The world's most famous
chimpanzee (even more famous than Tarzan's sidekick "Chitah"),
a long time resident of the Citrus Park area in northwest Hillsborough
County, was featured on the NBC network morning program, The Today
J. Fred Muggs was the first animal star (as
a feature spot) on "live" television. Beginning February
2, 1953, this chimpanzee in diapers shared the morning news spotlight
with reporter/commentator Dave Garroway. The simian was socko
for the ratings, attracting the much needed advertisers to make
the morning program a success. His talents included doing a mean
Popeye impression and playing piano with Steve Allen.
J. Fred Muggs was originally discovered by
a staff member of THE TODAY SHOW while his owners, Buddy Mennella
& Roy Waldron (former NBC Pages) were visiting a friend at
NBC Studios in New York City. They had procured Mr. Muggs from
the Henry Trefflich's Chimp Room in New York City for the cost
of $600. At the time the chimp was 13 weeks old and weighed 3
and 1/2 pounds but eventually over the years weighed out at 175
The strategy behind using the chimp was to
attract younger viewers who in turn would alert their parents
(the real target of the advertisers) to the new celebrity. Also
seen on the program was Phoebe B. Beebee, J. Fred Mugg's female
chimpanzee companion. After biting comedian/actress Martha Raye
on the elbow during an April 1954 program, Mr. Muggs was sent
on a worldwide promotional tour.
During his travels he attracted the attention
of the Russian newspaper Izvestia which described J. Fred Muggs
as "A symbol of the American way of life...Muggs is necessary
in order that the average American should not look into reports
on rising taxes, and decreasing pay, but rather laugh at the funny
mug of a chimpanzee."
His tour had bypassed England because the British
government didn't want America's most likable chimp in their empire.
Their sensibilities had been hurt when live shots of Fred's antics
were seen during Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953.