Theme: MONKEY BUSINESS. Since it's actually a double theme, I'll also go with APE IN THE MIDDLE. Second things first: The four longest answers each contain the hidden word APE, split between the first and last names of a real or fictional woman, consistently parsed as -A PE-.
18 A. Early Mary Tyler Moore role : LAURA PETRIE. Fictional Woman - Mrs. Rob PETRIE was a real dish on a favorite TV show from the distant past.
54 A. She played Carla Tortelli on "Cheers" : RHEA PERLMAN. Real Woman. You'd have to be, to be married to Danny Divito.
3 D. She played Nicole Chapman on "Fame" : NIA PEEPLES. Real Woman, who I've never heard of. Cute.
28 D. 1996 Madonna role : EVITA PERON. Real woman, fictionalized. Wow. Has it been 15 years?!?
Plus the extended unifier:
4. With 36- and 62-Across, kids' ball game, and something this puzzle's four longest answers have in
common : MONKEY
36. See 4-Across : IN THE
62. See 4-Across : MIDDLE. In my neighborhood, we had a failure of imagination, and just called this often cruel game "keep-away."
Hi gang, it's Jazzbumpa, reporting from somewhere in APE country. Now, this dual theme is tight, cute, clever, and original. High marks for every bit of that. The only problem is that it's dead wrong! And thereby hangs a tail, so to speak. With that hint, I'll reveal why at the end, (which is sort of another hint, come to think of it.)
Let's see what other kinds of MONKEY BUSINESS we can uncover in APE country. Onward!
1. Trespass : SIN. I've heard these words used interchangeably in different versions of The Lord's Prayer.
10. Collar or jacket : ETON. The collar extends over the lapels of a jacket. Would these be worn together in an ensemble?
14. TNT element? : TRI. If all else fails, TRI-nitrotoluene. Here, breaking the word, rather than a molecule, into elements. Chemists love these run-on words.
15. Ring of color : AREOLA. An old favorite here at the corner.
16. Powerful TV princess : XENA. TV series from 1995 to 2001.
17. One of the Gershwins : IRA. George wrote the music, IRA wrote the lyrics.
20. Puts in a fresh pot : REPLANTS. RE-ANTES is a letter short.
22. Habeas corpus et al. : WRITS. Formal written orders from a judge or body with legal jurisdiction. Other examples are warrants and subpoenas.
23. Name of three presidents : GEORGE. Is it ironic that the first President George (Washington) led the fight for independence against King George III?
24. Noodle product? : IDEA. How long did you have to noodle this clue?
26. Glacial ridge : ESKER. I can never remember this word. Sounds Nordic.
27. Horticulturist's hangout : NURSERY. Full of potted plants. Or pot plants.
31. Happy co-worker? : DOPEY. Hi-Ho, I got this one right off. Disney Dwarfs.
33. Some TV screens : LCDS. Liquid Crystal Displays. Are TV and LCD still considered to be abrvs?
34. Go for, as a prize : VIE. Somehow, though, "VIE for it," never quite made it into the vernacular.
35. Hogwarts messengers : OWLS. From Harry Potter. In A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, they use ravens.
38. Tower city : PISA. Famous Italian landmark.
39. Bolo, for one : TIE. Neck wear - a western style string tie.
40. Nudge : PROD. I've heard of a gentle nudge. Gentle PROD seems a bit oxymoronic.
41. "I'm outta here!" : LATER. Alternative good-byes. Nope, can't say that just yet. Gotta do all those downs.
42. Meeting of Congress : SESSION. "Obstruction" has too many letters.
44. "Les Girls" actress Elg : TAINA. A Finnish actress. Here, you can see her, from teenager to octogenarian.
46. Latin word on a cornerstone : ANNO. A year in old Rome.
47. Getaway : ESCAPE. Either word can mean "get out of a bad situation," or "take a small vacation."
49. Ionian Sea island : CORFU. Dramatic.
52. Place for a bargain? : BASEMENT. That's a bit of retro language from department store days. Now it's all big box stores.
57. Genetic carrier : RNA. It goes DNA --> RNA --> protein.
58. Arena level : TIER
59. 2009 Ruben Studdard album : LOVE IS. Here he is, in some pretty good company.
60. Held by us : OUR. Plural possessive personal pronoun.
61. Numbers for one : SOLI. The plural of solo. This is also used to designate an orchestra section playing in unison or close parallel harmony.
63. Little thing to pick : NIT. There sure are a lot of female names in this puzzle.
1. Recipe direction : STIR. Drink recipe direction: Shake, don't stir.
2. Discount rack abbr. : IRREG. Irregular, i.e. containing some small flaw, like a Navajo Rug.
4. Trivia game that involves bluffing : MALARKY. Never heard of it.
5. Autumn color : ORANGE. Yellow also fit, in more ways than one.
6. Neither masculine nor feminine : NEUTER. I wanted DISENGENDERED.
7. Fashion designer Michael : KORS. Looks smug.
8. She, in São Paulo : ELA. Singular female pronoun.
9. Jabber : YAP. Lip flapping.
10. Cast-of-thousands actors : EXTRAS. Don't look for them in the credits.
11. Actress Hatcher : TERI. This Lois Lane portrayer was born on my 18th birthday.
12. "Don't count __!" : ON IT. An expression of skepticism or denial.
13. Rob Roy refusals : NAES Scottish expressions of skepticism or denial.
19. Washstand vessels : EWERS. Water pitchers.
21. Gets the consolation prize : LOSES. The winner gets the real prize.
24. Creep : INCH. Here, both "Creep" and "INCH" are verbs.
25. Snappy dresser : DUDE.
29. Increase : RISE.
30. Wine bottle datum : YEAR. Or ANNUM, if it's really old wine
31. Colon's pair : DOTS. Better than polyps, I suppose. No, wait, this is punctuation: ":".
32. Abrasion, to a tot : OWIE. I hurted myself.
33. Inc. abroad : LTD. Limited. In either case the owners have limited legal liability.
36. Golfer's selection : IRON. Some would chose a wood.
37. Thing to avoid : NO-NO. Or you might get an OWIE.
38. 2011 TV show with multiple pilots : PANAM. Never saw it.
40. Calendar girl : PIN UP. This seems to be a common PIN UP pose.
41. Traffic cop's request : LICENSE. Along with vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Or so I've been told . . .
43. Jungle journey : SAFARI. A trek through APE country, maybe.
44. Working (with) : TEAMED. Snow White teamed with Happy and Dopey.
45. Lash out at : ASSAIL. The witch ASSAILED Snow White.
48. World-weariness : ENNUI. Boredom. Pronounced "ahn-wee." Must be French
49. PC monitors : CRTS. Cathode Ray Tubes. No so much, any more.
50. River formed at Pittsburgh : OHIO. The Allegheny and Monongahela rivers combine to form the beautiful OHIO.
51. Lively dance : REEL. It's a real lively dance.
52. L.A.'s Sunset, e.g. : BLVD. Strip doesn't fit, and an abrv. is called for.
53. Bakery offering : TART. Have any of you guys ever picked up a TART at a bakery?
55. Stately tree : ELM. Not so much, any more.
56. Louis XIV, par exemple : ROI. A French King, in French.
If my hints didn't totally give it away, here's the scoop. An APE would be insulted if you called it a MONKEY. "Within the suborder of anthropoids, primates are grouped into monkeys, apes and hominids. The easiest way to distinguish monkeys from the other anthropoids is to look for a tail. Most monkey species have tails, but no apes or hominids do." There are also many other differences.
This is a pretty big mistake, but I wouldn't go APE over it. I'm outta here.