Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 1697
(Cheetah ~ Cheeta ~ Cheta ~ Nkima ~ Jiggs. . .)
Photos culled from his many appearances in our ERB sites and:

Many different chimps have played the part of Cheetah in the Tarzan movies.
Only the first one was really a 'girl' played by a chimp named Emma.
Many other actors followed: Jiggs, Joe, Yama, Skippy etc.
Tarzan co-star Cheetah dies at Palm Harbor sanctuary
Tampa Tribune ~ December 27, 2011

Cheetah, the most famous of the sanctuary's 15 chimpanzees, liked to see people laugh

Cheetah the chimpanzee, who acted in classic Tarzan movies in the early 1930s, died of kidney failure Saturday at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, a sanctuary spokeswoman said. Cheetah was roughly 80 years old, loved fingerpainting and football and was soothed by nondenominational Christian music, said Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary's outreach director. He was an outgoing chimp who was exposed to the public his whole life, Cobb said today. 

"He wasn't a chimp that caused a lot of problems," . . . "In the wild, the average chimp survives 25 to 35 years and at zoos chimps typically live 35 to 45 years," she said.

Cheetah acted in the 1932-34 Tarzan movies, Cobb said. Movies filmed during that timeframe starred Johnny Weissmuller and include "Tarzan and His Mate" and "Tarzan the Ape Man," according to the Internet Movie Database. Sometime around 1960, Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller's estate in Ocala, Cobb said.

Cheetah, the most famous of the sanctuary's 15 chimpanzees, liked to see people laugh. "He was very compassionate," Cobb said. "He could tell if I was having a good day or a bad day. He was always trying to get me to laugh if he thought I was having a bad day. He was very in tune to human feelings."

Ron Priest, a sanctuary volunteer for seven years, said Cheetah stood out because of his ability to stand up – shoulders tall, back straight – and walk like a person. Cheetah also stood out for another reason, Priest said: "When he didn't like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them. He could get you at 30 feet with bars in between." It doesn't appear Cheetah had any children, Cobb said.

Cheetah put a lot of thought into his art, though if he was tired he would give up easily and not play with it much. He wasn't into watching animal shows on television, but he enjoyed watching all the color and movement when football appeared on screen. Cobb wasn't aware of whether Cheetah had any favorite teams. "I couldn't ask him that," she said. "I'm not a chimp psychic."

Related Articles
Lie of the Jungle: The Truth About Cheeta the Chimpanzee?
The Washington Post ~ December 7, 2008
also see:

Cheeta's Bio
New York Times Report : December 28, 2011
‘Tarzan’ Star Cheetah Dies In Florida At 80 — Maybe

Los Angeles Times ~ December 28, 2011
Chimp's purported age, film claim prompts questions

CNN ~ December 29, 2011
Cheetah: Not-so-true Hollywood stories

Boston Globe ~ December 30, 2011
World Loses a True Legend

Winnipeg Free Press ~ January 4, 2012


Article in Look Magazine - June 6, 1939

Chocolate Card 148
Herman Brix
Gene Pollar with Joe Martin, the orangutan




TARZAN THE APE MAN with Denny Miller

With Maureen O'Sullivan
Vera Miles and Cheetah
Vera Miles and Cheetah
Painting by Cheetah 
From the Wayne James Collection

Click to see full UK newspaper article
/ERBzine News Archive 14
Cheeta 3-D cards from Tarzan's Savage Fury

Dino-Armored Tarzan  vs. Realistic Cheetah
Johnnie Sheffield and Cheeta
Johnnie Sheffield and Cheeta
Tarz and Jane and Boy and Cheeta
X-Rated Tarzan Film from 1977

Tarzan Rescues Cheta View Master Reel

Andrea Miniature
Andrea Miniatures

From the ERB Comics Encyclopedia

Dell #61Dell Comic #70Dell 75
Dell Tarzan 24Dell 13

From ERBzine Silver Screen

Weissmuller and mother with chimp

Autographed Photos by Jiggs (Cheeta)

Items from ERBzine News
Swingin' Memoir
New York Post ~ November 15, 2007
A deal was just signed for an even hotter celebrity memoir: Cheeta's. Tarzan and Jane's chimp sidekick, now 75 and officially the world's oldest chimp, inked a deal with publisher Ecco, which will have "Cheeta: My Story" out next fall. The ghostwriter is anonymous. Ecco chief Dan Halpern said, "Tarzan and Jane's best friend still loves the ladies - in 2006, he was seen canoodling with legendary chimpologist Jane Goodall. Cheeta, who's been known to watch his old movies with his grandson, promises to dish on his career (and the likes of Errol Flynn), as Hollywood's most famous swinger."

Cheetah's Tail-All
World of Wonder Report ~ November 15, 2007
We don't know if Cheeta, in his ghostwritten memoir, Cheeta: My Story, will be revealing whether or not he ever touched Maureen O'Sullivan inappropriately (like children, animals can get away with that), but it's bound to be a good read nonetheless. The now-graying 75-year-old chimp starred in a dozen Tarzan movies, outliving his costars, and retired from films in 1967, after presumably having a speaking part in Dr Doolittle. Said the oldest living chimp's publisher, Dan Halpern, "Tarzan and Jane's best friend still loves the ladies

Tarzan's chimp Cheeta reaches 74 
BBC News ~ April 11, 2006
Cheeta the chimpanzee, who appeared in the Tarzan movies, has attended a party to celebrate his 74th birthday. Cheeta is kept by US primate sanctuary owner Dan Westfall, who was given him by an uncle who was a Hollywood animal trainer in the 1930s. The chimp, who appeared opposite Johnny Weissmuller in 12 films, is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest chimp. Cheeta was given a sugar-free cake at the party as he is now diabetic. Chimpanzees rarely live past 40 in the wild but can reach 60 in captivity. Cheeta is very active and "still has every tooth in his head".  Representatives from a Spanish film festival attended the party to present Cheeta with the first award of his career - an International Comedy Film Festival of Peniscola prize. Westfall adopted Cheeta in 1992 from his uncle, who obtained the chimp from Africa in the 1930s. More>>>
The Video  ~  Happy NewsHerald NetUPI NewsEdmonton SunOttawa CitizenThe Twin CitiesHamilton SpectatorNBCThe Desert SunABC News

Cheeta's In Vine Fettle ~
See the clipping
"C.H.E.E.T.A. stands for Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered & Threatened Apes. Dan Westfall started the sanctuary when he received custody of Cheeta of Tarzan movies fame. He created a desert sanctuary to provide residence, care, and rehabilitation for homeless or unwanted ex-show business primates. There are chimpanzees, orangutans, and monkeys at our desert refuge." More>>>

Want a Painting by Cheetah?:

Cheetah's Birthday
'Cheeta' The Showbiz Chimpanzee Turns 74

CBS Palm Springs News ~ April 9, 2006
(CBS) PALM SPRINGS Cheeta, the chimpanzee will be celebrating his 74th birthday, Hollywood-style, complete with the acceptance of an award before an entourage and paparazzi. Cheeta starred in a dozen “Tarzan” films in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He retired to the desert hamlet of Palm Springs and stands as the world’s oldest chimp, according to the Guiness Book of World Records. Chimpanzees rarely live past their 40’s, but can live until their 60’s in captivity.

"He loves going for rides, watching TV and, of course, monkeying around," said keeper and friend Dan Westfall. "He likes hanging out in the house with me. He's just my buddy." His 17-year-old grandson, Jeeter, also lives with him.

Cheeta retured in his 30’s after his last performance opposite Rex Harrison in 1967’s “Dr. Doolitle.” Since then, he’s enjoyed a quiet retirement. He’s taken some time to paint some “ape-stract” artwork, kept in the National Museum in London and homes of celebrities.

Money generated from Cheeta’s artwork is used to pay for his upkeep (he does not qualify for a Screen Actors Guild pension) and help out the nonprofit sanctuary he resides in. In his younger days, Cheeta was known for his penchant of beer and cigars, but his years in showbiz has taken a toll. Now a diabetic on a special diet of fresh fruit, vegetables and monkey chow, he takes insulin daily. His birthday cake will also be diabetic friendly. More>>>

© 2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc 

Tarzan icon still going strong six years short of a century.
Tarzan and the Tarzan Yell are registered trademarks licensed by 
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. of Tarzana, California
Patrick Priestly as Tarzan
The Jackson-Hewitt TV Commercial
Tarzan, in his loincloth, and Cheetah are meeting with a Jackson Hewitt agent. After learning that Cheetah prepared last year's tax returns, the agent says that many deductions were missed. 

He can amend last year's returns and get money back, and advises Tarzan his refund will be bigger this year. Tarzan expresses his appreciation by letting loose one of his trademark yells. 

Retired from acting, star chimp loves to paint 
Richard Guzmán ~ The Desert Sun ~ Palm Springs ~ April 2, 2005 
He's been an actor, a world record holder, a circus performer, recipient of a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars and now a featured artist. Not a bad life for a 72-year-old retired Palm Springs resident. Even better considering his beginnings as an orphaned baby taken out of Liberia in the 1930s. And he's not human.

Cheeta, one of the original chimpanzee actors in the "Tarzan" flicks and oldest ape on record, will hold his first-ever art show to show of his "ape-stract" paintings at Studio One Eleven in Palm Springs Sunday.
The retired star will be there to meet his public, take pictures with his fans and sell his autographed art pieces. "It's his first show, but this is one of the capitals of the art world," says Dan Westfall, Cheeta's caretaker and the director of CHEETA, Committee to Help the Environment of Endangered and Threatened Apes, which will receive proceeds from the sale of Cheeta's artwork."I like it (artwork). It's got a very free, spontaneous brush work," says Bob Fisher, co-owner of Studio One Eleven. Fisher first purchased an original Cheeta piece last year at the Palm Springs Street Fair.

"Some have a childlike quality. Others look more sophisticated," he says.Cheeta's paintings will sell for $150 to $1,000, depending on the size. But whether people will buy the work for its quality or as a novelty item is a tossup. But that doesn't mean Cheeta's artistic abilities should be questioned. "Everything is art," Fisher says. Cheeta's life as an entertainer began when Westfall's uncle, Tony Gentry, an animal collector and trainer, brought the infant Cheeta from Liberia to the United States in 1931 and trained him as an animal star. Cheeta, who debuted in "Tarzan and His Mate" in 1934, was one of four chimps used for the original film series. He retired after a role in the 1967 movie, "Doctor Doolittle." 

He later went on to perform in theater and circus shows. Remnants of Cheeta's former career line Westfall's walls, along with the chimp's latest artwork. They include black-and-white shots of Cheeta as a youngster on the set of "Tarzan" with co-star Johnny Weissmuller, his Walk of Stars dedication and his Guinness World Record plaque for breaking the record as the oldest ape. Signed with his thumbprint, Cheeta's artwork, colorful and chaotic, with lines of paint splattered across the canvas, hangs next to the old photos.
Westfall picks the colors for the paintings and puts the brush in Cheeta's hands, but from there, the artist takes over.

"He paints, he's an artist," Westfall says with a smirk. "It's like therapy for him, mentally and physically."
For his age, Cheeta sports a few gray hairs but is otherwise rather youthful looking. He strolls from his private enclosure led on a small leash by Westfall and sits his 4-foot frame on a table in the back yard, surrounded by his artwork while his feet dangle in the air. "Sometimes he paints out here, sometimes inside," Westfall says. A plate of chips and a Diet Pepsi is waiting for Cheeta, which he promptly begins to devour as he sits for a photo shoot. As a veteran performer, he still knows how to play to the camera.
"Look up, look up," Westfall tells him. Cheeta looks up at the camera and pulls his upper lip over to bare an exited smile for a few seconds. He then closes his mouth and taps his head. "Yes, you're very smart," Westfall reassures him. Cheeta is also out of Pepsi, so he shakes his plastic cup and Westfall goes inside to get him another drink. While he waits, Cheeta finishes his chips and looks out over the pool, enjoying a sunny day in the desert. When he's not painting, Cheeta likes to watch TV, or go out for a drive with Westfall while making faces at people as he rides by. On Sunday, he will pose for pictures at his art show. A week later he will celebrate his 73rd birthday with his 16-year-old grandson Jeeter, who also lives with Westfall.

"It's very Palm Springs, retired movie star and all that," Fisher says

Statue of Cheeta pilfered 
Tarzan’s chimpanzee said to be disturbed by replica’s absence ~ January 1, 2005
The statue of Cheeta, the ape that starred in the "Tarzan" movies and currently lives in retirement in Palm Springs at the Casa de Cheeta in the Racquet Club area, has been stolen. . . .  Cheeta, the world’s oldest known living chimpanzee, is 72, about 20 years past the 50-year average life-expectancy for chimpanzees in captivity. He lives with 11 other primates in the primate sanctuary . . .  Cheeta, who debuted in "Tarzan and His Mate" in 1934 and retired after an uncredited role in the 1967 movie, "Doctor Doolittle," has a star in downtown Palm Springs, on South Palm Canyon Drive right outside Ben & Jerry’s. The statue had only been in place for a few months. It is worth about $800 and is made of bronze.   Cheeta was not happy. "When I brought him out for a walk he noticed it was gone and he was upset about it," Westfall said. . . . 

Found: Stolen statue of Cheeta returned to the sanctuary
 GoodNewsBlog ~ January 16, 2005
The bronze chimp that marks the home of Hollywood’s beloved Cheeta has been returned. Stolen during Christmas week from the Casa de Cheeta primate sanctuary where the retired movie star ape makes his home, the 90-pound statue was returned by a Palm Springs resident who had bought it. 

According to Dan Westfall, who operates the sanctuary, a resident from less than 2 miles away put a note in the mailbox saying he had purchased it off the person who had stolen it. “He was nice enough to let me know he thought he had it,” Westfall said, noting the man didn’t know the statue had been stolen.

Verdun Guardian ~ April 1938

Thanks to Rohinton Ghandhi

Mystery surrounds Cheeta, purportedly the world's oldest chimpanzee
LA Times ~  February 14, 2009

Could Cheeta the chimp, the famous performing primate who's said to have starred alongside Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films and Rex Harrison in Dr. Doolittle, be an impostor? It's a story whose plot resembles a 1930s screwball comedy, but author R.D. Rosen says it's true: Cheeta the chimp, said to be the oldest nonhuman primate in the world at 76, is not who he claims to be.  (Or rather, he's not who his deceased trainer, Tony Gentry, claimed he was.)

In 2007, Rosen set out to write a book about Cheeta: his abduction from the wilds of his native Liberia; his storied history in Hollywood; his bizarre post-stardom life with trainer Gentry, who stipulated in his will that Cheeta be euthanized after his death, fearing no one else could provide the proper care for him; Gentry's subsequent reversal of that decision at the behest of a relative and fellow animal trainer, Dan Westfall, who runs the Palm Springs sanctuary to which Cheeta was eventually retired. It was plenty of fodder for a book.  As our colleague Scott Gold puts it, "If only it were true."  From Gold's story:

Cheeta's "birthday" has been celebrated, not on the anniversary of his birth, but on April 9, the anniversary of the day he supposedly landed in the United States. Rosen figured that point -- the dramatic account of Cheeta's arrival, with Gentry, according to legend, hiding him under a jacket on the Pan Am flight -- was a logical place to begin his research. It didn't take long for the first discrepancy to surface. It turned out, Rosen said, that the sort of flight Gentry had described wasn't available commercially until 1939 -- seven years after Gentry supposedly smuggled Cheeta into the U.S.

Rosen initially dismissed the story's inconsistency as an honest mistake.  But odd discrepancies began to add up. The author watched movies supposedly featuring Cheeta in pivotal roles: Dr. Doolittle and even Bedtime for Bonzo, starring a young Ronald Reagan.  Since chimpanzees' appearances change dramatically as they reach adulthood -- before they're 10 years old -- it was clear to Rosen that the ape stars of these films were actually juveniles. The timeline given for Cheeta's life would have had him at 19 when Bonzo was released and 34 when he purportedly made a big comeback in Doolittle.  Rosen wrote in the Washington Post Magazine:

As Cheeta's claims to fame were springing leaks, I began spending hours in front of my television, freeze-framing on close-ups of various Cheetas in MGM Tarzan movies I had rented. I would take an 8-by-10 glossy of Westfall's Palm Springs Cheeta, approach the television and compare the two images. Chimpanzees' faces change quite a bit as they age, not unlike most human ones, but the contours and configuration of an ear change very little. I would freeze on a frame of Cheeta in three-quarters or full profile and try to find a match. In each Tarzan movie, the Cheeta role had been played by more than one chimp, depending on what talents the scene called for. (In fact, there was another, less well publicized Cheeta in Palm Harbor, Fla., who was also said to be in his 70s and a veteran of Weissmuller movies. But that's another story.) The trick was to look at all the scenes and positively identify Westfall's Cheeta in at least one. But none of the movie chimps' ears was an adequate match for the Palm Springs Cheeta's.

After this realization, Rosen spoke with animal trainers of the period who said they were well acquainted with Cheeta.  Gold gives the details: The chimp, they told him, had been a performer at Pacific Ocean Park, the old Santa Monica attraction -- and had never been in films, Rosen said. It was Gentry, Rosen said, who'd passed Cheeta off as a star -- not even as a Cheeta, since there were many over the Tarzan years, but as the Cheeta. Rosen's best guess is that Cheeta was born around 1960, not 1932, performed as a pier attraction for a few years and was then given to Gentry by another trainer when Pacific Ocean Park closed in 1967. A nice ape, Rosen said, but not a star.

In late 2007, Rosen mustered the courage to tell Westfall of his findings. "He inherited a lie," Rosen said. "It took on a life of its own." Rosen helped Westfall change the language on Cheeta's website to reflect the doubts that had been raised; Cheeta, the site says now, "is unlikely to be as old as we'd thought, although he is clearly old." The plot thickened even further when Rosen compared various interviews given by Gentry over the years.  He explains in his Washington Post Magazine article:

I went back through my papers to find the 1985 L.A. Times feature story -- "A Chimp Off the Old Block in Many a Tarzan Movie." In the piece, Gentry "ticked off" his favorite chimps among those he trained for the movies, ending with his current Cheeta: "I bought him from a dealer when they closed down the old Santa Monica Pier. Lemme see, when was that? Late '30s sometime. Mebbe 1938. Anyway, he was about 2 or 3 years old.... So this Cheeta did one [movie] with Lex Barker. Or was it two with Weissmuller and one with Barker? Which ones? I dunno...."

There was further evidence of Gentry's confusion -- or perhaps deliberate obfuscation of his Cheeta's résumé. In 1985, a few months after the L.A. Times feature, People magazine published a feature on Gentry and Cheeta titled "Tarzan's Co-Star Cheetah Aims for Hollywood Immortality but Finds It's a Jungle Out There," beneath a heartwarming photo of Cheeta, beer can in hand, kissing Gentry on the nose.

The story is not a paragraph old before Gentry is described as having "fed, pampered and trained the 4-foot, 158-pound star for 38 years." Since we know Gentry got Cheeta when he was a baby, that would mean Cheeta was born in 1947 (1985 minus 38 years), or 15 years after the year in which he usually claimed he got him. It would mean that, at a time when Gentry was telling Westfall and many other people that Cheeta was 53, he was only in his late 30s.

Because so many of the people whose stories could potentially have unraveled Cheeta's confusing tale have passed away, the absolute truth is unlikely to ever come to light.  As the updated bio on Cheeta's website reads, "This will almost certainly remain a Hollywood mystery."

Click for full-screen images

Can this 'Cheeta' prosper after chimp attack?
The timing could not be worse.
USA Today ~ February 23, 2009
Me, Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood (Ecco, 336 pp., $24.95) is an amusing tell-all by the chimp who played second banana to Johnny Weissmuller, Ronald Reagan and Rex Harrison. The sassy "memoir," written by ghostwriter James Lever, was a hit in Britain last year and arrives in bookstores in the USA on March 3. READ AN EXCERPT

But Cheeta's release follows the horrific attack last week by a pet chimpanzee named Travis in Stamford, Conn., that left a woman in critical condition. The chimp was shot and killed by police. And now there is controversy about whether the "Cheeta" living in retirement in Palm Springs — and the focus of much press because of the upcoming book — appeared in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and '40s.

Cheeta's handler, Dan Westfall, has backed off from such claims on his website. He says it is now "difficult to determine which movies, if any, our Cheeta was involved in." The chimp was the subject of an article in Entertainment Weekly last fall in which Westfall claimed the former Hollywood star was 76 years old. But after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, it appears Westfall's primate may be several decades younger. The Cheeta of movie fame (sometimes spelled Cheetah) apparently was played by numerous chimps, and it's unclear whether any are still alive. So is this book likely to find an audience?

Yes, says Dan Halpern, publisher of Ecco Books, which is publishing Me, Cheeta. "Everyone seems to have a problem with the idea of this book, as if it's non-fiction. It's fiction!" Halpern says. "It's not about the Cheeta in Palm Springs. It's an imaginary memoir." Halpern concedes that the chimp pictured on the book jacket is the Palm Springs Cheeta, "but I can't seem to get across the fact it's a phony story. There's a leap to be made here." Halpern calls the Connecticut attack "horrible." But he takes solace in the fact that everyone who has read the book has laughed. "And that makes it all worthwhile, especially in these dark times," he says. Ecco says it probably won't use the Palm Springs chimp in future promotions of the book.

Primatologist Jane Goodall speaks out about chimpanzee attack


Click for large poster collage

From the Brian Bohnett Collection


Click for full-size collages

The Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBzine Weekly Webzine
Danton Burroughs Website: Tarzana Treasure Vaults
Burroughs Bibliophiles
John Coleman Burroughs Tribute Site
Tarzine: Official Monthly Webzine of ERB, Inc.
John Carter of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBzine Weekly Webzine
Weekly Webzine
Danton Burroughs Weekly Webzine
Weekly Webzine

John Carter Film

ERB, Inc. Corporate Site

ERB Centennial

Some ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2010/2019 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.