Sometimes it takes just a little thing to be considered a Cult Siren. You don’t need to benefit from a career-span of many decades or to be covered in acting awards. Yes, sometimes, a tiny opportunity is sufficient. Our guest right here, for example, is principally known for one single role, that she played in two motion pictures… with only one word of dialogue between these two productions! Hard to believe? Not really, when you’ll remember that Linda Harrison was Nova in Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
Linda was born on July 26, 1945, in Berlin, Maryland. Big surprise, she won many successive beauty contests as a teenager (like Miss Berlin in 1963, Miss Del-Mar-Va in 1964, Miss Ocean City and Miss Maryland in 1965), which permitted her to began a modeling career in New York, as she studied acting in high school from around ’63. Still in 1965, she was a finalist in the Miss American Pageant of Long Beach, California (not to be confused with the Miss America Pageant) and the first runner-up in the Miss USA contest. So, the next step was a logical one: can somebody discover me?
At twenty years of age, Linda got the chance to screen test for 20th Century Fox, with results that impressed someone, somewhere, as the studio got her to sign a seven years contract. Her official acting career began in 1965 for the movie The Fat Spy, alongside many small appearances on television, most memorably as a cheerleader for two 1966 Batman episodes having the Joker as main villain. The same year, Linda could be seen in Way… Way Out, a sci-fi comedy with Jerry Lewis containing a cameo by Boris Karloff as the original Frankenstein Monster!
A Guide for the Married Man was a big comedy hit in 1967, where Linda was seen for about five minutes in the almost non-speaking role of Miss Stardust. But who cares, as her remarkable beauty was more telling than any line of dialogue (even if she wears a not very attractive blonde hairdo). Oddly, I can’t right now recall an actress with more perfect teeth. But the future was nonetheless bright and, like Fay Wray in 1933, Linda would find her legend on the rise with the participation of some unforgettable simians.
The Planet of the Apes adventure was soon on its roll (with the credit Introducing Linda Harrison as Nova) and of course, not many people would ever forget Nova, a young primitive that would be the sparkle in the eye of unfortunate astronaut George Taylor. It’s all in her honor, because the character didn’t do much, being a silent and hapless participant in the events surrounding her. She would also be the sole witness to Taylor’s reaction at the climax, one of the most unforgettable in motion pictures.
This role made her a cult star, as the rest of the career remains unmemorable. Ironically, 35 years later, she remains an enthusiastic guest at many sci-fi conventions, as many more popular actresses of the time are completely ignored! The success of the movie was world-wide and absolutely phenomenal, so logically Hollywood decided to produce a sequel.
Linda became once again Nova for Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which opened in 1970. This time, she got the attention of another lost explorer, John Brent (played by James Franciscus, in a role at first proposed to Burt Reynolds). She finally found her lost love in Linda’s most memorable scene of her entire career, as she exclaims: “Taylor!”, proving that she had the potential to learn some basic speech patterns. Almost everyone explodes at the end and Nova would not come back for the next three episodes of the Apes series.
Alongside all that, Linda became a regular in the Bracken’s World TV series. She posed for a classical and memorable Cosmopolitan magazine cover, becoming fast friends with its legendary editor Ellen Gurley Brown, who would eventually become godmother to Linda’s two sons (Harrison and Dean), during her marriage to producer Richard D. Zanuck. The boys were the main reason why Linda disappeared from screens for the next few years, as we next saw her in Airpot ’75, under the oddly changed name of Augusta Summerland. Linda came very close to obtain the lead female role for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, as her husband was the producer. But it was the wife of Zanuck’s boss that got the role! Talk about favoritism! I bet that Roy Scheider was disappointed.
In 1978, Linda and Zanuck divorced. We would only see Linda on the big screen (under her original name) for 1985’s Cocoon and its sequel Cocoon: The Return in 1988. All small roles that pales before the Nova mythos. In 1995, Linda came back for Walter Hill’s Wild Bill, a story about Wild Bill Hickok. The entire Planet of the Apes series got re-issued on DVD, giving renewed exposure to the person of Linda Harrison and her immortal role, as it should.
She was briefly seen in Tim Burton’s tedious Planet of the Apes remake in 2001, making us regret that we weren’t watching the original production. Linda now lives in California and remains a frequent guest at many conventions, where she helps people in building their astrological profile. Now, if there was any proof that a performer could be remembered for one single role, Linda Harrison is she. And, lucky us, she remains a beautiful and inspirational individual.
1965 The Fat Spy 1966 Way… Way Out 1967 A Guide for the Married Man 1968 Planet of the Apes 1970 Beneath the Planet of the Apes 1974 Airport 1975 1985 Cocoon 1988 Cocoon: The Return 1995 Wild Bill 2001 Planet of the Apes