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

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:

Tony Gentry's Cheeta hoax

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

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

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


  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, 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, 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". 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". Archived from the original on 2009-03-16. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  48. ^ "Go Cheeta". Archived from the original on 2009-06-18. Retrieved 2009-07-30.

Further reading