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Alan Virdon: Get to Know the POTA TV Character

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With the passing of actor Ron Harper, who portrayed astronaut Alan Virdon on the 1974 Planet of the Apes TV show, it felt like the right time to take a look at his character, this profile culled from various filmed and written adventures.

A farmer turned astronaut who lived in Houston, Texas, with his wife, Sally, and their son, Chris. Virdon grew up in Jackson County, where he spent a good deal of time lifting rocks out of the soil of his parents’ farm.

Virdon showed an aptitude for science, and passed his Electronics Lab One course despite having sat on an awl before finishing his final project. Eventually, he joined the U.S. Air Force. While on a tour of duty at Edwards Air Force Base, during which he served under the beak-nosed Major Jennings, Virdon befriended fellow officer Peter Burke.

Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton)
Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) (courtesy Mark Talbot-Butler/

The two officers were later assigned to an ANSA mission aboard the Probe Six, along with a third officer, Jones, with Virdon in command. In 1980, the ship encountered radioactive turbulence near Alpha Centauri, propelling them forward in time to the year 3085. Jones died when the vessel crashed, leaving the other two astronauts stranded in the ape-controlled future. Evading the apes, Virdon and Burke earned the enmity of Urko, Central City’s security chief, and Zaius, the city’s chief councilor, who vowed to capture them before they could incite other humans to rebel. A chimp named Galen befriended the men, and was deemed a criminal for helping them. Together, the fugitives roamed the former United States for some time, evading Urko’s troops, seeking a way to return to their own era and helping others along the way. To that end, Burke and Virdon employed a variety of technical, scientific and medical skills amassed throughout their lives.

Virdon’s primary goal was to find a way home to his family. To that end, he resisted the attentions of other women, including Amy Talbert, from the village of Trion, who professed her love for him. He did, however, give in to temptation with two other women — Maia, a widow from Fandomville, and Katrin, a member of the United Freedom Force terrorist group — though neither relationship lasted long before he had to leave them and continue on his quest.

Ultimately, the two astronauts found a computer system enabling them to return to the past. Though they invited Galen to return with them to their era, the chimp chose to remain in his own world, rather than become an oddity in theirs.

The Planet of the Apes TV series triumvirate
The Planet of the Apes TV series triumvirate (courtesy Mark Talbot-Buter/

NOTE: Virdon was called Adam Dircon in some issues of the Spanish-language comic El Planeta de los Simios. An early-draft script of the TV series’ first episode, written by Rod Serling, spelled his first name as “Allan,” but the second “l” was later removed. His last name was misspelled as “Verdon” on the packaging to Mego’s 1970s POTA action figures. (The figure was repackaged by Mexican distributor Cipsa as “Bill.” It’s possible that change was due to Cipsa confusing Virdon with Bill Hudson, from the animated series.)

Which particular Jackson County Virdon hailed from was unspecified, though there is such a county in Texas, where he later owned a farm. This would indicate he was from one of the county’s three main cities (Edna, Ganado or La Ward), or from a smaller community (such as Lolita or Vanderbilt).

Planet of the Apes TV Series cast
Planet of the Apes TV series cast (courtesy Mark Talbot-Butler/

The novelization and script of “The Cure” mentioned a teenage daughter for the Virdons; the novel, in fact, indicated “one daughter” was a teenager, implying the existence of others. The novelization of “The Surgeon” also referred to Virdon’s offspring in the plural; in that same adaptation, Virdon muttered the name Susan during his fever hallucinations (he said his wife’s name, Sally, onscreen), which could possibly be a daughter’s name. And in an early-draft script of “Escape from Tomorrow” (available online at Mark Rogers’ Planet of the Apes: The Series Web site), a photograph of Virdon’s family was described as “a photo of Virdon, his wife, daughter and son.” However, no daughter was referenced in the aired episodes, and the astronaut’s onscreen family portrait contained only Sally and Chris.

The name Probe Six appeared in an unfilmed script, “A Fallen God,” which also provided Virdon’s middle initial as J. His rank of colonel was spoken onscreen, though some early-draft scripts referred to him as a commander (since he commanded the mission).

Virdon’s flings with Katrin and Maia would seem out of character with his onscreen persona, given his driving motivation of finding a way back to his family. Neither relationship, however, occurred in an aired episode.

This is an entry from From Aldo to Zira: Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia, available from Amazon

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