Bill Blake is a makeup artist and actor who toured with stuntwoman Paula Crist in their 'Zira and Cornelius' live performances during the 1970s. As a teen in New Jersey, Blake had corresponded with John Chambers about Apes makeups and had visited the set of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (early 1972) to study the makeup techniques, where he met stars like Roddy McDowall and Natalie Trundy. Making someone up as an ape for a college assignment led to a job as an actor and makeup artist on The Gene London Show, a very popular children's program on the local CBS network affiliate station in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As Blake later recalled, "In 1972-'73, I entered 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' “100th Issue Monster Makeup Contest” along with my artist/sculptor friend, Ted Patrick, and to our delight, we won! Our entry was the Snow Creature, a Yeti-like creation, done as a foam-latex appliance... We had a four-page spread in the magazine, and along with the Snow Creature photos, was an article and pictures of my Planet of the Apes makeup creations." Paula Crist, who had just finished working on Battle for the Planet of the Apes, contacted Bill after seeing his work in 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' magazine and asked if he could help design some makeup for a convention appearance she was doing. Bill flew out to Los Angeles and they found that they could each do very convincing routines as Zira and Cornelius, and worked very well as a team. They initially performed at some fundraisers and benefits, and then obtained their own license from Twentieth Century Fox and performed their first shopping mall appearance together in October '74.
In early October 1974, Bill filmed a scene which was later cut from the Planet of the Apes television series episode "The Interrogation". In the episode, Galen and Virdon steal a cart so they can sneak into Central City to rescue Burke. The fugitives abandon the stolen cart at a local farm. On it's discovery, an officer gorilla (played by Lee Delano) questions the "country ape" farmer - a chimpanzee peasant dressed in a white spun shirt - about the cart, then reports back to Urko. Bill Blake's appliance for the episode was made with the same mold he used to make appliances for the live shows, and applied by makeup artist Terry Miles. The scene was excised out of the finished episode.
Blake auditioned to perform the voice of Cornelius in the Apes cartoon series, but was turned down because he sounded "too much" like Roddy McDowall. However, a publicity picture of Bill in Cornelius makeup was traced over and used as part of a montage in the series episode "Mission of Mercy". Blake and Crist also filmed a demo reel in 1976 as part of a pitch for a sixth Planet of the Apes movie, titled Salvation for the Planet of the Apes. Paula and Bill performed their stage show for around six years, touring extensively, before their partnership ended.
Bill Blake has made regular guest appearances at conventions, including a makeup demonstration and full-costume appearance at the 'Starcon' convention in 1996, and continues to be involved in Apes fandom, including contributing to the Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary in 1998.
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- The People who are The Planet of the Apes, part 1, by Jim Whitmore - 'Planet of the Apes' UK #53 (25 October 1975)
- Two People who are The Planet of the Apes, part 2, by Jim Whitmore - 'Planet of the Apes' UK #54 (1 November 1975)
- I say if it looks like an ape, talks like an ape, and walks like an ape... it is an ape!, by Jim Whitmore - 'The Mighty World of Marvel' UK #242 (18 May 1977)