Aug 3, 2013

The Naked Ape: Johnny Crawford's First Nude Scene

Other than Burt Reynolds posing on a bear skin rug for Cosmo, this is probably the most famous nude photo ever: a frontal of Johnny Crawford, a Boomer icon for his teen idol songs and his role as the squeaky-clean, innocent kid on The Rifleman, no longer squeaky-clean or innocent, letting it all hang out for the swinging 1970s.  It was used to advertise The Naked Ape (1973). 

But no one has actually seen the movie, unless you went to the theater on the three days in August 1973 when it was playing.








The book The Naked Ape (1967), by Desmond Morris, attributes our behavior today to the evolutionary advantages of our caveman ancestors.  Women are attracted to big muscles, for instance, because they were better for fighting off saber-toothed tigers, thereby enhancing survival.  Men are attracted to big breasts because they can nourish infants better, thereby enhancing offspring survival.

Wait...not every woman likes big muscles, and not every man likes big breasts.  Sometimes it's the other way around.  Physical attractiveness is primarily a matter of cultural norms.

Anthropologists thought it was ridiculous, but the back-to-nature set grabbed copies as fast as they could be printed, creating the first anthropological bestseller since Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa.  

But how do you make a movie out of an anthropological text?

Not very easily, apparently.

It seems to be about two college student (Johnny Crawford, Victoria Principal), who get all horny with each other and hang out naked, while a psychiatrist (John Hillerman) explains their behavior as cave-people grunting.  There are trippy animated sequences.  Robert Ito of Quincey plays a samurai.  Dennis Olivieri of The New People is in there somewhere.  Since it was produced by Hugh Heffner of Playboy, I doubt that there is any gay content.



In spite of the word "naked" in the title, The Naked Ape came and went instantly.  Writer/director Donald Driver never wrote or directed any movie ever again.  It received no play on tv, hardly any on cable tv, it's not on youtube or Netflix, and there's no DVD available. It's hard to even find a plot synopsis.

Maybe it's for the best.  After seeing the nude frontal of Johnny Crawford so often for so many years, what movie could live up to the expectation?