Friday, November 20, 2015

Page 103: Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes is another #MonkeyReference in The Billionth Monkey. This is my shocked face. Yes, I know that apes are not monkeys...but they’re both primates. I freely and knowingly exercised creative license here. Nevertheless, obvious though it may be, the reference is far from being a throwaway. It’s actually kind of important to Niels Belanger's backstory.

We’re talking old-school here: the original series of five films, not the recent reboots and remakes.

Back on page 50 of The Billionth Monkey, we learn that hanging in Belanger’s office is a photograph of actor and photographer Roddy McDowall (1928–1998), signed to Belanger’s mother, Diane. The implication is that Belanger's mother has passed, and that the photo hangs in Belanger’s office as a keepsake. (Her name comes from my older sister Diahann, who died in the 1990s...far too young.)

McDowall began as a child actor in films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), My Friend Flicka (1943) and Lassie Come Home (1943), and appeared in a long string of movies before being cast—some might say typecast—in his defining role as Cornelius in Planet of the Apes (1968). He would go on to appear in the successful franchise’s sequels, portraying the characters Cornelius (Escape from the Planet of the Apes, 1971) Caesar (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, 1972, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973), and Galen in the short-lived Planet of the Apes TV series (1974).

Despite appearing in over 150 movies, ironically enough it is his work on the Planet of the Apes movies—in which his itchy prosthetics prevented him from eating, touching his face, or emoting very much—for which he is best known.

He died of lung cancer in 1998, and in December of that year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named its photo archive in his honor: the Roddy McDowall Photograph Archive at the Margaret Herrick Library.

This cast photo from the Planet of the Apes TV series (1974; source: Wikimedia Commons)
shows Roddy McDowall in his role as Galen. I still have my childhood action figures from this show.
However, not until page 103 do we learn the real significance of the signed Roddy McDowall photo in Belanger’s office. His parents were big fans of American television and movies, and Diane was fond enough of Roddy McDowall that she not only managed to get a personally signed photo of the actor, but she named her son after the character for which he is best known.

This is where I tantalize you by saying this wasn’t the only reason I picked the name “Niels.” For that you have to wait until the blog gets to page 174. Or you can read that page yourself and get a pretty good idea.

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