Tarzan's Cheetah's Life As A Retired Movie Star
14 May 2003 @ 18:13, by Raymond Powers
TARZAN'S CHEETA'S LIFE AS A RETIRED MOVIE STAR
By John Roach
National Geographic News
May 9, 2003
Many Hollywood stars retire in the oasis of Palm Springs, California where they while away their golden years splashing paint on canvases, taking leisurely strolls, playing the piano, and flipping through the pages of magazines.
Such is the life of 71-year-old Cheeta, the chimpanzee of Tarzan fame who celebrated his birthday a month ago.
"He's the world's oldest chimp and in excellent condition," said Dan Westfall, who cares for Cheeta and several other retired showbiz primates at the Cheeta Primate Foundation in Palm Springs. Cheeta's "world's oldest" title is noted in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Chimpanzees in the wild tend to live for 40 to 45 years and to the mid 50s in captivity, according to chimpanzee researchers.
Activists for the proper care and treatment of chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates applaud Cheeta's age record, but caution against celebrating the lifestyle of chimpanzees that were stars in the entertainment industry.
"Would you go to a movie if you knew the child actors had been kidnapped and been forced through abuse by their kidnappers to perform silly, demeaning acts?" asks Roger Fouts, co-director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
Activists say that retired entertainment chimpanzees engage in human behaviors such as watching television and reading magazines because they were deprived of a natural lifestyle and were instead trained to behave like humans, often through physical abuse.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that they are pretty dysfunctional," said Gloria Grow, co-founder of the Fauna Foundation which cares for neglected and abused animals in Quebec, Canada.
For example, Grow said that several of the chimpanzees in her foundation's care, including those that were in the entertainment industry, do not know how to have intercourse or how to look after their young.
"It is common scientific knowledge that taking mothers from babies has very serious consequences for the psychological well-being of both the mother and the infant, yet this is what happens to every trained chimpanzee," said Fouts.
The Good Life?
Abe Karajerjian, a biological anthropologist who works with Westfall in the caretaking of the animals at the Cheeta Primate Foundation, says Cheeta and his companions are provided with an environment and social structure that is more suitable to their species rather than perpetuating their human-like lifestyles and behaviors.
"We just love them and love to do things for them," he said. "They made tons of people happy, they had to endure a lot to make people happy, and we want to give back to them, provide them with friends."
Westfall, a comedian and actor, adopted Cheeta about 10 years ago from his uncle Tony Gentry, an animal trainer who worked in Hollywood and discovered Cheeta while on an animal talent scouting trip to Africa in the 1930s.
The 4 foot (1.2 meter) tall, 142 pound (53 kilogram) chimpanzee starred in 12 Tarzan movies and had his last role 36 years ago in the 1967 musical film Doctor Doolittle.
Cheeta now spends his days socializing with other apes and human caregivers. At times he seems fascinated by looking at other animals on television and in the pages of magazines like National Geographic, said Karajerjian
On a few occasions the media has spotted Cheeta taking a ride in the car with Westfall, who said that Cheeta "likes to go through the drive-thru and get a hamburger and a Coke." Cheeta's staple diet consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, and monkey chow, which is a nonhuman-primate version of dog food.
In his earlier years Cheeta had a penchant for beer and cigars, reportedly drinking several cold ones a day. Westfall and Karajerjian said booze and smoke have not been a part of the old chimp's life since he came into their care ten years ago.
"Where he lives now nobody smokes and drinks," said Karajerjian. "I hate smoking and drinking and so why would I offer it to apes?"
At the sanctuary the apes are provided with a variety of activities to stimulate their intellect and curiosity. One of the activities is painting, which Karajerjian says allows chimpanzees to mimic their innate behavior of inventing and using tools.
Westfall says that Cheeta has developed a particular talent as an abstract artist and has trademarked Cheeta's creations as "Ape-stract." Cheeta uses a paintbrush and bright colors for his creations which are full of sweeps, swirls, and straight lines.
"They are very pretty, actually," said Westfall, who sells his companion's work for $125 a piece. The proceeds go to support the Cheeta Primate Foundation, which Westfall started to raise money for unwanted showbiz animals.
Cheeta is a rarity among chimpanzee actors in that he was used for films into his 30s. "Most of the chimpanzees used in the entertainment industry are used when they are quite young," said Rick Bogle of the Primate Freedom Project in Santa Barbara, California. The organization works for the protection of nonhuman primates.
Chimpanzees rarely act beyond the age of ten because they become less manageable and less willing to follow directions, said Bogle. When the chimpanzees are retired, many of them are sold into biomedical research.
Gentry, Cheeta's previous owner, feared a research laboratory was Cheeta's destination so he had asked in his will that Cheeta be put to rest. Westfall talked his uncle out of having Cheeta put to rest by promising to take good care of the chimp.
Ex-entertainment chimpanzees are unfit for zoos, said Fouts, because they do not behave like regular chimpanzees. "And often times they are not socialized to other chimpanzees so they would be difficult to integrate into a social population," he said.
Westfall said primate researcher Jane Goodall inspired him to start the foundation for unwanted showbiz primates. The other chimpanzees, orangutans, and monkeys in his care have starred in television commercials, nightclubs, and theaters, but none reached the star status of Cheeta.
"There are also some from labs that we'd love to get sometime to save their lives and give them a good, healthy home to live in," he said.
All of the animals in Westfall's care interact on a daily basis and with each other and their human caregivers. Westfall's house is not open to the public, but tour buses and children often stop in front where there is a statue of Cheeta.
Terry Wolf, wildlife director at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida, which cares for about 35 chimpanzees, said that captive chimpanzees that were picked up from the entertainment industry and research facilities are living longer because humans are taking better care of them.
"The quality of health care and diet in the past was traditionally not all that great," he said. Now humans have a better understanding of chimpanzee dietary, physical, and social needs, including the need for interaction to prevent the onset of deadly bouts of depression.
Little Mama, a chimpanzee who starred in a traveling ice skating show before coming to Lion Country Safari in 1967, is thought to be 65 years old and like Cheeta is in good health. She is social and gets along well with her mates, who she lives with on a series of islands in the drive-through zoo, said Wolf.
"Old age is something to be celebrated," said Virginia Landau, director of the Jane Goodall Institute's ChimpanZoo in Tucson, Arizona, which coordinates the study of chimpanzees in zoos and other captive settings.
Tarzan Goes Ape
After what seems to be a freak accident with his newly created device - matter displacement pods - Tarzan undergoes a concatenation of eerie, unprecedented life-changing events, resulting in the loss of hair, feet, eyes, ears, forehead, goatee, individuality and dishy good looks, until he eventually shape-phases into a maggoty hybridisation of his faithful companion, Cheeta. He looks a lot more odious, but his climbing and ape-management know-how improves beyond measure.
Tarzan vs. Terminator
Schwarzenegger's original dispassionate automaton, the apocalyptic anti-hero high-voltage Cyborg killing machine returns from the future in order to assassinate Tarzan, before he becomes the Earl of Greystoke, the direct descendent of the leader of the Resistance against the Machines. Unbearably violent, laughable, unhinged and incoherent, this is nevertheless a thrilling and sometimes nauseatingly shocking movie.
Jackass Tarzan: The Movie
Whether you love them or loathe them, this is an evergreen collection of seedy sinister stunts, dangerous demented decapitations, premeditated puppy pulverisations, and other choreographed mayhem, performed by Tarzan and his eager band of opinionated, immature, unwashed, loincloth-clad, hot-headed associates.
WARNING: May contain nuts.
The Three Tarzans
Larry, Curly and Mo attempt to evoke fabulous memories of their characteristically chaotic slapstick, poor pantomime humour in this sophisticated homage to some of the Vaudeville tomfoolery of their heyday. A grimacing Cheeta makes an enchanting stooge.
"I couldn't be bothered with it."--Apathy Today.
The Tarzan Inferno
A major disaster film in which Tarzan's fireproof loincloth catches alight after some particularly animated fighting with a fake lion. Luckily, the Fire Chief (Steve McQueen) helps to save the day. In Stereoscope.
"How much of a catastrophe is this movie?"--News of the World.
Tarzan meets Sherlock Holmes
The famous detective and addict discovers, when looking into the disappearance and supposed kidnapping of Cheeta, that Tarzan is a much superior investigative sidekick than the decrepit old duffer, Doctor Watson. When Cheeta's freedom is eventually reinstated, and his kidnappers apprehended and handed over to the awkward Inspector Lestrade, Holmes discovers that even a mange-caked chimpanzee is a better sidekick than the geriatric Watson.
"Arthur Conan Doyle at his poetic best."--Basil Rathbone.
Confessions of Tarzan
A saucy romp through Tarzan's wayward weekend sexploits in the jungle, starring Robin Asquith as a rather untidy, pathetic, emaciated looking Tarzan. Watching his inappropriate and offensive ravishing of young female gorilla beauties is desperately uncomfortable.
"Thanks for the mammaries."--His Holiness, The Pope.
Batman and Tarzan
This seems like the eightieth sequel in this seemingly never-ending collection of increasingly feculent films. The Caped Crusader (Sean Connery) teams up with Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) in order to overcome their elaborate nemesis, Beri-Beri Beefeater. The two leading actors never manage to recapture the spark that was there in their previous (and also worryingly detestable) venture: Highlander II. Lambert, of course, also starred in "Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." He was bloody abominable in that, too.
Tarzan and Tarzanner
One of the Farrelly Brothers' better movies (let's face it, none have been particularly good), inspired by their mephitic spoof 'Dumb and Dumber', but this one is actually funny. Devotees - see also: There's Something about Tarzan.
Planet of the Tarzans
Epic adventure film, starring Charlton Heston, an astronaut who lands on a planet governed and controlled by Tarzan look-alikes. He is soon incarcerated, but with the assistance of a kind-hearted family of hippos, and a group of human savages, escapes the evil clutches of his captors. It stars the disproportionately elephantine Marlon Brando as the weighty Mafioso hippo 'Generalissimo Onomatopoeia', and Leonardo DiCaprio as himself.
The Shawshank Tarzan
Wrongly convicted for the psychopathic evisceration and insane homicidal slaughter of his sweet wife, Jane, Tim Robbins (Tarzan) ekes out a civilized existence in the Penitentiary bookhouse, while continually plotting his sensational escape from incarceration. With Morgan Freeman as 'Red.'
The Last Temptation of Tarzan
Martin Scorsese's often noteworthy remake of his controversial 1988 movie, depicting Christ's visions (during His crucifixion) of a peaceful life with Mary Magdalene; more controversial, however, is his choice of casting Tarzan in the role of Christ. Cheeta takes on the acting challenge of portraying Judas Iscariot as a gentle chimp.
Saving Private Tarzan
A graphic battle scene opens this captivating war film in which weedy hero Captain Tom Hanks (Cheeta) appears in order to rescue one of his fallen comrades. Steven Spielberg directs this authentic and harrowing film.
Carry on Tarzan
Tarzan (Kenneth Williams) in cohabitation with Jane (Hattie Jacques) find fun, frolics and obscene bestiality in the jungles of Borneo. Satire, also starring Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Jim Dale and Barbara Windsor, with Sid James as an uncharacteristically salacious, lecherous, bawdy and underhandedly debauched Cheeta.
Tarzan of Toad Hall
Follow the astonishing animated adventures of Tarzan, Ratty, Mole, Cheeta and their domesticated friends in this witty theatrical adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows.'
"I do not wish to see Mister Toad tooting away as a detestable cartoon tree-dwelling idiot."--Independent on Sunday.
Mr. Tarzan goes to Washington
When a naive, kind-hearted tree-dwelling thickhead is appointed to fill a top vacancy in the US Senate, his plans advocating freedom for all creatures promptly collide with political corruption, but rather than back down and withdraw, he releases the wild animals from Washington Zoo instead.
Lord of the Jungles: The Fellowship of Tarzan
Lord of the Jungles: The Two Tarzans
Lord of the Jungles: The Return of Tarzan
A triumphal piece of cinematic history, in which Tolkein's visionary idea of Middle Earth, interwreathed with folklore, is brought to life, using state-of-the-art digital imaging technology. Cheeta's participation as the evil-eyed Gollum is worth watching out for, too.
"Cinema at its finest."--Gandalf the White.
Orson Welles' sophisticated classic, poignant, kaleidoscopic, Oedipean masterpiece, in which Tarzan (played by a heavyweight Welles) becomes the wealthiest independent media mogul, beyond the modest dreams of any jungle-dweller; but in his eighties, retreats away into his tree-chateau hideaway 'Xanadu' to await his deathbed demise. His life ends overshadowed with pathetic misery.
Casting Tarzan in the Tom Hanks role does defeat the idea of this remake somewhat. Within hours of being washed up with the tide on the beachy sea-coast of a hot deserted island in the centre of the ocean, the modern day Robinson Crusoe has become master of his new habitat; head awash with know-how, he improvises to find a fresh water supply; construct a three storey apartment hideaway (launderette, cook-house, ale-house, dog-house, hot-house and out-house); establish a crocodile farm, with the assistance of a variety of local fauna, flora and seafood; soothe and disinfect a toothache. His most distressing moment is when the Hawaiian Aerial Rescue Team arrive in a sea-plane twenty-three years later.
With Cheeta as Ape Friday. A showcase of authentic method acting at its absolute best.
This anagram won an Anagrammy in January 2004 (Special Category).
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