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Frames of Time...

028_04 - My first Hollywood movie set was full of damned dirty apes!

After moving to California, I was quickly enriched in the classic Hollywood tradition of location shooting. We had moved to Irvine, California. I was in my junior year of High School at the new University High. (I was a member of the first graduating class.)

It was in the Spring and somehow I discovered that one of the PLANET OF THE APES movies was filming at the new University of California at Irvine. The University's futuristic buildings and layouts were a popular spot for science fiction films and TV shows of the 1970s, especially since the University was only around an hour South of Hollywood.

I told my parents about the filming, and asked if I might skip half a day of school to watch the filming. Both mom and dad said, "of course." In fact, they drove me to the shoot for the next three days! They stated, I could go to school for the next several years, but "how often can you watch a movie being made." Again, we were new to California.

So for the next few days I hung with the Apes on the set of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. For those unfamiliar with the series, this film takes place before THE PLANET OF THE APES and is when the Apes basically take over the planet. UCI was being used for a big scene where Caesar (Roddy McDowall) causes a riot. He then escapes by climbing up the building. In true Hollywood fashion, the climb up the wall, which took three days to shoot, was not in the final film!

For a young fan, it was heaven. The actors (almost all in Ape masks) and the crew were as friendly as could be. They chatted with me, showed me how the equipment worked, pointed out the script pages they were doing that day and more. None worried that I clicked away with my camera and shot 8mm film. (Somewhere in my vast storeroom should be that 8mm footage of the lost scaling of the building.)

The thing I learned most was that making movies took a lot of time. I remember them setting up a shot. Someone would then call "Action!" For a few minutes there would be a great scrambling of Apes. Then someone would call "Cut!" The apes would then take seats around the set and sit... and sit... and sit. Sometimes they would only have three or four takes a day! Hence instead of a lot of action shots, my photos feature apes reading books, apes drinking sodas (with straws so as not to disturb make-up and masks), apes doing crossword puzzles, apes eating (again, very carefully so as not to ruin their faces), and even apes cutting up (the extras had fun hamming it up in front of youngster with a camera).

I also got a photo of Roddy McDowall's chair. I had arrived one day too late to actually see him. He had done his bit and left. The rest of scenes were either Roddy-less, or, like the climb up the building, stunt apes.

By the final day, a number of apes new me by name. Sadly, I never saw their faces, so had to have them tell me their names each day. We'd chat about things going on in film and school. It was fun hearing them mention other bit parts they had done and being able to recognize the movie or TV show. They even brought me a lunch. (I wasn't allowed to eat at the table not being a cast member.) Almost all the folks I got to know thought my folks were pretty "neat" to let me cut classes to hang around "a bunch of apes." I certainly agreed.

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