Fred Muggs - Playful chimpanzee featured on the NBC network morning
program THE TODAY SHOW from 1953-57.
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
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. Muggs made
his first appearance on THE TODAY SHOW on January 28, 1953.
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
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
J. Fred Muggs returned to America and eventually was removed from THE TODAY
SHOW and replaced by a more docile, Kokomo, Jr. but by 1958, the chimps were off the
show. J. Fred Muggs later starred in
his own short-lived show called THE J. FRED MUGGS SHOW which aired out of New
In 1975, Mr. Muggs appeared on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA program for a 23rd
birthday celebration. He had been working at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.
Soon after, he was retired. .
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 pounds. Muggs was born in French
Cameroon in 1952.
While in the pet shop the chimp had became a favorite attraction. So much so,
that people were donating clothing for him to wear. The chimp got his name when
the pet shop had a "Name The Chimp" contest. A young boy won with the entry "Mr.
Muggs." The name "J. Fred" was later added by THE TODAY SHOW to add a bit of
uniqueness to his name.
J. Fred Muggs' trainer Carmine "Bud" Mennella died at the age of 80 in 2002.
He had suffered from Parkinson and Alzheimer's Disease. Muggs, now more than 50
years old, is still alive in Citrus Park, Florida in the care of Gerald Preis,
Mennella's son and Leroy Waldron, Mennella's longtime business
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