Published May 28 2012
1970 chimp series coming to DVD featuring ‘Love Boat’ actor Kopell
He was the voice of Baron von Butcher on the 1970 Saturday morning series “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp,” where the good guys of the Agency to Prevent Evil (APE) battled the villains of the Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan (CHUMP). Assisting the Baron was a band of bad apes, including Creto, Wang Fu, the Duchess, Dragon Lady, Ali Assa Seen and Dr. Strangemind.
The entire cast – from the heroic Lancelot to the evil Butcher – was made up of chimps who were filmed. Human actors dubbed in the dialogue.
Don’t believe it? All 17 episodes of the series are in a DVD set coming out today.
It seems chimps, like actors, need some kind of motivation to move their lips. The chimps were given treats – peanut butter or bubble gum – to get them to move their mouths. After the filming was done, the writers would create lines of dialogue to match the movements and actors like Kopell would give them voice.
“My character had a monocle. I don’t know how he kept it on. There was one time when my character had this really long speech. While they were filming the chimp, he let out this huge yawn at the end. So I did my long dialogue and then had to yawn at the end as if my character had gotten bored with his own voice,” Kopell, 78, says.
The voice work came a year after he appeared on the human spy comedy “Get Smart” as the evil Siegfried. Kopell laughs as he talks about how the two characters ended up being very similar: same accent, nasty attitude, contempt and loathing.
Kopell has a long list of acting roles where he used a foreign accent, including playing a Viennese psychiatrist on “Bewitched” and English hero Alan-a-Dale on “When Things Were Rotten.”
He found out by accident he had a good ear to mimic other dialogues. Early in his career, the New York native showed up for an audition late, and all of the roles had been cast. But the CBS casting director asked him if he would be willing to read for a role of a Cuban heavy on the CBS daytime drama “The Brighter Day.”
“That was a time when it was OK to do such casting,” Kopell says. “I figured that I was so wrong for the part I was just going to do the audition to take up their valuable time. But I nailed it, and I spent the next three months threatening old ladies with a Latino accent.”
Kopell is surprised that there’s still interest in “Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp” after more than 40 years.
He was slightly speechless to learn the chimp that played Lancelot Link is still alive and living at Los Angeles’ Wildlife Waystation. A portion of the DVD sales will go to the facility.