10. Peggy the Chimp
Key Role: Bonzo in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951).
Oscar-worthy Moment: Playing a chimp raised as a human child by anthropologist Ronald Reagan, Peggy gives a surprisingly understated performance that doesn’t upstage the future president’s.
After the Limelight: Peggy starred in a sequel, Bonzo Goes to College (1953). But unlike other California cronies of Reagan’s, she failed to land a White House job in 1981.
9. ''Sieg Heil'' the Capuchin
Key Role: The perfidious monkey spy in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Oscar-worthy Moment: The primate offers a convincing Nazi salute. And it dies memorably after eating a poisoned date meant for Indy.
After the Limelight: The capuchin (whose real name has been lost to history) earned the ire of producer Frank Marshall, who complained that it didn’t get along with the human actors, and that it had to be tied to wires to get it to run in the right direction. No wonder it’s never eaten dates in this town again.
8. Sam the Orangutan
Key Role: Dunston, the jewel-snatching simian who wreaks havoc in a luxury hotel in Dunston Checks In (1996).
Oscar-worthy Moment: For a slap-stick comedy performance, Sam has a surprising number of emotional, dramatic moments — having a painful shard of glass yanked from his hand, or looking mournfully at a photo of himself with his dead brother.
After the Limelight: Let’s put it this way: Rupert Everett seldom has anything nice to say about his costars, but he’s never uttered an unkind word about Sam.
7. Bernie, Mac, and Louie the Chimps
Key Role: The trio play Jack, the hockey prodigy in MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000).
Oscar-worthy Moment: They convincingly skate and handle a puck — isn’t that enough?
After the Limelight: All three starred in the 2001 sequel, MVP: Most Vertical Primate, in which Jack takes up skateboarding. Reportedly, Louie became the first chimp to fly through the air by successfully performing a basic ramp ollie, and he also befriended pro skateboarder Bob Burnquist.
6. Finster the Capuchin
Key Role: Dodger, a monkey pickpocket who bonds with a little girl (Thora Birch) in Monkey Trouble (1994).
Oscar-worthy Moment: Finster seems poignantly torn between his old life of crime and his desire to go straight. Think James Cagney, only fuzzier.
After the Limelight: The capuchin appeared in the pirate flop Cutthroat Island (1995) and followed costars Geena Davis and Matthew Modine into relative obscurity.
5. Binks the Capuchin
Key Role: Little Monkey, a pal of the title character (Brendan Fraser) in George of the Jungle (1997).
Oscar-worthy Moment: He mockingly imitates Fraser’s sweetly moronic George.
After the Limelight: Fraser had high praise for Binks (who also appeared in Outbreak and the Ace Ventura movies), though he noted the capuchin’s temperamental perfectionism. ”He’s a bit impatient and wants to get everything right,” Fraser said. ”He has every intention of entertaining and expects to be rewarded instantly — kind of like George.” No doubt a VH1 celebreality comeback show is imminent.
4. Crystal the Capuchin
Key Role: Dexter, the mischievous monkey in Night at the Museum (2006).
Oscar-worthy Moment: Crystal’s big scene offeres catharsis; after all, who doesn’t want to slap Ben Stiller?
After the Limelight: Given Crystal’s central role in 2011’s The Hangover Part II, she seems to have a bright future ahead as a comic leading lady, either in Adam Sandler comedies or maybe on The Celebrity Apprentice.
3. Manis the Orangutan
Key Role: Clyde, brawler Clint Eastwood’s simian sidekick in Every Which Way but Loose (1978).
Oscar-worthy Moment: He punches someone out with an extended right fist whenever Eastwood says, ”Right turn, Clyde” — a running gag that never gets old.
After the Limelight: Manis grew too big to star in the 1980 sequel, Any Which Way You Can, so another ape was used. Still, Eastwood said of Manis’ performance, ”Clyde was one of the most natural actors I ever worked with! But you had to get him on the first take because his boredom level was very limited.”
2. Monkey and Katy the Capuchins
Key Role: Beyond doubling as Betsy, the primate Patient Zero of Outbreak (1995), and as Marcel on Friends, they had a cameo in Showgirls (1995).
Oscar-worthy Moment: Betsy displays pathos as the hunted source of the virus that has nearly wiped out humanity through no fault of her own.
After the Limelight: According to People, Katy had an onset romance with an Outbreak costar, a capuchin named Freddy, and they moved in together. As for her double, her trainer said, ”If Monkey were human, she’d be Meryl Streep.” Of course, Showgirls might have killed even Streep’s career, and it certainly didn’t help Monkey’s or Katy’s.
1. Cheeta the Chimp
Key Role: Cheeta, Tarzan’s helpful companion, in countless Johnny Weissmuller and Lex Barker Tarzan movies.
Oscar-worthy Moment: He proves his indispensability nursing a wounded Tarzan (Weissmuller) back to health in Tarzan and His Mate (1934).
After the Limelight: Apparently, there were numerous Cheetas over the years, despite a recent claim by one chimp’s owner that he was not only the original Cheeta but also (at age seventysomething) the oldest living chimp in the world. In 2008, a journalist who had planned to write a biography of Cheeta found that the monkey’s tale had little merit, and that he may never have acted in movies at all. However, Cheeta continues to live the life of a famous, pampered retiree in Palm Springs. For convincing so many people that he was the real deal, he may be the greatest ape actor ever.