Me Cheeta : The Autobiography, Paperback
3 out of 5 (7 ratings)


Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009 The incredible, moving and hilarious story of Cheeta the Chimp, simian star of the big screen, on a behind-the-scenes romp through the golden years of Hollywood.

The greatest Hollywood Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, died in 1984.

Maureen O'Sullivan, his Jane, died in 1998. Weissmuller's son, who first played Boy in the 1939 film 'Tarzan Finds a Mate', has gone too.

But Cheeta the Chimp, who starred with them all, is alive and well, retired in Palm Springs as an abstract painter.

At the incredible age of seventy-six, he is by far the oldest living chimpanzee ever recorded.

Now, in this extraordinary debut novel, James Lever uncovers the astonishing tale of Cheeta...Cheeta was just a baby when snatched from the Liberian jungle in 1932, by the great animal importer Henry Trefflich, who went on to supply NASA with its 'Monkeys for Space' programme.

That same year, Cheeta appeared in 'Tarzan the Ape Man', and in 1934 'Tarzan and His Mate', in which he famously stole the clothes from a naked O'Sullivan, dripping wet from an underwater swimming scene with Weissmuller. Full of humour, wit and emotion, James Lever's novel tells the truly unique tale of a monkey stolen from deepest Africa and forced to make a living among the fake jungles and outrageous stars of Hollywood's golden age.

Cheeta's tinseltown journey extends beyond the screen, to his struggle with drink and addiction to cigars, his breakthrough with a radical new form of abstract painting, 'Apeism', his touching relationship with his retired nightclub-performing grandson Jeeta, now a considerable artist in his own right, his fondness for hamburgers and his battle in later life with diabetes, and, through thick and thin, carer Dan Westfall, his loving companion who has helped this magnificent monkey come to terms with his peculiar past.

Funny, moving - and so searingly honest, you know it has to be fiction - 'Me Cheeta' transports us back to a lost Hollywood.

Cheeta is a real star, and this is the greatest celebrity non-memoir of recent times...


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352 pages, Illustrations
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Films, cinema
  • ISBN: 9780007280162



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Showing 1 - 5 of 7 reviews.

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Review by

This tell all biography by a chimpanzee who starred in the Tarzan movies along with Johnny Weismuller was selected for the Booker Prize longlist in 2009. It's filled with snarky humor, jokes about the movie industry and actors, and has numerous references to masturbation, excrement, and other body fluids. I guess I would say that it was well written, but it certainly wasn't a captivating story, and I stopped reading it after 70 pages.

Review by

This year’s oddball choice on the Booker longlist is a satire on Hollywood as seen through the eyes of Tarzan’s long-lived chimp companion. When it was published last autumn as an autobiography, the book had Cheeta listed as its writer, but it didn’t take long for the real author to be uncovered; James Lever, a book editor, has his name on the paperback.Cheeta, now aged 76, looks back on his life. In the first section, he tells us how he and many other animals were ‘rescued’ from the jungle and ‘rehabilitated’ by humans, how he was selected to go to Hollywood where he became ‘part of the family’ belonging to L.B.Mayer. There, Cheeta met the love of his life, Tarzan in the sublime form of Johnny Weissmuller, and Johnny too got a pal who would always be there for him. Cheeta didn’t get always get on with Jane however – Maureen O’Sullivan found ‘the ape-talk a trifle wearying’. Johnny’s reply, ‘Jane angry. Jane need smack on rear end.'Ere long Cheeta is mixing with all the stars and indulging in all the vices - smoking, drinking, sniffing cocaine from starlets’ cleavages and indulging in high jinks with Douglas Fairbanks and David ‘Niv’ Niven. There were those he didn’t get on with too, particularly Charlie Chaplin who had to upstage everyone, (he got his own back in spectacular fashion with members of Charlie’s garden menagerie). Johnny always stuck up for Cheeta though. Esther Williams was another, but we don’t know the details as that chapter was ‘removed on legal advice’! Eventually the films got worse, Cheeta’s role was diminished and the Tarzan brand faded. In the last section of the book, Cheeta has retired to a sanctuary where he paints and dreams.Very clever and often scabrously funny, this spoof plays long and hard with the facts of Hollywood’s golden age – after all, its targets are dead. Young Cheeta’s innocent belief that the human’s had his best interests at heart was neatly handled, as was the older Cheeta’s world-weary cynicism about the system that had made him, but spat him back out when he was no longer useful, his comeback having flopped.Luckily, I grew up watching all the black and white movies on Saturday afternoons when my Dad and brother went off to the footie, so I was familiar with all Cheeta’s co-stars. Reading it without this grounding may prove tedious though, for at 320 pages, it is too long by about a quarter. It shouldn’t make it onto the Booker shortlist, but it has been a great choice to stimulate discussion and successfully raise the media profile of the prize. I found it to be in parts, hilarious and truly fascinating, also a little repetitive, but above all it was a really interesting exercise in satire and good fun.

Review by

This is the memoir of Cheeta the chimp who co-starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the MGM and RKO Tarzan films. The first chapter is one of the funniest openings of any book I've read - (Cheeta is the subject of a bet between Rex Harrison and his wife - if she wins she can sleep with Richard Burton "if he'll have you" if he wins she won't kill herself if he leaves her).If the rest of the book doesn't quite maintain these standards, it's still a hugely enjoyable and wickedly bitchy (satire of a) memoir of the Hollywood golden age. In places Cheeta's love of Weissmuller is even rather touching. Anyone with a good knowledge of Hollywood stars of the 30s and 40s will get even more laughs out of this then I did. But even if a number of jokes and digs sailed over my head, enough hit the mark to leave me grinning like the narrator through most of the book.

Review by

This book is everything you would want from a Hollywood memoir - full of scandal, gossip, name-dropping and self-delusion - it hardly matters that it isn't real. The book is written as a memoir by the chimp who co-starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the 1930s Tarzan films. As with most memoirs, the book starts with Cheeta's early life in the jungle, progressing through his arrival in America, his first taste of fame and the highs and lows of a career in Hollywood's Golden Age. It got off to a bit of a slow star and at first I wasn't sure that I would enjoy it so much, but then it won me over. The part about Cheeta's later life, his fall from favour in Hollywood and his career beyond that, were particularly good, and I actually found the ending incredibly moving, which I wasn't expecting at all from a spoof.

Review by

This is a brilliantly funny and moving expose of Hollywood penned by the star of several Tarzan movies, Cheeta. OK, the original Cheeta, Jinks, died in the 1930s but that doesn't prevent James Lever from producing a fantastic pastiche of all those Hollywood memoirs telling the truth about the sex, booze and drug fuelled exploits of Mid-Twentieth Century Hollywood. There are some hilarious anecdotes - the one with the Rolls Royce, David Niven and Johnny Weissmuller will stay with me for a while. I also particularly loved Chapter 8. This is also a book with a strong emotional heart, the love Cheeta feels for his Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, is as innocent and pure as Hollywood isn't and Cheeta's innocent and often misguided observations on human/animal relations are insightful and moving.

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