In the latest iteration of the recent torrent of stories concerning sexual harassment in media, accounts emerged this week concerning a disturbing tale of the behavior of the late actor Charlton Heston on the set of the film “The Planet of the Apes” in 1967.
According to multiple members of the film crew, Heston was heard to remark, “How about those jugs,” on the set in between takes one day in May 1967. (In the late 1960s, the term “jugs” was sometimes used as a coarse synonym for the word “breasts.”) The remark was heard by a young female stagehand just before the shooting of a scene in which Heston’s character, Taylor, lays on the straw of his jail cell, points to ceramic water jugs nearby, and motions to the soft-hearted chimpanzee veterinarian, Zira, that he is thirsty. (The former stagehand’s name has been withheld here. The policy of The Pensive Quill is to not publish the names of victims of sexual harassment without their consent.) The former stagehand was 22 years of age at the time, making the married Heston 22 years her senior.
Last week, the former stagehand reported that Heston arched his eyebrow as he uttered the “jugs” remark, letting his gaze drift from the prop ceramic jugs to her eyes and back, as though to imbue the remark with a suggestive double meaning. In aggravation, at the end of shooting that day the married Heston laid his palm on the young woman’s shoulder and asked her if she would mind joining him later for a drink. She agreed. A late-night tryst and secret on-set affair between the two soon followed. Their couplings continued afterward for several weeks and ended only after shooting of “The Planet of the Apes” wrapped, in August 1967.
With Heston’s aid in 1967 and afterward, the former stagehand found success as graduate student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and, later, as a movie producer. Today, she produces feature films and owns a majority stake in a large production company. On and off over a period of several years, Heston boosted her career, by introducing her to studio heads and other influential people in Hollywood.
Nonetheless, she has felt ashamed about the jugs-and-palm incident since it happened. Too, she experiences an occasionally-recurring nightmare which her therapist thinks has its genesis in the episode. In the nightmare, a strapping Heston appears, clad in a NASA astronaut flight suit but wearing a gorilla head instead of a space helmet. The grotesque figure serves her several rum-and-cokes at a ‘60’s-themed bar, then makes love to her with passion and skill after his shift ends while other astronaut-simians watch, applaud, hoot, and seemingly enjoy themselves.
In a possibly-related incident first reported in Variety this morning, vandals spray-painted the word “PERVERT” over Heston’s terrazzo-and-brass star on Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame,” on the 1600 block of Vine St. in Los Angeles, during the wee hours yesterday morning. Also, within hours afterward, a person or persons unknown left a nine-foot-tall maroon-colored balloon in the shape of an erect male sexual organ outside the gate of Heston’s former mansion on Coldwater Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills. The mischief-makers were possibly unaware of Heston’s death in 2008 and the ensuing sale of the home to a third party, whose caretaker first reported the balloon’s placement to police. LAPD officers impounded the bulbous object this morning after combing the scene for forensic evidence. A department spokesman declined comment about the matter today, citing an ongoing investigation.
The domino effect triggered by the stagehand’s tale reverberated in the halls of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which yesterday convened in an emergency session to discuss posthumous rescission of Heston’s Best Actor award, bestowed in 1960 for his work in “Ben-Hur.” In addition, the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas, California, announced a cancellation of its scheduled screening of “Ben-Hur” over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, citing concerns over the “appropriateness of displaying the film at this time.” MGM (the studio which owns the rights to “Ben-Hur”) also announced plans to suspend further distribution of the film indefinitely.
“MGM and its subsidiaries have a policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace,” said studio head Gary Barber. “Chuck was an icon here for many years. But his legacy cannot overshadow the need for a thorough investigation of this matter.” When told that the former stagehand-victim had asked that there be no investigation and Heston’s public image respected, Barber declined further comment and referred further questions to the office of MGM’s general counsel.
The shock waves have also reached the halls of U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a spokesman announced suspension of further printing of postage stamps honoring the late Oscar-winner. The stamps first issued in 2014 to no little fanfare, which included mention of Heston’s having marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in support of civil rights for African-Americans and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
An internal investigation of an attempted groping by Heston’s co-star, the late Roddy McDowall, on the set of “The Planet of the Apes” is also pending at this writing. Several sources told The Daily Transcript that McDowall tried to make unwanted physical contact with stuntman Jim Sheppard in a dimly-lit area backstage during June 1967. According to one account, McDowall, who was notoriously near-sighted, was not wearing his eyeglasses or contacts at the time and seated in an easy chair. As Sheppard walked past, McDowall lunged at him – but missed, and was heard to mutter, “Don’t play hard to get, Linda.”
When interviewed for this article, Sheppard speculated that McDowall may have mistaken him for Linda Harrison, a then-22-year-old actress who played the role of Nova in the film. Harrison had earlier declined when McDowall had asked her to meet him for a meal in the MGM commissary.
“I never had any problems with Roddy,” Sheppard said, shrugging. “He acted like any other movie star at the time – no better, no worse.” When asked whether the attempted-groping incident had caused him after-arising distress or unwanted feelings, Sheppard chuckled and hung up the phone.
In what has become a familiar pattern of late, the recent reports concerning Heston and McDowall have seemingly prompted other complaints and ensuing investigations. A Hollywood source who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter identified the following men as targets of fresh investigations concerning unwanted advances made on film sets: Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, William Holden, Jimmy Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, and Sean Connery. Connery, the only one of these still alive at this writing, declined comment through a publicist.
⏩ Dan Lawton is a lawyer and writer in California.