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Chimpanzees

J. Fred Muggs - Playful chimpanzee featured on the NBC network morning program THE TODAY SHOW from 1953-57.

Dave Garroway and J. Frede Muggs

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.

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 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.

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 Jersey.

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 partner.


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