Cheetah, 1931-2011

Gone to the Mutia enscarpment in the sky, Cheetah the chimp died last Saturday of kidney failure, at age eighty. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, at his death Cheetah was the oldest living chimpanzee in captivity. He outlived his principal costars, Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, and took up painting in his later years. 

The M-G-M Tarzan series was my first live-action obsession as a child. I still love those movies, with their coded sado-eroticism, drooping Spanish moss, alligator-infested rivers, king-size lily pads, cliffs to fall from, quicksand, man-eating plants, spider webs as big as billboards, and elephant-powered elevator. Then, of course, there were those loincloths, tweezer-thin in the first two films, but then as large as bath mats once the Hays Code was enforced to protect American moviegoers' morals. 

Cheetah was the comic relief to Tarzan's jungle nobility. The black-and-white M-G-M films were incredibly violent (and, alas, often racist--though I argue they were less so for their time than the average Republican candidate of the 21st century). Tarzan eschewed guns, preferring to dispatch his foes by wrestling them to the ground (or river bottom) and plunging his ten-inch blade into them, in turn exciting my paleo-homosexual libido endlessly. My first woody was stoked by a dream in which I hung from Tarzan's legs as he swung on vines from tree to tree.

Ungawa, Cheetah!


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