The first vintage Mego Planet of the Apes action figures were released in 1975, yet the first movie was released in 1968, so what took so long?
When I was about 10 years old my old school used to show a Saturday morning Movie Matinee. Sometimes I wish they would bring them back. For those of you who don’t remember or are to young, many local cinemas used to have a Saturday Morning Matinee which was very cheap and mainly for children. At the time the Children’s Film Foundation used to make a lot of movies for this, then there were the likes of Flash Gordon that played weekly.
Anyway, it was at one of these Saturday morning matinees that I got my first taste of the Planet of the Apes, and like many other children at the time, I was immediately hooked.
I don’t remember ever seeing, or having any of these Mego figures, but had I seen them I would certainly have gotten some, or I would have ensured my mother did. I do however remember having some ‘Action Man’ figures and a Kenner (Palitoy) Six Million Dollar Man.
The movie series kicked off with five films (three of them legitimately great), namely Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes which ran from 1968 to 1973.
The first of the Planet of the Apes movies opened in 1968 and became a huge hit both critically and financially and one of the most successful science fiction franchises of all time.
It was no surprise therefore that by 1973 there were a total of 5 Ape movies. Although the last movie was released in 1973 that was by no means the end of it, in fact Ape mania was just beginning.
20th Century Fox, in a clever marketing ploy, challenged the country to Go Ape! and to celebrate they began by showing the first two Ape films on TV and all running all five Ape films in back to back in the movie theatres.
Fox licensed around 60 companies to make around 300 Ape-related products which included comics, model kits, colouring books, book and record sets, costumes and clothing, lunchboxes and of course action figures and playsets to name a few.
It was about this time that a young Kenny Abrams dragged his unwilling father and Mego President, Marty Abrams, to the movies.
This inevitably led to Marty Abrams outbidding rival AHI and securing the rights to produce Planet of the Apes figures and playsets based on the Planet of the Apes property.
Marty has often commented since then on how he was in the theatre not even knowing what Planet of the Apes was, but after seeing fathers and sons enjoying the films together and digging the whole ape/future concept theme, he felt compelled to produce figures and playsets on them.
This was Mego's first bash at making toys based on a movie and it was to become their biggest ever success. They were also quite innovative because they were the first ever direct movie tie-in action figures and they set an early benchmark for what would eventually become the industry norm from the late 70s onward. In fact, these days it’s almost impossible to release a line of action figures that DOESN’T have some sort of movie or TV tie-in, and increasingly video game tie-in.
However, due to development time and the fact that they were breaking new ground it wasn't until February of 1974 that they unveiled their first Planet of the Apes Figures at the New York Toy Fair and received a very positive response from retailers.
This first series of five figures were based on characters from the original film; Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, the Soldier Ape, and the Astronaut along with a Treehouse and Village Playset and a remote controlled horse, the Action Stallion.
Between 1974 and 1975 the market was saturated with Ape merchandise and the public couldn't get enough. As a result of its huge success 20th Century 20th decided to bring the Apes to TV with an hour-long weekly series.
Fortunately, the TV series which aired from September to December of ’74 gave the line a shot in the arm and further made clear the link between currently screening entertainment and the success of the merchandising lines. The animated series which hit screens between September and December of ’75 again kept the Apes very much in the hearts and minds of children.
To coincide with this Mego developed a new line of Planet of the Apes figures featuring Galen, Alan Virdon, Peter Burke, General Urko, and General Ursus.
The following year, in 1975, Mego also released more playsets and accessories which included The Forbidden Zone Trap, The Fortress, The Catapult and Wagon, the Battering Ram, The Jail, Dr. Zaius's Throne, and a new line of six 5-inch Bend and Flex figures.
What made these figures more desirable and gave them more life for the kids were the playsets. These of course give context and identity to play and make for easier narratives. It may sound obvious, but this is often overlooked, even today. It certainly helped Star Wars a few years later.
This rich series of props and dioramas lent the figure line a sense of scope and ongoing adventure and of course encouraged the purchase of more figures to go with them.
These 8-inch figures were well articulated, and "costumed in exquisitely detailed outfits. When they finally hit the stores shelves, in the summer of '74, kids went "ape" for them
In 1975, Mego also released more playsets and accessories which included The Forbidden Zone Trap, The Fortress, The Catapult and Wagon, the Battering Ram, The Jail, Dr. Zaius's Throne, and a new line of six 5-inch Bend and Flex figures.
The Bend 'n Flex figures are approximately 5" tall. All five of the first series 8" figures are represented, but Galen is the only one from the second series to make it to this format, with Zira is the rarest of them.
To keep up with the huge demand Mego also re-released the original 1974 line of Planet of the Ape figures. However, by the time these hit the store shelves the TV series had already been cancelled, but there was still a lot of interest throughout 1975 and Mego heavily promoted the figures on TV and print advertising.
Other promotions and marketing strategies included actors making character appearances in stores, and even a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade but with the cancellation of the TV show Mego was reluctant to continue the line and after their 1975 offering no more new Ape toys were produced.
But while Ape Mania was slowly dying in America it was just beginning in other parts of the world. The first line of Mego Ape figures was released in the UK by Palitoy/Bradgate in 1975, and the second series the following year, in 1976.
Bullmark, in Japan, acquired the license from Mego to re-release the first five figures in their own exclusive packaging.
Then Mexican toy company Cipsa released their own versions of the original Mego apes, Cornelius, Urko, Ursus, Zaius, and Bill (Virdon), as well as the Treehouse, Jail, Throne, Battering Ram, and an exclusive Horse, Catapult, and Wagon in 1976.
In Canada, all the US offerings were made available by Parkdale Novelty, as well as an exclusive bilingual boxed tree house and a Horse, catapult, and Wagon set.
The first series (minus Zira) was released by Baravelli in Italy, and in Australia the entire first wave by TolToys. In Spain, the Soldier Ape was released by Posh as part of their Monster series.
The Mego Planet of the Apes figure therefore eventually made their way around the globe and became their most successful line ever.
The Planet of the Apes series of movies have since become cult classics and the Mego figures have become highly collectible among both Mego and Planet of the Ape fans, and like the movies and TV series remain popular popular to this day.
Since the Mego figures and the 2001 re-make several new lines of Planet of the Apes figures have been released targeting the collector’s market particularly from Sideshow Collectibles and Hot Toys. But check out my other pages for more information on those.
As both Galen and Cornelius were played by actor Roddy McDowall, Mego used the same head sculpt for both, so the figures are identical, and it is virtually impossible to tell the difference unless carded.
It is thought that about the only difference between them is possibly a slightly darker vinyl on the Cornelius figure. They were also both released on Type 1 (metal joints) and Type 2 bodies (plastic joints), as were most of the POTA figures. However, it is generally accepted that most of the Type 1 bodies are Cornelius figures and Galen Type 2 bodies, but it’s difficult to be sure.
There was als a variant version of Cornelius with a brown fabric outfit rather than the more common green fabric that was used for most of them.
The Astronaut, or human, in the first series was not based on the Charlton Heston figures as Mego didn’t get the rights for his ‘likeness’ when they acquired the license from 20th Century Fox. Despite this, the Montgomery Ward catalogue mistakenly referred to it as “Taylor”.
These figures were mostly produced on Type 1 bodies; however a few were also produced on Type 2 bodies. As well as several variations on the packaging there are also different variations on the fabric used and slight color variations.
Dr Zaius was the only Orangutan released in the Mego POTA line, based on the character from the first two movies. However, rather than an orange outifit, as in the movies, Mego decided to give him a beige outfit with knee high foots and fake fur cuffs. Dr Zaius was produced using both Type 1 and 2 bodies, with the Type 1 body being more common. The only major variation with this figure is that the hair colour can range from orange to yellow. There was also a prototype of the figure that was used for promotional material.
Zira, Cornelius’ wife, the chimpanzee, was the only female character featured in this line. She was dressed in a green fabric top and matching skirt, on some figures the top is brown with a green skirt or the other way around. She also wears caramel colored, western styled boots. There is also a variant that lacks the inner brown sleeves.
The soldier ape functioned as hunters, soldiers, police and laborers. He was also the most complex of the figures in the line, with hands especially sculpted for the apes. The soldier apes wore a brown fabric tunic with match gloves (or sewn on cuffs), brown stretch pants, and mid height laced up boots and an M16 rifle.
The rarest of the Soldier Apes is the Silver, or grey, clothed figure. There was also a UK variant with purple cuffs on the figure’s tunic. There were also a carded prototype figures released.
The Action Stallion playset was originally part of the Action Jackson line, that was repurposed for POTA as were many other Action Jackson releases. This was a perfect addition to the line as horses were such an integral part of the movies. The ape featured on the front of the box however was a prototype Soldier Ape figure and not the finally released figure.
The Treehouse playset was another Action Jackson release that found it’s way into the POTA line but wasn’t based on anything in the movies, however it blended in perfectly with this line. In fact, it was a huge success for Mego.
There was also a Treehouse Gift Set released that included the five figures from the first series in baggies that is extremely hard to find and very popular with collectors.There was also a Canadian Parkdale Novelty version that was much smaller and harder to find.
· House building (vinyl over cardboard) with "fold down" staircase
· Work Table (vinyl over cardboard)
· Capture Net
· It also had a set of 3 rifles and 3 "control sticks"and a Jail Cell.
The Village playest was one of the largest Mego made and was striking to look at being almost 3 foot long!
This figure was based on the character played by Ron Harper in the TV series. It is worth noting that ALL the Mego packaging misspelled the characters name as “Verdon” instead of “Virdon”, which his co-actors constantly ribbed him about. As with the other figures “Virdon” was also produced on Type 1 and 2 bodies.
In Mexico the POTA line was released by Cipsa, who released a variant of Virdon known simply as “Bill”. This figure is thought to have been based on the astronaut in the ill-fated TV animated series.
General Ursus is based on the character from Beneath the Planet of the SApes and was initially released with the same uniform as the Soldier Apes but with fabric sleeves and gloves, later these were changed to attached gloves. In the UK a variant figure was released with a more colourful purple tunic with attached gloves.
For some unknown reason, possibly to do with licensing issues, in the second series he was referred to as General Urko.
The General Urko figure was based on the character from the TV series and was dressed in a colourful purple outfit. There are 2 variations of the General’s top, one with coffee coloured vinyl and one with mustard. This figure was packaged as both General Urko and General Ursus and as General Gial in the Cipsa Mexican line.
This figure is based on the character played by James Naughton in the TV series and wears identical terrycloth pants and brown or burgundy top as Virdon and the same mocassions as Cornelius and Galen.
There were two versions of the Catapult and Wagon playsets released. The first was the US version which came with only the Catapult and the Wagon, whereas the Canadian Parkdale Novelty exclusive version also included an Action Stallion and came in a longer bilingual box featuring the same artwork as the US version.
There was also a version released by Cipsa in Mexico that, like the Canadian release, included an Action Stallion but the packaging on this also differed considerably to the US and Canadian releases.
• 2 story fortress structure, with "floor" between them (glossy finished
• "Sun reflector" and POTA flag (paper flag on wooden stick) which goes on top
• Jail Cell, small, holds 1 or 2 (cozy)
• Work Table (cardboard)
• "Gun Rack"
• 2 Ladders
• 3 rifles and 3 "Control Sticks" which all fit on
• the "gun rack".
The Village playest was one of the largest Mego made and was striking to look at being almost 3 foot long!
Mego POTA Series 1
· Cornelius 6 per case
· Zira 4 per case
· Dr. Zaius 4 per case
· Soldier Ape 6 per case
· Astronaut 4 per case
· Treehouse and
· Action Stallion
· Alan Virdon
· Peter Burke
· General Urko
· General Ursus
· The Forbidden Zone Trap
· The Fortress
· The Catapult and Wagon
· Battering Ram
· The Jail
· Dr. Zaius's Throne
· Rock Launcher (Rare Planet of the Apes Rock Launcher which was only available as a separate piece in the UK )
Bend n Flex Figures
• Dr. Zaius
• Soldier Ape
Packaging and Backing Cards
There were several variants in the packaging and backing cards for the Mego POTA figures. These variastions include:
· Kresge card
· 1st issue US card (all characters copyright of Apjac Prod and 20th Cent. Fox)
· 2nd issue US card ( astrerix on Ursus (black face) all other copyright of only 20th Cent. Fox)
· 3rd issue US card ( Ursus and Urko switch names, asterix on Ursus (helmet head))
· Mailer box
· US window boxed
· Palitoy card (UK)
· Forbidden Zone Gift Set
· Fortress Gift Set
· Catapult and Wagon Gift Set
· Treehouse Gift Set (came with set in plastic baggie)
Mego Action Figure Toys (Schiffer Book for Collectors) by John Bonavita
Official Price Guide to Action Figures Stuart W Wells III and Jim Man