Is The Death Of The Tarzan Chimpanzee A Hoax?

By Eric Eisenberg 2011-12-28 16:38:49discussion comments
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It's been an interesting year for chimpanzees at the movies. It kicked off with the James Marsh documentary Project NIM debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, continued with the surprisingly awesome Rise of the Planet of the Apes and we even saw the first trailer for the Disney Nature film Chimpanzee. Sadly the year of primates in 2011 got sadder this morning when it was announced that Cheetah, the chimpanzee in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and 40s, had died. But is that the real story? According to the AP it may not be.

Following the reports of Cheetah's death, the news agency uncovered evidence and testimonials suggesting that the original story could be a hoax. For starters, chimps tend to live between 40 and 60 years, meaning that if Cheetah was actually in the Tarzan movies, that would have made it potentially the oldest chimpanzee ever known. Furthermore, as you could have probably assumed, multiple apes were used in those movies, and, possibly more importantly, "Hollywood accounts" say that the original chimpanzee from the Tarzan movies was named Jiggs or Mr. Jiggs and died in 1938.

Outreach Director at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Debbie Cobb said that her family got Cheetah from Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller in the 1960s and he told them that the ape had appeared in the films Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate. Cobb said that documentation proving this was lost in a fire back in 1995.

Making this story even stranger is that this wouldn't even be the first time somebody lied about a chimp from the Tarzan films. There was a similar report back in 2008 that was debunked by the Washington Post when it was discovered that the ape that had died that year was only born in 1960. The writer of that debunk, R.D. Rosen, doesn't have much faith in this new story as well, saying, "I''m afraid any chimp who actually shared a soundstage with Weissmuller and O'Sullivan is long gone."
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