily transformation. He always made an effort to greet young fans.
As Jimmy and I take it all in, we can’t help but notice the MGM security guards who know us well. It’s only a matter of time before we run afoul of Bronco Bob or Big George, and I expect some explaining will be in order. “Sorry fellas! We walked in the front gate, here’s our pass!”
From what I can glean about the story-line, apes are currently on the warpath against humans. They’re led by “Urko,” the top ape sporting a tall leather helmet that makes him especially intimidating.
He and many other apes will be on horseback, so horses tied up everywhere on New York street, each with a gun harnessed to their saddle. Of course, these equestrian thespians need to rehearse too, so trainers and stuntmen have commandeered an alley where they can put the animals through the motions.
Unlike Roddy MacDowall, who arrives before sunup owing to the long hours he has to spend in the makeup chair, most of the actors wear ape masks that can be slipped on and off. It’s amazing just to hang out among all these Hollywood gorillas casually eating, smoking, and talking SAG. Who knew that apes were union!
Well, this Rolling Stones song sums up this set…
Elsewhere on the set, the stunts and effects departments are working hand-in-hand on a gag where an earthquake causes a sidewalk to collapse into a subway tunnel. In the aftermath, a human and an ape find themselves trapped underground and in desperate need of rescue. This, it appears, will be the complex scene of the day.
Finally, the first scene is up! Mounted apes race through various New York street intersections. We’ve been given strict orders that there are to be no pictures on this set, but I brought a little Kodak “Instamatic” just in case…
I watch intently as the special effects department sets up a rifle that fires “squibs.” These are capsules of blasting putty that create the appearance of a bullet strike on impact. Using these can be dangerous, so the close supervision of effects and stunt departments is obligatory, and stars are replaced by stunt doubles where possible.
Concerned that we get the best view of the action scenes, Jimmy and I decide to watch from the rooftop directly above the soon-to-collapse sidewalk. This effect is ready to rumble.
Directly below us we can see Roddy McDowall (pictured) smoking a cigarette in his blue robe. We’re close enough that the smoke blows into our building, and I snap a couple pictures, keeping in mind that I’ve only got twelve on the roll.
Above photo: My pals, The Sullivans are here, in this building looking out windows. All told, there are about 10 trespassers inside here.
Jimmy spots Gerald across the street on another rooftop. Soon we realize, every kid on our street seems to be either in a window or on a rooftop. We wave and signal like a network. They’re all trespassing except us. Not today. I’ve got a backstage pass suckers!
A countdown begins as the director anxiously speaks into his megaphone “Three, two, one…ACTION!”
Dust flies, fake stones crumble and fall, taking with them an ape and a human destined to wind up in the bowels of the subway. This scene was perfectly executed and, after some quick “pick up” shots, crew lunch is called.
Now back at street level, Jimmy and I linger around camera and the directors chair area while the rest of the crew moves toward catering. Urko slips off his massive leather helmet and ape hand gloves and leaves them sitting in his chair as he joins the others.
There’s no one else around, so. . . I decide to try on Urko’s helmet. Followed by his hands and gloves. And to complete the ensemble, I grab one of the single-bolt rifles that are laying around. All decked out in Urko’s outfit (pictured below), I think I look pretty sharp!
All I need now is a horse!
Before I can requisition one, however, we’re interrupted. Coming around the corner and staring directly at us is none other than Bronco Bob! He’s on foot, and very probably wondering why we are not taking off.
He heads straight for us, but I speak first. “Hold on Bob! we are guests on this set today.”
Here I am, MGM’s “most wanted,” sitting in a director’s chair, dressed in full ape regalia, telling Bob in his flimsy little security outfit to back off. You could almost see the steam coming off Bob’s bald head!
(Urko’s helmet and gloves pictured here are the same I was wearing when I encountered Bronco Bob Coleman of MGM security.)
I can tell Bob wants to rip up my pass. He makes a face like the one Sergeant Carter gives Gomer Pyle when he’s angry!
The spitting image of Security Guard Bronco Bob!
And with that, lunch is served!
Ok Bob, we get it!…could that be me inside this mask?
It’s why Bob came over here in the first place: to eat! As we relax and chow down, we observe Bob going to many different tables and talking to many different people. At one of those tables is the director, Arnold Laven. Bob gets his attention, then starts angrily pointing at us.
We can’t hear what Bob’s saying exactly, but the intention is clear. He wants us out of here! Not two seconds later he bee-lines to our table with a satisfied grin on his face.
“You two are outta here!”
“Can we finish eating please?” I protest.
“No! You’re coming with me. The director has revoked your pass.”
Ain’t that some shit? I’d say we’ve been good as gold. There are a dozen legitimate trespassers on the property right now and Bob busts the only ones who have a pass! As we reach the main gate on Overland, Bob cracks it open and says “Get outta here!”
“Good luck jerk” I reply. “And you better get a paddy wagon for all the trespassers in there right now. You don’t have time to waste eating fatso!”
Jimmy and I walk away, but not any farther than our own gate around the corner. Ten seconds later we’re right back inside the lot.
We cautiously approach catering, knowing Bob may be headed here also. We grab trays and load up with gourmet food, indulging in the seemingly endless offerings. With plastic trays and pockets overflowing, we head to our Boystown fort.
For now we’ll go back to how we normally operate at the backlot: secretly and stealthily. After all, there is still tons of filming ahead!
More pix snapped on the sly.
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…