One of my favorite animal subjects was Cheeta the chimpanzee. Best known as the comical and beloved side-kick to “the Ape Man” in the poplar Tarzan movies of the 50’s he was captured from the wild; taken from his mother. He became a movie star overnight. (Thankfully this horrific practice is no longer the norm for Hollywood animals. Rigid regulations now support humane treatment of animals who are used for movie productions.)
When I met Cheeta he was living in a chimpanzee sanctuary in Palm Springs, California. I was impressed with the sanctuary’s superior care of rescued Hollywood primates so I offered to donate a portrait of Cheeta. We set a date for me to meet him.
When I arrived, Dan (owner and tireless caretaker of the chimps) escorted me outside to a patio table where chips, soda and bananas awaited Cheeta’s arrival. Dan reminded me that Cheeta was the oldest living chimpanze, then left to retrieve his best friend. (Dan wasn’t shy about his devotion and love towards Cheeta; they had a long history together.)
As soon as he sat down in the chair opposite me, Cheeta made it clear he had little time for idle conversation or nonsense. The perfect curmudgeon, he was curt, grumpy and entirely loveable. Having served the curiosity of humans his entire life, he was interested in one thing only: snack time.
I got some wonderful photos of him….but what I was most captivated by was his person. The personification of a little old man, he was wrinkled, hunched, balding and adorable. He was also alarmingly perceptive and piercingly intelligent. It was obvious he was in charge of the interview.
Cheeta made an everlasting impression on me………his portrait and accompanying quote are a wonderful addition to my “Animal Joy” book.