Cheeta

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Cheeta
Cheeta.jpg
Portrait of "Cheeta" (Jiggs IV), long alleged to be the principal animal performer of the Cheeta role
First appearanceTarzan the Ape Man
Portrayed byJiggs and other animals
Information
AliasesCheetah, Cheta, Chita
SpeciesChimpanzee
GenderMale
 
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This article is about the chimpanzee film character. For the species of big cat, see Cheetah.
Cheeta
Cheeta.jpg
Portrait of "Cheeta" (Jiggs IV), long alleged to be the principal animal performer of the Cheeta role
First appearanceTarzan the Ape Man
Portrayed byJiggs and other animals
Information
AliasesCheetah, Cheta, Chita
SpeciesChimpanzee
GenderMale

Cheeta (sometimes billed as Cheetah, Cheta and Chita) is a chimpanzee character who appeared in numerous Hollywood Tarzan movies of the 1930s–1960s as well as the 1966–1968 television series, as the ape sidekick of the title character, Tarzan. Cheeta has usually been characterized as male, but sometimes as female, and has been portrayed by chimpanzees of both sexes.

While the character of Cheeta is inextricably associated in the public mind with Tarzan, no chimpanzees appear in the original Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs that inspired the films. The closest analog to Cheeta in the Burroughs novels is Tarzan's monkey companion Nkima, who appears in several of the later books in the series.

Role[edit]

Cheeta's role in the Tarzan films and TV series is to provide comic relief, convey messages between Tarzan and his allies, and occasionally lead Tarzan's other animal friends to the ape-man's rescue.[1]

Portrayers of the character[edit]

The character of Cheeta was a composite role created through the use of numerous animal actors,[2] over a dozen according to one source.[1] According to journalist R. D. Rosen, "In each Tarzan movie, the Cheeta role [was] played by more than one chimp, depending on what talents the scene called for."[2] Known and alleged performers of the role are given in the following table (see the comments following the table for the sources of the data).

NameSexSpeciesBornDiedOwner(s)Trainer(s)Period as Cheeta
JiggsMChimpca.19291938-02-28 or 1938-03-01Tony & Jacqueline GentryTony & Jacqueline Gentry1932–1934
David HoltMHuman1927-08-142003-11-15InapplicableInapplicable1933
Cheetah-Mike (aka Org)MChimpUnknown; ca.1931 claimed2011-12-24See commentsUnknownPossibly never; 1930s–1940s claimed
Jiggs, Jr. (aka Jiggs II)MChimpca.1935UnknownTony & Jacqueline GentryTony & Jacqueline Gentry1930s–1940s?
Unknown 1 ?Chimp1930sUnknownUnknownUnknown1930s
Skippy ?Chimp1930sUnknownUnknownUnknownlate 1930s
Unknown 2 ?Chimp1930sUnknownUnknownUnknownca.1933–1943
Cheta ?Chimpca.1937UnknownUnknownGeorge Emerson1943
Unknown 3 ?Chimp1940sUnknownUnknownSee comments1944–1945?
Unknown 4 ?Chimp1940sUnknownUnknownAlbert Antonucci1946–1949?
HarryMChimpca.1944UnknownUnknownUnknown1948
Cheeta ?Chimp1940sUnknownPinky JacksonPinky Jackson1950
CheetaFChimpca.19481957-09-06Ed RogersUnknown1950s
ZippyMChimpca.1951UnknownRalph QuinlanRalph Quinlan1950s
DinkyFChimpUnknown1965UnknownUnknown1965
Cheetah ?Chimp1960s?UnknownUnknownUnknown1966–1968?
C.J.MOrangutan1970s?UnknownUnknownUnknown1981
Cheeta (aka Jiggs IV)MChimpca.1960; ca.1932 claimedstill aliveSee commentsTony Gentry2007; 1930s–1950s claimed

More details about these performers:

Tony Gentry's Cheeta Hoax[edit]

Late in his life Tony Gentry, who had been the co-owner and trainer of the original Cheeta (Jiggs), made extravagant claims in regard to another chimpanzee he owned and its connection with the Cheeta role. This animal, known as both Cheeta and Jiggs IV, was falsely alleged by Gentry to have been the primary animal actor portraying Cheeta in the Tarzan movies over the years. He also greatly exaggerated the age of the animal to support this claim. For a number of years both before and after Gentry's death this story passed unexamined and became a matter of general belief.

Gentry's allegations[edit]

Tony Gentry made various claims regarding Cheeta's (Jiggs IV) age, origins, and supposed movie roles. Some of these claims conflicted with each other.

In the usually related account, Gentry originally acquired the animal by purchase from Henry Trefflich, a New York animal importer and dealer. Cheeta was supposedly born in the wild in Liberia some months prior to 9 April 1932, which is celebrated as his birthday because it is the date he is said to have arrived in the USA, in New York.[40] Other accounts of Cheeta's origins from Gentry include having found the animal himself in the Belgian Congo in 1932 or having bought him in Santa Monica about 1938 or in the late 1940s.[2]

Gentry's acquaintances and fellow animal trainers Hubert Wells, Stewart Raffill and Cheryl Shawver have disputed all of these accounts, stating that "Tony got that chimp from Wally Ross ... one of the managers of Pacific Ocean Park on the pier in Santa Monica" when the park closed in 1967. According to them, Cheeta was only about 6 or 7 years old at that time, which would put his birthdate around 1960 or 1961 rather than 1932.[2]

Gentry claimed Cheeta/Jiggs IV was the primary animal actor used in the role of Cheeta in the Tarzan movies. His first appearance as Cheeta is usually stated to have been in the second Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film, Tarzan and His Mate (1934), uncredited as a young chimpanzee riding on the back of the older chimp (Jiggs) who originated the role. He was then allegedly cast in the role himself in the other Weissmuller Tarzans that followed, as well as the succeeding Lex Barker Tarzan films.[41] Journalist R. D. Rosen, who investigated this story, counters that this animal in fact never appeared in any Tarzan film.[2]

Besides his supposed role as Cheeta in the Tarzan films, Cheeta/Jiggs IV reputedly appeared as other chimpanzee characters in unrelated films, including Ramona the Chimp in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) and Chee-Chee in Doctor Dolittle (1967) with Rex Harrison, supposedly his last role before retirement. However, according to Wells, Raffill and Shawver, as reported by R. D. Rosen, Cheeta never appeared in any movies; Rosen himself confirmed that the animal could not have been the Chee-Chee in the Dolittle film.[2]

Later life of Cheeta/Jiggs IV as a celebrity[edit]

In 1991, whatever the truth of his origins and prior life, Cheeta/Jiggs IV was given by Gentry to his distant cousin Don Westfall, the current caretaker. Gentry died two years later. In Westfall's care, Cheeta lived at a primate sanctuary called Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (or CHEETA) in Palm Springs, California, where he reportedly watched television, made abstract paintings which were sold to benefit primate-related charities, and often watched "his" old films with his grandson, Jeeter. He also leafed through books and "played" the piano.[41][42]

His birthdays, calculated from the date of his supposed 1932 arrival in the United States, were regularly celebrated. In 2006, coinciding with his "74th" birthday, Cheeta received an award for his supposed film career from the International Film Festival of Peniscola Comedy. Later that year, the 4 October 2006, edition of the Palm Springs newspaper, The Desert Sun, reported that he had received his first-ever visit from famed primatologist Jane Goodall the previous day. His "75th" birthday was covered by National Geographic.[41][42] His "76th" birthday was celebrated on 9 April 2008, at his "Casa de Cheeta" in Palm Springs at an event hosted by Dan Westfall and Diane Weissmuller, (Johnny Weissmuller, Jr.'s widow). The press and many Palm Springs celebrities attended.

On the basis of his apparently fictitious history, Cheeta was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest non-human primate.[41]

A literary agent was hired on his behalf for his necessarily ghost-written autobiography, Me Cheeta, published in the U.K. in October 2008.[40] The American edition was published on March 3, 2009.

Honors[edit]

In March 1995 the character of Cheeta was honored with a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California Walk of Stars.[43][44]

Since 2004 there have been unsuccessful attempts to secure a star for Cheeta on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and as of 2008 filmmaker Matt Devlen was continuing the effort.[45] Attempting for the seventh time to get a sidewalk star, the handlers of Jiggs launched an online petition to get supporters to urge the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to give a star in 2009. The petition was unsuccessful.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Paietta, Ann C., and Kauppila, Jean L. Animals on Screen and Radio: an Annotated Sourcebook. Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1994, p. 258.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Rosen, R. D. "Lie of the Jungle", in Washington Post Magazine, 7 December 2008. Accessed 8 December 2008
  3. ^ Kingsley, Grace. "Hobnobbing in Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1933, page 11.
  4. ^ a b c "Chimpanzee Actor Dies; Funeral Planned for Today," in the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1938, page A3.
  5. ^ a b c "Famous Chimpanzee, Jiggs, Dies on Coast," in The Atlanta Constitution, March 2, 1938, page 2.
  6. ^ a b "Owner Sues for 'Jigg's' Death," in The New York Times, April 15, 1938, page 22.
  7. ^ "Movie Chimpanzee Receives $350 a week; Jiggs Is Animal Star, Not Camera Shy," in The New York Times, May 20, 1935, page 19.
  8. ^ a b c d e Dean, Paul. "A Chimp Off the Old Black in Many a Tarzan Movie," in the Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1985, page OC-C1.
  9. ^ Kingsley, Grace. "Hobnobbing in Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1933, page A7.
  10. ^ a b Schallert, Edwin. "Popularity of Tarzan Movies Results in Deluge of Ape-Man Hero Stories," in the Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1935, page 19.
  11. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Dirty Work (1933) - Full cast and crew.
  12. ^ a b Bell, Nelson B. "'Her Jungle Love' Adds Prestige to Technicolor As Aid to Realistic and Beautiful Cinematic Effects," in The Washington Post, April 20, 1938, page X14.
  13. ^ a b "Noted Actor Retires," in The New York Times, May 16, 1943, page X3.
  14. ^ "David Holt, 76, Once Seen As a Rival to Shirley Temple," obituary in the New York Times, November 22, 2003, page B7.
  15. ^ a b Suncoast Primate Sanctuary website - pages titled "Sanctuary Foundation Animals...!" and "Cheetah from the Tarzan Movies!"
  16. ^ Shapiro, Max. "Retired Florida Developer Nick Bickey Wins $1,000 No-Limit After Even Chop," February 2008. Accessed 2 July 2009.
  17. ^ Ponick, Terry. "Tarzan's pal Cheetah dead at 80," in The Washington Times, December 29, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  18. ^ a b Woods, Andrew. "Me Cheeta … no, me Cheeta: the myth of Tarzan's favourite chimp," in The Guardian, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  19. ^ Politilove, John (December 27, 2011). "Tarzan co-star Cheetah dies at Palm Harbor sanctuary". The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved December 27, 2011. 
  20. ^ Burrage, Gregg. "Tarzan's Cheetah the chimp dies after kidney failure," on abcactionnews.com, December 27, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  21. ^ Associated Press. "Cheetah, Tarzan's chimp sidekick, dies at 80," on cbsnews.com, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  22. ^ Associated Press. "Evidence Casts Doubt On Claimed 'Cheetah' Death," on npr.org, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  23. ^ "Fingerprint Chimpanzee," in the Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1937, page B7.
  24. ^ a b Shearer, Lloyd. "Tarzan and the Man Who Made Him." in Liberty Magazine, July 14, 1945.
  25. ^ a b Hopper, Hedda. "Looking at Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1944, page 4.
  26. ^ Albert Antonucci filmography at Internet Movie Database
  27. ^ "Fashion Plate," in the Chicago Daily Tribune, May 16, 1948, page 10.
  28. ^ Coe, Richard L. "One On the Aisle: Lloyd's Wild Fun Is a Bit Fitful," in The Washington Post, November 30, 1950, page 14.
  29. ^ "TV Chimp Is Slain As It Runs at Children," in The Washington Post, September 8, 1957, page C9.
  30. ^ "Painting Chimp Here With Smock and Smack," in the Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1957, page 2.
  31. ^ Allsup, Steve. "Tarzan and the Great River" (review), in ERBzine, v. 1962
  32. ^ Kent, Francis B. "Movie Producer in Brazil Finds It's Nutty but Nice," in the Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1965, page C19.
  33. ^ Essoe, Gabe. Tarzan of The Movies, New York: Citadel Press,1968.
  34. ^ MacMinn, Aleene. "Tarzan: swing along with me," in the Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1966, page A4.
  35. ^ Harris, Scott. "Famous Thespian Tests Zoo for an Escape Hatch," in the Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1982, page SD-A1.
  36. ^ "Screen Pet Idol". The Evening Times (Newsquest (Herald & Times)). 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  37. ^ "The Daily Cleaner". The Gleaner (Gleaner Company). 1979-09-12. p. 5. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  38. ^ C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary
  39. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Cheeta.
  40. ^ a b Ricket, Joel. "The new jungle book: ape reveals all about Tarzan and Jane", The Guardian, 26 January 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  41. ^ a b c d Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star by John Roach for National Geographic News 9 May 2003
  42. ^ a b "Pictures of Cheeta celebrating his 75th birthday by photographer Frederic Neema". Gamma.fnphoto.com. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  43. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  44. ^ The star is at 110 South Palm Canyon Drive. "Cheeta's star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars". Palmsprings.com. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  45. ^ "Go Cheeta". gocheeta.com. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]