Cheeta (sometimes billed as Cheetah, Cheta and Chita) is a chimpanzee character who appeared in numerous Hollywood Tarzan movies 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 inextricably associated in the public mind with Tarzan, Cheeta as a character is a product of the movies. 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.
More details about the performers:
Jiggs, a male chimpanzee born about 1929 owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry, who originated the role and appeared in the first two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934), as well as the Tarzan serials Tarzan the Fearless (1933), starring Buster Crabbe, 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). 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), and Her Jungle Love (1938), starring Dorothy Lamour, his last film. Died on February 28, 1938 or March 1, 1938 at age 9, of pneumonia, and was buried March 2, 1938 in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery. Not to be confused with Mr. Jiggs, an orangutan who appeared in The Jungle Book and numerous other films, who was retired in May, 1943.
David Holt, who as a six-year-old child actor appeared uncredited as a human double for the role in Tarzan the Fearless (1933).
Cheetah-Mike (also known as Org), a male chimpanzee owned by Suncoast Primate Sanctuary after being donated from Noell's Chimp Farm in Palm Harbor, FL. Alleged to have been born about 1931 (claimed age in February 2008 was 77), 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." It has been speculated that this chimp, if he indeed has any connection to Weissmuller, may actually have come from a Florida tourist attraction the actor once launched that included chimps, rather than having appeared in any of his Tarzan films. According to journalist Andrew Woods, this Cheeta was also known as Org.Died in Palm Harbor, Florida, of kidney failure on December 24, 2011.
Jiggs, Jr. (also known as Jiggs II), a male chimpanzee born about 1935 owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry, alleged to have appeared in a number of Tarzan films and possibly other movies Stated to have gone to the Baltimore Zoo when Gentry went into the service in World War II, his ultimate fate is unknown.
Unknown 1, chimpanzee stated to have been a juvenile understudy to Jiggs in one of the Weissmuller Tarzan films, who on one occasion accompanied Weissmuller and a 14-foot boa constrictor on a visit to newspaper columnist Nelson B. Bell.
Unknown 2, chimpanzee stated to have portrayed Cheeta for ten years from approximately 1933 until retirement in 1943. 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).
Cheta, 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 Mar, 1943.
Unknown 3, 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).
Unknown 4, chimpanzee trained by Albert Antonucci who 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), 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. It is not known if he continued to serve as Cheeta's handler in that film, or indeed if "his" Cheeta was the one who appeared in it.
Harry, a male chimpanzee born about 1944, possibly the same as the above, stated to be playing Cheeta in the Tarzan films in May, 1948.
Cheeta, 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. Possibly the Cheeta who 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, stated to have appeared in 42 films, including Tarzan films as Cheeta and the television program Truth or Consequences as Beaulah. 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.
Zippy, a male chimpanzee born about 1951 owned and trained by Ralph Quinlan, stated to have appeared as Cheeta in Tarzan films of the mid-1950s.
Cheetah, chimpanzee appearing with Ron Ely in the 1966-1968 Tarzan TV series, said to be the only trained animal on the show.
C.J., a male orangutan 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.
Cheeta (also known as Jiggs IV), a male chimpanzee born about 1960, formerly owned by Tony Gentry and now residing at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) in Palm Springs, California. Claimed by Gentry to have been born in 1932 or later in the 1930s and to have portrayed Cheeta in most of the Johnny Weismuller and Lex Barker Tarzan films, and for that reason long celebrated as the longest-lived chimpanzee. 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. However, he did appear as Cheeta in the TV movie 07 Spaceys and a news segment featuring his "75th" birthday, both in 2007. According to journalist Andrew Woods, who "interviewed" this Cheeta in 2008, his "offstage" name is Jiggs IV.