GO­ING APE!

In the 1970s Ape Ma­nia con­quered the planet. Brian Heiler re­mem­bers the boom in mon­key merch, from the cool to the lu­di­crous…

SFX - - Planet of the Apes Merchandise -

It may sur­prise modern film fans to know that when the orig­i­nal Planet Of The Apes de­buted in 1968 there were no stacks of mer­chan­dise or fast-food tie-ins that are now the stock-in-trade of blockbuster genre movies.

Ape-crazy kids had to be sat­is­fied with a se­ries of trad­ing cards, a pa­per­back novel tie-in and a sound­track of the film’s score. It would take un­til the film earned a se­quel for a comic book adap­ta­tion to ex­ist. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, the fran­chise would change the way film prop­er­ties were mer­chan­dised.

In the 1960s film was con­sid­ered a risky propo­si­tion for toy mak­ers. This had been ce­mented in 1967 by Doc­tor Dolit­tle, a flop pro­duced by Arthur P Ja­cobs – iron­i­cally the same man who pro­duced Apes – that left many a li­cen­sor with un­sold prod­uct.

In fact, it wouldn’t be un­til the Apes movie fran­chise had breathed its last at the box of­fice that high TV rat­ings for the ear­lier films in­di­cated there might be mer­chan­dis­ing gold in the For­bid­den Zone.

The fran­chise’s small-screen suc­cess in­spired CBS to com­mis­sion a weekly Apes se­ries for the fall of 1974. Sens­ing po­ten­tial profit, Fox be­gan an all-out blitz on the toy, gar­ment and hobby in­dus­try.

Ad­dar mod­els was one of the first on the scene with a se­ries of plas­tic model kits based on the Apes li­cence. This caught the at­ten­tion of a young toy ex­ec­u­tive named Vin­cent Baiera, who no­ticed the kits sell­ing well at a lo­cal hobby shop. Cru­cially, he men­tioned this at the place he worked – a toy com­pany called Mego.

Mego, rid­ing high on the suc­cess of licensing the DC and Mar­vel su­per­heroes, was anx­ious for an­other hit and the com­pany’s pres­i­dent, Martin Abrams, was quick to notice that his own son was also a huge Planet Of The Apes fan. Mego quickly out­bid ri­val toy maker Azrak Hamway In­ter­na­tional for the rights to pro­duce ac­tion fig­ures, ve­hi­cles and play sets for the Apes li­cence.

The Mego method­ol­ogy of reusing the same ac­tion fig­ure body made them in­cred­i­bly re­ac­tive and they were able to have Apes toys on the shelves in early 1974. Their first five ac­tion fig­ures craftily re­cy­cled ac­ces­sories such as boots, belts and play sets from pre­vi­ous toys.

While Azrak Hamway didn’t get the ac­tion fig­ure rights, they were awarded sev­eral other cat­e­gories such as wa­ter pis­tols, wind-ups and

a ter­rific amount of non­sen­si­cal items, such as mo­tor­cy­cles and heli­copters. Other toy man­u­fac­tur­ers chas­ing a piece of

Apes ac­tion in­cluded Mil­ton Bradley (board games), Mar­vel (comics and a monthly magazine), Peter Pan records, GAF (View­mas­ters of the se­ries pi­lot), Color­forms, Mat­tel (for a ma­chine gun and ape mask combo), Don Post stu­dios (rub­ber masks) and Ben Cooper (Hal­loween cos­tumes). Just about ev­ery prod­uct a child could want or imag­ine was given a simian makeover and the mer­chan­dis­ing spread be­yond the US to Bri­tain, Italy, Spain, Mex­ico, Aus­tralia and Ja­pan. It was a truly global phe­nom­e­non.

Ape Ma­nia came to a grind­ing halt with the can­cel­la­tion of the TV se­ries in late 1974. A car­toon se­ries de­buted on NBC in the au­tumn of 1975 and would help clear out much of the re­main­ing un­sold Apes mer­chan­dise.

While Ape Ma­nia was a brief phe­nom­e­non dur­ing this time, it left a tremen­dous mark on pop culture and is still widely col­lected to this day. You can’t help but feel that this global blitz per­haps made an im­pres­sion on a young Ge­orge Lu­cas, who ne­go­ti­ated the mer­chan­dise rights for Star Wars away from 20th Cen­tury Fox – the Apes li­cence holder, who should have known bet­ter. A film that when it opened had very lit­tle mer­chan­dise, save for a se­ries of trad­ing cards, a pa­per­back tie-in and a sound­track of the score…

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