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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
Screenplay byVal Burton
Lou Breslow
Story byTed Berkman
Raphael David Blau
Produced byMichael Kraike
StarringRonald Reagan
Diana Lynn
CinematographyCarl E. Guthrie
Edited byTed Kent
Music byFrank Skinner
Color processBlack and white
Universal International Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,225,000 (US rentals)[3]

Bedtime for Bonzo is a 1951 American comedy film directed by Fred de Cordova and starring Ronald Reagan, Diana Lynn, and a chimpanzee named Tamba as Bonzo.[4] Its central character, psychology professor Peter Boyd (Reagan), tries to teach human morals to a chimpanzee, hoping to solve the "nature versus nurture" question. Boyd hires 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 titled Bonzo Goes to College (1952), but it featured none of the three lead performers from the original film. Tamba, who had also appeared in My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), died in a fire on March 4, 1951,[6] so another chimpanzee was hired for the second film. Reagan did not want to appear in the second film as he thought that the premise was unbelievable.[7]


Valerie, a college dean’s daughter, is engaged to the dean's colleague Peter, a psychology professor. When the dean discovers that Peter is the son of a former criminal, he forbids the marriage, declaring Peter’s blood to be tainted, in line with his strong belief in heredity as an influence on character. As Peter believes equally strongly in the opposite theory of environment, he aims to prove that he can raise a chimpanzee as one would a human child in a law-abiding household.

After acquiring a chimpanzee named Bonzo from an animal handler, Peter recruits a nanny named Jane, and they act as Bonzo's parents, teaching him good habits. Bonzo inadvertently turns on the vacuum cleaner and leaps out of the window in alarm, climbing a tree, where Jane follows him. Bonzo jumps back into the house and dials the emergency services as he has been instructed to do, but he then returns to the tree and removes the ladder, leaving Jane stranded until Peter can help her. Valerie arrives on the scene just as the firemen are helping them down and misreads the situation, angrily returning Peter’s ring.

The dean warns that Bonzo is to be sold to Yale University for medical research, and Jane overhears Peter and the animal handler discussing the imminent end of the experiment. As she has developed romantic feelings for Peter, Jane is so shocked that she allows Bonzo to escape on his tricycle. Peter follows him to a jewelry store, where Bonzo grabs a necklace. When Bonzo refuses to return it, Peter tries to do so himself, only to be arrested by the cops. When Jane instructs Bonzo to surrender the necklace as he has been taught, he obediently returns to the store and replaces it where he had found it in the window. With the experiment judged a success, the dean decides not to sell Bonzo and bestows his blessing on the upcoming marriage.



During production Reagan was nearly suffocated by the chimpanzee when it pulled on Reagan's necktie. After he broke free the tie had to be cut off Reagan's neck by a crewmember. [8]


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."[9] 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."[10] 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."[11]

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.[12]

As president, Reagan screened the film for staff and guests at Camp David.[13]

In popular culture

In music

In other media

The film was also referenced in a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip,[15] Bloom County comic strip (October 11, 1981), as well as in the Strontium Dog comic story "Bitch", published in 2000 AD, which featured President Reagan being kidnapped out of his own era and taken into the far-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 that he wants to talk to him about his [nuclear] bombs. Reagan misinterprets this to mean the Bedtime for Bonzo film.

The film was shown during a scene in Harry and the Hendersons, which the titular Bigfoot character thought hilarious.

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 that he will not shake Reagan's hand, because he "made a movie with a monkey, it wouldn't be dignified".[16]

In the 2017 film War for the Planet of the Apes, some human soldiers have phrases written on their helmets, including "Bedtime for Bonzo".[17][18]

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 when Reagan became president.

In the 1970s Universal Television series The Night Stalker, the show's episode number 11, "Horror In the Heights", features INS editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) screaming to reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) about a Kolchak story that he refuses to publish: "As far as I'm concerned, it's Bedtime for Bonzo!!"


  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. ^ "Francis Awarded Humane Society's Top Prize". Spokane Daily Chronicle. 1951-03-07. p. 8.
  5. ^ Rickey, Carrie. "Reagan's film persona: Cheerful, humble, kind." The Philadelphia Inquirer. June 6, 2004. National A22.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ Bergan, Ronald (September 19, 2001). "Frederick De Cordova: Film director famed for embarrassing Ronald Reagan with a chimp".
  8. ^ Mancini, Mark (September 3, 2013). "The Time Ronald Reagan Was Nearly Strangled by a Chimp". Mental Floss.
  9. ^ Weiler, A. H. (April 6, 1951). "The Screen: Two Films Have Premieres". The New York Times: 31.
  10. ^ "Bedtime for Bonzo". Variety: 11. January 17, 1951.
  11. ^ Coe, Richard L. (March 15, 1951). "The Chimp's A Lot Cuter Than Reagan". The Washington Post. p. B11.
  12. ^ "Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  13. ^ Weinberg, Mark (May 2, 2019). "'I'm the One Wearing the Watch': An excerpt from 'Movie Nights with the Reagans'". GW Magazine.
  14. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Nickelodeon President Song". YouTube. Event occurs at 49s.
  15. ^ "Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 03, 1986 on". Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  16. ^ Cook-Wilson, Winston (November 10, 2015). "All the Ronald Reagan Movies in Last Night's 'Fargo'". Inverse. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  17. ^ Crow, David (December 13, 2016). "War for the Planet of the Apes: Steve Zahn Talks Playing 'Scout' in Caesar's Army". Den of Geek. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  18. ^ Collin, Robbie (July 11, 2017). "War For the Planet of the Apes review: a soulful, mesmerising spectacle worthy of David Lean". The Telegraph. Retrieved August 29, 2022.

External links

This page was last edited on 18 January 2023, at 20:27
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