The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chimpanzee, Jiggs And His Owner Tony Gentry

Death of Jiggs The Chimpanzee...

Jiggs died on February 28, 1938 or March 1, 1938 at age 9, of pneumonia, and was buried March 2, 1938 in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.

Other Gentry chimpanzees associated with the Cheeta role

Tony Gentry was a professional animal trainer who owned a number of apes, at first together with his wife Jacqueline and later on his own. The Gentrys appear to have separated before Jiggs died, as Jacqueline alone is cited as his owner in the accounts of the animal's death. Two of the Gentry chimps in addition to Jiggs have also been associated with the Cheeta role.

Jiggs, Jr.

Jiggs, Jr. (also known as Jiggs II), was a male chimpanzee born about 1935, also owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry."Fingerprint Chimpanzee," in the Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1937, page B7. He is also alleged to have appeared in a number of Tarzan films, and possibly other movies. Stated to have gone to the Baltimore Zoo when Tony Gentry went into the service in World War II, his ultimate fate is unknown.


Cheeta is a male chimpanzee born about 1960, formerly owned by Tony Gentry and now residing at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) in Palm Springs, California. Gentry claimed at various times that this chimpanzee was born in 1932 or later in the 1930s and succeeded Jiggs as the film Cheeta, portraying the character in most of the Johnny Weismuller and Lex Barker Tarzan films. He was alleged to have appeared in non-Tarzan films in other chimp roles as well, and based on the 1932 birthdate alleged by Gentry became celebrated as oldest living chimpanzee on reaching the supposed age of 64 in 1996 (chimpanzees typically live to be 40-45 in the wild). All of these claims were debunked in 2008 by journalist R. D. Rosen in an article that settled the animal's true age and established that he had not appeared in any movies, let alone in the role of Cheeta."Lie of the Jungle", Washington Post Magazine, 7 December 2008. Retrieved 8 December 2008.

Gentry's allegations

Tony Gentry made conflicting claims regarding Cheeta's age, origins, and supposed movie roles.

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.Ricket, Joel. "The new jungle book: ape reveals all about Tarzan and Jane", The Guardian, 26 January 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2008. 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.

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.

Gentry claimed Cheeta 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), in which he appeared 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 as well as the succeeding Lex Barker Tarzan films.Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star by John Roach for National Geographic News 9 May 2003 Journalist R. D. Rosen, who investigated this story, counters that this animal in fact never appeared in any Tarzan film.

Besides his supposed role as Cheeta in the Tarzan films, Cheeta 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.

Later life

In 1991, whatever the truth of his origins and prior life, Cheeta was given by Gentry to his distant cousin Dan Westfall, the current caretaker. Gentry died two years later. In Westfall's care, Cheeta lives at a primate sanctuary called Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (or CHEETA) in Palm Springs, California, where he reportedly watches television, makes abstract paintings which are sold to benefit primate-related charities, and often watches "his" old films with his grandson, Jeeter. He also leafs through books and "plays" the piano.

His birthdays, calculated from the date of his supposed 1932 arrival in the United States, are 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. 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.

A literary agent was hired on his behalf for his ghost-written autobiography, Me Cheeta, published in the U.K. in October 2008. The American edition will be published on February 17, 2009.

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.

The character of Cheeta was honored with a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars on 31 March 1995. His star is at 110 South Palm Canyon Drive.

Since 2004 there have been several unsuccessful campaigns to secure a star for Cheeta on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and as of 2008 filmmaker Matt Devlen was continuing the effort. Attempting for the seventh time to get him a sidewalk star, the handlers of Jiggs launched an online petition to get supporters to urge the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to give him a star in 2009. As of June 2008, Cheeta was not selected to be so honored.


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