Charlton Heston and Kim Hunter in “Planet of the Apes,” from 1968. CONTRIBUTED

Those darn dirty apes can’t keep their paws off us

Height-wise, Chris Turner was always the biggest guy in his neighborhood. The teenager who would eventually grow to around 6 feet 10 inches was even bigger among his friends 50 years ago.

The main talk of the guys who lived around Springfield’s Rebert Pike, Old Mill Road and Laura Lane was about a new movie. Word-of-mouth was the prime way of creating a buzz in those pre-Internet, cable television days and the boys couldn’t wait to see the film about talking apes.

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It was on a spring afternoon in 1968 that Chris, then a freshman at Catholic Central High School, walked downtown after classes to catch “Planet of the Apes.”

The film starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut who crash-lands on a world ruled by intelligent apes became a science-fiction legend, spawning four sequels and along with “2001: A Space Odyssey” became hits with critics and audiences in 1968.

But to a kid of 13, it was about talking apes and the imagination of it all. It was the era of goofy sci-fi with things such as “Lost in Space” and “The Jetsons,” and even though “Star Trek” was helping change that, it wasn’t even shown in this area.

“I didn’t go to the movies a lot, but it was the uniqueness of it,” Chris said. “It was extremely good, captivating. You couldn’t take your eyes off the screen; it just kept your interest.”

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Later down at the egg store across from Greenon High School where the neighborhood kids gathered to buy pop and candy, Chris’s friends couldn’t wait to hear about the experience.

Although out of his element, Chris found himself the center of attention from his buddies, recounting the thrills without giving away any of the spoilers.

While Chris was the first Turner to discover the apes, he wouldn’t be the last one enthused. His nephew, who turned a year-and-a-half at the time, would soon become a fan — me.

I discovered it through my other uncle, Jeff’s, trading cards, which fascinated me. In 1970, he bought a comic book of the sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” and I was hooked.

Jeff had to drag me to the second sequel, “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” then the rereleases of the first two. It was on one such drive-in rerelease that Chris joined us. I remember falling asleep partway through “Escape” and waking up at the end.

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As the years brought more Apes sequels and television series, I would collect countless cards, comics, action figures and about anything with an apes logo on it, even dressing as one for Halloween.

As ape mania wore down, “Star Wars,” James Bond, rock music, sports and all the other things that come with growing up replaced them.

I still caught the films on television and suffered through the 2011 reimagining and caught bits and pieces of the recent series. But it was those classics that began 50 years ago I rushed to buy in the deluxe Blu-ray box a decade ago and still enjoy.

And it gives Chris and I another topic of conversation.

“It was kind of a breakthrough, something different,” he said.

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