In the late 1960s, noted comedy writers Stan Burns and Mike Marmer, after contributing scripts and shaping characters for Get Smart, decided to take spy parodies one step further. They approached producer Allan Sandler and said—why don’t we do it with live chimpanzees?
The result was Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp which ran Saturday mornings on ABC from September 12, 1970 to September 2, 1972. The 17 episodes featured Lance Link and Mata Hairi, agents of A.P.E. (Agency to Prevent Evil) battling Baron Von Butcher (voiced by Get Smart’s Bernie Kopell) and his evil C.H.U.M.P. (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan). In each episode, A.P.E. agents also performed as members of the rock group, the Evolution Revolution, introduced by Ed Simian, an obvious take-off of variety host Ed Sullivan.
Forty years later, Sandler has produced a 3-DVD set collection of all the adventures as well as extensive bonus features going behind the scenes of a rather adventurous project. After all, with a budget of over a million dollars, some 40 sets had to be built ¾ size to accommodate the chimps. Costumes had to be designed to suit the “actors” in international settings where the chimps could drive cars, play tennis and checkers, surf, ride camels, and engage in comic dialogue. This was no mean feat. For example, in the first episode, “There’s No Business Like Snow Business,” chimps are seen skiing. We see a masked chimp parodying the Lone Ranger riding a masked horse in “The Lone APE / Missile Beach Party” where A.P.E. foils a chicken rustling scheme.
It’s hard not to ask over and over again—how did they get those apes to do that? Many of these questions are answered in the discussions and interviews on the bonus disc. We learn lip movements could be regulated with peanut butter, that the “cast” quickly fell into the beat of the Evolution Revolution songs, and how the voices of Dayton Allen, Joan Gerber, Steven Hoffman and Kopell were scripted and ad libbed to fit the lip movements of the stars.
On top of all that, Sandler takes us to the Los Angeles Wildlife Way Station where the actual Lance Link—real name Tongo—is still alive, well, and living in retirement with other rescued wild animals. We hear from Martine Colette, founder of the Way Station, who is delighted a generous chunk of the DVD sales will go to help keep the Way Station operational.
Despite its age, it’s hard to think of many kids who wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing at least one or two half-hour Lance Link stories. However, at some point, the novelty is likely to wear out. The scripts may have more laughs for those who were kids back in the day due to the many topical references that will be lost on younger viewers. For example, it might take a bit to realize the voice of Lance Link sounds very much like Humphrey Bogart. That’s why Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp is ideal family entertainment. There’s something for all generations, at least for one evening. I guarantee—it won’t be long before everyone in your living room will be asking, “How did they do that?” That will come after a lot of laughing over what Lance and his friends and foes actually do. You betcha life, sweetheart.