Maurice Evans was a British-American actor born in Dorset, England. A devotee of the theatre, some of Maurice Evans' most acclaimed performances were in Romeo and Juliet, St. Joan, and Richard III in the 1930s. In 1941, he became an American citizen, and enlisted in the Army a year later, attaining the rank of captain. Based in Hawai'i, he took charge of entertaining American troops in the Central Pacific. In 1943 he brought the actress Judith Anderson (the definitive Lady Macbeth of her time) from Australia to star against him in Macbeth. The production was seen by sixty thousand troops. In 1944 Evans set Hamlet in modern military times. After 344 performances Evans took "the Jeep Version" to Broadway. Then it toured the country. Life magazine called G.I. Hamlet a "walloping good show." Afterwards, he produced such plays as Man and Superman, The Browning Version, and No Time For Sergeants, as well as acting in plays like Dial M For Murder and The Apple Cart. He spent nearly eleven months, eight times a week, in the title role of Hamlet, which Margaret Webster directed, playing opposite Booth Colman (the 'other' Zaius) as 'Guildenstern'. His film roles included Kind Lady, Androcles And The Lion, The War Lord (directed by Franklin J. Schaffner), Rosemary's Baby, and the title role in Macbeth for television's Hallmark Hall of Fame, with Judith Anderson. He also appeared in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of The Tempest alongside Roddy McDowall, and had a recurring role in the popular comedy series Bewitched.
When casting for the role of Dr. Zaius in the 1968 20th Century Fox film, Planet of the Apes, the producers screen-tested veteran star Edward G. Robinson. Robinson however, bowed out just weeks before filming began, complaining of difficulties with working with the ape prosthetics. The role was subsequently handed to Maurice Evans.
Maurice Evans wore an elaborate makeup in his role as the leader of the ape society: "I must confess it's very disagreeable to have this latex rubber mask applied to the face every morning, apart from the fact that it takes 3 1/2 hours to put it on, which means I have to crawl out of bed at 5 in the morning, to be in the makeup chair at 6 - and with two delightful gentlemen poking and prodding and sticking things on me - including the mask and the hair that follows it - and then getting into a very heavy, hot costume - it's not all beer and skittles by any means." The fact that his own face was not to be seen for even a minute of the two hours' running time did not annoy him: "You can look in a mirror and see a creature who is definitely not yourself. It is of great assistance to an actor to be able to depict a character without having to show his own face, if you'll excuse the pun it helps me to get under the skin of the part I play", he said. "One hopes people will bother to look at the credits at the end and find out who was playing what, although we're blessed in this cast with having a bunch of stage actors, most of whom I've worked with before. So even if we were mistaken, one for the other, it would still be a compliment to be credited with the performance of, say, James Whitmore, James Daly, Roddy McDowall - you would feel no sense of insult if you were mistaken for them." There were particular problems with the movement of Evans’ orangutan mouth appliance, and most of his filmed dialogue had to be 'looped': re-dubbed later in the studio as the actor viewed film of himself to match the pace of his own words.
While the makeup took almost four hours to apply it's removal at the end of a 14 hour working day was quite an ordeal. It had a concentrated alcohol base and could only be removed with acetone. It required about an hour to remove it and he said: "by the time they had finished I had usually inhaled so much of the 180-proof alcohol that I had a buzz on." "I won't trust myself on the road. Apart from everything else, we are required to have black fingernails, as the ape has, and this is very tiresome to take off. When I’m working on consecutive days, I just keep the black nail polish on - one day I did drive the car home and unthinkingly made hand signals, whereupon I got the most startled look from a motorist drawing up beside me - what's this character doing here with black fingernails?"
Evans put the success of Planet of the Apes down to it's broad fan-base: "It has a nice balance between being a morality play, with a good leavening of science fiction. It has a moral, and it's treated with a good sense of drama and to some extent, comedy." "I think it's pretty clear - whether by design or by accident - Planet of the Apes - the first picture - had this double appeal. The appeal to youngsters as a pure science fiction; but it had a message to deliver which apparently communicated very clearly to the adult audience. The interesting thing to me was that with the adult audiences there seemed to be great controversy amongst them as to whether the producers, the director, the actors, and everybody else, the writers, goodness knows, hadn't gone a little overboard in being funny, making jokes of things. I disagree very strongly on this ground because it seemed to me the whole point of the picture was that as the apes took over the world and as the humans, through neglect and the sort of things that we all seem to be going through these days, abusing our bodies and taking drugs and one thing or another, that it would be normal for whoever became the successors of human civilization, that they would pick up the cliches of our own civilization. And the jokes such as they were in the first Planet of the Apes were at that sort of expense, that the monkeys now were making the same mistakes and telling the same jokes as their human predecessors."
When a sequel went into production the following year, Evans, in contrast to most of his colleagues from the first movie, was very enthusiastic both about reprising his role, and about the final result - Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): "I know tradition says that there are great dangers in doing sequels, but I see absolutely no reason for it. After all, a motion picture lasts, what is it, an hour and a half - two hours maximum with no commercials, thank the Lord - but a long play - like 'Hamlet' or 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' - runs for four hours in the theatre. So there is every reason why a story should be expanded if the author has really got anything to say. And I think in the case of the sequel to Planet of the Apes, the public will find that the author has a great deal more to say than he had in the first one. In fact, the sequel to my way of thinking, is infinitely more profound from a philosophical standpoint. In many ways more frightening." "In this sequel to Planet of the Apes, James Gregory, who plays the gorilla general, the Chief of the Army, and myself, the Minister of Science, dressed as an orangutan, were having a discussion in a steam bath. This required us to appear to be without any clothes on, but monkeys, if they're not clothed, obviously have hairy bodies. Well, neither of us were particularly keen on doing the scene. We didn't really believe that we could be made to look like monkeys without any clothes on. But the wardrobe master for 20th Century Fox, a genius of a fellow called Wally Horton, devised these two wonderful monkey suits so... we went ahead and did the scene and all was well."
Evans moved to southern England by the early 1970s and entered semi-retirement, though he continued to take TV roles into the early 1980s. He died in Rottingdean, East Sussex, England, in 1989.
- Apprentice makeup artist Ken Chase was assigned to transform Maurice Evans into 'Dr. Zaius'. He took over that makeup role from Maurice Stein early in production. Chase remembered that "Maurice Evans salivated abnormally and was famous for spitting when he delivered his lines. The running joke when he appeared on stage was not to sit in the first row. Because of this it was nearly impossible to keep his lower jaw piece attached to his lip. In fact at the end of day cleanup the appliance was literally soaked with his saliva." But he considered him "A kind generous man with a good sense of humor and even temperament. Further, Maurice Evans and Roddy McDowall had much in common. Both were true gentlemen and demonstrated even temperaments, good-naturedness and a genuine concern and interest in others with whom they associated, regardless of their status."
- Jack Barron also worked on Evans' 'Zaius' makeup on the original Apes movie.
- The gentle and intelligent orangutan character Maurice, introduced in the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was named in honour of the actor who portrayed the most famous orangutan of the PotA franchise. In real-life, Evans insisted that his first name should be pronounced 'Morris', as in his native Britain, but in Bewitched his on-screen character declared his name was pronounced 'Maw-REESE', as is more typical in the USA. With a certain irony, the ape character named in his honour uses the American pronunciation of his name.
- at the
- Diamond Head Theatre, Honolulu.
- 'Cinefantastique Planet of the Apes Issue' (1972)
- Planet of the Apes Newsletter, May 1976, at Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive
- Planet of the Apes Newsletter, May 1976, at Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive
- 'Makeup Magazine - John Chambers Tribute' (1997)
- Looking Back with Maurice Stein, by Dean Preston - 'Simian Scrolls' #15 (2008)
- An Interview with Ken Chase - Apemania.com
- 'Makeup Artist Magazine'