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Portrait of "Cheeta" (Jiggs IV), long alleged to be the principal animal performer of the Cheeta role
First appearanceTarzan the Ape Man
Portrayed byJiggs and other animals
In-universe information
AliasCheetah, Cheta, Chita

Cheeta (sometimes billed as Cheetah, Cheta, and Chita) is a chimpanzee character that appeared in numerous Hollywood Tarzan films 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.


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[edit]

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 Chimpanzee ca.1929 1938-02-28 or 1938-03-01 Tony & Jacqueline Gentry Tony & Jacqueline Gentry 1932–1934
Jacky I M Chimpanzee ca.1930 Unknown Gertrude Davies Lintz Gertrude Davies Lintz 1932
David Holt M Human 1927-08-14 2003-11-15 Inapplicable Inapplicable 1933
Cheetah-Mike (a.k.a. Org) M Chimpanzee Unknown; ca.1931 claimed 2011-12-24 See comments Unknown Possibly never; 1930s–1940s claimed
Jiggs, Jr. (a.k.a. Jiggs II) M Chimpanzee ca.1935 Unknown Tony & Jacqueline Gentry Tony & Jacqueline Gentry 1930s–1940s?
Unknown 1 ? Chimpanzee 1930s Unknown Unknown Unknown 1930s
Skippy M Chimpanzee 1930s Erna Sinclair Erna Sinclair 1940-1960
Unknown 2 ? Chimpanzee 1930s Unknown Unknown Unknown ca.1933–1943
Jacky III M Chimpanzee Unknown Unknown Gertrude Davies Lintz Gertrude Davies Lintz 1942
Cheta ? Chimpanzee ca.1937 Unknown Unknown George Emerson 1943
Unknown 3 ? Chimpanzee 1940s Unknown Unknown See comments 1944–1945?
Unknown 4 ? Chimpanzee 1940s Unknown Unknown Albert Antonucci 1946–1949?
Harry M Chimpanzee ca.1944 Unknown Unknown Unknown 1948
Cheeta ? Chimpanzee 1940s Unknown Pinky Jackson Pinky Jackson 1950
Cheeta F Chimpanzee ca.1948 1957-09-06 Ed Rogers Unknown 1950s
Zippy M Chimpanzee ca.1951 Unknown Ralph Quinlan Ralph Quinlan 1950s
Dinky F Chimpanzee Unknown 1965 Unknown Unknown 1965
Cheetah ? Chimpanzee 1960s? Unknown Unknown Unknown 1966–1968?
C.J. M Orangutan 1970s? Unknown Unknown Unknown 1981
Cheeta (a.k.a. Jiggs IV) M Chimpanzee ca.1960; ca.1932 claimed 2022-05-05[3] Tony Gentry
Dan Westfall
Tony Gentry 2007, 2014; 1930s–1950s claimed

More details about these performers:

  • Jiggs, a male chimpanzee born about 1929 owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry,[4][5][6][7] originated the role and appeared in the first two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934),[8][9] as well as the Tarzan serials Tarzan the Fearless (1933), starring Buster Crabbe,[9][10] 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).[9][11] 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),[12] and Her Jungle Love (1938), starring Dorothy Lamour, his last film.[5][6][13] Jiggs died on February 28, 1938[7] or March 1, 1938 at age 9, of pneumonia, and was buried March 2, 1938, in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.[5][6] Not to be confused with Captain Jiggs, a well-known contemporary chimpanzee owned by Gertrude Davies Lintz,[14] or with Mr. Jiggs, an orangutan who appeared in The Jungle Book (1942) and numerous other films, that was retired in May, 1943.[15]
  • Jacky I, a male chimpanzee owned by Gertrude Davies Lintz for two years before appearing with Johnny Weissmuller in the latter's first Tarzan film[14]
  • David Holt, who as a six-year-old child actor appeared uncredited as a human double for the role in Tarzan the Fearless (1933).[16]
  • Cheetah-Mike (also known as Org) was a male chimpanzee owned by Suncoast Primate Sanctuary after being donated from Noell's Chimp Farm in Palm Harbor, Florida.[17] Alleged to have been born about 1931 (claimed age in February 2008 was 77),[18] to have been acquired from the estate of Johnny Weissmuller in 1957, and to have been "one of the original 'Cheetahs' from Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies."[2][17] It has been speculated that this chimpanzee, if he indeed has any connection to Weissmuller, may actually have come from a Florida tourist attraction the actor once launched that included chimpanzees, rather than having appeared in any of his Tarzan films.[19] According to journalist Andrew Woods, this Cheeta was also known as Org.[20] He died in Palm Harbor, Florida, of kidney failure on December 24, 2011.[21][22][23][24]
  • Jiggs, Jr. (also known as Jiggs II) was a male chimpanzee born about 1935 owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry,[25] alleged to have appeared in a number of Tarzan films and possibly other movies.[9] He was stated to have gone to the Baltimore Zoo when Gentry went into the service in World War II. His ultimate fate is unknown.[9]
  • Unknown 1 was a chimpanzee stated to have been a juvenile understudy to Jiggs in one of the Weissmuller Tarzan films, that on one occasion accompanied Weissmuller and a 14-foot boa constrictor on a visit to newspaper columnist Nelson B. Bell.[13]
  • Skippy was a chimpanzee that reportedly "took over when Jiggs died in the late 1930s."[1]
  • Unknown 2 was a chimpanzee stated to have portrayed Cheeta for 10 years from around 1933 until retirement in 1943,[26] 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).[27]
  • Jacky III was a male chimpanzee formerly owned by Gertrude Davies Lintz, that appeared "in the 'Tarzan' film released in early 1942" (presumably Tarzan's Secret Treasure, released December 1, 1941, or Tarzan's New York Adventure, released in May 1942).[14]
  • Cheta was 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 March, 1943.[15]
  • Unknown 3 was a 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).[26][27]
  • Unknown 4 was a chimpanzee trained by Albert Antonucci that 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),[28] 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. Whether he continued to serve as Cheeta's handler in that film, or indeed whether "his" Cheeta was the one who appeared in it, is unknown.[29]
  • Harry was a male chimpanzee born about 1944, possibly the same as the above, stated to be playing Cheeta in the Tarzan films in May, 1948.[30]
  • Cheeta was 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.[31] Possibly, he was the Cheeta that 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, is stated to have appeared in 42 films, including Tarzan films as Cheeta and the television program Truth or Consequences as Beaulah. She 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.[32]
  • Zippy was a male chimpanzee born about 1951, owned and trained by Ralph Quinlan, and is stated to have appeared as Cheeta in Tarzan films of the mid-1950s,[33] including the Gordon Scott film Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955).[1]
  • Dinky was a female chimpanzee that appeared under that name in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) and as Cheeta in the Tarzan and the Great River (1967);[34] both movies were filmed in 1965. She bit Mike Henry, the actor playing Tarzan, during the filming of the latter,[35] after which she was put down; Henry later sued the producers for this accident and other unsafe working conditions on his three Tarzan films.[36]
  • Cheetah was the chimpanzee appearing with Ron Ely in the 1966–1968 Tarzan TV series, said to be the only trained animal on the show.[37]
  • C.J., a male orangutan, is 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][38] however, the Clyde role has elsewhere been attributed to Manis, a different orangutan.[39][40]
  • Cheeta (also known as Jiggs IV) was a male chimpanzee born about 1960, formerly owned by Tony Gentry and had resided at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) in Palm Springs, California.[41] He was claimed by Gentry to have been born in 1932 or later in the 1930s, and to have portrayed Cheeta in most of the Johnny Weissmuller 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,[42] and the documentary See No Evil in 2014. According to journalist Andrew Woods, who "interviewed" this Cheeta in 2008, his "offstage" name is Jiggs IV.[20] Following Gentry's death in 1991, Jiggs IV was adopted by his nephew Dan Westfall. On May 5, 2022, Jiggs IV died at the C.H.E.E.T.A. sanctuary in Palm Springs, California.[3]

Tony Gentry's Cheeta hoax[edit]

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[edit]

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 United States, in New York City.[43] 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.[44] 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[edit]

In 1991, whatever the truth of his origins and prior life, Cheeta/Jiggs IV was given by Gentry to his distant cousin Don Westfall, who served as the animal's caretaker for the remainder of its life. 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 Palm Springs, California, where he reportedly watched television, made abstract paintings which were sold to benefit primate-related charities, and often watched "his" old films with his grandson, Jeeter. He also leafed through books and "played" the piano.[44][45]

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 supposed film career from the International Film Festival of Peñíscola 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.[44][45] 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 fictitious history, Cheeta was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest nonhuman primate.[44] An equally fictitious[2] purported ghost-written "autobiography" of the chimp, Me Cheeta, was published in the U.K. in October 2008.[43] The American edition was published on March 3, 2009.

On May 5, 2022, Cheeta/Jiggs IV died at the C.H.E.E.T.A. sanctuary in Palm Springs, California.[3]


In March 1995, the character of Cheeta was honored with a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars.[46][47]

Since 2004, unsuccessful attempts have been made to secure a star for Cheeta on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and as of 2008, filmmaker Matt Devlen was continuing the effort.[48] Attempting for the seventh time to get a sidewalk star, the handlers of Cheeta/Jiggs IV launched an online petition to get supporters to urge the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to give a star in 2009. The petition was unsuccessful.


The character of Chemistry, from the Doc Savage stories, is said to have been inspired by Cheeta.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  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 i Rosen, R. D. (7 December 2008). "Lie of the Jungle: The Truth About Cheeta the Chimpanzee". The Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved 8 December 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Makinen, Julia (May 9, 2022). "Cheeta, a celebrated Palm Springs chimp with Hollywood origins, dies". The Desert Sun. Retrieved May 10, 2022.
  4. ^ Kingsley, Grace (November 21, 1933). "Hobnobbing in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
  5. ^ a b c "Chimpanzee Actor Dies; Funeral Planned for Today," in the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1938, page A3.
  6. ^ a b c "Famous Chimpanzee, Jiggs, Dies on Coast". The Atlanta Constitution. March 2, 1938. p. 2.
  7. ^ a b "Owner Sues for 'Jigg's' Death". The New York Times. April 15, 1938. p. 22.
  8. ^ "Movie Chimpanzee Receives $350 a week; Jiggs Is Animal Star, Not Camera Shy". The New York Times. May 20, 1935. p. 19.
  9. ^ a b c d e Dean, Paul (March 25, 1985). "A Chimp Off the Old Black in Many a Tarzan Movie". Los Angeles Times. p. OC-C1.
  10. ^ Kingsley, Grace (June 21, 1933). "Hobnobbing in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (January 10, 1935). "Popularity of Tarzan Movies Results in Deluge of Ape-Man Hero Stories". Los Angeles Times. p. 19.
  12. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Dirty Work (1933) - Full cast and crew.
  13. ^ a b Bell, Nelson B. (April 20, 1938). "'Her Jungle Love' Adds Prestige to Technicolor As Aid to Realistic and Beautiful Cinematic Effects". The Washington Post. p. X14.
  14. ^ a b c Gertrude Davies Lintz (1945). Animals Are My Hobby.
  15. ^ a b "Noted Actor Retires". The New York Times. May 16, 1943. p. X3.
  16. ^ "David Holt, 76, Once Seen As a Rival to Shirley Temple". The New York Times. November 22, 2003. p. B7.
  17. ^ a b Suncoast Primate Sanctuary website Archived 2009-07-13 at the Wayback Machine - pages titled "Sanctuary Foundation Animals...!" Archived 2009-07-08 at the Wayback Machine and "Cheetah from the Tarzan Movies!"
  18. ^ Shapiro, Max. "Retired Florida Developer Nick Bickey Wins $1,000 No-Limit After Even Chop," Archived October 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine February 2008. Accessed 2 July 2009.
  19. ^ Ponick, Terry (December 29, 2011). "Tarzan's pal Cheetah dead at 80". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on January 9, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  20. ^ a b Woods, Andrew (December 28, 2011). "Me Cheeta ... no, me Cheeta: the myth of Tarzan's favourite chimp". The Guardian. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  21. ^ Politilove, John (December 27, 2011). "Tarzan co-star Cheetah dies at Palm Harbor sanctuary". The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  22. ^ Burrage, Gregg. "Tarzan's Cheetah the chimp dies after kidney failure," Archived January 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine on abcactionnews.com, December 27, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  23. ^ "Cheetah, Tarzan's chimp sidekick, dies at 80". CBS News. Associated Press. December 28, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  24. ^ Associated Press. "Evidence Casts Doubt On Claimed 'Cheetah' Death," on npr.org, December 28, 2011. Accessed 3 January 2012.
  25. ^ "Fingerprint Chimpanzee". Los Angeles Times. May 30, 1937. p. B7.
  26. ^ a b Shearer, Lloyd. "Tarzan and the Man Who Made Him." in Liberty Magazine, July 14, 1945.
  27. ^ a b Hopper, Hedda (August 26, 1944). "Looking at Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. 4.
  28. ^ Albert Antonucci filmography at Internet Movie Database
  29. ^ Schallert, Edwin (April 22, 1949). "Metro May Have Uncle Tom in Grooming Stage; Williams Bid for Italy". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
  30. ^ "Fashion Plate". Chicago Daily Tribune. May 16, 1948. p. 10.
  31. ^ Coe, Richard L. (November 30, 1950). "One On the Aisle: Lloyd's Wild Fun Is a Bit Fitful". The Washington Post. p. 14.
  32. ^ "TV Chimp Is Slain As It Runs at Children". The Washington Post. September 8, 1957. p. C9.
  33. ^ "Painting Chimp Here With Smock and Smack". Los Angeles Times. April 16, 1957. p. 2.
  34. ^ Allsup, Steve. "Tarzan and the Great River (1967)". ERBzine.
  35. ^ Kent, Francis B. (October 25, 1965). "Movie Producer in Brazil Finds It's Nutty but Nice". Los Angeles Times. p. C19.
  36. ^ Essoe, Gabe (1968). Tarzan of The Movies. New York: Citadel Press. p. 182. ISBN 0682845418 – via Internet Archive.
  37. ^ MacMinn, Aleene (August 28, 1966). "Tarzan: swing along with me". Los Angeles Times. p. A4.
  38. ^ Harris, Scott (September 15, 1982). "Famous Thespian Tests Zoo for an Escape Hatch". Los Angeles Times. p. SD-A1.
  39. ^ "Screen Pet Idol". The Evening Times. Newsquest (Herald & Times). 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  40. ^ "The Daily Cleaner". The Gleaner. Gleaner Company. 1979-09-12. p. 5. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  41. ^ "C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary".
  42. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Cheeta.
  43. ^ a b Ricket, Joel. "The new jungle book: ape reveals all about Tarzan and Jane", The Guardian, 26 January 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  44. ^ a b c d Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star by John Roach for National Geographic News 9 May 2003
  45. ^ a b "Pictures of Cheeta celebrating his 75th birthday by photographer Frederic Neema". Gamma.fnphoto.com. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  46. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  47. ^ The star is at 110 South Palm Canyon Drive. "Cheeta's star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars". Palmsprings.com. Archived from the original on 2009-03-16. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  48. ^ "Go Cheeta". gocheeta.com. Archived from the original on 2009-06-18. Retrieved 2009-07-30.

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