By Peter J. Nash
September 16, 2013
Scroll to Bottom For Update on eBay’s Removal of JSA-Certed Lot:
Auction giant eBay is currently offering for sale an 8 x 10 photograph allegedly autographed by the famous chimpanzee “Cheetah” who starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and with Rex Harrison in Dr. Doolitle in the 1960s. The seller, “presspasscollectibles” indicates that the photo has been authenticated by James Spence Authentication and a JSA sticker is afixed to the lower right hand corner of the glossy photo signed in black sharpie by the famous primate.
The first question you may ask upon looking at the alleged “Cheetah” signature is: “How can Spence and JSA authenticate a scribble executed by a chimp and have the ability to distinguish that so-called handwriting from any other chimps?”
The photograph is accompanied by another letter of authenticity issued by an outfit called “Collectibles of the Stars” and is signed by the company, the chimp’s owner, Dan Westfall, and the chimp himself, “Jiggs” a.k.a. “Cheetah.” The LOA, dated March 10, 1997, notes that Cheetah “appeared in many of the original Tarzan films opposite Johnny Weissmuller.”
JSA certifies the authenticity of the chimp signature but, in reality, an extensive investigative report published in 2008 by the Washington Post illustrates that the “movie-career” of the alleged chimp owned by Westfall was a fraud and that the primate never starred in any of the Tarzan films with Weismuller. This information has been widely disseminated since the report, “Lie of the Jungle: The Truth About Cheetah the Chimpanzee” was published by writer R. D. Rosen.
It’s yet another striking example of how JSA authenticates items without examining the actual signatures and issues certificates of authenticity based solely upon the existence of other unverified letters of authenticity and a stories from customers.
In this case JSA could have easily discovered the Washington Post expose by simply Googling “Cheetah the Chimp.” The fraudulent photograph is currently for sale on eBay for $399. JSA, along with PSA/DNA, is the officially endorsed authenticator of the auction giant eBay and anyone looking to sell an autographed item on eBay is likely to enlist the services of Spence and his team of “so-called” experts. The eBay seller tells customers: ”JSA is one of the most highly respected authenticators in the business and is an eBay approved authenticator. Be rest assured that by purchasing this item, you are getting the real deal.”
Author R. D. Rosen was considering writing a book about the famous chimp but in the course of his due diligence he uncovered overwhelming evidence illustrating that the chimp signing 8×10’s was not the original Cheetah and had never appeared in any Hollywood films. The fraud dated back to the chimps first owner who, on the record, had stated a myriad of conflicting stories related to the chimps personal history which included a story that the chimp was smuggled out on a flight from Africa after filming ended in 1932. Rosen, however, discovered that commercial flights weren’t available until 1939.
Rosen examined the Dr. Doolitle film and determined that the alleged Cheetah was not the same chimp in the film and even tracked down Hubert Wells, a retired animal trainer who knew the chimp’s original owner Tony Gentry and told him, “It’s not true, Tony got that chimp from Wally Ross. Wally was a premier chimp and elephant trainer. He was one of the managers of Pacific Ocean Park on the pier in Santa Monica. When Pacific Ocean Park closed [in 1967], he had a chimp he owned and trained, about 6 or 7, the turning point for a chimp. He said, ‘Here, Tony, do you want this chimp?’ Tony said, ‘I’ll take it,’ and he took it.”
Based upon the trainer’s story, the chimp signing the pictures authenticated by JSA and being sold on eBay was born in 1960 or 1961, nearly three decades after the Tarzan pictures were made. When asked by Rosen if he was positively sure about the chimp Wells said, “Absolutely, no doubt, not for one minute. Absolutely. I’d known Wally since ‘66, and used him on God knows how many pictures. And that chimp was never in any picture, much less a Johnny Weissmuller picture. The big lie is that he was never in the Tarzan movies, never in ‘Doctor Dolittle,’ never in any movie.”
When the autograph-signing “Cheetah-the-Chimp” died in 2011 several news outlets still reported that the chimp was the star of the Tarzan movies, but many amended their reports when notified about Rosen’s Washington Post report. Rosen told the Associated Press, “I’m afraid any chimp who actually shared a soundstage with Weissmuller and O’Sullivan is long gone.”
Author R. D. Rosen did not respond to our inquiry for comment about JSA’s authentications of the “Cheetah” autographs being sold on eBay.
Considering the controversy over the authenticity of the chimpanzee, let alone the handwriting of the chimp, it is hard to believe that Spence and JSA can actually authenticate anything attributed to the Tarzan chimp named “Cheetah.”
The chimpanzee authentications also illustrate how JSA’s standing as an eBay-approved authenticator helps facilitate the creation of LOA’s which add false values to fraudulent items. Ebay seller “collectstars” recently offered a similar Cheetah autograph with only an LOA signed by the chimp’s owner and the chimp for $29.99. Seller “presspass” offers the same type of bogus chimp autograph with a JSA certification and a Buy-It-Now price of $399.
The lack of expertise and authentication malpractice exhibited by James Spence and JSA in this instance has created an illusion whereby an eBay seller tells customers they can rest assured they are getting the “real deal” when, in fact, they are a “But-It-Now” button away from being swindled.
UPDATE: Author R. D. Rosen, who first exposed the “Cheetah” scam in his 2008 Washington Post report issued this statement after the article was published this morning:
“In 2007, after I was asked to write the biography of Dan Westfall’s then 76-year-old “Cheeta,” my months-long research proved beyond a doubt that the chimp in question had been born in 1960 and obviously could not have appeared in any Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films. At best, the chimp’s connection to Tarzan might be that his first owner, animal trainer Tony Gentry, may have trained, much earlier in his career, one of the many chimps who shared the role of Cheeta in the Tarzan movies. As for a second “Cheetah,” who died in 2011 in a Florida primate sanctuary at what was said to be almost 80 years of age—an unheard of longevity for the species—I can only surmise that he too was an impostor. The heart-warming, charming fantasy that Tarzan’s sidekick is still alive has itself achieved a kind of immortality—and I wouldn’t be shocked if, 20 years from now, the tabloids are still reporting on some “original” Cheeta’s 102nd birthday. Primate autograph hounds beware.”
UPDATE (Wed. Sept. 18): Two days after publishing this article about eBay’s offering of the bogus JSA authenticated signed photo of a chimp who never starred in the Tarzan or Dr. Doolitle movies, the eBay listing is still live and additionally the same signed photograph is being offered by another big JSA customer “SportsMemorabilia.com.” for $504.49.
If you have any information about other fraudulent items being offered on eBay let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
UPDATE (October 3): eBAY’S FRAUD DIVISION REMOVES JSA-CERTED FAKE OF “CHEETAH THE CHIMP” IMPOSTER
It took a few weeks, but the autographed photo alleged to have been signed by “Cheetah the Chimp” of Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle movie fame has been removed from the eBay auction site. As reported on September 16, the photo features a chimp who never starred in any movies and was the subject of a Washington Post investigative report by author R. D. Rosen who presented overwhelming evidence illustrating that the Chimp who was being pimped by his handlers as the real “Cheetah” was indeed a fraud.
The photograph was authenticated by James Spence Authentication (JSA) despite the fact that the fraud could have easily been documented via a few Google searches. The Chimp fake joins a host of other notable removals of JSA items from the auction site including single-signed baseballs featuring signatures of Biz Mackey, Goose Goslin and Walter Johnson.
A source with knowledge of eBay’s Fraud Division confirmed that the Cheetah photo was removed because of its “authenticity issues.” The photo was being offered by eBay seller “Press Pass Collectibles” of Scottsdale, Arizona. Several calls to Press Pass for comment on its offering of the fake after it was exposed on Hauls of Shame were directed to the company’s owner who did not return calls. When Press Pass representatives were asked for the name of the owner they stated, “It doesn’t matter who the owner is.”
A call to James Spence III of JSA for comment was not returned. The JSA authentication of the fraudulent chimp photo is another embarrassing blunder by the authentication company eBay considers one of leaders in the industry. In the past JSA has made serious authentication mistakes ranging from its certification of a misspelled $35,000 Ed Delahanty letter to the infamous Sal Bando video released by a FOX news crew.
While the Chimp controversy has provided laughs for many onlookers, Hauls of Shame has been contacted by several people who collected Cheetah material and were disappointed that their alleged Cheetah autographs and paintings were created by a chimp with zero Hollywood-movie pedigree. Most of the Cheetah fakes ranged in price from $100 to $400.
Author R. D. Rosen, who exposed the fraud, recently told Hauls of Shame he’s working on a book chronicling his investigation of Cheetah with the working title: Chump.