Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywoodby Cheeta
Cheeta the Chimp was just a baby in 1932 when he was snatched from the jungle of Liberia by the great animal importer Henry Trefflich. That same year, Cheeta appeared in Tarzan the Ape Man, and in 1934 in Tarzan and His Mate, in which he famously stole clothes from a naked Maureen O'Sullivan, who was dripping wet from an underwater swimming scene/em>/em>
Cheeta the Chimp was just a baby in 1932 when he was snatched from the jungle of Liberia by the great animal importer Henry Trefflich. That same year, Cheeta appeared in Tarzan the Ape Man, and in 1934 in Tarzan and His Mate, in which he famously stole clothes from a naked Maureen O'Sullivan, who was dripping wet from an underwater swimming scene with Johnny Weissmuller. Other Tarzan films followed, and later roles with Bela Lugosi in the 1950s. Cheeta finally retired from the big screen after the 1967 film Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison, whose finger he accidentally bit backstage while being offered a placatory banana. Cheeta now lives in Palm Springs, where, at age seventy-seven, he is by far the oldest living chimpanzee ever recorded.
The Washington Post
This pseudo-autobiography of Cheeta, Tarzan star and the world's oldest living chimp at 76, lacks the substance the chimp's unique life and career demand. Taken from a Liberian jungle in 1932, Cheeta-known as Jiggs prior to his Tarzan role-arrived in New York before eventually making his way to MGM Studios in Hollywood. Along with Johnny Weissmuller, who would become a lifelong friend, Cheeta starred in 11 Tarzan films, from 1934's Tarzan and His Mate to 1948's Tarzan and the Mermaids. After being branded "too old," Cheeta retired until his role alongside Rex Harrison in 1967's Doctor Doolittle, his final film appearance. The chimp currently resides in Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (C.H.E.E.T.A.) in Palm Springs, Calif., where he is cared for by Dan Westfall, the nephew of one of his original trainers. Peppered with clichéd scenes of Old Hollywood-from the brash Dietrich to the hard-drinking Bogart-this fictionalized memoir misses an opportunity to educate readers on the history of Hollywood's animal performers. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
It's amazing enough when a celebrity doesn't use or attribute a ghostwriter, but it's even more amazing when that celebrity is a chimpanzee. Cheeta (aka Jiggs), costar of countless Tarzan movies, appears to have written this autobiography all by himself. At 75, Cheeta is the oldest living chimpanzee ever recorded. Taken from the jungle of Liberia in 1932 by an animal importer, Cheeta describes his ordeal and his big break, when his abilities were noted by an MGM trainer and he was cast in his first Tarzan movie, Tarzan and His Mate. His last film was Doctor Doolittle(1967), and he now resides in Palm Springs, FL. Cheeta's reminiscences of old Hollywood have a fun, sardonic side, and he dishes the dirt on everyone from Mickey Rooney (didn't like him) to Rex Harrison (didn't like him) to Johnny Weissmuller (liked him). Readers who enjoy stories narrated by animals might be drawn to this, but it's no Black Beauty or Watership Down. And humorous and dishy though this may be, it is over-the-top for even the most hard-core celebrity bio maven. A marginal purchase.
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My Life in Hollywood
On my last day in motion pictures I found myself at the top of a monkey-puzzle tree in England, helping to settle a wager between that marvelous light comedian and wit Rex Harrison and his wife, the actress Rachel Roberts, and thinking, This is gonna look great in the obituaries, isn't it? Fell out of a fucking tree.
This was in '66, during a day off from filming my supposed comeback picture, Fox's disastrous megafiop Doctor Dolittle, with Dickie Attenborough and Rex. We were on the grounds of some stately home in the charming village of Castle Combe in County Wiltshire, some time after a heavy lunch.
Rex was convinced that the tree would puzzle me. Rachel thought I'd be able to work it out. Arriving at the terms of the bet had not been easy. How exactly was I to demonstrate my mastery of this cryptic plant?
"You ought to let it start at the top, and then it's got an incentive to climb down' said Lady Combe. Servants were ordered to fetch a ladder. She was delighted at the success of her party. "This is exciting. Is it always so much fun with you film folk?"
Now then, Cheeta," said Rachel, holding a pack of cigarettes very close to my face. "You see these Player's? They'll be waiting at the bottom for you. You understand? Yummy cigarettes. Don't you dare let me down."
"Darling, I've just had rather a splendid idea' said Rex. "Why don't we forget the money? If the monkey makes it you can sleep with Burton, if he'll have you, and if it doesn't, then I can divorce you but you have to promise not to kill yourself?'
"Getting nervous, Rex?"
"Au contraire, my sweet. Let's call it two thousand."
"Oh dear' said Lady Combe. "Is something the matter?"
"Yes' said Rex. "Your cellar is atrocious."
Rex and I had had a number of differences on the set, but nothing you wouldn't expect to see between a couple of stars pushing a script in different directions. Far from being the coward and sadist Rachel frequently described him as, Rex was, somewhere beneath the caustic exterior he had designed to conceal his vulnerabilities, a good man and a very special human being. Nonetheless I'd been upset to have every one of my off-the-cuff contributions vetoed. This interminable "Talk to the Animals" song had already taken us a week. Perhaps I was a little rusty—I hadn't worked in movies for almost twenty years—but Rex had nixed every one of the backflips or handstands I'd been trying to liven it up with. So I was pretty keen to get this tree climbed. Plus I wanted the cigarettes—and, anyway, I wasn't about to be outwitted by a tree.
But the French call them "monkey's despair." From a distance, each limb had appeared invitingly fuzzy, furred like a pipe cleaner or the interior of Rex's arteries, but as soon as I grasped one I discovered that the thing was made entirely out of horrible spiky triangular leaves, more like scales than leaves. Unfortunately, Rachel had already ordered the ladder to be removed and I could do nothing but cling to the crown of the tree, slapping my head with one hand and communicating via some screaming, which required little translation, that I was perfectly happy to let Rex have the money.
"Don't make such a fuss, Cheeta! It's just getting adjusted' Rachel assured the little crowd, as I tried cautiously to inch down that torture chamber of a tree for her. But it really was impossible. The French were right. The English name had led me to believe that the tree would be no more than some mildly diverting brainteaser, the chimpanzee equivalent of the Sunday crossword—but this was a puzzle only in the sense that being violently assaulted by a plant is, yeah, a somewhat puzzling experience. Fucking typical English understatement.
"I rather think' Rex commented, you owe me two thousand pounds."
"Don't go off half-cocked, darling, like you always do . . . . It's only been up there a minute."
Jesus, was that all?
"Don't be absurd, you drunken bitch. It's stuck."
"You're not welching me out of this one, Rexy-boy' I heard Rachel say. "I never expected it to start climbing right away. You just hold your damn horses."
"Now, Rachel, please, it's perfectly clear the poor animal's in distress' I heard another voice interject. Oh, great: Dickie. "The pair of you should be ashamed. Lady Combe, can we please please please get that ladder back up? This is quite frightful!"
"You touch that ladder, Lady Whatsyourface," Rex said, "and I promise you, there'll be tears before bedtime. Nobody touch that bloody ladder! My pathetic shell of a wife is making a point. Dickie, do piss off and stop blubbering'
"Thank you, darling' said Rachel.
You're welcome, darling' said Rex.
They weren't all that much fun to be around, Rex and Rachel, it does have to be said. I'd never liked the goddamn English anyway, with their razor-wire elocution, their total lack of humor and their godawful pedantic spelling. I clung on, cheeping in distress and swaying eighty feet above the ground. This had all begun a week ago, as we were embarking on Rex's endless song, which I don't think he believed in any longer. He regularly punctuated "Talk to the Animals" with violent outbursts of animal-related abuse. He was failing to cope with the toupee-munching goat, the parrot that kept shouting "Cut," and the general incompetence of the inexperienced English animals, and he was beginning to take it out on me. "I don't mind the bloody ducks and the sheep' he'd complained after we'd abandoned shooting for the day again, "so much as this monkey trying to upstage me all the time."
This was distressing to hear. I'd been lucky to get the job after two decades of stage work and it was important to keep my co-star happy. I accepted Rachel's half-offered cigarette and demonstrated one of my old standbys, the amusingly raffish side-of-mouth exhalation. But Rex was unappeased.Me Cheeta
My Life in Hollywood. Copyright (c) by Cheeta . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Cheeta the chimp was just a baby in 1932 when he was snatched from the jungle of Liberia by the great animal importer Henry Trefflich. That same year, Cheeta appeared in Tarzan the Ape Man, and in 1934 in Tarzan and His Mate, in which he famously stole clothes from a naked Maureen O’Sullivan, who was dripping wet from an underwater swimming scene with Johnny Weissmuller. Other Tarzan films followed, and later roles with Bela Lugosi in the 1950s. Cheeta finally retired from the big screen after the 1967 film Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison, whose finger he accidentally bit backstage while being offered a placatory banana. Cheeta now lives in Palm Springs, where, at age seventy-seven, he is by far the oldest living chimpanzee ever recorded.
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I enjoyed the book a great deal. It's quirky & fascinating to read about Hollywood legends from Cheeta's perspective.
Septuagenarian Cheeta of Tarzan fame is proud of his film résumé. Before becoming Weissmuller's sidekick in 1934, he was captured two years earlier in the Liberian jungle and brought to Hollywood under the name Jiggs. After performing in eleven Tarzan movies as Cheeta, he was considered too old so he was forced into retirement. He came out of the rest home for retired acting chimps to make one film in the 1960s in Doctor Doolittle (Harrison not Murphy). Still alive and residing in Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (C.H.E.E.T.A.) in Palm Springs, California, he provides his unique perspective of Hollywood. This is a unique autobiographical fiction in that it is "written" by a chimp who tells his story in Hollywood. Cheeta provides an insider look at some of the great names especially in the 1930s and 1940s like Gable, Bogart, Rooney, and of course his sidekick Johnny Weissmuller. Although there is little about the life of an animal star in spite of the author, fans will enjoy the latest Hollywood exposé as Cheeta tells about his co-stars' monkey business as the likes of Natalie Wood and Victor Mature agreeing he was a better kisser than James Dean. Harriet Klausner
Ha anyone on