Me Cheeta, By James Lever

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The Independent Culture

A Hollywood memoir with a difference: this witty satire purports to be the first-person story of Cheeta, the chimp who co-starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films. Cheeta recounts his early life in the jungle, his "rescue" by humans, his first, blissful taste of banana, the voyage in a crate on a ship to America, his lifelong friendship with Weissmuller, and the loss of his virginity to a cageful of female chimps in the grounds of Charlie Chaplin's mansion.

The tone of the narration is inconsistent, Cheeta sometimes knowing enough to quote Shakespeare and "subtly deconstruct" Jane by imitating her actions; sometimes as naive as, well, a chimp (when his cage is cleaned, he wonders why the humans are harvesting his excrement). But that's part of the joke. And Lever gets two things spot-on: the obsession with status in Hollywood, shown here to be identical to the alpha-male hierarchy of chimps; and the bitchiness of the celebrity memoir – Cheeta says of Sylvia Fairbanks: "I just didn't see in her that bloodcurdlingly shallow and avaricious gold-digger everyone tells you she became."