Chita Monkey: Before And After The Cinema
Without a doubt, the Chita monkey is the most recognized monkey in film and television. Despite such success, it was never easy to trace the biographies of the chimpanzees who gave life to Tarzan’s faithful companion. Next, we’ll share some curious facts about the character’s stories and the animals that played her.
Curiosities about the Chita monkey: fiction and real life
The Chita “monkey” was played by male chimpanzees
Brazilian translations “baptized” the chimpanzee that accompanies Tarzan as “chita monkey”. However, the chimpanzees that brought the character to life in the movies were all males.
The character Chita does not appear in Tarzan’s original novels
Tarzan’s famous movies and animations are based on novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In the books, the character Chita does not appear at all. Only in the last few novels does the author include a monkey named Nkima as a companion to the “jungle man”.
Chimpanzee Jiggs played her for the first time in cinema
The Chita monkey first appeared in cinema in the 1930s, when Tarzan’s first film was released. Back then, the jungle man was played by actor Johnny Weissmüller. According to official records, the chimpanzee named Jiggs would have given life to the character of the monkey Chita for the first time.
As Jiggs died in 1938, just a few years after his debut, the producers had to replace him. On top of that, the monkey Chita quickly won the spectators’ affection for her great charisma. Unfortunately, there are not many records of Jiggs’ history and the producers never commented on the animal’s death.
After Jiggs’ death, chimpanzee Mike, who lived in a sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida (USA), appeared on the scene. As this replacement was done so quickly, there is often some confusion between Mike and Jiggs.
In 2011, when Mike died of kidney failure, many media claimed that the first monkey who played Chita died. In fact, the confusion was so great that some news claimed that the Jiggs monkey had died in 2011.
Although not confirmed by the producers, it is believed that Mike may have appeared in several films, which reveals his remarkable longevity (Mike died when he was almost 80 years old). However, official records of Tarzan’s early films confirm that Jiggs was the first chimpanzee to bring the Cheetah to life in cinema. Furthermore, his death was confirmed decades before Mike’s death.
It is not known exactly how many monkeys interpreted Chita
To date, there is no official record of all chimpanzees who played the Chita monkey. In fact, the only participation in which there is greater documentation is precisely that of Jiggs.
The absence of records added to the number of chimpanzees named ‘Cheetah’ or ‘Cheeta’ after Tarzan’s success makes it difficult to specify how many ‘Cheetahs’ actually existed.
The Chita monkey could be at the center of a fraud
Many know the story of the chimpanzee who won the Calabuch prize at the International Film Festival of Comedy (Spain) in 2016. For some years, it was thought that this monkey could have given life to the Chita monkey, even if there was no proof of it .
In fact, this same chimpanzee entered the Book of Records as the longest-lived monkey ever recorded. According to the CHEEEETA sanctuary. (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes), the monkey would have been born in 1932, in Liberia. His arrival in America was on a transatlantic flight a few months after his birth.
With the help of science, some journalistic investigations showed that the chimpanzee was actually born in the 1960s. Furthermore, since transatlantic flights only started arriving in America in 1939, the sanctuary version could not be true. In fact, no evidence of the participation of this animal in movies was found.
Since then, the sanctuary dedicated to the care of monkeys involved in the world of show business declares that it does not know any more details about the history of the chimpanzee. So, was the “cheetah monkey” involved in a fraud case?
As we can see, this curious animal lived surrounded by myths before, during and after filming. Myths aside, the truth is that the character remained in the viewers’ memory, with his deserved place in cinema history.