Some TV series are so profoundly unique that they make a permanent impression no matter how little of them you’ve seen. Such is the case for me and “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp,” an early ’70s spy spoof which featured live monkeys playing the parts of the secret agents and their nemeses. It’s an utterly ridiculous show, one which may not cause your kids to blink an eye (sadly, they won’t care that it’s real chimps rather than CGI or animatronic creatures, they just know that it could’ve been accomplished that way, so they won’t care), but if you grew up in the ’70s and remember seeing the show, then you’ll be thrilled to learn that it’s finally getting a proper DVD release. Better yet, there’s a charitable element involved in picking up a copy…but rather than tell you about it myself, I’ll let one of the gentlemen who gave voice to some of the monkeys do the job, since TV legend Bernie Kopell – you’ll know his face from “The Love Boat” and “Get Smart,” among other shows – was kind enough to do a bit of press for the series.
Bullz-Eye: So who would’ve thought that you’d be doing press for “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp” in 2012?
Bernie Kopell: [Laughs.] You never know. Lancelot Link…this is one of those things that happens where it starts with James Bond, then they go to “The Man with UNCLE,“ then the satire of “Get Smart,” where I was very happily playing nasty, contemptuous Siegfried. And then the writers – Mike Marmer and Stan Burns – and I were sitting around, saying, “Well, what are we going to do now?” And Mike said, “Let’s do it with monkeys!” And they got these brilliant…choreographers, I would call them, to get the chimpanzees to behave as if they were human. And also to move their mouths. Some preferred peanut butter to go up and down with the jaw, some preferred gum, some liked a little piece of banana. And they didn’t mind the costumes. They liked the attention. And so we got them to move their mouths up and down and be the good guys and the bad guys. So it was more fun that you can even imagine.
BE: When it came time to do the voice of Baron von Butcher, did they specifically say, “Can you kind of put a spin on Siegfried?”
BK: Oh, absolutely.
BE: When the cast recorded the voices for the show, did you do them independently or together?
BK: We did it together. First they had the chimpanzees do their choreography and mouth movements and get that from various angles, and then Joan Gerber, Dayton Allen, who worked with Steve Allen years ago, and myself did all the voices. So you have good chimpanzees and bad chimpanzees, and the biggest problem was just not laughing our silly faces off. [Laughs.] Because it was just so much fun to do!
You know, what I’m excited about in particular is that there is a woman by the name of Martine Collette, and she runs Wildlife Waystation, and believe it or not, the chimpanzee that played Lancelot Link is still alive and enjoying his later life, or his retired years, in this facility that she has made for animals. For example, say someone has said, “Hey, here’s a great idea: let’s get a miniature bear!” And just for the safe side, without thinking, they cruelly pull out the bear’s teeth and claws so that the bear doesn’t destroy anything or hurt anybody. Then they realize that they made a mistake and it’s way too much trouble, and they give the bear up. This happens with all kinds of animals. And Martine being the saintly person that she is, she accepts these animals, and her organization, Wildlife Waystation, gets no support from anybody. It’s all volunteers and donations. And here’s the good news: 10% of the profits of “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp” – which is now out on DVD, re-mastered, through Film Chest – go to Martine Collette and her terrific work with the animals that nobody cares about anymore. I’m very excited about that. I’ve known her for…oh, years and years and years. She’s been doing this for 36 years, and she’s just an amazing human being. She’s the Mother Teresa of animals.
Tags: Barbara Feldon, Baron von Butcher, Bernie Kopell, Carl Reiner, Daniel Melnick, David Susskind, Don Adams, Get Smart, Jack Benny, Juliet Prowse, Lancelot Link, Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp, Leonard Stern, Martine Collette, Mel Brooks, Siegfried, The Jack Benny Show, The Light from the TV Shows, The Love Boat, Will Harris