Actress Linda Harrison shot to fame for her role as Nova in the 1968 science fiction film classic “Planet of the Apes.” The role brought her to international stardom and was the beginning of an extremely successful career in Hollywood.
She followed up her role in the movie when she also starred in its first sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” Additionally, Harrison was a regular cast member on the NBC series “Bracken’s World,” and appeared in a number of other movies and television series from the 1960s onwards.
A classic beauty, Harrison was first noticed for her stunning features but she managed to establish herself as a talented actress over the years. In an interview with The Forbidden Zone, Harrison spoke about wanting to be an actress ever since she was a little girl. She said: “I felt the need to do it, however that comes into your consciousness. It came into mine at a very young age.”
She appeared in beauty contests in her youth and that proved to be the stepping stone she needed to get her foot in the door in Hollywood. She said in the same interview:
“The beauty contests back then were really stepping stones. At that time, a lot of the people who won were taken to studios, given screen tests, and had a chance to be put under contract. It didn’t happen to that many people. Luckily for me, that was the route I was able to take.”
A true stunner back in her heyday, Harrison is still absolutely breathtaking today at 76 years old. She’s led a wonderfully successful life, and she is still acting in the industry. Read on to find out more about this accomplished actress.
Harrison was born on July 26, 1945, in Berlin, Maryland. She found a great interest in the arts during her childhood and her parents enrolled her in dance classes and aerobatics. Her family knew she had potential; her mother was interviewed in 1969 and said, “I knew she’d be a star when she was only five.” Described by her mom as “a little ham,” by the age of 6, Harrison had already performed on stage and enjoyed the experience.
By the time she was 11, she won the Delmarva Chicken Festival Talent Contest with an acrobatic performance. It was at the same festival six years later that the stunning teen won the beauty contest and was named “Miss Delmarva.” But beyond her beautiful looks, Harrison also had plenty of talent as an acrobatic dancer, and she had dreams of making it big as an actress and entertainer. According to her official website, Harrison first found a love for acting during her school years and was cast in the lead of her senior class play in 1963.
The budding actress went on to win several local beauty competitions, including Miss Berlin in 1963, and she was even the runner-up in the Miss America Pageant in Long Beach, California, in 1965. As she began competing in more beauty pageant competitions during this time, Harrison picked up simple jobs here and there to make ends meet as she focused on trying to figure out ways to professionally pursue her passions. Luckily for her, she was ultimately spotted by a talent scout.
Start In Hollywood
According to IMDB, Harrison was spotted by talent scout Mike Medavoy at a beauty pageant and went for a screen test at 20th Century Fox — now known as 20th Century Studios. After she met film producer Richard D. Zanuck – whom she later married and divorced – Harrison began to work harder than ever before to become an actress and enrolled in drama classes and speech classes. Soon after that, she signed a seven-year contract with the film studio and also began to obtain small roles.
One of her jobs included a part in “A Guide for the Married Man, which was directed by Gene Kelly. She also appeared in a few episodes of “Batman,” which starred Adam West. But it wasn’t long before the starlet finally got her big break in the late ’60s.
Harrison’s big turning point in her career was when she landed her most notable role as Nova in “Planet of the Apes,” a role that she reprised in the film’s sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” The movie also starred Charlton Heston and was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The film was commercially successful and featured groundbreaking prosthetic makeup, for which it became well known. In conversation with Crazed Fanboy in 2003, Harrison reminisced on her time in the films and explained how she had a hunch they would be successful:
“I think somewhere in my mind I may have thought that,” she said. “I saw it as an unusual film and went on from there to do other things.”
“Planet Of The Apes”
In her interview with The Forbidden Zone, Harrison spoke further about how she came to be involved in “Planet of the Apes.” She explained:
“At the time, I was dating Richard Zanuck, who was the head of the studio. He was thinking about this particular project and one evening he told me about this very exciting and unusual script. He told me about the Apes and the humans and how he thought it could be a really big hit. But his major concern was the make-up and if they could carry it off.”
It turned out that Zanuck thought Harrison would be a perfect fit for the role of Nova. She revealed: “He also said that Nova is the girl in it, and she’s dark, and he felt that I was physically right.” By the time she did a makeup test for the role, she said she knew she would be part of it if it got made. When asked how she prepared for the film, she said:
“I felt very intuitive that my particular personality and nature were like Nova. Automatically, I’d say that’s about 80% of the part. The director, the producer, and the writer talked with me about her, and they described her as ‘sub-human.’ … We played it by ear and experimented. It was really a moment-to-moment thing. What I realized, and decided to use as an actress, is that she really had the instincts of an animal. Animals know fear, but also have a great capacity to love. So, there were two strong emotions that Nova knew: fear and love. She had a great, deep fear of the Apes.”
Harrison also talked about how seriously everyone took their roles on set.
“It was a pretty, I won’t say somber set, but we were dealing in new territory that had never been done on film,” she explained. “So everybody was really at attention, wondering what the next shot was going to be. It was pretty unusual to be sitting there with apes!”
“Planet of the Apes” was so popular that the studio rushed to bring a sequel to the cinemas. “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” was released in 1970 but wasn’t as successful as the first film. Nevertheless, Harrison’s career had been kickstarted and she went on to appear in more films as well as the series “Bracken’s World,” which unfortunately was canceled after two seasons.
According to Crazed Fanboy, Harrison was originally offered a role in the movie “Jaws,” but Universal Studios president Sid Sheinberg offered the part to his wife Lorraine Gary instead. Zanuck and Sheinberg were able to remedy the situation by offering Harrison a role in the film “Airport 1975.” Harrison later went on to appear in a handful of other television shows, including “Switch” and “Barnaby Jones.”
Later in her career, Harrison also worked as a producer, however, her acting roles slowed down. But in a nod to her role in “Planet of the Apes,” Harrison had a brief appearance in the 2001 remake. She also appeared in the documentary “Behind the Planet of the Apes” around the same time, however, since then she’s only been in a handful of movies.
Focus On Family
Although she never officially retired from acting, Harrison has certainly had extended periods without work in Hollywood. When asked by The Forbidden Zone what prompted her to leave acting, she had this to say:
“You don’t really get out of acting, you just kind of take a little sabbatical. I got married, and then I got pregnant, during Bracken’s World. It was just a natural thing. I had a child coming into this world, and I wanted to be home with the child. But then after I had both of my children, I felt the need to work again.”
It was Zanuck that Harrison married in 1969 and had two children with — the couple had two sons, Harrison and Dean, who’ve both followed their parents into the film industry. But Harrison’s marriage to Zanuck didn’t last and in 1978 they divorced. Their relationship was incredibly beneficial for their careers during their time together — Zanuck was not only supportive of Harrison’s career, but he actually played a pivotal role in helping her achieve greater success. She spoke about how even after getting divorced they managed to maintain a good relationship:
“It was a natural for us. We’re both positive people. With his first marriage and his first two children, he had a very bitter ex-wife and we saw how damaging that can be on the children. Having gone through that experience, we just weren’t going to allow our differences to affect our children and their happiness. So, from Day One we’ve been friends, as well as with his wife, Lili.”
In 1990, after her acting career slowed down, Harrison moved back to her hometown of Berlin and opened a consignment store that she named “Harrison’s Peach Tree.” However, after some time she wanted to be closer to where her sons were, so she moved back to Los Angeles. She obtained a real estate license and occasionally acted in small roles.
Then in 1998, Harrison went to a science fiction conference in New Jersey and discovered a whole new world, one in which her previous work was highly regarded. The event was also attended by fellow actors, including the original “Lost in Space” cast, as well as Bela Lugosi Jr. and Sara Karloff. She explained how she enjoyed the experience:
“I did my first convention last year at Chiller. It’s just very rewarding when you really haven’t done anything for a number of years and then, all of a sudden, people want your autograph. It was very gratifying. I like it. It’s very good. You’re being appreciated for your work.”
This led Harrison to become a regular feature of “Planet of the Apes” conventions, which she has attended ever since. When asked what she thought of fan sites dedicated to the franchise that made her a star, as well as her own use of the internet via her official website, she said:
“I think they’re neat. Of course, I’m partial to (the movie) Apes, but I still find I’m surprised all the time. I’m amazed that this one film has such a power and an interest. I’m enjoying my website and I love to see the pictures go up, and especially reading the E-mail, because it relates directly to me. Anything that is a positive about yourself is very rewarding.”
In another interview, she called herself a “convention celebrity” and said she tried to make it to one show each month. She described the fans as “very” receptive, “more than I ever imagined.”
Then in 2008, Harrison was honored for her career. Coinciding with “Planet of the Apes”‘ 40th anniversary, she received the Maria Honorifica at the Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya in Catalonia, Spain. Harrison’s link with the “Planet of the Apes” franchise is clearly one that she holds dearly. Just before Hollywood rebooted the franchise in the early 2000s, she gave her opinion about the direction she’d like to see the movies go in:
“What I would like to see is that there is a falsening of man, then he redeems himself and builds a better society. He finds that all the wars and the bloodshed were very futile, and that apes and humans must live together peacefully … That’s what should emerge in the remake. We begin to see that we are more alike than un-alike.”
Busy with conventions, Harrison has otherwise kept a low profile with her acting in recent years, but she hasn’t totally given it up. Her most recent acting and producing credit was for the film “Midnight Massacre,” which IMDB reported was released in 2021. She has no other projects listed on the website currently, but who knows what she has in store in the future.
Nowadays, Harrison is 76 years old but her looks have certainly not faded. Once recognized as a beautiful actress known for her striking appearance and hourglass figure, Harrison is still absolutely gorgeous as a septuagenarian. She is a proud mother of two and is still finding bursts of success as an actress and producer.
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