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Franklin James Schaffner was an American film director and President of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) from 1987 until his death in 1989. Although American by heritage, Schaffner was born to Protestant missionary parents in Tokyo, and lived his first six years in Japan. He and his mother moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania after his father died, where he graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with a bachelor of arts degree in law. He enlisted in the Navy during World War II, came out a lieutenant, and attempted an acting career, with little success. He then started as assistant director ("quite by accident") on The March Of Time, and joined CBS in the very early days of television, directing sports, news, and public affairs segments, situation comedy, and the Studio One anthology series. He won Emmies for TV direction, with 12 Angry Men (1954), The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1955), and The Defenders (1962). Two years on Playhouse 90, and his direction of Advise and Consent on Broadway, led him to his first film contract. His highly acclaimed film directing credits included The Stripper (1963), The Best Man (1964 - a favorite, even though it was "a disaster at the boxoffice"), The War Lord (1965 - starring Charlton Heston, Maurice Evans and Woodrow Parfrey), Planet of the Apes (1968), Patton (1970 - Academy Award and Directors Guild Award in 1971), Nicholas And Alexandria (1971), Papillon (1973) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). He was of the opinion that his best film was Patton, but the one he was most fond of was The Best Man. [1] [2]

During the lengthy gestation of Arthur P. Jacobs' Planet of the Apes project, his early prospects for making the movie lay with Warner Bros. and with writer/director/producer Blake Edwards directing the movie. Indeed Edwards was heavily involved in the early stages of script developement with screenwriter Rod Serling, contributing to the overall plot and maybe even to the famous Statue of Liberty ending to the film. However, as Warners balked at the costs involved and the project lost it's momentum, both Serling and Edwards moved on to other, more solid prospects. It was at this point that Jacobs, perhaps surprisingly, secured the involvement of Charlton Heston as lead actor. Hearing that Jacobs needed a new director attached, Heston strongly suggested Schaffner: "Franklin Schaffner and I have worked together many times, not only in film but on stage and television, and we have a very good rapport." It was a choice that would prove inspired. It was the inclusion of Heston, Schaffner and veteren actor Edward G. Robinson that probably earned Jacobs a ten-minute screen test with 20th Century Fox, using Serlings last script. Schaffner recalled: "It was planned as a makeup test, basically. Much more importantly, on the philosophical level, it was to see whether or not, that if you had a man talking to an orangutan, an audience wouldn’t laugh and would listen to what they had to say." Though Fox chief Richard D. Zanuck was enthusiastic, it took him from March 1966, when the test was filmed, until September to finally convince the Fox board that this was a viable investment. Heston later said: "At this time, Franklin Schaffner was involved, and Zanuck had a lot of confidence in him, rightly so, as did I, as not only a director of enormous creative ability, but a good captain. You need a good captain in any picture, but you really need one in directing a film like this." [1]

Schaffner became centrally involved in the ongoing evolution of the Apes film project. Following the screen test, it was decided that a contemporary-looking ape society might strongly hint at the Earthly revelation of the film's conclusion. Instead, a technologically-devolved society living in unfamiliar housing was considered more appropriate, and it is suggested that Schaffner’s and Heston's medieval adventure The War Lord may have influenced the final concept designs.[3] Head of the 20th Century Fox makeup department, Dan Striepeke, credited Schaffner with maintaining the integrity of the film, recalling that: "Franklin Schaffner was without doubt the heart and soul of POTA. He had the good taste to keep all the schlock suggestions away from the screen. The studio didn't like the project and along with Arthur Jacobs had many bad ideas for the story. Casting different races for the different species of apes, etc. Schaffner put a stop to all that foolishness. He wouldn't confront them, he would just go off and make his own picture."[4]

Associate producer Mort Abrahams noted how some of the script was improvised, with input from Schaffner: "Basically, I think it went through four versions with Rod [Serling] and three or four with Michael [Wilson]... then I called in Kelly and he did two or three drafts, which was, as I say, mostly dialogue polish and added a couple of notes of humor, and a couple which Frank [Schaffner] and I added on the set, like the 'monkey-see-monkey-do' and 'see-no-evil, hear-no-evil." [5] (In fact, the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" expression had featured also in writer Charles Eastman's unused earlier script.)

Sanbiki no saru

Charlton Heston elaborated further: "It's a curious thing, there is a kind of an accident in the film that I think both Frank and I sort of half regret being in, and oddly enough a number of critics have picked it up and said this is a phoney thing. It is in the "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" tableau. All the other things the monkeys do, the cliches that they use, that you can justify because theirs was a mimicking culture, and they would logically mimic the speech cliches, as well as the cultural cliches, of today. But there's no way you could justify that, that indeed is a phoney. When we were shooting the scene, Frank said, "You know, it would be terribly funny to have a gag of them doing that." We laughed at it, and he said. "No, it's a phoney. I shouldn't do it." I said, "Why don't you do one just for the dailies," and he said, "All right." So we did it in, laughed, and everybody thought it was marvelous, but he didn't want it in the final cut. Then, somehow it got in the rough cut, and all the studio echelons saw it and said, "No, don't change it!" Then, they had the first preview, and it was an enormous success. So there it is." [1]

Schaffner, asked what his attitude had been in directing this unprecedented film, said: "The approach was to engage an audience in a simian society. I had never thought of this motion picture in terms of being science fiction. More or less, it was a political film, with a certain amount of Swiftian satire, and perhaps science fiction last." [1] It stands to Schaffner's credit that all of the cast and crew working on the set of Planet of the Apes had only positive things to say about him, to such an extent that the directors of the film's sequels struggled with the inevitable comparison.

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  • The character of 'Robert Franklin' from 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was more then likely named in honour in of Schaffner.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 'Cinefantastique Planet of the Apes Issue' (1972)
  2. The Early Franklin J. Schaffner, by Stanley Lloyd Kaufman jr. - 'Films In Review' (August 1969)
  3. The Making of Planet of the Apes, by J.W. Rinzler (2018)
  4. You need a makeup artist. I'm your man., by Dean Preston - 'Simian Scrolls' #14 (2007)
  5. The Planet of the Apes Chronicles by Paul A. Woods (Page 43)