The Life and Death of Colonel Chimp

Chimp my ride 

I am indebted to Shadowplay informant Danny Carr for the information that former TARZAN compadre Cheeta (A.K.A. Jiggs), the world’s oldest recorded chimpanzee, is going to rock the world of showbiz with a tell-all autobiography. The watchful primate will pull no punches as he recounts his turbulent life story to a rapt reading public. Original “Jane” Maureen O’Sullivan is expected to bear the special brunt of the ape of wrath’s score-settling.

But has Cheeta himself led a blameless existence? According to TARZAN ESCAPES’ uncredited co-director, William “the Onion” Wellman, Cheeta would masturbate on command, at a secret signal from his trainer, whenever studio suits visited the set, thus driving them away. Not the sort of behaviour we expect from a movie star, except maybe Jason Statham.

great movie stills in them days

I’m slightly perplexed at the idea of a non-verbal, non-reading, non-writing primate authoring a book. If we go for that, there’s nothing to stop inanimate objects from getting their own bylines too. We could have The Rosebud Chronicles: A Sled’s Journey (I know Orson Welles said they burned that thing, but Spielberg still thinks he has a genuine CITIZEN KANE prop), Thus Spake Geoff: The Intimate Memoirs of a 2001 Monolith, and maybe Bridge on the River Kwai: His Own Story. Hell, there’s nothing to stop us having books authored by people, animals and objects that don’t even exist. How about the true-life struggles of the purely allegorical elephant that never appears in either version of ELEPHANT?



Another weird bit of Tarzania: in November of last year, a number of obituaries appeared commemorating the passing of Brenda Joyce, the second actress to play Jane opposite the incomparable Johnny Weissmuller (and Jiggs). It is pleasing to note that rumours…death…greatly exagg… and the former Betty Leabo seems to be Very Much Alive at 95. Wonder if she’ll be buying her co-star’s book.

10 Responses to “The Life and Death of Colonel Chimp”

  1. Maureen O’Sullivan appeared on the David Letterman show a number of years back and was hilarious about Cheeta. Cheeta HATED her because “Cheeta was a homosexual” and in love with Johnny Weissmuller.

  2. Apes do seem to form genuine attractions for humans…during Julia Roberts’ ourang-utan documentary a few years back they had to stop the cameras when one male got a bit too keen on the pretty woman.
    Kong was not an isolated case.
    So I can completely believe Cheeta developing a “pash” for Johnny, if he is indeed a gay ape.

  3. my brother did an animated version of Tarzan with mice in cardboad at the Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust in the 80’s – it was called Tarzimouse and the Slow Worm but EFWT was a Big Bad Studio and thought it was too violent and he was made to tone it down ! It was shown at Annecy Film Fest though

  4. Aw, EFWT really was a strange organisation. Though they were generally very nice to me, I should say.

  5. It is good to read that Betty Leobo/Brenda Joyce is still living.
    I have often wondered as, I’m sure thousands have.
    Just recently saw “Strange Confession”, again. I personally think it was one of her best appearances.
    Enjoyed the article.
    Thank you.


  6. I’ve never seen Strange Confession but it sounds very interesting! Must’ve been great for Brenda to get out of the jungle and put some clothes on.

  7. “Strange Confession” is part of the Inner Sanctum Series.
    Lon Chaney is always the leading actor and Brenda Joyce costarred in two . . . -maybe three different installments.
    I believe she was also in the episode call “Pillow of Death”.
    (Anne Gwynn, Patricia Morrison, Evelyn Ankers, Acquanetta also in a few of these films.)
    They are definitely worth checking out if you’ve not seen them!

  8. dcairns Says:

    Ah, I’ve heard of the Inner Sanctum series, and the radio show that inspired it. Would love to see them sometime. If they turn up on TCM I’ll get a friend in the US to record them! Or, if there’s a DVD release (bound to happen, you’d think)…

  9. Brenda Joyce (Leabo) passed away, in a nursing home, at age 92, July 4, 2009.

  10. Sorry to hear that. Thanks for the update. RIP Brenda.

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