Classic Hollywood #95 – Planet of the Apes, Maurice Evans – Dr. Zaius

Planet of the Apes Star Maurice Evans Talks About Playing Dr. Zaius

Maurice Evans getting finishing make-up touches for Planet of the Apes photo Keystone
The Most Challenging Operation In History

The biggest and most challenging makeup operation in the history of Hollywood is currently underway for a new film called “Planet of the Apes”. One hundred artists and laboratory men have been given the job of turning out a cast of ape-like beings who inhabit another planet.

Faces of the apes are especially difficult to make since they must be pliable and able to express emotion. Experiments have been going on for a year to be ready for the commencement of the $5-million production.

The makeup substance is made partly of foam rubber and allows the actors to sweat without effecting their grotesque looks. Makeup men start on the cast as early as 4 o’clock in the morning to be ready for filming.

Story of the film is about astronaut Charlton Heston who lands on the weird planet peopled by sophisticated apes. Chief ape is played by Maurice Evans. – photo Keystone Press Agency 1967

The original choice to play Dr. Zaius was not Maurice Evans, but Edward G. Robinson. Supposedly Robinson could not bear the grueling makeup regimen and bowed out before filming began.

According to John Chambers, head makeup man for Planet of the Apes it took three and a half hours to turn a man into an ape. When the shooting schedule was filled with ape scenes, there were as many as 70 makeup men and dozens of assistants working in a single day to apply makeup. After a day’s shooting it took another hour and a half to remove the makeup for each actor.

For the only time in his career, Charlton Heston, the main star of Planet of the Apes, made a screen test. Before Heston took the part he had concerns about realism. “I was worried whether I could act and react with apes – and whether the audience would accept shots of a man talking with an ape.” Heston explained, “So we made a test with Edward G. Robinson in ape makeup and me talking to him, and we showed it around. We found the public would accept it.”

Here is that test.

Maurice Evans Gets A Memorable Role

Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans (1901-1989) was signed to replace Robinson in May 1967 as the orangutan Dr. Zaius, Minister of Science and also Chief Defender of the Faith. The cast was quickly rounded out by the signings of Kim Hunter as Zira and Roddy McDowell as Cornelius, playing two sympathetic chimpanzee scientists.  Filming began on May 22, 1967 and a closed set was maintained to keep the plot hush hush.

The film opened in New York February 14, 1968 to mostly critical and popular acclaim. The Christian Science Monitor ‘s critic Louise Sweeney was an exception writing “the film’s premise is really a one line joke.”

Co-star Kim Hunter said Maurice Evans never complained about the long time needed for makeup. Before Planet of the Apes was released, Evans didn’t attend a special screening of the film.”When I didn’t turn up they all thought it was because I couldn’t bear to see myself as a monkey. But it was a miserable complaint called lumbago,” Evans said.

But Evans relished playing Dr. Zaius and enjoyed his participation immensely. “People ask how it feels to be playing an animal, an ape. Well this particular ape happens to be a very articulate and worldly fellow, a leader of simian politics and religion,” Evans said.  “The main challenge of the role is to get people to suspend their disbelief and accept the fact that an orangutan actually can be cultured and intelligent. Considering some human politicians active on the world scene today, one wonders if apes might not even exceed them in intellect!”

“Perhaps,” Evans continued, “it is wise to ask humans why they are so vain as to imagine they are the only creature’s in God’s universe with the power to reason.”

Maurice Evans appeared on the stage and screen for nearly 60 years. Yet it is the role of Dr. Zaius that insures he will be remembered, even though Evans’ face cannot be seen under layers of makeup,


Evans told Newsday’s Leo Seligsohn, “It was an extraordinary experience because (of) the ape masks we were required to wear. It was darned uncomfortable, but after a while you’d forget you had it on. We all ate our lunch with chopsticks and straws.”

“The greatest fear was catching a cold.” Evans mused, “How could we wipe our noses?”

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