A note from writer Ron Magid

August 28, 2001

Hi Brian,

I was saddened to learn of the passing of the great John Chambers. Back
in October of last year, I was commissioned by Total Movie magazine to
select the top ten effects films of the pre-digital era. Naturally,
Planet of the Apes was at the top of my list, along with 2001: A Space
Odyssey, Rob Bottin's The Thing and Rick Baker's American Werewolf in

Mr. Chambers was one of the last people I contacted for the article ? it
was just too daunting at first. I mean, this man was "responsible" for
inspiring me to turn all of my high school pals into Apes ? which
eventually made me an ideal candidate to write about makeup and special
effects.  You could say John Chambers made me who I am today ? for better
or worse.

I screwed up my courage and eventually contacted Mr. Chambers through the
Motion Picture Televison Fund (home). We arranged a time in early November, 2000,
and with tape recorder and friend Eric Greene in tow, I braced myself to
meet the great man. I was at first taken aback to find him in a
wheelchair as a result of a stroke which left him partially paralyzed on
his left side, but his humor and enthusiasm were undiminished. After
insisting that we call him John, we spent the next several hours roaring
with laughter as the makeup maestro regaled us with stories of his glory
days at 20th Century Fox. Despite his physical afflictions, he had lost
none of his edge - or his humor - his eyes twinkled as he spoke. Then
John began telling us about how he first came to be involved with the
film that would change his life ? and ours - Planet of the Apes.

Listening to John, I was struck by the many ways he literally reinvented
the art of movie makeup with Apes
  ? and showed that it could be done convincingly on a mass scale. John
developed new materials, including foam latex and matte adhesive, and
groundbreaking techniques, such as pre-painting makeup appliances, all of
which are still employed today. And John Chambers' beautifully stylized
ape makeups enabled actors Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Maurice Evans
to not only communicate everything they’re thinking and feeling, but also
allowed them to remain recognizable beneath their simian features.

That was a magic afternoon, one of the greatest I've enjoyed in a career
filled with many great meetings with the remarkable men who created the
cinema's most fantastic images. I hope the following will enable you and
our fellow Apes enthusiasts to experience some of the excitement - and
genuine Irish blarney - of hearing John Chambers speak about his work.


Ron Magid

JOHN CHAMBERS: I went to work for [makeup department head] Ben Nye in the
laboratory at 20th Century Fox. I wasn't hired for Apes, but when Ben
heard the first ideas, he said, “God! This is going to be a big
picture.”  I said, “Well, how much is the makeup going to cost?”
“Anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000!” To him, that was a big picture. Here
we had to make all kinds of apes! So I said, “You think it’s going to
only cost that? It’s going to cost an awful lot more.” Ben called another
guy over, “Listen to what he’s saying! He’s going to find out how cheap
we can make ‘em!” I mean, we spent over a million dollars! It wasn’t just
the creation of the makeup, but the techniques, and the numbers of

After a few months, Ben said, “You’re starting to go into this now,
heavy. It’ll be huge. I’m quittin’!” He thought it would give him a
stroke, so he left. Even though he didn’t work on the film, I demanded
that he got credit.

I wanted some apes to study, but I couldn’t get any. I wasn’t there long
enough to know who I could bypass and go to, but when I told [art
director] Bill Creber, “I need a few monkeys in here,” he brought me real
chimps! Then [I worked my designs out by] making models over actors' face
casts. I tried to make the early makeups more like the animals, but “no
go.” We didn't delve into too many creatures. At first, we did gorillas,
then chimps, and so on, and it worried the producer, Arthur P. Jacobs,
and his assistant, Mort Abrams, who I called “Frick ‘n Frack”! It was
always a lost cause getting any idea, right or not, from them. They
wanted certain things, and I’d give them certain things, but it wasn't
the way they really wanted it. It was a “Frick ‘n Frack” situation!

I just didn’t want audiences to laugh at me, and my contention was since
we were making speaking apes, that’s an evolutionary step, so I could
take the transformation a bit further and show them going towards the
human. I tried to keep close to the actor's face. I tried to make
characters out of them, exaggerating certain areas but still keeping most
of their looks by really bringing it back to their face. Well, I think
Apes has had a lot of wear, but people like it. It’s like cowboy movies.
They don’t grow old. It’s still going - until the next one comes out.

After Planet opened, I got a call from Jacobs that Stanley Kubrick wanted
to know who stole his apes!? I told Jacobs, “You know, his film? I would
be embarrassed to have anything I did in it! Tell him, 'Kiss my Irish…!'”


JOHN CHAMBERS TRIBUTE (Hollywood Reporter August 2001)
By Ron Magid

One would have to look back almost to the silent era and early talkies, to Lon
Chaney Sr. and Jack P. Pierce, to find a makeup artist who cast as long a
shadow and influenced as many as John Chambers, the man best remembered for
creating the simian visages that made Planet of the Apes an enduring classic.
The big-hearted Chambers was a brilliant craftsman and innovator, and gave
many in the field their start. "He was my mentor," noted a tearful Tom Burman,
an Oscar nominated and Emmy winning makeup artist who first apprenticed with,
then partnered with Chambers (along with his brother Ellis Burman Jr.) on the
Wolper series, Primal Man, and the 1977 feature film, The Island of Dr.

Burman recalls working as an apprentice at Fox's makeup lab when department
head Ben Nye got wind of a certain project about a planet of talking simians:
"'Well, if they're going to go ahead with that movie,' Ben says, 'they want
Bud Westmore because he did The List of Adrian Messenger and he's familiar
with those kind of appliances.' I spoke up: 'You know, it wasn't Bud Westmore
who did the appliances, it was John Chambers.' 'Do you know how to get in
touch with him?' Ben asked. 'Call him.' I called John on a Wednesday, that
Friday he picked up the script for Planet of the Apes and on Monday morning,
he came out in front of the makeup department and said, 'Tommy, you're with
me, boy. I'm gonna win an Academy Award.'"

Indeed, Chambers did win that special Oscar, only the second bestowed in
Academy history until makeup was made an official category. "He definitely
inspired a whole generation of makeup artists and he really helped bring the
art of makeup effects into the limelight," says Rick Baker, who sculpted the
new Planet of the Apes characters under a picture taken of himself with
Chambers. "He was one of the masters."

But it was the work for which Chambers never received credit ­ creating
medical prosthetics for injured veterans and firefighters, and Mission
Impossible type disguises for the CIA ­ that gave the burly Irishman his
greatest satisfaction. And perhaps his work on a certain bigfoot suit, made
famous in so-called documentary footage, tickled his native sense of blarney.
"He had a heart as big as gold," Burman remembers. "He loved the underdog. He
was a bigger than life person, a very dynamic human being. He was not like
anybody I've ever known, or probably ever will know. And his impact was
tremendous, probably the singularly largest impact on motion picture makeup


Home | Cast & Crew | History | Current Events | Artifacts & Collectibles
Family Albums | Interviews and Tributes | Junior G-Man | Links | Contact Us