J Fred Muggs…The Inside Story And Some Funny Monkey Business
The story I am about to share is from the book “The Box…An Oral History Of Television, 1920 -1961” by Jeff Kisseloff. I highly recommend it.
The first Associate Producer for the ‘Today’ show was Len Safir, who was also in on the planning for the ‘Tonight’ show. It was his idea to add the chimp to the show and most of this is from his recollections of the events in a paraphrased form from him and Gerald Green.
Len was brought in from NBC’s ‘Tex And Jinks’ show about a month into the ‘Today’ show run as things weren’t going as well as hoped for televisions first early morning show.
Safir thought the show needed some comedy and remembered a cartoon he had seen…a gorilla leaving a desk and a man taking his place and saying, “and now the human side of the news”. He thought, let’s get a monkey, dress him up and put him at a typewriter and every once in a while, cut to him banging away.
He called a pet shop and a few days later a staffer rushed into his office and shouted “there’s one at the elevator”. Two men were there with a baby chimp in diapers. Safir said “He was about the cutest thing you had ever seen”. The next morning, they put him on the show.
All they did was sit him next to Garroway and Muggs was an immediate sensation…the chimp was irresistible. Ratings started to climb and so did J Fred…all over the place. He had the run of the studio and his own cameraman…Jack Heyman who followed him all over the studio and at the window with the street side crowds.
Gerald Green was one of the people tasked by NBC President Pat Weaver to create the ‘Today’ show, and here is his remembrance of the J Fred days. This is the funny part.
“I liked him and he liked me so he never bit me, but he would occasionally bite people he didn’t like or deserved to be bitten, like Martha Ray.”
Green said, you were alright if you petted Muggs and talked to him. Muggs liked Paul Cunningham who put the newscast together overnights and Paul usually stopped to say hello to him when he passed by. One day though, Cunningham was rushed and frazzled by a big breaking story and when Muggs reached out, he told him to F. O.
A few minutes later, someone cracked Cunningham across the back with a broomstick and knocked him out of his chair. Can you guess who did that? If you guessed Muggs, you’re right.
As is usually the case, as Muggs grew older, he became more aggressive and at times, Garroway would be on camera with a hidden hand bleeding from a bite. The search for a new home for J Fred was begun and Marlin Perkins at The Chicago Zoo agreed to accept him and one morning on the show, a three limousine caravan left for the airport with J Fred Muggs. Enjoy and share!