‘Land of the Lost’ & ‘Planet of the Apes’ Actor Ron Harper Dies @ 88

March 25, 2024

Ron Harper, the handsome actor best known as Alan Virdon on the short-lived TV version of Planet of the Apes and as Uncle Jack on the final season of Land of the Lost, died March 21 at 91.

Harper on 87th Precinct (Image via NBC)

His daughter wrote on social media:

"It's with a heavy heart that I must share the news of my father's passing... He laid his head down to rest and never woke up again... Although it was not public knowledge, Alzheimer's Dementia started to take his mind from him years ago, it's hard to believe he is physically gone now too. I know he'll be watching over all of us, until we meet again."

Born January 12, 1933 (his bio had always stated 1936 until now), in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, Harper studied at both Princeton and the Actors Studio, under Lee Strasberg.

He understudied Paul Newman in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) on Broadway, but was primarily a TV performer.

Though a 1955 credit appears on IMDb, his debut has been identified as Tales of Wells Fargo in 1960, with various guest spots following soon after, including on Thriller (1960), Wagon Train (1960) and Shotgun Slade (1961), establishing Harper as a rugged, western-friendly presence.

Harper was a series regular several times in his career, first on the gritty 87th Precinct (1961-1962). Based on the books of Ed McBain, the show starred Robert Lansing (1928-1994), Norman Fell (1924-1998), Gregory Walcott (1928-2015) and Harper as no-nonsense detectives. Gena Rowlands (b. 1930) made four appearances on the show.

He changed gears for Wendy and Me (1964-1965), a whimsical comedy about George Burns (1896-1996) — playing himself — living in the same building with a young couple (Harper and Connie Stevens, b. 1938), a playboy (James Callahan, 1930-2007), and an irascible handyman (J. Pat O'Malley, 1904-1985). The show, which premiered about a month after Burns's wife Gracie Allen (1895-1964) suddenly died , tanked.

Continuing on his eclectic career path, Harper appeared on The Jean Arthur Show (1966), the last time '30s comedienne Jean Arthur (1900-1991) appeared on camera. Harper played Arthur's son on the show, which couldn't last three months.

He was also the lead on Garrison's Gorillas (1967-1968), a Dirty Dozen (1967) homage about Allied prisoners trained for WWII missions. It became smash hit ... in China ... in the 1980s.

With 1974's Planet of the Apes, based on the smash-hit movies, Harper's luck seemed to have changed. According to Blog of the Planet of the Apes, Harper is quoted in the upcoming book The Unofficial Oral History of Planet of the Apes: Vol. II as saying, "Just before the series aired, I did an interview and they said, ‘Well, you’ve finally got one that’s gonna go. It can’t miss.’ The motion pictures made something like $160 million, and everybody expected the series to be a shoo-in. I thought we were going to be on for at least a couple of years. It didn’t work out that way. It was very disappointing, because it really should have and could have been much more than it was.”

Trippy Planet of the Apes Opening HERE!

After the series' surprising failure, he played Uncle Jack on the last season of the children's series Land of the Lost (1976).

Harper's other work included many stints on soaps: Where the Heart Is (1971-1973), Love of Life (1980), Another World (1980), Capitol (1985-1987) and Generations (1990-1991).

He appeared on many other shows in guest spots, retiring after 2015.

Harper is survived by his daughter.

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