Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Favorite Chimp -- Oliver the Humanzee

The Science Channel tonight repeats Humanzee, a fascinating and guaranteed-to-freak-you-out documentary from a few years ago about Oliver, the sideshow chimpanzee whose uncanny human-like behavior led many to believe him a mutant, or better yet, a human/chimp hybrid. Humanzee is one of those shows you’ll not soon forget.

What made Oliver so unusual? Well, in addition to a human-like nose and walking upright most the time, he was a pariah among other chimpanzees and preferred to live with his human owners, even going so far as to enjoy a nightcap before bedtime and helping with chores around the house. Not to mention that once he got to sexual maturity he started to put the moves on his owner’s wife…but you’ll find out more about that on the show.

Anybody who thought Zira had a little crush on astronaut Taylor in Planet of the Apes will no doubt sympathize with Oliver’s plight. It doesn’t get much more creepy/titillating than the possibility of humans breeding with chimpanzees, and even though chromosonal evidence came in suggesting that Oliver was merely -- but genuinely -- an incredible mutant (as least behaviorally), yet an ape after all, it still doesn’t make the story of this unusual and haunting creature any less compelling.

Humanzee airs at 9pm eastern time, and repeats several more times tonight and later (check the schedule here.) Oliver is a genuine celebrity in primate circles; there are lots of webpages with great Oliver information, including this sort of sensationalistic but terrific one from, the whole Oliver saga and his current situation in this great article, and then there's also this detailed version of his life. Oliver also has his own adorable and hilarious page on MySpace, written by someone who obviously knows his stuff and has a terrific sense of humor--be sure to check out Oliver's favorite movies!

For those of you who find this subject matter intriguing, the BBC did a fascinating miniseries in 1988 entitled First Born, which touched on some of the same scientific principles in Oliver's story. Starring Charles Dance (you may remember him from his villainous role as Mr. Tulkinghorn in the great production of Bleak House which ran on PBS a couple of years ago), First Born was about a scientist monkeying about with a human/gorilla hybrid experiment. It's just been released on DVD in the UK, and I'd highly recommend it.

There's just something special about Oliver and I think you'll agree after you watch Humanzee. Enjoy!


Jane said...

This show has everything I love about a TV show. Quirky humans, oddballs, and a Hybrid chimp. I am watching it as I write these words and absolutely enthralled. Poor Oliver, he was all alone in the world.

Jane said...

It's even better than I thought, real science and a whole section on how hybrids are created. Bravo, Lisa, for bringing this gem to our attention!

Jane said...

Jane's comments about the Humanzee continue in real time as she watches the program..."I'm half way through the show and starting to feel really sorry for Oliver. He was a hybrid, but a monkey-chimp hybrid, I think. Certainly not human. And why did they always have to keep a chain around his neck. Would nobody love this animal and treat him kindly? People are so mean to chimps. Jane Goodall would be appalled."

Lisa said...

I'm glad you fell in love with Oliver. And the other great thing about the show is that is has a liger in it -- and it's HUGE! What a great program this was, even better than I had remembered from seeing it a while back. You just can't feel the same after watching it. Definitely makes you think about man's treatment of other creatures. Glad you enjoyed it! Be sure to check out Oliver's MySpace would especially love it! :-)

Karen said...

Wow, how fascinating. I saw this post too late to watch it, but will catch it at a later date. Thanks for the heads up on this most bizzare topic.

Joe Shea said...

The notes above do capture much of Oliver’s public life, but only those elements specifically created by the government to gather open attention. There is much more to the story.

Hello. I am an older gentlemen now and while I prefer to stay in the shadows, my failing health and age continue to reduce the potential for reprecussions.

In the middle 70s, I ran an elite aviation/aerospace group in southern California for a little known agency. Located in the town of Upland, my team was quartered at a small private airfield called Cable. Our public front was that of a civilian aviation patrol club, ostensibly formed to conduct pilot training and air search, etc.

In the spring of 76, I was contacted through my channels and instructed to perform support assistance for what was then termed Operation BAKER BREAD. In short course, my team Squadron Two Five received ample funding, and received a liaison visit from the Op Controller who was known to me only as Richard. I meet with him in a small place on the Foothill Blvd., the Upper Crust, where I received my general tasking: design and test flight control and operating modules that could be understood and used by a chimp. According to Richard, the protocol was established as a Hot Sheet item, the desire being to preclude any further incident such as that which had befallen Gary Powers.

Over the months, my team commenced design and prototyping in a private hangar at Cable (N 2-4). We installed the controls and surrogate lifting surfaces onto a sled of sorts in order to permit a controlled examination of the operations without flight risk. In the fall of the year, I first met Oliver.

One our introduction, he merely strolled into our quonset hut, touched two fingers to his right brow without breaking gait, and helped himself to my package of Camel cigarettes. I was simply astonished. I had been working on a personal device, a machine designed to clean and polish Golf balls, that I intended to market to luxory hotels. Within several hours, Oliver had become familiar enough with the machine to safely operate it - he even adjusted a troublesome switch for the ejection/removal.

Over the winter months, we began testing our monkey piloted rocket sled. These tests occured far out in the desert; you may still visit the area now by driving 90 or so miles east of a small town called Halloran Springs. While the mechanical testing went well, I began to see the ugly side of Oliver - a side that perplexed and frightened me. A chronic smoker, he would slip into despondant periods during which he would drink alcohol heavily and show aggressive behavior. Several instances nearly shut down the project; one involved his brandishing an empty bottle and striking an assistant (it was poor old man Miller) over the head, apparently to take possession of his felt hat. As Miller lie in the sand, unconcious, I observed Oliver to exhault in the moment, wavering both limbs wildly and flashing his teeth while hooting. He wore the hat for several days, then filled it with his own urine and left it.

Still more troubling was his untoward sexual conduct. In another incident, a young support staff worker, Patty, fled the camp in a rush and did not return the following week. Months later I was to learn that Oliver had attacked her sexually, and that their union had in fact resulted in pregnancy. Richard arrived to discuss the matter and here revealed that Oliver was, indeed, a hybrid simian. Attempts to breed him to human females had taken place, with those results being termed horrible “pirates and ringmasters”. I learned only later that Patty had been spirited off from the area in order to deliver the offspring of Oliver. I was only to glad when testing was complete. I never heard another word regarding the Op or of Oliver until recently. The recent spate of news makes me wonder if it is all timed to coincide with the progeny of Oliver.