Hollywood producer Arthur P. Jacobs was tinkering with the idea of remaking the 1933 film King Kong when he came across a memo stating that author Pierre Boulle was writing a novel called Planet of the Apes. Apparently interested in creating an original film starring our simian brethren, Jacobs quickly dropped Kong and moved to meet with Boulle.
That meeting was the inspiration for today’s Lessons Learned where I will show you that monkeying around can teach you a lot about reading human behavior!
Author Pierre Boulle was a spy for the French government working undercover as an engineer in Singapore. After the war, in 1963, Boulle wrote the novel, ‘Planet of the Apes’. Boulle’s first novel, The Bridge on the River Kwai, was released in 1952 and became a smash hit film that won many awards. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs hoped lightning would strike twice and purchased the rights to Boulle’s upcoming novel before Boulle finished writing it! ‘
Directed by Franklin J. Shaffner and produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, the film follows Charlton Heston through a world turned upside down by a presumed nuclear war. Heston, an astronaut, returns to earth after a long voyage only to find that Apes, Chimps, and Orangutans have learned to walk upright, speak, and are in charge and running things their way. Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and incredible performances by actors Maurice Evans and James Whitmore allow you to forget you are watching actors in masks. Monkeys and apes portraying their human counterparts with great aplomb.
Enter Rod Serling.
After Jacobs bought the film rights for the book, he asked longtime friend and science fiction kook Rod Serling to write the screenplay. Serling spent over a year creating up to forty drafts of a script to bring Pierre Boulle’s novel to the screen. Jacobs knew of Serling’s work. Rod Serling had written each and every episode of the Twilight Zone television series. One episode stuck out to Jacobs as hauntingly familiar. It was the 1960 episode “People are alike all over” in which Earth astronauts land on Mars not knowing what type of life they will find there. Once on the ground, they encounter what appear to be humans ‘just like us’. In fact, the astronauts discover in the fourth act that their benefactors aren’t fully human, but a race of uber-intelligent Martians who capture the astronauts and place them in cages in an interplanetary zoo, showing them off as “Earth creatures in their native habitat”.
If you’ve read any of my previous Lessons Learned stories, you’ll now note a common theme. We find ourselves again in that magic place called Hollywood where artists are judged on their art and the innovation of a concept or script isn’t considered plagiarism, rather a ‘reimagining’. Rod Serling’s work on this particular Twilight Zone episode was based on Paul Fairman’s novel ‘Brother’s from beyond the void’ which appeared in the 1952 episode of the magazine Fantastic Adventures.
Behavior identification through sustained observation.
Sometimes it’s a specific gesture, other times a gait.
My V.P. of Operations, Brian Marren, mentions the links between recognition, pattern recognition, and identity whenever we are conducting long-range enhanced optics. We’ll be watching a Ville from a clandestine hide site hundreds of meters away, too far away to hear the actors or detect any facial features, kinesic cues, even skin color. All of the role players will be wearing basic street clothes that would allow them to “blend in” to any community anywhere in the world. No “giveaways” to who they might, only the roles they are portraying hinting at what role they play in the environment in which they are acting.
Remember, to keep our training ‘on the cheap’, we enlist half the class as role players while the others observe and then switch when we have achieved a level of proficiency. It used to be called ‘shirts and skins’ but that term is likely deemed politically incorrect now and I don’t want to be put on some literary “watch list”. Marren will ask one of the students about a specific role player, “Without using your optics, tell me about the male character in the dark shirt standing at the bus stop”.
The course attendee will answer, “That’s ‘so-and-so’, (mentioning the role player by name) he works nights at our place.” Marren will then press further, “How do you know? You can’t even make them out at this distance.” To which this course attendee like many before will go into a list of traits that they saw displayed by the role player which defined them. Their lumbering walk, how they swing their hands, a tic or ‘tell’ in the way that they stand.
I’ve seen Marren pull the same trick with courses for years. He does so to illustrate that much of how we identify others occurs through pattern recognition of individualized traits that we often don’t consider, those that can help us identify a specific human from a crowd at much greater distances than we could have ever imagined.
Try it yourself and you will be amazed at how well you can identify your friends and family members at great distances because of those seemingly insignificant movements, motions, and physical traits that ultimately define them.
Homophily and Isopraxism in action.
I talk about homophily and Isopraxism often. Let me make sure I offer an adequate street definition to ensure you understand what I mean.
Isopraxism is when we unknowingly emulate, act, dress, speak like and sometimes adopt the customs, beliefs, and mannerisms of the people we admire most.
Homophily on the other hand is the psychological necessity to be attracted to our actively seek out to those who are similar to themselves.
You can see that they are closely linked. I use them to help define Proxemics and Atmospherics. Let me give you an example.
During rehearsal and immediately following the rehearsal while filming of Planet of the Apes, all actors and extras were required to wear their masks and stay in costume. The make-up effects were so intricate that the reset time was too prohibitive and costly. The actors and extras were forced to drink liquified meals through straws. The masks and costumes were heavy and hot. Dehydration was a constant concern. During this arduous shoot, an amazing bit of homophily shined through. While it was always common for actors to sit with actors and extras to sit with extras during meal breaks, there were no additional implied or posted restrictions.
Yet what occurred was amazing. Gorillas sat with gorillas, orangutans with orangutans, and the chimps with the chimps even though there had been no directions to do so!
Birds of a feather flock together.
We are inextricably drawn to those personalities, teams, people, or factions which look like us, act like us, or exhibit our own traits rather than being drawn to groups, camps, or persons who look different or exhibit a dissimilar or diverse tribe, set, cell or implied set of values.
Remember, that’s not inherent racism or hidden bias, that is a hard-wired survival tool meant to keep “early man” safe and out of trouble when maneuvering around a potentially hostile environment.
Including Isopraxism into your assessment can add rigor as isopraxist mannerisms further define likely roles within a group, many times indicting a hierarchy of control.
John Chambers is responsible for the amazing masks and appliances used by the actors and extras in the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. He never directed those actors and extras to sit by their species. Hie did however have a list of rules to keep their makeup and prosthetic effects from being damaged. Smokers (of which there were many in the US in the 1960s) had to use cigarette holders to navigate their nasty habits without lighting themselves on fire or destroying their masks and make-up. Actors and extras were required to routinely check themselves in large mirrors placed around the set and break areas in order for them to ensure that they hadn’t altered their masks or ruined their make-up while eating, drinking, or heading for a bathroom break.
Amazing advancements in make-up effects.
These extraordinary make-up effects I speak of came from the mind and hands of John Chambers. Chambers had used similar make-up ‘special effects’ to help disfigured veterans blend back into American society after they had endured life-altering, permanent physical damage during World War II. In addition to his skill of recreating human faces and appendages, Chambers spent hours at the local zoo each week watching how apes and chimps moved. He wanted to capture the essence of their motions and interactions.
Chambers’ artistic effects were so realistic he was rewarded by Hollywood for his efforts. Make-up effects weren’t recognized as a category for the Academy Awards until 1981, yet Chambers received an honorary Oscar for his work on Planet of the Apes. In true Hollyweird fashion, when Chambers received his special, honorary Oscar it was presented by actor Walter Matthau and a chimpanzee wearing a tuxedo.
Still lost in this space.
Lost in Space (the television series) came on just after I arrived home from school as a kid. I’d walk in, drop my backpack, and get to work on my homework plopped down in front of the huge, 24-inch tube console television with a black and white screen. If I turned the rabbit ears (rooftop antennas) just right I could watch Lost in Space with limited snow and interference. The episode I saw in the fall of 1968 was transformative. It was called ‘Fugitives in Space’. Dr. Zachary Smith (stowaway flight surgeon and saboteur played by actor Jonathan Harris) and astronaut copilot of the Jupiter II Major Don West (played by actor Mark Goddard) were captured, mistaken for escaped convicts and placed on a prison planet with prisoner ‘Creech’ who is working on a violent escape plot.
Creech is played by TV actor Michael Conrad, known to most television purists as Sergeant Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues. Sgt. Phil Esterhaus would end each roll call with, “Let’s be careful out there”. A veteran actor, Conrad appeared in countless television shows with a career spanning over 20 years until he died too young from urethral cancer.
Conrad was such a fan favorite on Hill Street that the writers added his death into the show in November of 1983. In this episode, he wore a ‘monkey-alien’ costume that was so realistic I had to have my Dad explain to me how it was possible. How could this talking space monkey actually be a human in costume? Dad did his South Hamtramck Institute of Technology (good old S.H.I.T) best to explain that it was just an actor in make-up. Conrad’s acting chops coupled with Chambers masks and make-up effects had me completely mesmerized.
In another M-theory moment (unifying all consistent versions of the physics superstring theory) connecting Lost in Space to Planet of the Apes, the torch from the Statue of Liberty which appears at the end of that film appears in the background of the Lost in Space episode “Junkyard in space” from 1968.
Mistake of fact and mission creep.
The set decoration of Planet of the Apes was simple, yet compelling. The ape village was fashioned after the works of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí’s architecture can be found in Cappadocia, Turkey in an area called the Göreme Valley. If you look up a photo online you will be amazed at how it was fully captured to portray ape village.
This observation allows for another brief distraction. You and I know that there are many bits (and bytes and terabytes) of misinformation on the internet. One piece of horseshit is linked directly to the Planet of the Apes film and the ape village. Gaudí’s name is pronounced like American sportscaster Curt Gowdy, famous for years of broadcasting but perhaps immortalized for being cut off by the film Heidi while he was narrating Super Bowl I in 1968.
The story online relates that because Gaudí’s buildings and designs were so GAUDY (pronounced Gaw-dee) that he is the reason for the modern term ‘gaudy’ which has come to mean tasteless or showy. That would be a fantastic definition had the term gaudy not been used in numerous references from the 1600s until today. Gaudy was used when people added bright and flashy stones on their rosary beads. They were criticized for this practice as it was viewed as an affront to the Lord. The stones were ‘gaudy’ stones and henceforth the term stuck.
One should also be aware of ‘mission creep’ when researching facts. Facts – even fake ones – soon become part of the memory of an incident. This is referred to in our business as ‘creating a corrupt file folder’ for an event. Sometimes we unknowingly allow pop culture to insinuate particular facts into our memory that weren’t present in the original. For example, one of my longtime favorite TV shows is ‘The Simpson’s’. In 1996 they did an episode which included a spoof on Planet of the Apes. The episode, named “A fish called Selma” has fictional actor Troy McClure starring in a play based on the film where he portrays Charlton Heston playing astronaut ‘Taylor’ who has been captured during an escape attempt.
In the fictional musical, McClure, voiced by the late Phil Hartman, sings that he “Hates every ape he sees, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z”. While second only to the ‘Doctor Zaius’ number, it’s great for a protracted laugh. The line that Hartman spoofs is where, in the film, Heston snarls, “Get your hands off of me you damned dirty ape”. Heston’s character never says that he hates the monks, but the author of the Simpson’s piece added some comic flavor of his own.
First, understand that this was a pivotal film. Big screen actors in a film about monkeys where almost every key role and all the extras wearing masks! The concept worked. This original film spawned additional films a television show and numerous promotional items (I had a Planet of the Apes lunchbox!). The film, co-written by Michael Wilson, made 34 million dollars on a 6-million-dollar budget.
Next, when Ingrid Bergman saw the Planet of the Apes film at its theatrical release in 1968, she turned to her daughter Isabella Rossellini and stated that she immediately regretted turning down the role of the chimp scientist Dr. Zira, which then went to actress Kim Hunter. Bergman said that the role would have given her the opportunity to act without relying on her looks.
Bergman had discovered that it was her talent that defined her. Sure, most folks could pick her out from a trade magazine photo, or recognize her from an upcoming film poster, but what truly set Ingrid Bergman apart from her competition was how she moved, sat, walked, talked, displayed her emotions through her motion and emotion.
That’s the real tale of the tape here. How you act is more important than how you look. Sure, it’s easy when you are up close and personal, but the true human behavior purists can wield their skill at great distances and draw reasonable conclusions on the identity of another human using bona fide artifacts and evidence by pattern-recognizing their unique human behavior traits.
The final story from the film that will help illustrate today’s Lessons Learned comes from actor Roddy McDowall. McDowall related chastising some of the actors and extras who, while on set were acting in what he remembered as a juvenile fashion. After being schooled verbally, they told Roddy to ‘chill’. “How much serious acting could they pull off wearing a rubber mask and monkey make-up?”, they asked.
McDowall’s answer was, ‘Plenty’.
He enlisted the aid of fellow actors Hunter, Evans, and Whitmore, staging part-task training events during breaks, encouraging the actors to embrace their thespian nature. Imploring each of them to define themselves in their roles by adding peculiar gaits, personalized stances, exaggerating how they scratched or hunched over when they walked.
Roddy McDowall told them that each of these peculiarities, tics, and nuances would set them apart from the other actors who may look alike, but certainly wouldn’t act alike. He said that their BEHAVIOR would enrich their roles.
Both Bergman and McDowall were right. Planet of the Apes and its film, television, and print progeny have garnered numerous awards and staggering monetary returns over the years, helping me prove the point that human behavior pattern recognition can help you determine the idiosyncrasies of a fellow human during the analysis stage.
Training changes behavior.