The recent death of Cheetah, who may (or may not) have been the chimp from the old Tarzan movies, has me thinking about some of the more memorable simians from TV and films. My only rule here is that these are real, live animals – so no King Kong or Curious George.
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE
The great Clint Eastwood was only too happy to let Clyde, a scrappy orangutan, steal the show in this 1983 comedy about a trucker who indulges in the occasional fist fight for cash. It was a big hit for Clint, in the period after his spaghetti westerns and before his big Oscar winners.
THE TODAY SHOW – J. FRED MUGGS
Believe it or not, the early days of NBC’s “The Today Show” included appearances by the esteemed J. Fred Muggs. This chimp actually may have helped the show’s ratings, because he appeared regularly from 1953 to 1957. One can only imagine how tough it was for host Dave Garroway to play nice with Muggs, who was by all accounts a bit of a biter.
I MARRIED A MONKEY (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE)
I loved this series of sketches on SNL in the early 1980s featuring Tim Kazurinsky as a guy married to a monkey. Tim just played it straight, trying to work out fictitious marital problems and reacting to whatever the animal did at that moment. Sometimes they let hosts such as Don Rickles and James Coburn join the sketch, which was often priceless.
BEDTIME FOR BONZO
Can you imagine how the blogosphere and cable news stations would react today if one of the presidential candidates had made a Hollywood movie with a chimp? Long before he became president, Ronald Reagan starred in this 1951 comedy about a guy who tries to win over his girlfriend’s father by stealing a chimp and proving that environment is more important than heredity in … oh, never mind. It would be easier to explain the Iran-Contra hearings.
MARCEL – FRIENDS
There was nothing complicated about the appeal of Marcel, a capuchin monkey who appeared in early episodes of “Friends.” He was funny and cute. On the show, Marcel ran off and became a movie star. In real life, he was somewhat unruly and didn’t make it to season two.
LANCELOT LINK, SECRET CHIMP
Far out. Lance Link and an assortment of chimps starred in a crazy Saturday morning show circa 1970. The chimps all wore spy outfits and disguises, with dubbed comedy dialogue about various plots to destroy the world.
Of course, Cheetah has to make the List. There is some controversy as to whether the chimp who died recently in Florida was the real co-star of the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan films of the 1930s. All I know is, Cheetah was iconic – the King of the Jungle wouldn’t have been the same without him.
So, which ones did I forget? Add to the List!