J. Fred Muggs
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|J. Fred Muggs|
J. Fred Muggs (left) and companion, Phoebe B. Beebe, with Dave Garroway, 1954.
March 14, 1952 |
The show debuted in 1952, with amiable host Dave Garroway. The show was in trouble initially; the addition of J. Fred Muggs boosted ratings and helped win advertisers. Muggs, dressed like a baby in diapers, first appeared on the show on January 28, 1953, and became a regular feature on February 3, 1953. He first appeared on television on Perry Como's CBS television show. Pat Weaver of Today saw the little chimp on the Como show and thought he would be a perfect tonic for his morning program.
In the 1950s, the Russian newspaper Izvestia described J. Fred Muggs, as "a symbol of the American way of life", and said, "Muggs is necessary in order that the average American should not look into reports on rising taxes, and decreasing pay, but rather laugh at the funny mug of a chimpanzee."
Many sources refer to Garroway as jealous of Muggs. Joe Hagan of the The New York Observer notes, without attribution, that "Legend has it that ... Mr. Garroway grew jealous and began spiking Muggs' orange juice with Benzedrine to make him misbehave and deliver his human co-host back to center stage." Many sources suggest that Muggs did not have a good disposition. He has been described as "a nasty little monkey" and as "throwing legendary tantrums." At the press conference announcing his addition to the show, Muggs yanked Garroway's glasses off. Many sites refer to Muggs as having bitten comedienne Martha Raye on the arm. Gerald Preis, however, told Hagan that this story, which Hagan referred to as a 50-year-old tabloid rumor, "was bullshit—just plain bullshit."
Muggs was also an artist. In 1958, one of his finger paintings was used as the cover of Mad #38, and Muggs was the first celebrity to be featured on the cover of the magazine. Unfortunately, Muggs bit editor Al Feldstein, and never worked for Mad again.
The feisty chimp was associated with Mad in another way, when the magazine ran an article titled "The Dave Garrowunway Show." This article focused on the chimp, whom writer Harvey Kurtzman named "J. Floyd Gluggs," and his apparent ambition to take over "Garrowunway's" spot as anchor. Sure enough, by the end of the article, with "Garrowunway" rapping rudely on the window from outside the building, "Gluggs" appears in Garroway's familiar closing pose, in suit, glasses and lavalier microphone, saying "vootie" in place of the anchor's tagline "Peace," with his right palm thrust forward. The caption reads, "By George...we've warned Garrowunway to watch out..."
Muggs was featured in advertising stings which interrupted the (pre-recorded) coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation when it was shown in the United States. This caused considerable controversy in the United Kingdom, where the introduction of commercial television was being debated at the time, and the anti-commercial-TV lobby felt that it strengthened their case. It was arguably a key factor in the strong regulation of ITV (by the Independent Television Authority) written into the Television Act 1954.
During a 1955 episode of the game show Make the Connection, Muggs appeared with Joanne Cottingham, who served as his babysitter; the panel was supposed to attempt to guess her relationship to the chimp, but after Muggs was introduced, he spent most of the segment running all over the set (as well as behind it) until host Gene Rayburn finally called the game and awarded Cottingham the show's maximum $150 payoff by default.
For many years, TV Guide ran an annual feature highlighting its takes on the year's most dubious television programs, episodes, activities, and issues, "The J. Fred Muggs Awards for Distinguished Foolishness." And in the 1994 film Quiz Show, chronicling the infamous quiz show scandal of the late 1950s, actor Ralph Fiennes as Twenty One champion Charles Van Doren—shown being offered a regular job on Today—says to the Dave Garroway character (played by Barry Levinson), "I hope you're not firing the chimp!"
Muggs and his "live-in girlfriend", Phoebe B. Beebe (who also made appearances on the Garroway show), were still alive as of January 12, 2012, and living in Citrus Park, Florida, in the care of Gerald Preis, Mennella's son. In 2004, Joe Hagan reached Preis at his home where Preis stated that Muggs "has a little gray, mostly in his beard."
- Martinez, James (17 January 1992). "J. Fred missing at Today special". The Robsonian. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
- "Trainer of famed chimp J. Fred Muggs dies at 80" St. Petersburg Times
- "Legend of spiked orange juice; Muggs and Phoebe still alive; Martha Raye elbow-biting incident denied" Joe Hagan column,New York Observer (1/26/2004)
- "a nasty little monkey" Television Heaven
- "biting comedian/actress Martha Raye on the elbow" TV Acres
- "The sometimes vicious simian once took a nip out of Martha Raye" Entertainment Weekly
- "...viciously bit comedienne Martha Raye on the arm" TV Party
- Book excerpt, Steven D. Stark, "Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us Who We Are Today" (ISBN 0-7881-6042-7)
- "J. Fred Muggs" on Tampa Bay Legends
- J. Fred Muggs' MAD Magazine cover at madcoversite.com