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Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood Hardcover – March 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This pseudo-autobiography of Cheeta, Tarzan star and the world's oldest living chimp at 76, lacks the substance the chimp's unique life and career demand. Taken from a Liberian jungle in 1932, Cheeta—known as Jiggs prior to his Tarzan role—arrived in New York before eventually making his way to MGM Studios in Hollywood. Along with Johnny Weissmuller, who would become a lifelong friend, Cheeta starred in 11 Tarzan films, from 1934's Tarzan and His Mate to 1948's Tarzan and the Mermaids. After being branded too old, Cheeta retired until his role alongside Rex Harrison in 1967's Doctor Doolittle, his final film appearance. The chimp currently resides in Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (C.H.E.E.T.A.) in Palm Springs, Calif., where he is cared for by Dan Westfall, the nephew of one of his original trainers. Peppered with clichéd scenes of Old Hollywood—from the brash Dietrich to the hard-drinking Bogart—this fictionalized memoir misses an opportunity to educate readers on the history of Hollywood's animal performers. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

In his role as Dr. Dolittle, Rex Harrison expressed a desire to talk to the animals, but had he actually known what one of his costars would have said in response, he might not have waxed so rhapsodic. The oldest chimpanzee in captivity, Cheeta has outlived Harrison and most of his other costars from Hollywood’s heyday. Now age 75, the little ape has decided it’s payback time. Weissmuller and O’Hara; Niven and Flynn; Lombard and Chaplin: Cheeta knew them all, loved many, disdained most. Rescued from the wilds of Africa as a baby, Cheeta attained cinematic stardom in countless Tarzan movies, yet all was not bananas and coconuts on or off the set. Witness to crazy orgies and drunken high-stakes pranks, the chimp ended up with his own monkey on his back, in the form of twin addictions to tobacco and alcohol. Fans of Hollywood’s classic jungle movies will revel in Cheeta’s unique insider perspective in this quirky pseudomemoir. --Carol Haggas

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006164742X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061647420
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #965,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James-philip Harries on October 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant parody of a Hollywood memoir. Some critics (Ha! Critics, what do they know?) have complained that it is done by a ghost writer after only half an hour of face time with the star and a few afternoons of googling. So what? So normal Hollywood memoirs are different? Get real. This has the real gamey flavour of authentic chimpanzee.

Cheeta the chimpanzee (or Cheater, or Jiggs as also known) was a star in the golden age of Tarzan, and hung out with everyone that mattered, Sure, we've forgotten most of them, but they're still on daytime TV, and at Christmas. OK, Cheeta did not know the real alpha males, the studio bosses who controlled the stars, but he was privy to some entertaining stuff and some real stars whose name I've forgotten. Maybe he drank a bit, maybe he smoked a bit, maybe he bit a bit (I particularly liked the story about how he bit the ass of the adulterous wife of his star-hero and blamed it on the dog) but hey... that's Hollywood.

The critics should lighten up, and light up a stogie for Cheets (now in his record-breaking 78th year and dying for a smoke). And just because the ghost is a Brit (and he can get some grammatical French in: "Le tout Hollywood was..." Ya what?) some critics have suggested it's not true. Well, it's been checked by the lawyers, and the absence of chapter 8 proves... well nothing much. But cheer up, after this memoir, which dishes the dirt in bucket loads (and that's the selling point, isn't it?) who needs another celebrity autobiography ever again?

I look forward to the author's new projects on... what Checkers thought of being dragged into a TV studio (all that panting under the lights, all those ice cubes) what the asp thought about Cleopatra ("I was going for her nose, not her tits, I swear") and a guide to Crete by the Minotaur.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bronwen White on May 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I thought this one of the most entertaining books about Hollywood I've ever read (and I've read tons). I particularly love the proverbial Golden Age of Hollywood and its characters and thought this a highly original approach. It's poignant, too, and highlights fragile thespian egos and movie star fears. I read it and then watched the Tarzan movies with Cheetah and then read it again. I guarantee you'll pant-hoot.
Highly, highly recommended!!!!!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on March 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Septuagenarian Cheeta of Tarzan fame is proud of his film résumé. Before becoming Weissmuller's sidekick in 1934, he was captured two years earlier in the Liberian jungle and brought to Hollywood under the name Jiggs. After performing in eleven Tarzan movies as Cheeta, he was considered too old so he was forced into retirement. He came out of the rest home for retired acting chimps to make one film in the 1960s in Doctor Doolittle (Harrison not Murphy). Still alive and residing in Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (C.H.E.E.T.A.) in Palm Springs, California, he provides his unique perspective of Hollywood.

This is a unique autobiographical fiction in that it is "written" by a chimp who tells his story in Hollywood. Cheeta provides an insider look at some of the great names especially in the 1930s and 1940s like Gable, Bogart, Rooney, and of course his sidekick Johnny Weissmuller. Although there is little about the life of an animal star in spite of the author, fans will enjoy the latest Hollywood exposé as Cheeta tells about his co-stars' monkey business as the likes of Natalie Wood and Victor Mature agreeing he was a better kisser than James Dean.

Harriet Klausner
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on September 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hmm, what to make of this memoir "written" by Cheeta the chimpanzee, sidekick to Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan movies and purportedly the world's oldest chimp? (The real author is British writer James Lever.) Well, it's a spoof, of course, a profane, funny send-up of those tell-all biographies and autobiographies of thirties Hollywood stars. And the stars are all in "Me, Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood"; most of what Cheeta has to say about each of them is delectably wicked. On a more serious note, Cheeta's love for his co-star Weissmuller, the handsome, much-married Olympic swimmer, is a kind of meditation on the relationship between humans and the intelligent animals that serve them---and abandon them, often enough. Cheeta's voice, as you read along, has a kind of Doctor Doolittle effect; it seems he IS talking to you. Occasionally I'd glance over at my Labrador retriever and wonder what HE was thinking about ME.

Okay, okay, I admit that the effect of this novel is a bit strange. It's too long by a third, too, and I found that I couldn't read more than thirty pages at a time before I had to take a break. The voice of a nicotine-addicted, tequila (and etc.)-swilling chimpanzee can only be taken in small doses, like reading "People" magazine in the dentist's waiting room. Oh, and the whole premise of the novel--that Cheeta arrived here from Africa in the thirties, starred in all the Tarzan films, and now lives in Palm Springs, retired and having exceeded the usual chimpanzee lifespan by 25 years--is evidently completely bogus. (See the writer R.D. Rosen in "The Washington Post" on this.) It doesn't matter. Enjoy Cheeta's gossip and his perspective on the "omnicidal" humans he adores, when he's not revealing all their secrets. It all got him onto the 2009 Man Booker long list.
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