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.