Christina's Reviews > Me Cheeta: The Autobiography

Me Cheeta by James Lever
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's review
Jan 15, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: 2010, animals, fiction
Read in January, 2010 , read count: 1

Yes, this is what the title says. Cheeta, the chimpanzee from the old Tarzan movies, wrote his own autobiography - although it's as much about Johnny Weissmuller as it's about Cheeta.
Cheeta tells his life story from he was a young chimp captured in Africa, his movie career until his time as an old, retired chimp spending his time visiting hospitals and the like.
For me, this was a strange book. I enjoyed the intro note where Cheeta talks about his problems arriving at a title since all the good ones was already used and how he finally settled on Cheeta inspired by Katherine Hepburn's autobiography Me: Stories of My Life.
But then the real book started and throughout it, I had problems with Cheeta's voice. I felt it switched between being naive and sarcastic in a way that just didn't work for me. The book is in some ways written in support of the 'No reel apes' campaign (a campaign trying to stop the use of apes and monkeys in movies). But at the same time, Cheeta did enjoy his movies, the dreams as he calls them, and he enjoyed his cigarettes, drinks and drugs...
No ape, if your campaign has it's way, will ever again have the opportunity to enjoy a career in showbusiness, with all its attendant delights? You're just going to take that hope away from the hundreds of thousands talented young apes who'll suddenly find themselves with no parts whatsoever to go up for? For nine-tenths fo the apes you meet, acting, or the long-term survival strategy of celebrity in general, represents their best chance of an escape from the grind of everyday existence. (p. 141)
Another example is a time when he's hanging out with Errol Flynn and where Flynn is going to watch a dog fight - and where Cheeta thinks that Flynn wants to stop the fight and save the dogs and we of course knows that Flynn and his friends were the ones making the dogs fight...
I do get that Cheeta is an unreliable author in the way that he views his life and time in showbusiness as mostly good while we as readers are aware that it wasn't good at all because we can read between the lines and therefore see that Cheeta was abused, neglected and mistreated in every way. But his voice just didn't quite work for me.
However, this book still had it's enjoyable passages. I liked reading about Johnny Weissmuller and his relationship with Cheeta as well as all the other Hollywood stars from the 30s and 40s (David Niven, Errol Flynn, John Barrymore, Marlene Dietrich, Maureen O'Sullivan ...), I liked being reminded of the fantastic old Tarzan movies with the one and only true Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. And Cheeta's life story is interesting - and interesting enough for me to google a bit after finishing the book.
It turns out that there's not one Cheeta - Cheeta was played by several different chimps and the Cheeta in the book as well is pieced together by several different chimps. I actually believed in there being only one Cheetah and I thought the facts in the book was correct - and now I of course doubt the whole thing... It does seem, however, that the Johnny Weissmuller facts are true and he comes across as a very sympathetic man. And the last time Cheeta and Johnny meet each other is heart breaking and beautiful.
But overall I'd expected more from this book.
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Reading Progress

01/05/2010 page 27
8.44% "To earlier to tell if this is any good. But it is promising at the moment."
01/05/2010 page 83
25.94% "The tone in this is rather sarcastic at times - when he tells about his early life in captivity for instance - and I'm not sure it works."
01/05/2010 page 120
37.5% "Hm - probably a 3 star read so far."
01/06/2010 page 172
53.75% "I'm still somewhat torn as to what I think about this one ... but I'm not sure I completely 'buy' Cheetha's 'voice' ..."
01/06/2010 page 205
64.06% "This is as much a story about Johnny Weissmuller as it is about Cheeta. Cheeta kind of changes between being sarcastic and naive - hm ..."

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Christina, I might let you read this first. It looks sort of weird to me. What have you read about it that's positive? It might be really good; I can't tell from the jacket cover description. Thanks for the recommendation though because I'd never even heard of this and I love finding new books!

Christina Lisa, it looks weird to me as well. It's one of those books that I normally probably wouldn't read - but the fact that it has been on the long list to as prestigious a prize as the Man Booker made me look again. According to, it has gotten some great reviews. I think it's kind of a hit or miss book - either I'll love it or I'll hate it ...

message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan I think I'll let you read it first, unless I read some really good reviews. I've just got too many books on that to-read shelf, and more go on nearly every day. I just read a book that had been languishing on my to-read shelf because someone bought it for me, and I'm really, really glad I read it, so you never know.

Christina I'll try and push it up on my list then... We'll see when I get to it! And I know the feeling of having books on your shelves for so long and when you finally get to them, you regret not reading them sooner...

message 5: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Ah Christina, Are you finally reading this now? I'll be interested in your opinions!

Christina Yes, reading this at the moment. I'm not that far into it so I can't really tell yet.

message 7: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Christina, Good review, but the books sounds too bizarre for my taste.

Christina Yeah - I wouldn't recommend it to you either. You have too many books on your shelves to waste time with this one. It was interesting enough in some ways - but not a great read.

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