Linda Harrison (actress)
July 26, 1945 |
|Other names||Augusta Summerland|
|Spouse(s)||Richard D. Zanuck (1969–1978)|
|Children||Harrison Richard Zanuck
(b. 23 February 1971)
Dean Francis Zanuck
(b. 11 August 1972)
Linda Harrison is an American actress famous for her role as Charlton Heston's mute mate Nova in the classic 1968 science fiction film Planet of the Apes and the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. She was the second wife of legendary film producer Richard D. Zanuck; her youngest son is producer Dean Zanuck.
Linda Melson Harrison was born July 26, 1945, in Berlin, Maryland. She was the third of five daughters of Isaac Burbage Harrison (1907-1989), a nurseryman, and his wife, Ida Virginia Melson (1914-2010), a beautician. The Harrisons, like Linda's maternal Melson ancestors, were long-established residents of the Delmarva region. According to Ancestry.com, the Melsons emigrated from Yorkshire to Virginia in the mid-17th century. Harrison's paternal grandfather, Joseph G. Harrison, and Joseph's older brother, Orlando Harrison (Mayor of Berlin 1900-1910 and 1916-1918 and senator from Maryland), established J.G. Harrison & Sons Nurseries, which were, at one time, the largest fruit tree nursery business in America, employing some five hundred workers. The Harrison Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park campus, which Harrison attended briefly, was named for her paternal great-uncle, Senator Orlando Harrison.
"I knew she'd be a star when she was only five," Ida Harrison told an interviewer in 1969. Mrs Harrison, who described her middle daughter as "a little ham", enrolled her in ballet and acrobatics classes at age five. By age six, Harrison was performing on stage, and liking it. She attended Berlin's Buckingham Elementary School, where her mother and her older sisters Kay and Gloria had gone, and younger twin sisters Jane and Joan would go. In 1956, when she was eleven, Harrison's acrobatic performance earned her first prize in the Delmarva Chicken Festival Talent Contest. Six years later, at the same festival, Harrison won the "Miss Delmarva" beauty contest. By the time she entered Berlin's Stephen Decatur High School, Harrison had become a skilled acrobatic dancer. Harrison also dreamed of becoming an actress and a star.
It was Harrison's plan to become an actress by entering and winning beauty contests, then travel to California to be seen and noticed. When she was in her teens, Harrison worked summers as a waitress at Phillips Crab House in Ocean City, Maryland; she was dating the son of the restaurant's owners when she flew to California for the Miss American beauty contest. From time to time, she appeared as a narrator on local TV programs carried over Baltimore TV station WMAR. Harrison essayed her first dramatic role while attending Stephen Decatur High School, that of "Connie Fuller" in the senior class production of the 1940 Kaufman/Hart play George Washington Slept Here. On Saturday, 19 May 1962, William Hockersmith crowned her Miss Berlin at the Miss Berlin Beauty Pageant, which was held at the high school. A month later, Harrison represented her home town at the Delmarva Chicken Festival beauty contest.
After graduating from high school, Harrison enrolled for a summer term at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a secretarial school in Baltimore, but found it uninspiring. When her oldest sister, Kay, graduated from college and headed for New York, Harrison went with her, with $250 and their mother's credit card. Several years later, Harrison would lament her "admittedly deficient formal education" to an interviewer, saying that she "missed a great deal because I didn't finish school."
In New York, Kay and Linda shared an apartment and their mother Ida's credit card. Harrison scored some success as a model, but she disliked New York and was homesick for Berlin. Less than a year later, she returned home; following her plan to become an actress by winning beauty contests, she entered the 1964 Miss Delmarva beauty pageant as Miss Berlin, and won. Harrison followed her 1964 win by entering the Miss Maryland beauty pageant, a preliminary event to the Miss American pageant, itself the final preliminary event to the Miss International contest, which would be held in Long Beach, California, in mid-June 1965. Harrison won the contest over nineteen other girls; that June, as Miss Maryland, she flew to California for the Miss American contest. She thought the trip would last for two weeks, and, bidding farewell to her boyfriend, planned to return home after she was crowned Miss American. But she was first-runner up, not the winner. Harrison was "devasted", and so deeply disappointed over losing the contest that she wept bitterly. Nevertheless, her striking good looks and hourglass figure gained the notice of Mike Medavoy, then an agent at the General Artist Corporation. "You ought to be in pictures," Medavoy told her.
Shortly after she lost the Miss American contest, Medavoy obtained a "personality test" for her at 20th Century Fox. No acting was involved; Harrison answered questions directed to her from off-camera, while speaking into the camera on various subjects. The test earned her Fox's standard 60-day option agreement, scheduled to expire in November 1965. During her 60-day option period, Harrison studied with Fox acting coach, Pamela Danova. In October 1965, prior to the expiry of her option, Fox assigned Harrison as the date of studio attorney Harry E. Sokolov for the premiere of The Agony and the Ecstasy. She was selected as Sokolov's date because "Harry was from Baltimore." Sokolov was also chief executive assistant to Fox's Vice President in Charge of Production, Richard D. Zanuck. Harrison was excited, because it was her first premiere, and because the film co-starred Charlton Heston, who had been her idol since she had seen Ben-Hur. At the post-premiere party, which she attended with her studio-assigned date, Harrison was thrilled to meet her longtime idol, Charlton Heston, with whom she would soon co-star in Planet of the Apes. Harrison also met Sokolov's boss, Richard Zanuck, when she was seated with her date at the studio chief's table. Zanuck, Harrison said later, was immediately "smitten" and fell "madly in love" with her, and she with him. "That was during the 60-day period that I started dating Richard, and then I was signed to a seven-year contract." Harrison's acting career, as well as her life, became inextricably intertwined with their subsequent relationship.
Linda Harrison met Richard Zanuck at The Agony and the Ecstasy premiere in October 1965, toward the end of her sixty-day option period. In November 1965, Harrison was signed to Fox's standard seven-year contract and placed in the studio's “Talent Training School”. Although Harrison told interviewers that Zanuck had created the school so "he could keep an eye on me,", the school was a former Fox institution which Zanuck had revived to train aspiring talented young actors and actresses under contract to Fox; the student roster included, besides Harrison, Jacqueline Bisset, James Brolin, Tom Selleck, and Edy Williams. Under coaches Pamela Danova and Curt Conway, Harrison attended drama classes, speech classes, fencing classes, dance and body movement classes, and lectures by veterans actors, actresses, directors, writers, publicity agents, and teachers on how lucky they were to have been selected for Fox's Talent Training School. In addition to her strenuous round of classes, Harrison worked with a speech coach to eradicate her Eastern Maryland accent.
Harrison's first assignment under her new Fox contract was as a "Biker Chick" in Men Against Evil, a TV pilot which became the TV series Felony Squad. Dressed in what she described as a "racy motorcycle outfit," Harrison's sole line was "Go, man, go!" (Three years later, Harrison co-starred as Felony Squad star Dennis Cole's love interest in the NBC TV series Bracken's World.) Harrison's next assignment was in the campy Batman TV series; she appeared briefly as one of three high school cheerleaders in the Batman episodes The Joker Goes to School and He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul, which aired in early March 1966. To prepare Harrison for her few seconds onscreen, her Fox dance coach worked Harrison and her fellow cheerleaders early in the morning and on through the day. Linda, a former high school cheerleader, complained, "You're going to use up all my energy, so when the shot comes, I won't have any." Her coach complained that "Linda Harrison gave me a hard time." After the brief late afternoon shot, Harrison's overworked leg muscles failed on her way home, and Richard Zanuck had to carry her upstairs to their Wilshire-Westwood apartment.
All during this period, Dick was telling me about this fabulous book called Planet of the Apes and that it was going to make a great movie. He said, "I want 'you to play the ape, Dr. Zira.
On 8 March 1966, immediately after her brief appearance on Batman, Harrison was filmed in ape makeup for a proposed film version of Pierre Boulle's satirical novel, Monkey Planet, later released as Planet of the Apes. Richard Zanuck had financed the test in order to show Fox's money men that, despite all doubts to the contrary, the Planet of the Apes project was feasible.ref name=apesrevisit/> The test, written by Rod Serling and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, starred Harrison's idol, Charlton Heston, and Edward G. Robinson as Heston's nemesis, Dr Zaius. Harrison appeared as Zira, the role ultimately played by Kim Hunter, while Harrison's Talent School classmate fellow contract actor, James Brolin, took on Roddy McDowall's role of Cornelius.ref name=apesrevisit/>
"I think they always had me in mind for Nova. But they needed someone to do the screen test, and you keep trying to employ
your actors. So. I did the screen test. The part that was hard for me was actually doing the mask,where they put all that
plaster on your face and you have to lie there still for a long time. Fortunately, I was an acrobat growing up, and a very
very good one — I won a lot of contests — so I knew how to control my body and be 'quiet.' You had to do that, you had to
be very still and lay there and be a "good patient." A young actor will do anything to get their mug on the screen!
I remember that the makeup process took about three hours. I had to lay back and be perfectly still as they put this
plaster mold on my face. After seeing the test, everyone was very enthusiastic about going ahead with making Planet of
the Apes. But they felt the makeup needed a little more work and perfecting before it would look good on screen."
Though the ape make-up test was considered successful, the studio rejected the project again. Meanwhile, in May 1966, Harrison made her big screen debut as one of several "Treasure Hunters" in The Fat Spy. The dismal low-budget comedy might have been permanently forgotten had it not been distinguished in a 2004 documentary as one of The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. Harrison's next big screen outing was in the Jerry Lewis comedy Way...Way Out; she played half of a husband-wife astronaut team on the verge of divorce. She appeared early in the film, arguing furiously, in her still-uneradicated Down Eastern accent, with her onscreen husband and off-screen Talent School classmate, James Brolin, with whom she had appeared in the Planet of the Apes makeup test. Harrison then stormed out, and the film continued without her.
After Way...Way Out, Harrison appeared in a four-minute test segment entitled Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?, created by Batman producer William Dozier, which was supposed to engender interest in a Wonder Woman pilot and an eventual TV series. Harrison played a glamorous mirror image of Wonder Woman, which existed only in the imagination of the homely Diana Prince character, played by Ellie Wood Walker (Robert Walker Jr.'s wife). The Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? segment failed to engender any interest in a Wonder Woman pilot, although Lynda Carter had great success in the role eight years later. Harrison next appeared as Carl Reiner's blonde-wigged young inamorata in A Guide for the Married Man, a bedroom comedy about marital infidelity directed by Gene Kelly and starring Walter Matthau, Robert Morse, and Inger Stevens. Harrison described her vignette with Carl Reiner as "fun" because it took her "all over the world. I was in limousines and on a donkey and on a camel." In addition to speaking one line of dialogue, she wore several costumes for her five-minute globe-trotting adventure, including an elaborate sequinned bikini, a diaphanous negligee, and a fiery red sarong.
Planet of the Apes
Although Linda Harrison would later say that the producers had always had her in mind for the role of Nova, their first choices for the role were, in fact, famed Bond girl Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch, or Angelique Pettyjohn, the drill-thrall from the original Star Trek episode Gamesters of Trikselion. Andress proved indifferent, however, and both Welch and Pettyjohn were unavailable, or uninterested. Filming was to commence in May 1967, but as late as 17 April Charlton Heston noted in his diary that, "The casting problem's really Nova: who will do it, and how naked can she be. The tests I saw were not good." Zanuck asked producers Arthur P. Jacobs and Mort Abrahams if they would test Harrison. "[Dick] did it very nicely," Abrahams said.
"He said, 'I'd like you to consider Linda.' Linda was in the acting school that was on the lot at that point and about four or
five times a year the students did little scenes live on a soundstage and the producers and directors on the lot were invited
to attend. So I'd seen her act and I said to Dick, 'We will be glad to meet with Linda,' and [director] Frank[lin Schaffner] and
I would chat with her and talk about the part but that she would be treated like an actress, not as an affiliation with anybody
else. And he said, 'That's the way it has to be.' And we did and we thought she was fine."
In the 1998 AMC documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, Harrison said,
"I thought about animal instincts, the way [Nova] would move and the way she would react would be more the way an animal
would react, more from fear. It seemed to be what the director wanted."
After her test, Harrison was hired to play the role for which she would forever after be known. Harrison, Mort Abrahams said, was
"delighted to get it, because she'd only done little tiny bit parts in a couple of pictures before that. I was pleasantly surprised
by her. She called me one day and asked if she could bring her sister along with her onto location. I said, 'Sure, of course, no
problem.' And I was delighted because she was going out with the head of the studio. She could have been the biggest pain in the
ass alive. And I would be in a terribly awkward position if she started with the limousines and the special means and whatever
the hell it is--or complaining about whatever. But never a peep out of her. Most pleasant, most charming, very cooperative, very
hard-working. She was always there half an hour before her call and she always stayed on for a half hour just in case. Interested
in everything that went on, and was a total joy. I couldn't ask for a more coooperative actor."
Planet of the Apes commenced filming on 21 May 1967 and ended 10th August 1967. The first scenes were shot on locations near Page, Arizona. Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River stood in for the Forbidden Zone, through which Taylor, Zira, Cornelius, and Harrison's Nova fled after escaping from Ape City. Harrison, who had the company of her oldest sister Kay on location with her, found working in the desert "beautiful", and marveled "how they move an entire production, like a little mini-town, and set up.".
I don't know if people viewed me differently because I was Richard Zanuck's girlfriend. I was so delighted and grateful
to be in this picture that I probably never saw the negative side as much. I just didn't. I remember one piece of advice
Dick gave me: He said, 'You go to work on time and listen to your director and do your job. And I don't want to hear any
complaints about you!' I had to be even more careful and nice because I was his girlfriend."
Charlton Heston noted in his diary on 16 June 1967 that "Linda H. has problems, but Frank's keeping her nearly immobile in her scenes, which works." Harrison noted that as Heston knew it was her "first big picture", he took it upon himself to coach her. Harrison was admittedly still "camera-shy"., so Heston "taught me to favour the camera. Don't look right into it. Look off to the side, don't look too far, you know, not to turn my head this way. And he would say turn it just here. Don't go all the way back. And he held my hand for a lot of things."Their off-screen relationship tended to reflect their on-screen relationship. Heston, Harrison said,
"had a quiet quality about him and was very courteous with me. He encouraged me to favor the camera. I was a newcomer in many
ways -- which may have helped my character. I'm sure Heston had his doubts about me; however, he never showed them. He treated
me more like a child than an adult and not much was discussed between us, in character or out. When you idolize someone like I
did, you tend to submit rather than assert yourself. Again, this worked in our roles and the relationship between us, as Taylor and
Nova. Heston was terrific to work with and so helpful and such a gentleman.
As the "rookie" on the set, Harrison was helped by the veteran actors:
"Everybody that was involved in it, they all realized I was a neophyte, I was like 21 years old so they kind of
took me under their wing, since I hadn't done acting that much."
"She was a lovely girl and so pretty, such a lovely figure and consumed with the work. I also remember her in relation to the
Valium I used to take to relax because of the makeup. She asked what my strength was. It was five milligrams, or whatever, and
she said, 'Oh, my God, that little? I never go to sleep without ten at least.' I do remember that conversation." 
At one point, it was decided that Nova was pregnant, and scenes were filmed around the Page locations revealing Nova's pregnancy. In the penultimate drafts of Planet of the Apes, Taylor was killed by the bullet of an ape sniper while Nova, pregnant with Taylor's child, escaped and vanished into the Forbidden Zone. Nova's pregnancy was deleted from the film, according to screenwriter Michael Wilson, "at the insistence of a high-echelon Fox executive who found it distasteful. Why? I suppose that, if one defines the mute Nova as merely "humanoid" and not actually human, it would mean that Taylor had committed sodomy."  It was also decided that Nova's pregnancy would detract from the film's ending. In any case, all Harrison's scenes with Heston and Hunter in the sequence of Nova's pregnancy were cut. "There's probably a great deal of footage of it somewhere." 
After filming in the desert concluded, production moved to Malibu Creek State Park, northwest of Los Angeles, on Las Virgenes Road off Mulholland Highway, where the 20th Century Fox's Malibu Ranch was located. Ape City was built on the ranch, and a field of corn grown, by which Heston first encounters Harrison. "It was stinking hot," Harrison recalled. "The scenes of us in cages were also shot at Ape City." From the Malibu Ranch, production moved to the coast, where the penultimate scenes were shot between Malibu and Oxnard. The iconic ending was filmed in a secluded cove on the far eastern end of Westward Beach, between Zuma Beach and Point Dume. Harrison's character was the sole human to Taylor's outburst on the beach, then looks up at the ruined Statue of Liberty without comprehending what has caused her mate's grief.
Harrison's favourite scenes were shot at the coast. She "thought that was kind of neat. And then jumping on his horse and riding with him and he turned around and I smiled. And we were going off to wherever -- was out there. And that would have been a great way to start -- well, they sort of started the next one that way."
In later years, Harrison said was conscious of the film's socio-political undertones:
"We were the flower children. We were the baby boomers. We were at war. We were changing and making transitions.
What was seeping through people's consciousness in that era was a fear of Russia and a fear of the bomb...It revealed
what a lot of us were feeling but couldn’t talk about, and that was the race issue."
Planet of the Apes premiered in February 1968. The film was a hit upon its release, as well as a critical and commercial success. In the opening credits, Harrison was billed under the tag "introducing Linda Harrison"; although she had appeared in three previous films. Zanuck wanted to draw attention to Harrison because he felt the role would catapult her to stardom. Harrison impressed audiences with her hourglass figure, long dark hair, and large brown eyes, which, in the absence of spoken dialogue, did most of her acting, though she some critics were unimpressed. Renata Adler of the New York Times dismissed Harrison as “Heston's Neanderthal flower girl. She wiggles her hips when she wants to say something." The success of Planet of the Apes spawned four mostly forgettable sequels, an animated cartoon series, a live-action TV series, a "reboot" by Tim Burton, and two sequels to the "reboot". Heston and Harrison appeared in the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Three decades later, Harrison had a brief cameo in the 2001 "reboot", which also featured Heston. None of the sequels, reboots, TV series, lived up to the 1968 original, which remains a classic of filmed science fiction.
On 27 August 1998, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a 30th anniversary screening of Planet of the Apes. Harrison attended, along with Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and John Chambers. In 2001, the Library of Congress deemed the original Planet of the Apes "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
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- The Fat Spy
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- Planet of the Apes (1968)
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- The Legend of the Planet of the Apes by Brian Pendreigh (reprinted in 'Night & Day' (2001))
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