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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 02:00 am

Monkey love

Patiently awaiting the return of our diaper-clad, poo-flinging friends

Untitled Document If life has taught us anything about ourselves, it is this: We love monkeys. I’m not certain why — whether it is something on the base level of evolution or it’s just fun to see them dress in kids clothing — but we love our simian brethren of the trees. Appreciation for great achievement in the ape world is sometimes shortsighted. Sure, we give work to the odd chimp for a commercial here and there or a humorous poster adorning cubicles worldwide. But, what have we really given these monkeys that so graciously make us grin and don’t use their powerful bestial strength to kill us? Where would we be without these fuzzy friends from lands far away? Our 40th president would have just been an unknown cowboy movie actor if not for the stalwart co-starring of one fabulous link-challenged thespian, Bonzo. Late-night television has known the secret for years. Jack Paar, Steve Allen, and Johnny Carson all knew the magic and majesty of a monkey act. Who doesn’t delight in the sight of chimps on skates? Not me. The ’70s were riddled with apes. We saw Oscar-caliber performances by orangutans that, despite having the difficult task of carrying the artistic load for that untalented lump Clint Eastwood, turned us Any Which Way but Loose. The small screen gave a delightful look into the supersecret spy world with Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp. Even those of us who are squeamish at the sight of monkeys in three-piece suits and moving their unarticulated lips to loosely dubbed audio can’t help loving the monkeys. And for those who couldn’t get enough of the ape love during regular programming, we all got to bear witness to a gorilla-costumed actor hop about to test the durability of our favorite luggage. It was all around us: Darwin’s wildest dreams.
The nation’s dedication in tribute to our friends in fur did not stop with just a few roles going to a select few opposable-thumb-less performers. Top executives and people in the know, judging from the success of apes as over-the-road truck drivers in such shows as B.J. and the Bear and Any Which Way You Can (sure, it was a sequel to an aforementioned film, but one could argue that it stands quite well on its own), went as far as to create a teen-idol supergroup that they could film, market, and then bilk, forcing them to continue performing well into their golden years just to make ends meet. The name of this doomed pop merchandising machine? The Monkees (spelled with two e’s just to be hip).
The Monkees adorned lunchboxes, T-shirts, trading cards, board games — anything that had an open surface for four fresh-faced lads with a sickeningly sweet studio-contrived song in their hearts. But, something was missing. Oh, they had looks and charm. They had Top 10 draw and network support. They had an unbelievably over-the-top, gaudy vehicle to take them from one wacky misadventure to the next. Something was missing from this equation for monumental success: actual monkeys! The blame for this oversight lies solely on the anti-monkeyist lobby. The powerful society that decided that apes were becoming too popular did its very best to defame the good name of the chimpanzee. Led by the charismatic orator and slightly unnerving Charlton Heston (may he rest in simian-hating peace), the anti-monkeyist movement made several propaganda films in the hope that the scare tactics of Roddy McDowall would send the country into riots. But the hearts of the American public were captured in a very Faye Wray-esque manner and no number of rubbery, stiff-lipped, British-accented humanoid chimps was going to change that. So, we say, “Welcome, monkeys. Come into our homes.” Sure, there is still some intolerance. Marcel did not parlay his stint on Friends into the feature-film career we all thought he would have. Though there was some speculation about the viability of a Marcel spin-off, Hollywood just couldn’t see past the slick-talking agents of Matt LeBlanc. But, from time to time, Dunston does check in and LeBlanc, in an obvious move to smooth over the Marcel debacle, will pursue scripts laden with poorly formulated monkey antics on a baseball field. And so it is that America still loves a monkey or two, even if it has to be a minimal dose. Don’t give up though, ape lovers. We all know that show business is cynical and completely devoid of originality. Be prepared: The day of the monkey shall return. And I’ll be loving every diapered, poo-flinging moment of it.

Rich Mansfield, a native of Carlinville, lives in Chatham, works at R.P. Lumber, and does standup comedy.

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