Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

ErN 159 , entry Dec 2011           

The Chimp & I

Every scene in the film Casablanca is so good that they could all be my "favorite scene" from WWII Hollywood films. If I have to choose, I'll take the scene where Ingrid Bergman is holding a gun on Humphrey Bogart (to get "the letter"). Bogey steps forward almost to the point where the pistol is pressed against his chest and utters the single greatest anti-hero line in the history of great anti-hero lines: "Go ahead and shoot. You'll be doing me a favor."

Yet if I really think about it, my favorite scene from WWII-Hollywood is actually from another film. I was reminded of it the other day when the sad news broke that Tarzan's sidekick (and my soul buddy), Cheetah the chimp (the one on the left in the photo), had gone to that Great Backlot in the Sky. It was the final scene from Tarzan Triumphs (1943). Cheetah jabbers his grunt-squeal monkey gibberish into a microphone and the nefarious Nazis listening in on the radio communication mistake Cheeta for Hitler and stand to attention, raise their right arms in the Nazi salute and shout, "ZE FUEHRER!" We knew right then and there that the Krauts were done.

My next step was to relate all this to Naples in keeping with the original Six Degrees of Separation (SDS) premise of this series, Everything is Related to Naples (see number one here). Was Cheetah perhaps born in Naples? No. Was his trainer Neapolitan? No. Is there a pizza named for him?—maybe one with banana topping? Probably, but it's blasphemous even to hold such a thought. This was going to be tricky. Wait...

"By Jove, Holmes, you've done it!"

"Not at all, Watson. Just remember that when you have excluded the sublime, that which remains must be ridiculous."

So, working from chimp to yours truly, Cheetah toiled for RKO Pictures, a company founded in 1929. They are justly proud of their record. Their RKO website brags on and on about Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, etc., but I can't explain the Freudian misspelling in their own self-promo on the website. Spot it and win something:

RKO classics have included King Kong, Citizen Kane, It's a Wonderful Life, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Belles of St. Mary, The Best Years of Our Lives, as well as a host of Astaire-Rogers musicals.
Nice going. You win one Belle. Sorry, only one to a customer. Also, I think the original title was "...of St. Mary's" and not "...of St. Mary." In grammar that is called the Saxon Double Genitive, not that you or cheetah care about such things, but the young geek who put that RKO website up? —he or she should care. (If I didn't live so far away, I'd tweet up a flash mob to demonstrate outside their studio.)

Now, RKO made movies on a backlot in Culver City, California, that everyone called "40 Acres," even though it was only about 29 acres. (Maybe that misnomer is traceable to the old "40 acres and a mule" phrase from the US Civil War, but that is research for another occasion.) The site saw the making of many well-known films, including Gone with the Wind and King Kong. (As a matter of fact, the effect of Atlanta burning in GWTW was created by setting fire to leftover sets, including those from King Kong! Man, life is cruel.) It is also where Tarzan Triumphs was made. RKO had acquired the property from Cecil B. DeMille in 1926, who, in turn, had acquired it from "Italian immigrate [sic] Achille Casserini." (I know, I know. It's probably the same kid who wrote "the Belles of St. Mary." I don't understand; Culver City used to have such a good high school.)

Casserini (1865-1935) emigrated to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1890 in Santa Barbara County, California, but he wasn't Italian. (I think that's strike three on that website kid.) He spoke Italian, yes, but he was from the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, specifically the tiny (current population, 60!) of Cerentino. That town is only 15 miles from the city of Locarno at the northern end of Lake Maggiore. And now...drum-roll... Locarno is where my grandfather on my mother's side, Johannes Bodenmann, married Anna Marie Herzog, my grandmother. (Of course, in terms of SDS, that fifteen miles is not even close to six degrees of latitude or Swiss longitude, so I'm way ahead on that score.) Their grandchild, yours truly, lives in Naples!

Here's looking at you, chimp.

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