|My Chum Cheta
by Lex Barker - Star of 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.