Charles Phoenix's Slide of the Week: The Jungle, Anaheim, 1959

Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week: The Jungle, Anaheim, 1959

the jungle
The Jungle, Anaheim, 1959

A flaming redhead poses in a sensible shirtwaist dress and royal silk satin curly-topped, bell hop hat. Her body language speaks of possession. That ‘58 Chrysler must be hers. The window is down, the vent-wing open and the door is ajar. Behind her the font on the OPEN sign is inspired and worthy today of being developed into a full alphabet. I wonder if she knows the shocking story of what happened at the Jungle just a couple of years before.

Several years ago at a yard sale I picked up an early ’50s map of Anaheim. Carefully unfolding it the tiki graphics in an ad for a place called the Jungle caught my eye. I had never heard of the place. The ad read: THE JUNGLE- Tropical Zoo, Exotic Gift Shop, Head Hunters Beauty Salon and “Home of Jerry, the World’s Most Human Chimpanzee”. Jack Dutton was listed as the owner.

Intrigued and at the time researching for my book, SOUTHERN CALIFONRIA IN THE 50s, immediately I called 411 and asked for Anaheim, California – Jack Dutton. Much to my surprise, fifty years later, there was a listing. I called. I said “Is this the Jack Dutton that owned the Jungle? “Yes it is.” I was even more surprised when he said that he was 90-somthing years old and the manager of a trailer park in Anaheim. To hear the story of the Jungle he invited me to come see him. The next morning at 11am I was standing at the doorstep of his double wide. He was welcoming, feisty and sincere as he told me the story of the Jungle. He got a tear in his eye and said it never fails when he thinks of the Jungle he thinks of Jerry, his beloved-but-ill-fated pet monkey.

He was a ragman. He tells me he made a fortune selling rags after the war. Around 1952 he and his wife Dorothy “adopted” a wild chimpanzee to add to their ever-expanding menagerie of birds and other unusual pets kept at their rural ranch home in nearby Fullerton. They named their “baby boy” chimp Jerry and raised him like they would a child. Within a few months Jerry was toilet trained, ate at the dinner table, dressed himself and even slept in the same bed with the Dutton’s. As Jerry became known around the neighborhood for entertaining at children’s birthday parties other nagging neighbors began to complain about the “wild pet monkey.”

In response Dutton bought a five-acre orange grove in nearby Anaheim. He leveled it built a small zoo. He planted a lush, tropical garden to showcase Jerry and all of his other pets where the public could enjoy them. Jerry shared his new home in the spotlight with snakes, alligators, elephants, bears, ostriches, deer, apes, a lion and hundreds of exotic birds. Crowds enjoyed Jerry’s adorable antics as he played with Sunny the bear or swam with the ducks in the pond. “Jerry amused the guests in the daytime and helped me water the plants and feed the other animals at night,” Dutton remembered. He added a restaurant called the Palms, a luau garden, exotic gift shop and a beauty shop called the Head Hunters.

Just a couple of years later in, 1955 when Disneyland opened, things were beginning to get out of hand at the Jungle. Late-night pranksters taunted the animals and evil thieves stole the flamingos. A series of lawsuits forced Dutton to sell his “dangerous” animals. He told me his wife ran off with their lawyer. Even Jerry wasn’t safe. Having grown accustomed to his human-like freedom in the Jungle, the “humanized” chimp needed constant supervision. He went berserk every time he was put in his cage. When he could no longer find “baby-sitters” to care for Jerry around the clock Dutton reluctantly offered his beloved pet chimp to zoos. He said nobody would take him. When Jerry became more and more impossible, Dutton with a tear in his eye told me of the dark day he walked Jerry over to a nearby orange grove and gave him a shovel. “I had him dig a deep hole,” Dutton said, “when he was finished, I told him to jump inside. Then a policeman friend of mine shot him in the head.”

Jack Dutton, among other things, went on to become the mayor of Anaheim. Not long after I talked with him he passed away. He told me “Never humanize a chimp.”

Charles Phoenix

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