Jul 22

Chimpanzees are humankind’s closest living relative.

Through the work of devoted scientists such as Jane Goodall, we know that apes are highly intelligent, and share many of our human traits, such as joy, sadness and, indeed, violence:

Go ahead, make my day – Chimp Eastwood

One thing that is certain is that apes know how to act, something which Hollywood was quick to take advantage of.

There have been many films and TV shows featuring our primate cousins, but perhaps my favourite on-screen ape is Clint Eastwood’s sidekick Clyde the orangutan, in Every Which Way But Loose from 1978. Clyde was played by an orangutan actor named Manis. It is unclear if Manis reprised the role of Clyde in the sequel Any Which Way You Can, or whether this part went to a rival ape. Sadly, Manis’s career was a short one, his only other role being an uncredited appearance as “Main Monkey” in the 1981 stinker Going Ape!

Here is a clip which includes some fine acting from Clyde – wait til the end for his signature “Bang, you’re dead” move.

Just a year later, perhaps wanting to cash in on the whole “man with ape buddy” thing, came the popular TV series B.J. and the Bear. The eponymous “Bear” was in fact a chimpanzee who, along with his pal, truck driver Billie Joe Mackay, would travel the American highway system looking for scrapes to get into. The show was noteworthy for featuring a bevy of sexy female truckers.

Below are the opening titles, somewhat boring as 1970s opening titles go, but I always got a kick out of the wanton destruction of the billboard at the end.

As time went by it became less acceptable for animals to be used on screen, and more and more ape actors were out of work. During the ’80s a chimp named Bubbles made a clever career move when he began appearing in public with Michael Jackson. Here is a rare clip of Bubbles and Jacko at a Japanese press conference – wait until 0:58 for Bubbles’ rather unconvincing moonwalk. Sad, really.

In 1988 Bubbles and Michael were immortalised by Jeff Koons in a life-sized ceramic and gold-leaf statue, which later sold for $5.6 million dollars.

On a final note: Emma, as far as I can determine, there is no chimpanzee in Herbie Goes Bananas.

2 Responses

  1. A Gal Says:

    i think you have amazingly overlooked the highs and lows of chimp employment that seems to coincide with movies going by monikers such as “planet of the apes”.

  2. Rachy Says:

    But, my fur-loving brother, those are not REAL apes, but ape like imposters. Furthermore, these ‘wolves in ape’s clothing’ took jobs from hard-working industry chimps and orang-utans.
    And besides, you shouldn’t refer to Charlton Heston like that…