05 August 2011

Nerd Central: Paul Williams Sings in His Battle for the Planet of the Apes Make-up

The collision of Paul Williams, the Planet of the Apes franchise, Johnny Carson, and a jazz classic is too much love for me to take. With this week’s release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I expected some “Apes Ephemera” to appear—and this clip from The Tonight Show from 1973, an official release, not some old VCR copy—is an unexpected joy.

Paul Williams, already a famous songwriter but before his three great film scores—Phantom of the Paradise, Bugsy Malone, and The Muppet Movie—is one of the best aspects of the otherwise worst of the original “Apes” series, 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Williams has the right stature, carriage, and voice to convincingly play the orangutang character Virgil. Cementing everything I’ve heard about Williams—that he’s a totally cool guy—he wanders onto Carson’s stage in full Virgil make-up and croons “Here’s That Rainy Day.” I can’t express to you how much this makes me smile.

An extra twist on this: “Here’s That Rainy Day,” written in 1953, was Johnny Carson’s favorite ballad, and he sung it with Bette Midler on his second-to-last night hosting The Tonight Show. It was also performed in tribute to him after his death. Good song choice, Paul!

By the way, when this was first broadcast, I was less than three weeks old. My mom probably caught it on the TV when she was trying to get me to go to sleep.