'My Chum Cheta' - Dailey Bros 5-Ring Circus 1950


english version / deutsche Version

My Chum Cheta

by Lex Barker - Star of the Tarzan Films

The most unforgettable character I've ever known is Cheta. When I signed a contract with producer Sol Lesser that made me the new screen Tarzan, my greatest concern was how I would work with the famous film chimpanzee. Naturally, there was a pre-production period set aside to enable me to learn to work with Cheta, but even before that time I decided I would find out all about the chimp - how he was trained and how he reacted to various people.
Al Antonucci, a strapping, good looking young man, provided me with the information I sought. He had been training animals for the past 15 years, beginning at the old St. Louis Zoo while still in high school. Here is the story he told me.
Antonucci and Lesser picked Cheta, whose real name is Harry, two years ago from hundreds of chimps offered him at a chimpanzee farm in Florida. As nearly as he can gather, Al believes that Cheta is four years old. He can't be sure because chimps don't tell their ages. Generally, you have to guess from their weight. Cheta weighs 40 pounds which, Al thinks, puts him around four.
You start training chimps, Al says, by gaining their confidence. This takes months, with no tricks even tried during that period. Just a comfortable session between the trainer and the chimpanzee getting to know each other.
When Al arrived at this point with Cheta, he put him on a long rope and started teaching him a few simple orders, like following and coming to the trainer's bidding. Always the trainer is the boss and always he means business. The moment Al removes Cheta's collar, the animal knows he is about to be asked to do something. The moment the trick is over, back goes the collar. This isn't a safety precaution. Cheta has never even attempted to bite anyone. Removal of the collar is simply the signal to the chimp that something is about to happen and to be ready.
One of the most difficult items in training a chimp is to make him "talk." This means the simulation of talk, because of course chimps are unable to manage speech. To get this effect with Cheta, Al manipulated the chimp's lips by hand for months on end, ordering, "Talk! Talk!" as he does so. Cheta caught on quickly and is now an expert at "talking." He gives Al anything from a chummy whisper to excited gibbering, with fervent arm waving to accompany his chatter.
If Cheta gets too fresh, we usually lock him in his cage. This is certain to bring uncontrolled crying from him, and usually we feel sorry for him and let him out of the cage before he has been disciplined properly. At the age of four, Cheta appears to have the mentality of a child of that age. Chimps sometimes reach an eight year old mentality but that is usually the maximum.
Although Cheta is called upon to do some fancy acting in his current film role, he can perform many tricks he is not called upon to use before the camera. He can ride a bicycle, do one-hand handstands, dance legitimate dance steps with Jimmy, his junior chimp pal, mimic his trainer and blow fancy bubbles with bubble gum.
Cheta loves all of us, too. To know Cheta is to love him. He's the smartest animal I've ever seen and Mr. Lesser wouldn't part with him for all the money in the motion picture business. Even when Al makes him climb into his cage for a bit of solitarymotion picture business.