Monkey, Dig Your Grave

Posted by on July 18th, 2010 at 1:02 PM

Having grown accustomed to his freedom in The Jungle, the “humanized” chimp needed too much supervision and went berserk when he was put in his cage. … When Jerry became more and more impossible, Dutton took Jerry into a nearby orange grove and gave him a shovel. “I had him dig a deep hole,” Dutton said. “When he was finished, I told him to jump inside. Then a policeman friend shot him in the head.”

“Dutton” is Jack Dutton, described as an “eccentric millionaire and showman.” He built up a private menagerie, then put it on display as an Anaheim tourist attraction called The Jungle. Jerry the chimp was the attraction’s top-billed star, “The World’s Most Human Chimpanzee.”

Dutton and his wife had brought Jerry home from Africa and “raised him as their child,” says my source, the fine coffee-table book Southern California in the ’50s (compiled and written by Charles Phoenix, designed by Kathy Kikkert). The book continues: “Within a few months he was toilet trained, sat at the dinner table, dressed himself … Locals, tourists, schoolchildren and church groups enjoyed Jerry’s antics as he played with Sunny the bear or swam with the ducks in the pond.”

But in just a few years everything fell apart. Disneyland opened down the road, neighbors sued because they thought the animals were dangerous, Dutton’s wife eloped with his lawyer. And Jerry fritzed out. Dutton had to hire people to look after Jerry around the clock. Then he tried giving Jerry away to zoos — no good.

Then the shovel, the grave. The single bullet. The role for Bill Murray if some indy wiseacre makes this business into a film. (I see Murray in shorts and safari jacket, bush cap riding the back of his head, his oatmeal face puckering as the tears squeeze out.)

[ Note: Info from Southern California in the ’50s by Charles Phoenix, post originally appeared on the Hooded Utilitarian. ]

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Things that shouldn’t be good. The movie Oscar, which stars Sylvester Stallone. It came out in 1991, when his action career had hit bottom and he was flailing about. The movie is an adaptation of a French stage farce and is set in the 1930s, so basically you have Sylvester Stallone in a period farce directed by the man who did Animal House. It ought to be terrible and was received as such. But I liked it when it came out, saw it again recently and liked it all over. The movie is well put together and the cast is a lot of fun; as in A Hard Day’s Night, there are a lot of good character actors on hand to help the star. Stallone’s okay too. He’s on screen for most of the film and I liked him. On a couple of lines he sounds a bit Fred Flintstone, but that’s it. So, all right, you take what you can get.

The movie should have done the trick. A fast-paced comedy about gangsters, with young love and no violence — that ought to be a decent bridge out of an action career. Stallone’s part let him play one more big lug, but not a dumb big lug and one who had lovable goons to boss around. And the people involved did a good job: script, costumes, editing, the rest. But it was all for nothing, and the film is remembered now, if at all, as an obviously absurd and stupid project. Oh well.

My view: people had just had enough of Sylvester Stallone. Sometimes intelligent adaptation and re-presentation can be enough to revive a product; other times not. Even variations of the original flavor are too much like the flavor itself, and Stallone is nothing if not distinctive.

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2 Responses to “Monkey, Dig Your Grave”

  1. Oscar definitely makes that list – I’d never have watched it had it not been for my wife’s insistence.

    I did a design for a t-shirt featuring Curry’s Dr. Poole this weekend, which is why it’s fresh in my mind and why I’m surprised to find so timely a post.

  2. Tom Crippen says:

    Fantastic! I loved Dr. Poole (though Harry Shearer and the other tailor were my favorites).

    If you want, I can try posting the Dr. Poole design here. My address is tom.crippen[at]gmail.com