Me Cheeta: The Autobiography

James Lever

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.

As heard on Radio 4, starring Jon Malcovich and Julian Sands.

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…

Reviews of Me Cheeta: The Autobiography

    • ‘Easily my favourite book of the year…funny scandalous and moving.’ Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday (Books of the Year)
    • ‘It’s the book everyone’s talking about, a book that makes you gaffaw out loud.’ Evening Standard (Books of the Year)
    • ‘A hilarious satire of memory and lore in Hollywood…Nabokovian, only hairier’.’ Joseph O’Neill, Guardian
    • ‘Even though Cheeta has no morals or manners and gives an extravagantly unreliable account of himself, the personality that leaps from these pages remains a more plausible construction than those offered (in other celebrity memoirs). This unquestionably is the gold glinting in the cloacal slurry. Any celebs hoping to crack next year’s Christmas market should take note: look upon the work of the guy with the hairy ears and saggy scarlet bottom and despair.’ Independent on Sunday (Books of the Year)
    • ‘Undoubtedly the year’s best not-a-memoir-at-all…It’s hard to conceive of anyone who’d like a biography for Christmas who wouldn’t like a copy of this truly, horribly funny book.’ Daily Telegraph (Books of the Year)
    • ‘It is a lovely way to look at the history of Hollywood, and probably more truthful than most accounts.’ Spectator
    • `The literary equivalent of Cheeta’s own “triple-back-flip-handclap-double-lip-flip-and-grin”…all of this delivered in glorious inventive prose. Whoever you are, I salute you!’ Scotland on Sunday
    • ‘A hilarious book.’ Sunday Times
    • ‘Me Cheeta may well be the finest Hollywood memoir ever written…right up there with the likes of David Niven.’ Mail On Sunday
    • ‘Laugh-out-loud hilarious…also a moving tribute to the man who will forever be associated with the role of Tarzan.’ Sunday Telegraph
    • `The most rollicking showbiz-memoir since David Niven’s Bring on the Empty Horses…Me Cheeta is a satirical masterpiece.’ Telegraph
    • ‘A unique, witty and magnificently bitchy Hollywood satire – and oddly touching to boot.’ Metro (Books of the Year)