Ungawa this, Tarzan!
Popular film star Cheetah, of the Tarzan films of the 1940's and 50's recently turned 74 years old. Cheetah is the oldest living chimpanzee known and although diabetic, is still in remarkable condition. I sat down with Cheetah to talk about being 74, the Tarzan films, Hollywood, bananas, the Lancelot Link televison series, pastrami sandwiches, nuclear fusion, and Maureen O'Sullivan's skimpy costumes. What follows are excerpts from our lengthy conversation. Someone, please remind me to buy a tape-recorder for future interviews like this so I can remember the whole thing, will you?
Earl: Cheetah, it's great to have a chance to chat with you.
Cheetah: No problem, man. I'm retired, but a little nostagia press now and then doesn't hurt the ego, if you know what I mean.
Earl: First of all, what's the secret to your having lived so long?
Cheetah: Well, I drink a gallon of Courvoisier a day, smoke 200 packs of cigarettes in a week, shoot up and string out every morning, get plenty of attention from the ladies, and snort lots of coke before bed.
Earl: You're kidding? You should've been dead inside a week.
Cheetah: Of course I'm kidding! Everything I said was made up, except for the Courvoisier. I get asked that question all the time. It's boring. Don't do drugs, kids!
Earl: So, no lady action either?
Cheetah: I'm 74. That's 128 in chimp years. The sail doesn't go up the misenmast anymore, if you know what I mean.
Earl: Beg pardon?
Cheetah: The elevator doesn't get off the ground floor, capice?
Earl: Didn't understand a word.
Cheetah: The crane won't elevate...The zepplin doesn't fly...the stickshift won't go to second gear...Anything?
(Cheetah whispers in Earl's ear)
Earl: OH! (coughs) Erm... I see. What about Viagra?
Cheetah: Not so much as a twitch.
Earl: Let's move on...
Earl: How you get started in show business?
Cheetah: I was a mere babe, minding my own business in the rain forest one day, when all of sudden I get ambushed by a wild bunch of crazies, intent on taking me away from my home and my family!
Cheetah: Talent Scouts. The funny thing was I originally got hired to play the lead in Scarface, but United Artists got cold feet and cast Paul Muni instead. They said I would have been too sympathetic.
Earl: What was it like working with Johnny Weismuller?
Cheetah: I could barely communicate with the man.
Earl: Did you not speak as much English at the time?
Cheetah: (Laughs) Nah! I was fluent from age two. It's just that... well, you know how Tarzan talks, right?
Earl: "Tarzan." "Jane." "Ungawa." ...That sort of thing?
Cheetah: Right. Well, that wasn't Tarzan at all. That was Johnny.
Cheetah: Well, he was an athlete you know.
Earl: What about the yell?
Cheetah: Some young kid by the name of Burnett. Great pipes, that kid. Anyway, Johnny was a nice guy, but I got a little tired of "Olympics." "Medal." "Big Winner." That and he was always showing off by racing the crocodiles.
Earl: He raced crocodiles in the water? Wasn't that dangerous?
Cheetah: Nah, they were union guys. They knew better than to eat a contract player. Sure, you get lunch for one day, but then it's off the set and you never work in the business again. Better to bite your tongue and wait for the caterer to show up for the afternoon.
Earl: What about Maureen O'Sullivan?
Cheetah: Grrrroooowl! She was a hottie all right. I was on the set for that scene where she dives in the water and has the major wardrobe malfunction. All sails up on the windjammer then, if you get my drift!
Cheetah: Skip it.
Earl: What do you do in your leisure time?
Cheetah: You mean besides interviews with crummy Internet reporters?
Earl: If you must.
Cheetah: Well, I'm a geriatric, so the usual stuff: Shuffleboard, Blue Plate Specials, cruise around in the Lincoln. I do like to paint, too.
Earl: Neo-primitive? Surrealism? Fauvist?
Cheetah: Black velvet. I can do an Elvis like you ain't seen. I tried the dogs playing poker, but it just wasn't my bag.
Earl: What do you think of the contemporary Hollywood scene?
Cheetah: Everyone's so tame these days. It's like Swanson said, "The pictures have gotten small."
Earl: Actually, she said that playing the deranged old bat Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
Cheetah: Picky, picky! I'm a chimp. What do I know? Anyway, I haven't seen anyone who has half the energy of a Buster Crabbe, or Vic Mature these days... except for...
Cheetah: Well, there is this one kid I saw who had loads of energy. I saw him on Oprah one day and he was bouncing up and down on the couch like, like a...
Earl: Like you?
Cheetah: Well, yeah! Call me crazy, but he did remind me of me.
Earl: Oh, it's not you that's crazy...