He has outlived his co-stars, survived addiction to drink and cigars, and seen one of his grandsons follow him into show-business. Now Cheeta the chimpanzee, sidekick to Tarzan in the 1930s films starring Johnny Weismuller, has told his amazing in life story in an autobiography to be published by Harper Collins on October 1.
Cheeta proudly shows off the Guinness Book of Records which lists him as the world's oldest Chimpanzee.
Cheeta was captured in Liberia in 1932 by Henry Trefflich, a flamboyant adventurer and animal trader who, apart from supplying Hollywood, also provided NASA with monkeys to shoot into space. The chimp's first feature film was Tarzan the Ape Man which made Johnny Weismuller a superstar. In the 1934 sequel, Tarzan and his Mate, co-starring Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, Cheeta famously stole Jane's clothes while she was swimming.
The accomplished ape continued his film career, including an appearance alongside future US President Ronald Reagan, until 1967 when he retired after biting Rex Harrison's finger during the shooting of Dr Dolittle.
Johnny Weismuller died in 1984, Maureen O'Sullivan in 1998, Sir Rex Harrison in 1990 and Ronald Reagan in 2004, but Cheeta, is still going strong and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest non-human primate. Chimps usually live about 40 years in the wild and 50 in captivity. Cheeta's extraordinary longevity is all the more remarkable given a wild period during which he indulged his fondness for the bottle and cigars. In 2007, Jane Goodall, the world's leading expert on Chimpanzees, recorded a special birthday greeting to Cheeta.
During his long retirement, Cheeta has been channeling his creativity into paintings in a unique style he calls Apeism. And talent runs in the family; the old gentleman keeps a close eye on the career of his grandson Jeeta who also paints and appears in a nightclub show.
Cheeta's devoted friend and keeper Dan Westfall is campaigning for Cheeta to be given a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, alongside other stellar animals such as Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. To learn more about Cheeta and sign the online petition visit gocheeta.com. Me Cheeta published by Harper Collins will be in bookshops from October 1, 2008.
(China.org.cn by John Sexton, September 6, 2008)