Sunday, August 14, 2011

Merchandise on the Planet of the Apes, Part One

Karen: The Planet of the Apes films not only produced a short-lived TV series and an equally short-lived cartoon show, but a huge amount of merchandise as well. POTA is right up there with the original Star Trek TV show in my mind for overall depth of merchandise in the 70s.

Karen: Let's take a look at the various items available to the dedicated Apes fan back in the day:

Karen: Every single movie was novelized, and of course, there was the origina
l novel by Pierre Boulle (which got updated with a movie cover). I had all of these books when they came out but sadly somewhere along the way got rid of them. There were also novelizations of some of the TV episodes.

Doug: I read the Boulle novel, with the very cover you see to the right! I recall checking it out at our local library in Milwaukee. My intent was to devour it, but I cannot express my disappointment when I got into it a bit and the apes were driving cars! I was pretty Apes-crazy at the time, and was not up for anything disparaging (in my mind) what I'd come to know from the films. As a child, I really had no idea that this novel was the source material; I assumed that it was somehow an extension of the films, and the author was taking sacrilegious liberties with my Apes! I suppose I should give it a re-read all these years later. I'd probably appreciate it more.

Karen: Of course, well known in these parts was the comic magazine published by Marvel from 1974-1977, titled "Planet of the Apes." This black and white magazine featured comic book adaptations of all five films, as well as original stories by Marvel staff. On top of all this there were articles and photographs from the movies and TV series. It was an Ape fan's dream.

Doug: One of the regrets of my comics-buying life is that I didn't own more of the B&W magazines. Yet, at the time they seemed so grown-up and even risque' that I don't think my mom would have shelled out the buck or two. And, as a parent now, that was most likely the right choice for a 7-8-year old kid. But to see those books today... And the Apes mags in particular were just beautiful.


Karen: I remember building a lot of plastic model kits in the 70s. Although I guess the heyday of the hobby was probably in the 60s, with all the g
reat Aurora model kits, it was still pretty popular in the 70s. The Apes had a spot here too, with a line of kits from a company called Addar. As far as I know, there were six kits, which featured Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, Caesar, General Aldo, and General Ursus. These were pretty cool kits, which included not only figures but some scenery; the Zaius kit, for example, include the bomb launching 'altar' from "Beneath the Planet of the Apes." I had that kit, as well as the two generals and Cornelius. They looked great next to my AMT Mr. Spock and Aurora Hulk and Spider-Man!

Doug: I know I had the Spidey model, and I'm pretty sure I had another. I don't believe I had an Apes model. And hey -- you know what always bummed me out about models? I could never paint them like the photos on the box! So it was generally a less-than-satisfying experience.

Action Figures:
Karen: Is there anyone who is unaware of the Mego Apes figures? I think these were the single most popular Apes merchandise. I was only aware of the figures based on the movies, which included Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, the Gorilla Soldier, and 'the Astronaut'. It was only recently that I discovered that Mego had also made figures based on characters from the TV show. There were also accessories and playsets. All I had though was three figures: Cornelius, Zira, and the Gorilla.

Doug: Ah, here is where I had mucho Apes! Back in the days of blow-apart Megos (held together with elastic, rather than the later use of heavy rubber bands), I had the astronaut in his blue jumpsuit. Along the way I also had Cornelius (or was it Galen? -- same figure, if I recall), Generals Urko and Ursus, and maybe a soldier gorilla.
I believe I also had Dr. Zaius, and once the TV show came out I had Verdon and Burke. I also had the treehouse playset. These figures were exceptional, and provided fodder for many cross-universe adventures once I brought in my superhero Megos for some scrapping!


Karen: There were so many other types of Apes toys out there that we can't name them all in a blog post. But I will throw out a few that I had and loved. One was the Color Forms POTA set. Yes, bright primary colors for the apes, and an Ape City background. This was
what we did before we had video games -we made little scenes and told stories.

Doug: Man, time clouds the memory. If I didn't have the Colorforms set, I must have had a friend who did. I remember playing with them somewhere...

Karen: There was also the POTA board game, which I think my brother played with me grudgingly once. It was reminiscent of the old "Mousetrap" game, as you had to build a cage out of the cardboard pieces included and capture your opponents but I have no idea how the gameplay worked. Again, it was colorful and had apes on it. That was good enough for me.

Karen: I was able to live out all my most oppressive fantasies as a gorilla soldier thanks to Mattel's ape rifle and mask set. That mask was like a typical Halloween costume mask, with only a front and an elastic string to hold it on your head. The rifle made a nice loud crack when you pulled the trigger. Don Post studios put out some very nice over the head Apes masks but I never had any of them.

Karen: To start my day I had a plastic bowl and mug set, which I recall had the glaring face of General Ursus -or was it Urko? - on it. It was the perfect companion to watching the Apes cartoon on Saturday mornings.

Karen: There are many many more items, but these are some of the ones we recall fondly. We'd love to hear from any other Ape-maniacs. Next time, we'll discuss some of the modern toys and items available.


david_b said...

Great topic, one of which everyone here will certainly chime in on.

Yes, if there was a post-Batman and pre-Star Wars juggernaut for merchandising, it was POTA. I recall, just before the TV series premiering around summer of '74, searching for ANYTHING with Apes connected to it, even bubble gum cards, was great.

When I first started seeing the Mego POTA offering, I couldn't believe how nice the figures and packaging looked. Back then, you didn't really have a lot of choices, 'cept for cheap dimestore bendy figures or something. Wow, 'Real Fur' on their sleeves.., or at least it seemed like it. I vividly recall not being able to decide between getting a few Ape figs or the first issue of Mego superheroes, since I know my mom would only buy me one or two (ended up not getting any..). It was great when I finally picked up a vintage Mego Galen and Burke a few years back. And yes, Galen was the same figure as Cornelius, just repackaged.

It was certainly a phenonimal boon for Mego at that time. Just starting off after being fairly successful with 'Action Jackson', to buy up the licensing for both Trek and POTA for what I heard was pretty fair/cheap pricing; prior to Star Wars, no one in the industry really knew just how lucrative the sales would be.. Little did they know, nearly every kid both here and overseas soon figured out they HAD to have these.

As for selling toy rifles, it was the pinnacle for Ape merchandising madness ~ Apparently the story was, some factory had hundreds of thousands of these cheap dimestore rifles sitting around collecting dust (the anti-war days, remember) until some licensed company creatively decided to slap a POTA sticker on 'em, and sell them with an Apes mask on Ape packaging and charge premium prices. Jeez, they flew out of stores faster than they could be stocked.

You can stop over at '' and see a nice listing of all those cheap AHI racktoys.. My favs are Zaius on a motorcycle, or the sky-diving Ape soldiers.., sold next to the Commander Koenig skydivers, no doubt. Way too funny, but trying to buy them off eBay MIB is not for the timid..

If I recall from reading, POTA merchandising died down a few months or so after the live series stopped showing, when youthful attentions turned towards bionic men and a runaway moon, but 'whaaaat a ride it was..' for Apes fans.

dbutler16 said...

I think I had an action figure, but the one thing I remember quite well is the comic book + record for Escape From the Planet of the Apes. I loved that you could listen to the record while reading along.

pete doree said...

Our local flea market sold knock-off Apes masks. They were heavy duty plastic, and the jaw moved when you talked, so actually pretty good for cheap knock-offs. My cousin, only this week, reminded me of the time I crept into his room wearing it and scared the beejesus outta him!
Also remember having the novel of 'Conquest' and reading it till it fell apart, years before I actually got to see the movie.

Richard Guion said...

I was crazy about everything Ape and bought all the Marvel black and white magazines. The first year or so, with Mike Ploog on Terror on the POTA was awesome. They also great articles on the CBS TV show and interviews with all the stars.

I was also disappointed when Boulle's original novel had no resemblance to the first movie. I remember reading the novelization to Battle of the POTA, the last movie, before it came out

BrittReid said...

There were four novels by George Alec Effinger based on the live-action series scripts and three by "William Arrow" (William Rostler who wrote two and Donald Pfeil who wrote one) from the animated series scripts.
None of these were new stories based on the shows.
Oddly, the animated series novelizations used photos of ape actors from the live-action movies and tv series on their covers!

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