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Bedtime for Bonzo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bedtime for Bonzo
Bedtime for Bonzo 1951.jpg
Original 1951 film poster
Directed byFred de Cordova
Written byscreenplay by
Lou Breslow &
Val Burton
story by
Ted Berkman &
Sam Golding
Produced byMichael Kraike
StarringRonald Reagan
Diana Lynn
Walter Slezak
Jesse White
Ann Tyrrell
Brad Johnson
Peggy as "Bonzo"
Lucille Barkley
CinematographyCarl E. Guthrie
Edited byTed Kent
Music byFrank Skinner
Distributed byUniversal-International
Release date
Running time
83 min
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,225,000 (US rentals)[3]

Bedtime for Bonzo is a 1951 American comedy film directed by Fred de Cordova, starring Ronald Reagan, Diana Lynn, and Peggy as Bonzo.[4] It revolves around the attempts of the central character, psychology professor Peter Boyd (Reagan), to teach human morals to a chimpanzee, hoping to solve the "nature versus nurture" question. He hires a woman, Jane Linden (Lynn), to pose as the chimpanzee's mother while he plays father to it, and uses 1950s-era child rearing techniques.[5]

A sequel was released called Bonzo Goes to College (1952), but featured none of the three lead performers from the original. Peggy died in a zoo fire two weeks after the premiere of Bedtime for Bonzo;[4] another chimpanzee was hired for the second film whose name really was "Bonzo". Reagan did not want to work on the second film, as he thought the premise was unbelievable.[6]


Ronald Reagan stars as psychology professor Peter Boyd, and climbs out on a ledge of a college campus building to rescue a suicidal chimpanzee, Bonzo. Meanwhile Dean Tillinghast (Herbert Heyes) is informed by former criminal Knucksy Breckenridge that Prof Boyd's father, aka "The Professor", aka "Silky", was an accomplished con-man and criminal, and that the two were bunkmates in prison. When Peter enters, he learns that his father also loved his mom. The dean then demands that the professor wants Peter to break his engagement to his daughter, Dr. Valerie Tillinghast (Lucille Barkley), due to the criminality in Boyd's family history, and his belief that criminal behavior is due to genetics rather than environment and upbringing. This sets the professor and the dean at loggerheads.

Boyd gets his colleague, friend, and Bonzo's handler Prof. Hans Neumann (Walter Slezak) to release Bonzo into his care so that Boyd can prove to the dean and his daughter that his father's criminal history is a product of environment rather than genetics by raising Bonzo in a good home. Boyd hires a nanny Jane Linden (Diana Lynn) to be a pseudo-mother for Bonzo. Jane and the Professor then try to raise Bonzo like a human baby in a normal household.

Jane and the professor agree on using the pronouns Poppa and Momma around Bonzo to foster a happy home environment. Boyd informs his fiancé Valerie about the experiment and how things are progressing, but balks on the idea of her coming to his home to look in on the project. Jane begins to have romantic feelings for Peter, but he doesn't realize it. One day while Momma teaches Bonzo to return a necklace that he'd taken from her, then when she leaves the room to look for something to prepare for dinner Bonzo inadvertently starts the vacuum cleaner, is startled by it, jumps out an open window and climbs a tree. When momma climbs the tree to get him, Bonzo jumps to the roof and makes his way back into the house and uses the phone to call for help. Emergency services dispatch a firetruck and then heads back outside and knocks down the ladder Momma used to climb the tree, leaving her stuck "up a tree". Poppa arrives on the scene, climbs the tree, but he too becomes trapped. The firemen arrive and help Peter and Jane back to the ground while Bonzo looks on; but, out of sight of firemen and police. During the commotion Valarie shows up, jumps to the wrong conclusions, and angerly returns the engagement ring.

Professor Neumann explains the entire situation and experiment to Jane. Jane then tells both professors that Bonzo was making progress, and informs them of Bonzo learning to return her necklace earlier. Later after the two professors are watch a film of Bonzo's progress, the dean then informs Neumann that Bonzo is being sold to Yale University for $2,500.00 for medical research. Neumann pleads with the dean to keep Bonzo, but the dean gives him until the following Monday to produce the chimpanzee. That evening Neumann, Peter, and Jane all have a birthday party for Bonzo, complete with cake and a cowboy outfit. After Bonzo is tucked in for the night, Peter learns from Hans that the experiment must soon come to an end.

Jane overhears the men talking about the end of the experiment, and hears that Peter will be letting her go. Jane expresses her emotions, storms out in tears, and then Hans informs a surprised Peter that Jane loves him. Bonzo overhears the disagreement and tries to enter Jane's room, but when she tells him that she doesn't want to see him anymore, thinking it's the professor at the door, Bonzo runs away on his tricycle. When he ends up in town, he sneaks into a jewelry store after seeing the sparkly necklaces in the window. Bonzo then grabs one, leaving his cowboy hat behind. Peter finds Bonzo, complete with the jewelry, while driving along the road. Peter then calls Hans to bring Jane to a meet, but Jane has left with a bus ticket out of town.

When Peter tries to get Bonzo to return the necklace, Bonzo refuses, so Hans and Bonzo head out to catch-up Jane. When Peter tries to return the necklace himself, he's nabbed by a cop, and hauled off to jail. Jane returns to the college, learns that Bonzo is to be shipped off for medical experiments, then she and Hans plead with the Dean to spare Bonzo. Hans forfeits his grant money, and keeps Bonzo, then he and Jane go to help rescue Peter. When Jane hands the stolen necklace to Bonzo and instructs him to "put these back", Bonzo jumps out the window, and everyone goes to the jewelry store to wait in hiding. Bonzo returns, and puts the necklace back in the window of the store. Bonzo has proven that being raised well results in good behavior, and Valarie congratulates Peter as he and Jane head out with Bonzo for their honeymoon.



A. H. Weiler of The New York Times called the film "a minor bit of fun yielding a respectable amount of laughs but nothing, actually, over which to wax ecstatic."[7] Variety described it as "a lot of beguiling nonsense with enough broad situations to gloss over plot holes ... Cameras wisely linger on the chimp's sequences and his natural antics are good for plenty of laughter."[8] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "If you can stomach all this, you'll find some giggles in this farce, which is okay when paying attention to the recently deceased chimp, but is perfectly terrible when trying to tell its story. Ronald Reagan, as the naive professor of things mental, must have felt like the world's sappiest straight man playing this silly role, and the others aren't much better off."[9]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 67%, based on 12 reviews, with an average rating of 5.83/10.[10]

As President, Reagan screened the film for staff and guests at Camp David.[11]

In popular culture

The film was later referenced in connection with Reagan in the 1986 Ramones song "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)", in the Dead Kennedys' 1986 song "Rambozo the Clown", and in a track on a 1984 Jerry Harrison record, sampling Reagan and credited to "Bonzo Goes to Washington". A song unflattering to Reagan 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,[12] Bloom County comic strip (October 11, 1981), as well as in the Strontium Dog comic story "Bitch", published in 2000 AD, which featured President Ronald Reagan being kidnapped out of his own era and taken into the far flung future setting of the comic. Other notable references include the 1966 Stan Freberg comedy album Freberg Underground, and the 1986 video of the British band Genesis's song "Land of Confusion". In the 1980s satirical British TV show Spitting Image, Reagan was shown as having appointed a dead taxidermied Bonzo as Vice President. In the ALF episode "Pennsylvania 6-5000" ALF is concerned about nuclear war, calls Air Force One over a shortwave radio and tells the president he wants to talk to him about his [nuclear] bombs. Reagan misinterprets this to mean the "Bonzo" film.

The movie is referenced in the MMORPG video game DC Universe Online. Following the two-player duo "Gorilla Grodd's Lab", the Flash quips at Gorilla Grodd "It's bedtime for Bonzo".

A song released by Nickelodeon for the 2004 presidential elections had a line mentioning that Reagan "acted with a chimp when he was a movie star".[13]

The film was also referenced in the second season of the FX television series Fargo, when the character Karl Weathers (played by Nick Offerman) says he will not shake Ronald Reagan's hand, because "the man made a movie with a monkey, it wouldn't be dignified".

In the 2017 film War for the Planet of the Apes, a human soldier's helmet has the title of the film written on it.

In the final scene of the final episode of season 3 of 12 Monkeys, James Cole's father tells the young James, "bed time for Bonzo".

Throughout director Fred de Cordova's career as producer of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, Carson and guests would make frequent jokes and references to Bedtime for Bonzo as well as tie-ins in regards to Ronald Reagan becoming President of the United States.


  1. ^ "'U' Sets Premieres For First Quarter". Motion Picture Daily: 2. February 7, 1951.
  2. ^ Bedtime for Bonzo at the American Film Institute Catalog
  3. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  4. ^ a b "A 5-year-old chimp named Peggy made a monkey out of her human co-star Ronald Reagan". Archived from the original on June 23, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  5. ^ Rickey, Carrie. "Reagan's film persona: Cheerful, humble, kind." The Philadelphia Inquirer. June 6, 2004. National A22.
  6. ^ Bergan, Ronald (September 19, 2001). "Frederick De Cordova: Film director famed for embarrassing Ronald Reagan with a chimp".
  7. ^ Weiler, A. H. (April 6, 1951). "The Screen: Two Films Have Premieres". The New York Times: 31.
  8. ^ "Bedtime for Bonzo". Variety: 11. January 17, 1951.
  9. ^ Coe, Richard L. (March 15, 1951). "The Chimp's A Lot Cuter Than Reagan". The Washington Post: B11.
  10. ^ "Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  11. ^ Weinberg, Mark (May 2, 2019). "'I'm the One Wearing the Watch': An excerpt from 'Movie Nights with the Reagans'". GW Magazine.
  12. ^ "Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 03, 1986 on". Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  13. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Nickelodeon President Song". YouTube. Event occurs at 49s.

External links

This page was last edited on 17 December 2021, at 04:01
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