While a super-talented parade of apes —we’re looking at you, J. Fred Muggs — have graced television and theater screens over the years, none deserves trailblazer status as much as Jiggs, the hardworking professional ham who originated the role of Tarzan’s faithful chimp sidekick, Cheeta. Owned and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry, Jiggs only appeared as Cheeta in two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) and “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934) along with the Buster Crabbe-starring serial “Tarzan the Fearless” (1935).
Despite his limited screen time, Jiggs not only paved the way for future Cheetas — and there have been over a dozen of them, including Jiggs IV who also went by the stage name Cheeta — but also for tree-climbing, semierect thespians in general.
Jiggs lived a tragically short life for a chimp, passing away from pneumonia at the age of 9 in 1938. He was buried in the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, also the final home of Rudolph Valentino’s Great Dane, Charlie Chaplin’s cat, Petey the pit bull from “Our Gang” and Hopalong Cassidy’s horse, Topper.