Donald A. 'Don' Peters was an illustrator and artist who created concept art for the original Planet of the Apes movie in the mid-1960s.
Film producer Arthur P. Jacobs secured the rights to La Planète des singes after reading Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel. He immediately set about turning the idea into a viable movie adaptation. He commissioned artists to produce a series of paintings and sketches inspired by the novel, to be used as a visual basis for the movie, later recalling, "I had sketches made, and went through six sets of artists to get the concept, but none of them were right. Finally, I hit on a seventh one, and said that's how it should look." Associate producer Mort Abrahams remembered Jacobs assembling a huge 'merchandising book' with 130 pages of ideas to pitch the movie to film studios. Don Peters had worked as a background artist at Walt Disney Productions during the 1950s, and more recently had worked with director Blake Edwards and had contributed to Warner Bros. movies Gay Purr-ee (1962) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). Peters was asked to illustrate concept paintings between May and November 1964 when Edwards was due to direct the Planet of the Apes film project then in development at Warners.
It was during the early stages of development that the idea for the famous ending to the movie was devised. Jacobs claimed, "We were trying to make the audience believe it was another planet, which differs from Boulle‘s novel in which it WAS another planet. I thought that was rather predictable when we were doing the first screenplay. It's funny, I was having lunch with Blake Edwards, who at one point was going to direct it, at the Yugo Kosherarna Delicatessen in Burbank, across the street from Warner Bros. I said to him at the time. 'It doesn't work, it's too predictable.' Then I said, 'What if he was on the Earth the whole time and doesn't know it, and the audience doesn‘t know it.' Blake said, 'That's terrific. Let's get a hold of Rod [Serling].' As we walked out, after paying for the two ham sandwiches, we looked up, and there's this big Statue of Liberty on the wall of the delicatessen. We both looked at each other and said, 'Rosebud' (the key to the plot of 'Citizen Kane'). If we never had lunch in that delicatessen, I doubt that we would have had the Statue of Liberty as the end of the picture. I sent the finished script to Boulle, and he wrote back, saying he thought it was more inventive than his own ending, and wished that he had thought of it when he wrote the book." Edwards, however, credited the Statue of Liberty ending to Don Peters, stating "As I recall it was pretty much Don". Peters, for his part, claimed that it was his idea alone, because he first introduced the ruined Statue of Liberty scenes to the Apes project when he made the paintings to illustrate Rod Serling's movie script. Mort Abrahams, meanwhile, believed "That was Rod's ending", while Serling himself said (in 1972), "I always believed that was my idea," adding that it was "very possible" that the concept was a combination of four or five people thinking exactly the same thing at about the same time. Speaking two years later, Serling said the idea was devised "in collaboration with Jacobs." Undermining Jacobs' recollections, Pierre Boulle was less impressed, saying, "I disliked somewhat, the ending that was used - the Statue of Liberty... They had that final scene in mind from the first day. Author J.W. Rinzler's research points to Serling having set the movie on Earth and credits Peters as the sole originator of the Statue of Liberty concept; counter-claims are attributed to publicity boasts and clouded memories.
In addition to the iconic statue scene, Peters also devised the concept of the giant 'scarecrows' which ape society used to demarcate their territory. His detailed paintings, which depicted a futuristic ape city and a laboratory containing a giant jar filled with human corpses, are thought lost; only reference photographs of the paintings survive, most of them in black & white. When Blake Edwards dropped out of the Apes project in early 1965, Peters' association with the film also ended, though he was credited as 'technical advisor, illustrator'. Artist Mentor Huebner is perhaps more associated the Planet of the Apes concept artwork than Peters, having designed the distinctive primitive Ape City later in the film's production.
Peters later helped design the 1968-69 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series Wacky Races for Iwao Takamoto and Jerry Eisenberg, as Eisenberg recalled: "Iwao designed Penelope Pitstop and her car... And then there was some guy named Don Peters, who Iwao knew from his days at Disney, he was a designer. And he got Don to do some freelance help, and he designed that car that Dick Dastardly had, it looked like a Captain Nemo-type car, you know, like a submarine." Peters then worked on animated series Hot Wheels (1969) before a long association with production company Filmation, working as a background artist on animated series Star Trek (1973-74), The New Adventures of Batman (1977), Flash Gordon (1979-80), Blackstar (1981), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-85), Ghostbusters (1986, the Filmation franchise) and She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985-87), and on feature movies Journey Back to Oz (in production at Filmation from 1964 until it was finally released in 1972) and The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1987). The company's plans to produce similar 'classic' sequels, such as Snow White: Happily Ever After (1990) and the abandoned Alice Returns to Wonderland and The Continuing Adventures of the Jungle Book, were challenged by a 1986 lawsuit from Walt Disney Productions, before the studio was suddenly and unexpectedly closed down by it's parent company in 1989.
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- Cinefantastique Planet of the Apes Issue (1972)
- Behind the Planet of the Apes
- The Legend of the Planet of the Apes, by Brian Pendreigh
- Planet of the Apes Chronicles, by Paul A. Woods
- 'Marvel Planet of the Apes', UK Issue 12 (1975)
- The Making of Planet of the Apes, by J.W. Rinzler (2018)
- Jerry Eisenberg Interview, Part Four - Yowp (15 March 2011)
- Walt Disney Productions v. Filmation Associates, February 20, 1986 - Find A Case