One of the hottest cult films in America is "Bedtime for Bonzo," the 1951 "B" movie starring Ronald Reagan and a chimp named Bonzo. Universial Pictures says all available prints are booked for months, some by Democrats who show the movie as a gag at fundraisers. But Reagan partisans, miffed at the opposition's sarcasm, can take heart: Bonzo is supporting Reagan for president, even though the chimp is disappointed his name wasn't included in Reagan's list of possible running mates last month.
Word of Bonzo's support comes from Raphael David Blau, a man who should know how Bonzo feels about such matters. It was Blau who, along with his brother-in-law, Ted Berkman, wrote the original story about a professor who decides to raise his son and a chimp together. And Blau -- today a 67-year-old novelist living in Nova Scotia -- says Bonzo is bonkers for Reagan.
"Bonzo has never been quite sure whether he is a liberal or a conservative," Blau says. "But he's very much in favor of nepotism. His notion is that Reagan taught him everything he knew -- he says he feels like a son to him. If Reagan wins, Bonzo is hoping to be made envoy to banana republic."
For Blau, writing "Bedtime for Bonzo" was easy work. He had a background in psychology, and was an experienced radio writer in New York when a study called "Ape and Child" was topic of some discussion in the late 1940s. At that time Reagan was an all-purpose actor who for five years turned out one film every seven weeks. Neither Blau, Reagan, nor universal Pictures devoted much time to the movie. Says Blau: "You write something of that weight, you take your money and run."
As Reagan rose to political prominence, public interest in his old films increased, including such footnotes to celluloid history as "She Working Her Way Through College," in which Reagan supports his ways and means by which a stripper named Hot Garters Gertie earns her tuition. But it is "Bonzo" which is most in demand, and Blau -- who does not receive royalties as a result of the movie's reruns -- predicts T-shirts and buttons touting Bonzo will be commonplace by autumn.