By Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide/Ken Hulsey, Monster Island News
During the late '60s and early '70s, Linda Harrison bade fair to be one of the screen's reigning beauty queens; as one of the three young starlets in the series Bracken's World and as the mute woman Nova in the first two Planet of the Apes movies, Harrison was a very attractive and visible young actress. Indeed, had she come along a few years later, when the ancillary market for television- and movie-related posters was more developed, she might've been a rival to the likes of Farrah Fawcett-Majors or Jaclyn Smith. Harrison was born in Berlin, MD, and took an early interest in dance and acrobatics. She won a series of local beauty contests which led to a short stint as a photo model in New York. While in California for a beauty competition, she was spotted by an agent who arranged a screen test for her at 20th Century Fox. She was signed up and immediately put into a small role in the pilot episode of a series called Men Against Evil, which evolved into the police show Felony Squad, with Howard Duff and her future Bracken's World co-star Dennis Cole. She also turned up as a cheerleader in an episode of Batman and as Wonder Woman in a failed TV pilot. It was in the Jerry Lewis comedy Way...Way Out that Harrison made her big-screen debut and she followed this with an appearance in the low-budget comedy The Fat Spy, then turned up in a somewhat more prestigious vehicle, A Guide for the Married Man.
It was around that time that she first met Richard Zanuck, a production executive (and the son of legendary mogul Darryl F. Zanuck), who offered her the role of Nova in the film Planet of the Apes. That movie took a long time to get off the ground and before she ever appeared as Nova, Harrison served as a stand-in in the role of Dr. Zira (the part ultimately played by Kim Hunter) in the screen tests and extensive make-up tests through which the project evolved, even participating in a test for Edward G. Robinson in the role of Dr. Zaius (Robinson was forced to withdraw from the project because of a heart condition that prevented him from working under the heavy make-up and in the high altitude location where much of the film was to be made). Although the character of Nova was mute, Harrison made a serious impression on audiences with her long dark hair and big brown eyes, which did most of her acting for her in the absence of any spoken dialogue for her character. The film was a huge hit, earning huge grosses across more than one year of release around the world and eventually yielded a sequel.
In the interim, Harrison was cast as Paulette, the young aspiring actress in the Fox-produced network series Bracken's World. It was here that she not only reminded television audiences, weekly, of her stunning appearance but proved that she could act, playing a character who was juggling romantic entanglements, studio pressures, and the nagging of her mother (Jeanne Cooper) over her career. In 1970, during the run of Bracken's World, Harrison reprised her role as Nova in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where her character was, if anything, featured even more prominently -- indeed, it is the death of Nova that leads the Charlton Heston character to the grim notion that the whole world-turned-upside-down should be destroyed.
Harrison disappeared from movies for a time, after Beneath the Planet of the Apes and the cancellation of her television series, when she married Richard Zanuck. During the mid-'70s, however, she tried to re-emerge in her profession, which engendered some frustrating moments; she had, and then lost, the role of Roy Scheider's wife in Jaws, when Universal Pictures insisted that it go to Lorraine Gary, the wife of studio chief Sidney Sheinberg. As a consolation prize, she played a part in Airport 1975, working under the pseudonym of Augusta Summerland.
She later divorced Zanuck and left the business altogether for a time, to work on raising her family and pursuing her personal spiritual goals. The two remained sufficiently close to each other, however, so that when Harrison resumed studying acting in the 1980s, Zanuck offered her a role in his production of Cocoon, which she reprised in the sequel. She appeared in the movie Wild Bill and participated onscreen in the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes.