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Bonzo, the chimpanzee who played opposite Ronald Reagan in “Bedtime For Bonzo” in 1951, came to Glendale after his death that same year.

In the movie, Reagan played a professor who takes a chimpanzee into his home to prove to his colleagues that environment is stronger than heredity.

Reagan got top billing, but it turns out the real star of the movie was Bonzo.

“In Reagan's own words: 'I fought a losing battle with a scene-stealer with a built-in edge, he was a chimpanzee,'” Sean Axmaker recounted in a movie review at www.tcm.com.

“Bonzo sits in a high chair and plays with his food, makes faces at the dinner table, has a slapstick run-in with a vacuum cleaner, and leads his momma and poppa up a tree for a comic chase,” Axmaker added. “He's adorable and he exudes as much personality as any of the non-simian cast members.”

Tragically, shortly before the movie was released, Bonzo and five other chimpanzees died of suffocation in a fire at the World Jungle Compound in Thousand Oaks.

Rescuers made a valiant attempt to resuscitate the highly trained and valuable animal star. Oxygen was administered and adrenaline was injected into his heart, all to no avail. The 6-year-old chimp, who had learned to obey 502 oral commands, was very intelligent.

“When found dead in his cage, he had covered himself with straw to avoid the smoke,” columnist Katherine V. Sinks wrote in the Ledger on Jan. 12, 1972.

His owner, Billy Richards, gave Bonzo's body to chiropractor William H. Straughn of Sherman Oaks, who had trained at Los Angeles Chiropractic College in Glendale.

Straughn donated the body to college anatomy professor and chiropractor Arthur Nilsson for use in comparative anatomy studies.

Bonzo's body “made an invaluable contribution to extensive research and study of comparative anatomy — a chimp with man,” Sinks wrote.

After Nilsson's research was completed in 1953, Bonzo's skeleton was placed in a glass case in the college's anatomical museum.

Nilsson did not release his report until 1972 when it appeared in “The Chirogram,” a publication for chiropractic physicians. He told Sinks that he waited until the general public could appreciate the value of comparative anatomy.

Nilsson had a small museum area where he had many anatomy specimens on display, said Sheila Hanes, director of Alumni and Professional Affairs at the college, who completed her human anatomy courses under Nilsson at the Glendale campus.

“I remember seeing the Bonzo skeleton in a glass case in the museum in Glendale,” she said. “Dr. Nilsson retired in 1975, right before I graduated. I am fairly certain that he took this specimen with him as it was part of his personal collection.”

The chiropractic college came to Glendale a year or so before Bonzo's body was donated to the college. It was founded in 1911, making it one of the oldest such colleges in Southern California.

By mid-century, it had grown to 500 students and needed a larger campus.

They found the perfect place — the old Harrower laboratory on Broadway, which had been sold to a pharmaceutical company and then to Cecil B. DeMille who sold it to the college in 1949.

“There was great excitement with the move as the building had been owned by movie mogul Cecil B. DeMille,” Hanes added.


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