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On this Day in Movie History, April 5. 1951: Chimp Makes Monkey Out of President

On this day a movie is released which made a monkey out of Republican icon and 40th president of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Maybe its best that Republicans want to deny evolution and instead teach creationism in the schools.

Bedtime for Bonzo is a 1951 comedy film directed by Fred de Cordova, starring future U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Diana Lynn. It revolves around the attempts of the central character, Professor Peter Boyd (Ronald Reagan), to teach human morals to a chimpanzee, hoping to solve the “nature versus nurture” question. He hires a woman (Diana Lynn) to pose as the chimp’s mother while he plays father to it, and uses 1950s-era child rearing techniques.

By the time that Ronald Reagan made the comedy Bedtime for Bonzo, his career was on the decline. His agent Lew Wasserman had worked out a deal with his studio, Warner Brothers, to let him make only one film a year and give him permission to freelance for other studios in exchange for cutting his salary in half. Although this movie renewed his popularity as a movie star for a while, although it was one of the most remembered of Reagan’s acting career, it was Reagan’s least favorite; he never even saw the film until 1984.

The story was loosely based on real-life Yale psychologist Robert Yerkes who had just published several works on the development of chimpanzees. As a screwball-ish comedy, the writers had penned their story with Cary Grant in mind, and were supposedly displeased when Reagan ended up being cast. The movie proved a mild diversion, making only a few waves commercially and critically.

In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther amiably panned it, suggesting it was good that Universal-International was “casting in Hollywood’s zoos” since “without this frisky character, there would have been little comedy in this antic.”

The film was later referenced in connection with Reagan in the 1986 Ramones song “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)”, and in a track on a 1984 Jerry Harrison record, sampling Reagan and credited to “Bonzo goes to Washington”. An anti-Reagan song entitled “Bad Time for Bonzo” is featured on The Damned’s fourth studio album, Strawberries. It was also referenced in a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip,[3] and the 1966 Stan Freberg comedy album Freberg Underground.

A sequel was released entitled Bonzo Goes to College (1952), but featured neither lead performer from the original.

1900 – Spencer (Bonaventure) Tracy (Academy Award-winning actor: Captains Courageous [1937], Boys Town [1938]; San Francisco, Stanley and Livingstone, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1941], Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Adam’s Rib, Father of the Bride [1950], Pat and Mike, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Mountain, The Old Man and the Sea, How the West Was Won, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; passed away June 10, 1967)

1901 – Melvyn Douglas (Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg) (Academy Award-winning [supporting] actor: Hud [1963], Being There [1979]; The Vampire Bat, Captains Courageous, Ninotchka, Three Hearts for Julia, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Americanization of Emily, I Never Sang for My Father, The Candidate, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, The Changeling, Ghost Story; passed away Aug 4, 1981)

1908 – Bette (Ruth Elizabeth) Davis (Academy Award-winning actress: Dangerous [1935], Jezebel [1938]; Dark Victory, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Now, Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, All About Eve, The Star, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; passed away Oct 6, 1989)

1916 – (Eldred) Gregory Peck (Academy Award-winning actor: To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]; The Keys of the Kingdom, The Yearling, Duel in the Sun, Gentleman’s Agreement, Twelve O’Clock High, David and Bathsheba, Captain Horatio Hornblower, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Roman Holiday, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Moby Dick [1956], The Guns of Navarone, Marooned, MacArthur, The Boys from Brazil, Moby Dick [TV: 1998]; Jean Hersholt Humanitarian (Academy) Award [1968]; died June 12, 2003)

1926 – Roger Corman (director: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Masque of the Red Death, The Raven, Little Shop of Horrors, The Fall of the House of Usher, Swamp Women)

1929 – Nigel Hawthorne (actor: Richard III, Demolition Man, Firefox, Young Winston, Gandhi; died Dec 26, 2001)

1933 – Frank Gorshin (impressionist, actor: Batman, The Great Impostor; died May 17, 2005)

1941 – Michael Moriarty (actor: Bang the Drum Slowly, The Last Detail, Windmills of the Gods)

1942 – Peter Greenaway (director, writer: Prospero’s Books, The Belly of an Architect, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, A Zed & Two Noughts, Drowning by Numbers, The Draughtsman’s Contract)

1943 – Max Gail (actor: Sodbusters, D.C. Cab, Night Moves, Barney Miller, Whiz Kids, Normal Life, Pearl)

1946 – Jane Asher (actress: Dreamchild, Masque of the Red Death, The Prince and the Pauper, Brideshead Revisited)

Isabel Jewell (1972, Hollywood, California)

Brian Donlevy (1972, Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California)

Howard Hughes (1976, Houston, Texas)

Molly Picon (1992, Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

Divya Bharti (1993, Bombay, India)

Kurt Cobain (1994, Seattle, Washington)

Charlene Holt (1996, Williamson, Tennessee)

Debralee Scott (2005, Amelia Island, Florida)

Brother Theodore (2001, New York City, New York)

Charlton Heston (2008, Beverly Hills, California)

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