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Going Ape

My friend Charles and I recently decided to stage a Planet of the Apes­ viewing marathon. We set aside a whole day, but weenies that we are, we only had the stamina for two of the five original films—can you imagine? Back in '75, my father and I made it through the whole lot, back to back—and in the theater, with no brisk walks around the block or spoonsful of hazelnut butter to sustain us.

Two movies last week were enough, nonetheless, to flood me with nostalgia. As a child I had a complete set of PotA action figures, and now I rue the day I let them go. It occurred to me that such things can probably be had on Ebay—indeed, that PotA action figures are probably the very reason God made Ebay—and so, after Charles went home, boxed set under one arm, I jumped on line to see what I could find. There they were, with their inexplicably Latinate names: Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, Colonel Ursus: the original 1969 figures, starting at $499.99. Or one can purchase a turn-­of­-the-­millennium, 30th-­anniverary commemorative ape for just under ten bucks.

Dare I say this aloud? By any standard except that of Earnest Collector, the recent knockoffs kick the originals' hairy butts. Action figures have apparently come a long way over the decades. I hazarded a guess that they pre­dated my own self, as an invention, by not all that long, and research confirmed this guess. If you define an action figure as a toy figurine of an adult male character, then the first of them hit the market in 1961. Macho men, brace yourselves: the first action figure was the Ken Doll. Safe to say he didn't get a lot of action, though—Barbie was pretty straight­laced in the 60s, don't you think?—so really these playthings didn't take off as a genre sui generis until G.I. Joe appeared in 1964 (which makes Joe and I exactly the same age), and didn't explode in popularity until Star Wars figures started coming out in the late 70s.

At any rate, the early PotA apes are crudely made. Their colors are garish; their facial features do not even pretend to resemble those of the individuals they represent; and I am pretty sure they are not fully posable. I don't remember them being so unappealing, but at some point in the last 30 years I obviously upgraded my own memory of them. Memory is scheming that way.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find no Ziras among the apes for sale on Ebay. Zira is by far the smartest of any primate in PotA; she gets all the best lines; and she is essentially the only female protagonist in the series (Charlton Heston's girlfriend, Nova, is just a prop for male fantasy: entirely mute and clad in an animal­ skin bikini). The Ziras from both eras of PotA toymaking have been snapped up. I'm still thinking I might have to have some of the others, though, the ones from 1999. From '69, not so much. My false lying nostalgia is not worth the additional $489. Anyway, part of what you pay for with those earlier items is the fact that they come in their original boxes. And what would be the good of that? Then you couldn't play with them!

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