Café: I always watched Garrison's Gorillas as a kid. It's often described as "inspired" by The Dirty Dozen--but it debuted within months of the movie and the characters are different. So, was the similar premise just coincidental?
|Ron Harper at the Western Film Fair|
and Nostalgia Convention.
Café: Garrison's Gorilla's World War II sets looked very impressive. Was it shot on a backlot?
RH: It was filmed on the backlot at MGM, which was very large and spacious. We did one or two episodes at the beach, but, for the most part, the backlot was big enough for us to do all the work we needed to do. Of course, most scenes were shot so that we could talk and interact, so there wasn't a need for many long shots of people shooting cannons.
Café: It was a great ensemble cast. How did you get along with your fellow cast members?
|Ron Harper (kneeling) and|
Café: Despite good acting and tight plots, Garrison's Gorillas only lasted one season. Why do you think it was cancelled?
RH: It was a well-done series and we had good stories. We had very nice ratings. I think there was a mood prevalent in our country at that time about too much violence on TV. There was criticism about too much shooting and people killing each other on television. We were starting to get affected by that. When you do a war series, there's going to be violence and crime and shooting. It's not just a situation comedy where you tell a joke. The producers were very aware of this criticism about violence and we had to be very careful about it. I remember that once or twice, the director had one of my comrades departing somewhere and turning around and shooting somebody. After we shot the scene, I said: "We don't want to show that. That's exactly what some of the critics are talking about--unnecessary violence. We have to cut down the violence to what's required for the plot. We can't haphazardly shoot somebody."
Café: I find it interesting that Garrison's Gorillas was one of the first U.S. television series shown in China, where it was very popular.
RH: I remember that. In fact, I was invited to China and went there to promote it.
Café: The Planet of the Apes series showed some promise initially, but quickly faltered in the ratings. What do you think led to its downfall?
|Roddy McDowell, James Naughton,|
and Ron Harper.
Café: I assume it was a challenging series to film.
RH: Yes and a lot of hard work, particularly for Roddy McDowell. He had to get there three hours before the rest of us, who arrived a little after dawn. Poor Roddy had to have two hours to put on his make-up. I was so impressed with his ability to stay alert for the rest of the 10-12 hour days. I remember that, after we had done five or six shows, that his make-up had made his skin very sore and red. He had to take off about twelve days before his face returned to normal.
Café: Was it hard to act opposite the apes given their limited facial expressions?
RH: No, you use your imagination as an actor. Our actors were very good, so what they missed facially, they did vocally.
Café: You once told a great story about a gift that Roddy McDowell gave you. Can you recount that for our readers?
RH: I enjoyed working with Roddy. He had a nice sense of humor. Around Christmas time, he gave me a gift of a director's chair with my name on it--misspelled. (laughs). It read "Rin Hooper." I said: "Oh, that's very nice." And he said: "I do hope I spelled your name correctly, Ron." I said: "Almost, you just missed it by one or two letters." He said: "Oh, good, I'm so glad you like it." So, Rin Hooper became my trademark.
Café: What was it like starring with George Burns and Connie Stevens on Wendy and Me?
|Harper, Connie Stevens, George Burns,|
and James T. Callahan.
Café: In addition to the aforementioned series, you also starred in Land of the Lost, 87th Precinct, and The Jean Arthur Show. Of all your TV series, which one was your favorite and why?
RH: Garrison's Gorillas. The cast was strong and the actors were very good to work with. It had a lot of action and interesting stories. We also had very good writers.
|A young Ron Harper.|
RH: Yes, I did, for about four performances one week when Paul wasn't feeling too well. In my last performance of it, I saw Paul in the audience. If he was not feeling too well, he was feeling a little bit better. He was a wonderful, sweet guy. I think he probably felt generous enough to say: "Let Ron do one or two of the performances."
Café: That's a juicy role.
RH: It's a wonderful role. I was the understudy, so I was doing it every week in rehearsal, but never before an audience. I was a little bit nervous the first time because it was with a live audience and I was doing this Tennessee Williams play. It turned out to be OK. I had some nice comments about my performance and it may have lead to one or two other jobs.
Café: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you want to share with your fans?
RH: I just completed a movie for TV about two months ago called Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story (which was shown on Lifetime). It's a true story about a teenage girl that gets kidnapped by this older family friend. I play her grandfather and I mobilize some people to go and rescue her. It was on the air within two weeks of when I did my last scene. Modern technology is amazing.
Café: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Mr. Harper.
RH: It was great talking with you, Rick. You're a very good interviewer.