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Portrait of "Cheeta" (Jiggs IV), long alleged to be the principal animal performer of the Cheeta role
First appearance Tarzan the Ape Man
Portrayed by Jiggs and other animals
Aliases Cheetah, Cheta, Chita
Species Chimpanzee
Gender Male

Cheeta (sometimes billed as Cheetah, Cheta and Chita) is a chimpanzee character who appeared in numerous Hollywood Tarzan movies of the 1930s–1960s as well as the 1966–1968 television series, as the ape sidekick of the title character, Tarzan. Cheeta has usually been characterized as male, but sometimes as female, and has been portrayed by chimpanzees of both sexes.

While the character of Cheeta is inextricably associated in the public mind with Tarzan, no chimpanzees appear in the original Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs that inspired the films. The closest analog to Cheeta in the Burroughs novels is Tarzan's monkey companion Nkima, who appears in several of the later books in the series.


  • Role 1
  • Portrayers of the character 2
  • Tony Gentry's Cheeta Hoax 3
    • Gentry's allegations 3.1
    • Later life of Cheeta/Jiggs IV as a celebrity 3.2
  • Honors 4
  • Influences 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Cheeta's role in the Tarzan films and TV series is to provide comic relief, convey messages between Tarzan and his allies, and occasionally lead Tarzan's other animal friends to the ape-man's rescue.[1]

Portrayers of the character

The character of Cheeta was a composite role created through the use of numerous animal actors,[2] over a dozen according to one source.[1] According to journalist R. D. Rosen, "In each Tarzan movie, the Cheeta role [was] played by more than one chimp, depending on what talents the scene called for."[2] Known and alleged performers of the role are given in the following table (see the comments following the table for the sources of the data).

Name Sex Species Born Died Owner(s) Trainer(s) Period as Cheeta
Jiggs M Chimp ca.1929 1938-02-28 or 1938-03-01 Tony & Jacqueline Gentry Tony & Jacqueline Gentry 1932–1934
David Holt M Human 1927-08-14 2003-11-15 Inapplicable Inapplicable 1933
Cheetah-Mike (a.k.a. Org) M Chimp Unknown; ca.1931 claimed 2011-12-24 See comments Unknown Possibly never; 1930s–1940s claimed
Jiggs, Jr. (a.k.a. Jiggs II) M Chimp ca.1935 Unknown Tony & Jacqueline Gentry Tony & Jacqueline Gentry 1930s–1940s?
Unknown 1 ? Chimp 1930s Unknown Unknown Unknown 1930s
Skippy ? Chimp 1930s Unknown Unknown Unknown late 1930s
Unknown 2 ? Chimp 1930s Unknown Unknown Unknown ca.1933–1943
Cheta ? Chimp ca.1937 Unknown Unknown George Emerson 1943
Unknown 3 ? Chimp 1940s Unknown Unknown See comments 1944–1945?
Unknown 4 ? Chimp 1940s Unknown Unknown Albert Antonucci 1946–1949?
Harry M Chimp ca.1944 Unknown Unknown Unknown 1948
Cheeta ? Chimp 1940s Unknown Pinky Jackson Pinky Jackson 1950
Cheeta F Chimp ca.1948 1957-09-06 Ed Rogers Unknown 1950s
Zippy M Chimp ca.1951 Unknown Ralph Quinlan Ralph Quinlan 1950s
Dinky F Chimp Unknown 1965 Unknown Unknown 1965
Cheetah ? Chimp 1960s? Unknown Unknown Unknown 1966–1968?
C.J. M Orangutan 1970s? Unknown Unknown Unknown 1981
Cheeta (a.k.a. Jiggs IV) M Chimp ca.1960; ca.1932 claimed still alive See comments Tony Gentry 2007; 1930s–1950s claimed

More details about these performers:

  • Jiggs, a male chimpanzee born about 1929 owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry,[3][4][5][6] who originated the role and appeared in the first two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934),[7][8] as well as the Tarzan serials Tarzan the Fearless (1933), starring Buster Crabbe,[8][9] and The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935), starring Herman Brix, which was also released in feature-film form as Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938).[8][10] In the Brix films, which were more faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original stories than the Weissmuller ones, Jiggs was cast as Nkima, not Cheeta. He also appeared in the Laurel and Hardy film Dirty Work (1933),[11] and Her Jungle Love (1938), starring Dorothy Lamour, his last film.[4][5][12] Died on February 28, 1938[6] or March 1, 1938 at age 9, of pneumonia, and was buried March 2, 1938 in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.[4][5] Not to be confused with Mr. Jiggs, an orangutan who appeared in The Jungle Book and numerous other films, who was retired in May, 1943.[13]
  • David Holt, who as a six-year-old child actor appeared uncredited as a human double for the role in Tarzan the Fearless (1933).[14]
  • Cheetah-Mike (also known as Org), a male chimpanzee owned by Suncoast Primate Sanctuary after being donated from Noell's Chimp Farm in Palm Harbor, FL.[15] Alleged to have been born about 1931 (claimed age in February 2008 was 77),[16] to have been acquired from the estate of [22][21][20][19] Died in Palm Harbor, Florida, of kidney failure on December 24, 2011.[18]
  • Jiggs, Jr. (also known as Jiggs II), a male chimpanzee born about 1935 owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry,[23] alleged to have appeared in a number of Tarzan films and possibly other movies.[8] Stated to have gone to the Baltimore Zoo when Gentry went into the service in World War II, his ultimate fate is unknown.[8]
  • Unknown 1, chimpanzee stated to have been a juvenile understudy to Jiggs in one of the Weissmuller Tarzan films, who on one occasion accompanied Weissmuller and a 14-foot boa constrictor on a visit to newspaper columnist Nelson B. Bell.[12]
  • Skippy, chimpanzee that reportedly "took over when Jiggs died in the late 1930's."[1]
  • Unknown 2, chimpanzee stated to have portrayed Cheeta for ten years from approximately 1933 until retirement in 1943,[24] possibly the same as the above. This Cheeta's last film was presumably Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943), as the first film of its successor was Tarzan and the Amazons (1945).[25]
  • Cheta, a chimpanzee of undetermined sex born about 1937 trained by George Emerson, stated to be the current chimpanzee under contract by Metro for the Tarzan films in Mar, 1943.[13]
  • Unknown 3, chimpanzee stated to have replaced the 1933-1943 Cheeta, cast in 1944 with a trainer from the St. Louis Zoo hired as handler for Tarzan and the Amazons (1945).[24][25]
  • Unknown 4, chimpanzee trained by Albert Antonucci who had apparently played Cheeta for three years as of April, 1949; Antonucci is known to have been Cheeta's trainer for the films Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949),[26] so presumably this Cheeta played in these films and the intervening Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948); Antonucci himself was stated to be slated for an acting role in the next Tarzan film, to be titled Tarzan and the Golden Lion, presumably a working title for the actual next film in the series, Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950), but if so his role was uncredited or performed under a stage name. It is not known if he continued to serve as Cheeta's handler in that film, or indeed if "his" Cheeta was the one who appeared in it.[10]
  • Harry, a male chimpanzee born about 1944, possibly the same as the above, stated to be playing Cheeta in the Tarzan films in May, 1948.[27]
  • Cheeta, a chimpanzee owned and trained by Pinky Jackson, who made personal appearances in promotion of the Tarzan films at six Sidney Lust theaters in Maryland in early December, 1950.[28] Possibly the Cheeta who appeared in the then current Tarzan film, Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950), or may have been retained only for the promotional appearances.
  • Cheeta, a female chimpanzee born about 1948 owned by Ed Rogers, stated to have appeared in 42 films, including Tarzan films as Cheeta and the television program Truth or Consequences as Beaulah. Died at age 9 on September 6, 1957 in Cypress, California, shot by deputy sheriffs after breaking out of her cage, attacking her owner, and charging at a group of children.[29]
  • Zippy, a male chimpanzee born about 1951 owned and trained by Ralph Quinlan, stated to have appeared as Cheeta in Tarzan films of the mid-1950s,[30] including the Gordon Scott film Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955).[1]
  • Dinky, a female chimpanzee who appeared under that name in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) and as Cheeta in the Tarzan and the Great River (1967);[31] both movies were filmed in 1965. She bit Mike Henry, the actor playing Tarzan, during the filming of River,[32] after which she was put down; Henry later sued the producers for this accident and other unsafe working conditions on his three Tarzan films.[33]
  • Cheetah, chimpanzee appearing with Ron Ely in the 1966–1968 Tarzan TV series, said to be the only trained animal on the show.[34]
  • C.J., a male orangutan stated to have played Cheeta in the 1981 remake Tarzan, the Ape Man, and (more famously) Clyde in the 1978 Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose.[1][35] (However, the Cylde role has elsewhere been attributed to Manis, a different orangutan.[36][37])
  • Cheeta (also known as Jiggs IV), 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.[38] Claimed by Gentry to have been born in 1932 or later in the 1930s and to have portrayed Cheeta in most of the Johnny Weismuller and Lex Barker Tarzan films, and for that reason long celebrated as the longest-lived chimpanzee on reaching the supposed age of 64 in 1996 (chimpanzees typically live to be 35 in the wild). Both claims were debunked by journalist R. D. Rosen in 2008 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.[2] However, he did appear as Cheeta in the TV movie 07 Spaceys and a news segment featuring his "75th" birthday, both in 2007.[39] According to journalist Andrew Woods, who "interviewed" this Cheeta in 2008, his "offstage" name is Jiggs IV.[18]

Tony Gentry's Cheeta Hoax

Late in his life Tony Gentry, who had been the co-owner and trainer of the original Cheeta (Jiggs), made extravagant claims in regard to another chimpanzee he owned and its connection with the Cheeta role. This animal, known as both Cheeta and Jiggs IV, was falsely alleged by Gentry to have been the primary animal actor portraying Cheeta in the Tarzan movies over the years. He also greatly exaggerated the age of the animal to support this claim. For a number of years both before and after Gentry's death this story passed unexamined and became a matter of general belief.

Gentry's allegations

Tony Gentry made various claims regarding Cheeta's (Jiggs IV) age, origins, and supposed movie roles. Some of these claims conflicted with each other.

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.[40] 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.[2]

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.[2]

Gentry claimed Cheeta/Jiggs IV 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), 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 well as the succeeding Lex Barker Tarzan films.[41] Journalist R. D. Rosen, who investigated this story, counters that this animal in fact never appeared in any Tarzan film.[2]

Besides his supposed role as Cheeta in the Tarzan films, Cheeta/Jiggs IV 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.[2]

Later life of Cheeta/Jiggs IV as a celebrity

In 1991, whatever the truth of his origins and prior life, Cheeta/Jiggs IV was given by Gentry to his distant cousin Don Westfall, the current caretaker. Gentry died two years later. In Westfall's care, Cheeta lived at a primate sanctuary called Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (or CHEETA) in charities, and often watched "his" old films with his grandson, Jeeter. He also leafed through books and "played" the piano.[41][42]

His birthdays, calculated from the date of his supposed 1932 arrival in the United States, were regularly celebrated. In 2006, coinciding with his "74th" birthday, Cheeta received an award for his 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.[41][42] 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.

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.[41]

A literary agent was hired on his behalf for his necessarily ghost-written autobiography, Me Cheeta, published in the U.K. in October 2008.[40] The American edition was published on March 3, 2009.


In March 1995 the character of Cheeta was honored with a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California Walk of Stars.[43][44]

Since 2004 there have been unsuccessful attempts to secure a star for Cheeta on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and as of 2008 filmmaker Matt Devlen was continuing the effort.[45] Attempting for the seventh time to get a sidewalk star, the handlers of Jiggs launched an online petition to get supporters to urge the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to give a star in 2009. The petition was unsuccessful.


It has been said that the character of Chemistry,from the Doc Savage stories was inspired by Cheeta.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Paietta, Ann C., and Kauppila, Jean L. Animals on Screen and Radio: an Annotated Sourcebook. Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1994, p. 258.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Rosen, R. D. "Lie of the Jungle", in Washington Post Magazine, 7 December 2008. Accessed 8 December 2008
  3. ^ Kingsley, Grace. "Hobnobbing in Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1933, page 11.
  4. ^ a b c "Chimpanzee Actor Dies; Funeral Planned for Today," in the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1938, page A3.
  5. ^ a b c "Famous Chimpanzee, Jiggs, Dies on Coast," in The Atlanta Constitution, March 2, 1938, page 2.
  6. ^ a b "Owner Sues for 'Jigg's' Death," in The New York Times, April 15, 1938, page 22.
  7. ^ "Movie Chimpanzee Receives $350 a week; Jiggs Is Animal Star, Not Camera Shy," in The New York Times, May 20, 1935, page 19.
  8. ^ a b c d e Dean, Paul. "A Chimp Off the Old Black in Many a Tarzan Movie," in the Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1985, page OC-C1.
  9. ^ Kingsley, Grace. "Hobnobbing in Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1933, page A7.
  10. ^ a b Schallert, Edwin. "Popularity of Tarzan Movies Results in Deluge of Ape-Man Hero Stories," in the Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1935, page 19.
  11. ^ (1933) - Full cast and crew.Dirty WorkInternet Movie Database entry for
  12. ^ a b Bell, Nelson B. "'Her Jungle Love' Adds Prestige to Technicolor As Aid to Realistic and Beautiful Cinematic Effects," in The Washington Post, April 20, 1938, page X14.
  13. ^ a b "Noted Actor Retires," in The New York Times, May 16, 1943, page X3.
  14. ^ "David Holt, 76, Once Seen As a Rival to Shirley Temple," obituary in the New York Times, November 22, 2003, page B7.
  15. ^ a b Suncoast Primate Sanctuary website - pages titled "Sanctuary Foundation Animals...!" and "Cheetah from the Tarzan Movies!"
  16. ^ Shapiro, Max. "Retired Florida Developer Nick Bickey Wins $1,000 No-Limit After Even Chop," February 2008. Accessed 2 July 2009.
  17. ^ Ponick, Terry. "Tarzan's pal Cheetah dead at 80," in The Washington Times, December 29, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  18. ^ a b Woods, Andrew. "Me Cheeta … no, me Cheeta: the myth of Tarzan's favourite chimp," in The Guardian, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  19. ^ Politilove, John (December 27, 2011). "Tarzan co-star Cheetah dies at Palm Harbor sanctuary".  
  20. ^ Burrage, Gregg. "Tarzan's Cheetah the chimp dies after kidney failure," on, December 27, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  21. ^ Associated Press. "Cheetah, Tarzan's chimp sidekick, dies at 80," on, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  22. ^ Associated Press. "Evidence Casts Doubt On Claimed 'Cheetah' Death," on, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  23. ^ "Fingerprint Chimpanzee," in the Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1937, page B7.
  24. ^ a b Shearer, Lloyd. "Tarzan and the Man Who Made Him." in Liberty Magazine, July 14, 1945.
  25. ^ a b Hopper, Hedda. "Looking at Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1944, page 4.
  26. ^ Albert Antonucci filmography at Internet Movie Database
  27. ^ "Fashion Plate," in the Chicago Daily Tribune, May 16, 1948, page 10.
  28. ^ Coe, Richard L. "One On the Aisle: Lloyd's Wild Fun Is a Bit Fitful," in The Washington Post, November 30, 1950, page 14.
  29. ^ "TV Chimp Is Slain As It Runs at Children," in The Washington Post, September 8, 1957, page C9.
  30. ^ "Painting Chimp Here With Smock and Smack," in the Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1957, page 2.
  31. ^ , v. 1962ERBzineAllsup, Steve. "Tarzan and the Great River" (review), in
  32. ^ Kent, Francis B. "Movie Producer in Brazil Finds It's Nutty but Nice," in the Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1965, page C19.
  33. ^ Essoe, Gabe. Tarzan of The Movies, New York: Citadel Press,1968.
  34. ^ MacMinn, Aleene. "Tarzan: swing along with me," in the Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1966, page A4.
  35. ^ Harris, Scott. "Famous Thespian Tests Zoo for an Escape Hatch," in the Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1982, page SD-A1.
  36. ^ "Screen Pet Idol". The Evening Times (Newsquest (Herald & Times)). 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  37. ^ "The Daily Cleaner". The Gleaner (Gleaner Company). 1979-09-12. p. 5. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  38. ^ C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary
  39. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Cheeta.
  40. ^ a b Ricket, Joel. "The new jungle book: ape reveals all about Tarzan and Jane", The Guardian, 26 January 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  41. ^ a b c d Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star by John Roach for National Geographic News 9 May 2003
  42. ^ a b "Pictures of Cheeta celebrating his 75th birthday by photographer Frederic Neema". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  43. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  44. ^ The star is at 110 South Palm Canyon Drive. "Cheeta's star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  45. ^ "Go Cheeta". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 

Further reading

  • Lever, James (c. 2009). Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood. New York, NY: Ecco. p. 320.  

External links

  • Cheeta at the Internet Movie Database
  • "Jesse"
  • "Cheetah dead at 80, but was chimp really Tarzan's sidekick?"
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