Jiggs (chimpanzee)

Jiggs (c. 1929 – February 28, 1938) was a male chimpanzee and animal actor who originated the character of Cheeta in the 1930s Hollywood Tarzan movies. He was owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry.[1][2][3][4][5]

Early lifeEdit

In a likely apocryphal account Jiggs was said to have been brought over from Africa by Gary Cooper, who sold him because the animal occasionally went berserk.[6] More reliably, Jacqueline Gentry claimed to have raised and trained Jiggs from infancy.[2] He is stated to have been brought up with a collie named Spanky and to have later refused to do any film work without the dog present.[6][7] Spanky was also used to help control Jiggs on the set.[6]


Jiggs had a seven-year film career.[8] He appeared as Cheeta in the first two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934).[9][10] Apparently he was in the third of the series, Tarzan Escapes (1936), as well.[11] He also appeared in the rival Buster Crabbe serial Tarzan the Fearless (1933)[10][12] and the Herman Brix serial The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935), also released in feature-film form as Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938).[10][13] 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.

Jiggs was cast in at least three additional films, the Laurel and Hardy short Dirty Work (1933),[14] the Our Gang short Divot Diggers (1936),[15] and the Dorothy Lamour film Her Jungle Love (1938), which was his last picture.[2][3][16][17]

Film anecdotesEdit

On the set of Tarzan the Fearless Jiggs successfully extracted a thorn from the hand of female lead Jacqueline Wells after she and lead actor Buster Crabbe both failed.[12]

His trainers, the Gentrys, appear to have separated by early 1936, as Jacqueline alone is cited as his owner in news stories of that date and after.[2][4][8][11][18]

In July 1936, during the filming of Her Jungle Love Jiggs attacked lead actress Dorothy Lamour,[19][20] who was rescued by a film aide;[19] he was then subdued by his owners[20] and the collie Spanky.[6]

In December 1936 Jiggs had an encounter on set with actress Martha Raye in which they made faces at each other and Raye lit him a cigarette.[21]


Jiggs died on February 28, 1938[4] or March 1, 1938, at age 9, of pneumonia,[2][3][8] and his funeral was planned for March 2, 1938, in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.[2][3] However, due to the Los Angeles Flood of 1938, Jiggs was laid to rest on March 4.[5]


Later Gentry chimpanzees of the same nameEdit

Tony Gentry was a professional animal trainer who owned a number of apes, at first together with his wife Jacqueline and later on his own. Three chimpanzees later owned by Gentry also bore the name Jiggs, of which two have also been associated with the Cheeta role. Jiggs, Jr. (also known as Jiggs II), was a male chimpanzee born about 1935.[22] Stated to have gone to the Baltimore Zoo when Tony Gentry went into the service in World War II, his ultimate fate is unknown.[10] Cheeta (also known as Jiggs IV) is a male chimpanzee born about 1960, who now resides at the C.H.E.E.T.A. (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) Primate Sanctuary in Palm Springs, California. For many years, Gentry stated that Jiggs IV was the original Cheeta, which was in fact not true.[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kingsley, Grace. "Hobnobbing in Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1933, page 11.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Chimpanzee Actor Dies; Funeral Planned for Today," in the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1938, page A3.
  3. ^ a b c d "Famous Chimpanzee, Jiggs, Dies on Coast," in The Atlanta Constitution, March 2, 1938, page 2.
  4. ^ a b c "Owner Sues for 'Jigg's' Death," in The New York Times, April 15, 1938, page 22.
  5. ^ a b "Alas, poor Jiggs !" in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 6, 1938, page 4.
  6. ^ a b c d Fidler, Jimmie. "Jimmie Fidler in Hollywood," in The Washington Post, October 25, 1936, page AA2.
  7. ^ Del Valle, John. "Four-Legged Stars Come and Go," in the New York Herald Tribune, December 19, 1937, page E3.
  8. ^ a b c "Chimpanzee Film Star Dies," in the New York Herald Tribune, March 2, 1938, page 14.
  9. ^ "Movie Chimpanzee Receives $350 a week; Jiggs Is Animal Star, Not Camera Shy," in The New York Times, May 20, 1935, page 19.
  10. ^ a b c d Dean, Paul. "A Chimp Off the Old Block in Many a Tarzan Movie," in the Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1985, page OC-C1.
  11. ^ a b Tully, Jim. "Animal Stars," in the New York Herald Tribune, March 1, 1936, page SM5.
  12. ^ a b Kingsley, Grace. "Hobnobbing in Hollywood," in the Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1933, page A7.
  13. ^ Schallert, Edwin. "Popularity of Tarzan Movies Results in Deluge of Ape-Man Hero Stories," in the Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1935, page 19.
  14. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Dirty Work (1933) - Full cast and crew.
  15. ^ Internet Movie Database entry for Divot Diggers (1936) - Full cast and crew.
  16. ^ "Chimpanzee Rated Star of Picture," in The Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 1938, page 10.
  17. ^ Bell, Nelson B. "'Her Jungle Love' Adds Prestige to Technicolor As Aid to Realistic and Beautiful Cinematic Effects," in The Washington Post, April 20, 1938, page X14.
  18. ^ "Script Changed to Save Life of Chimpanzee," in the Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1937, page C3.
  19. ^ a b "Film Aide Saves Actress from Mad Ape's Attack," in the Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1936, page A1.
  20. ^ a b "Chimpanzee Attacks Film Actress; Two Are Injured," in the Chicago Daily Tribune, July 7, 1936, page 8.
  21. ^ "Martha Meets Her Match," in the Daily Boston Globe, December 6, 1936, page A6.
  22. ^ "Fingerprint Chimpanzee," in the Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1937, page B7.
  23. ^ "C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary, Inc". Retrieved January 16, 2013.

External linksEdit