The Time Ronald Reagan Was Nearly Strangled By A Chimp

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The fact that actor-turned-president Ronald Reagan once co-starred with a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) provided him with a long-running source of embarrassment after his political career took off decades later. The movie was, according to Johnny Carson, “a favorite of old movie buffs and Democrats” while other critics went on to cite Reagan as “the first president in history to be out-acted by a chimp.” In his own words, “I fought a losing battle with a scene-stealer with a built-in edge: he was a chimpanzee!” Making the film was certainly not monkey business; in fact, one unfortunate run-in with its leading ape nearly cost Reagan his life.

Known professionally as Peggy, the trained chimp in question was actually a female playing a role designed for the opposite sex (this was disguised by a tuft of fur carefully situated between her legs). According to witnesses, the vivacious and curious Peggy had been coached to perform hundreds of actions on command, including weeping, snarling, and puckering up.

One day on the set, Peggy’s natural inquisitiveness got the better of her. Spying Reagan’s necktie, she grabbed it with both hands and began to pull. Startled, the actor tried to back away, but the harder he resisted, the harder she pulled, nearly suffocating our fortieth president in the process. Eventually, Reagan was able to break free of her grasp—but by then, he later recalled, the knot in his tie was “as small as my fingernail.” Far too tight to be untied by hand, the garment had to be cut off Reagan’s neck by a nearby crewmember.

To see Peggy (and Reagan) actually following the script, here’s a brief snippet from the film:

45 Amazing Facts About All 44 American Presidents

iStock.com/traveler1116
iStock.com/traveler1116

In March 1789, the U.S. Constitution was officially enacted and the office of the President of the United States was established. The following month, General George Washington was sworn in as the first Commander-in-Chief and since then, 44 men have held the job (one in two non-consecutive terms, which is why we have 45 presidencies total). Below is an interesting tidbit about each person who has held the highest office in the land.

1. George Washington

George Washington with his family.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Not only was George Washington known as the father of the country, he was also known as the "Father of the American Foxhound" for creating a unique breed of foxhound he called "Virginia Hounds."

2. John Adams

John Adams
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

John Adams signed a congressional act creating the United States Marine Band in 1798, which is now the oldest active professional musical organization in the U.S. Known as the President's Own, they played at the first ever New Year's celebration at the president’s house and, later, at Thomas Jefferson's inauguration.

3. Thomas Jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson.
iStock.com/traveler1116

Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library when the Library of Congress was burned by the British during the War of 1812. He sold them 6487 books from his own collection, the largest in America at the time.

4. James Madison

James Madison
National Archive, Newsmakers

James and Dolley Madison were crazy for ice cream. They had an ice house built on the grounds of their Montpelier estate so that they could enjoy ice cream and cold drinks all summer long, and they were known to serve bowls of oyster ice cream at official government functions.

5. James Monroe

James Monroe
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

James Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, attended Napoleon's coronation at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804 while he was serving as the American ambassador in the U.K.

6. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams
Henry Guttmann, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Quincy Adams enjoyed skinny-dipping. He was known to take 5 a.m. plunges in the Potomac River as part of his morning exercise routine.

7. Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Andrew Jackson despised banks and made it his mission to defund the Second Bank of the United States (he succeeded). So, it seems particularly ironic that his portrait has graced the $20 since 1929.

8. Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Born in New York in 1782, Martin Van Buren was the first president to have been born after the American Revolution, technically making him the first American-born president. (The seven before him were all born in the American colonies.)

9. William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Harrison kept a goat as his pet, but never bothered to name him. (He called him Billy goat.) He also had a beloved cow he called Sukey.

10. John Tyler

John Tyler
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

John Tyler loved music and had considered becoming a concert violinist before deciding to follow his father's advice and study law. Often, he would play music for guests at the White House and in his later years he devoted himself to perfecting his skill at violin and fiddle. In 2004, when he was sculpted in bronze as part of a presidents' memorial in South Dakota, the artists included his violin in his statue.

11. James K. Polk

James Polk
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When he was 17, James Polk needed surgery to have some kidney stones removed. He had some brandy to numb the pain but was awake for the entire procedure—anesthesia wouldn't be invented for another 30-some years.

12. Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor and his horse, Old Whitey.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Zachary Taylor was a war hero whose beloved horse, Old Whitey, was nearly as popular as he was—numerous times while the steed was grazing on the White House lawn, visitors would approach him to pluck a hair from his tail for a souvenir.

13. Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

A voracious reader, Millard Fillmore was known to keep a dictionary on him in order to improve his vocabulary.

14. Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce
National Archive, Newsmakers

Franklin Pierce had a number of nicknames, including "Handsome Frank," but likely the most embarrassing was "Fainting Frank." As a brigadier general in the Mexican-American war, he sustained a groin and knee injury during a battle in 1847 when he was thrown against the pommel of his horse. He only briefly passed out from the pain, but the nickname stuck around for life.

15. James Buchanan

James Buchanan
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though James Buchanan was engaged once in his late twenties, she broke it off. He became the only president who was a lifelong bachelor.

16. Abraham Lincoln

portrait of Abraham Lincoln
iStock.com/ilbusca

Before Abraham Lincoln found his "look" with his famous beard, he was known for his fairly unkempt appearance. One reporter referred to his "thatch of wild republican hair" with his "irregular flocks of thick hair carelessly brushed" across his face.

17. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In his day, Andrew Johnson was known as the best dressed president. Growing up, his mother sent him to apprentice with a tailor, and he frequently made his own clothes and suits.

18. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant
Spencer Arnold, Getty Images

In an attempt to unite the North and South, Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday in 1870.

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes
National Archive, Newsmakers

The first Siamese cat to arrive in America was sent as a gift to Hayes and his wife, Lucy, by the American consul in Bangkok. Siam the cat landed at the White House in 1879 after traveling by ship to Hong Kong then San Francisco, and then by train to Washington, D.C.

20. James A. Garfield

James A Garfield
National Archive, Newsmakers

As a child, James Garfield dreamed of being a sailor. He read a number of nautical novels which fueled his imagination, but a teenage job towing barges was as close to a seafaring life as he saw.

21. Chester A. Arthur

Chester Alan Arthur
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Chester A. Arthur oversaw a massive renovation of the White House and its private chambers. Arthur hired Louis C. Tiffany—Tiffany and Co.'s first design director and the man most known for his work with stained glass—to do all of the redesign. To help cover some of the costs, Arthur had 24 wagon-loads of old furniture, drapes, and other household items (some of which dated back to the Adams administration) sold at auction.

22. Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland circa 1885.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

He was born Stephen Grover Cleveland, but dropped Stephen before he entered into politics. He was affectionately called "Uncle Jumbo" by his younger relatives because he was nearly 6 feet tall and weighed about 270 pounds.

23. Benjamin Harrison

Portrait of Benjamin Harrison.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Benjamin Harrison had a tight-knit family and loved to amuse and dote on his grandchildren. He put up the first recorded White House Christmas tree in 1889, and was known to put on the Santa suit for entertainment.

24. Grover Cleveland

Portrait of Grover Cleveland
iStock

Grover Cleveland was also the first (and only) U.S. President to serve non-consecutive terms, so he makes this list twice. Between terms, he moved back to New York City, worked at a law firm, and his wife gave birth to their famous first daughter, Baby Ruth.

25. William McKinley

Portrait of William McKinley
National Archive, Newsmakers/Getty

William McKinley had a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot named Washington Post who served in an official capacity as a White House greeter. The bird also knew the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy"—the president would whistle the first few notes, and then Washington Post would finish the rest.

26. Theodore Roosevelt

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt
Hulton Archive, Getty

For his official White House portrait, Theodore Roosevelt chose the famed French portraiture artist Theobald Chartran, who had earlier done a portrait of the First Lady Edith Roosevelt. "It was difficult to get the president to sit still," The New York Times reported Chartran said before the painting was unveiled and displayed in France in 1903. "I never had a more restless or more charming sitter." Roosevelt, however, hated the painting, and after hiding it in a dark hall of the White House for years, he eventually burned it.

27. William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

In 1910, William Taft became the first president to attend baseball's opening day and throw the ceremonial first pitch, a tradition that has been honored by nearly every president since (sans Carter and Trump, thus far).

28. Woodrow Wilson

portrait of Woodrow Wilson
Tony Essex/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Woodrow Wilson is among many U.S. Presidents known for their love of golf. Wilson enjoyed daily rounds to stay in shape and relax, particularly during World War I, when he even used black golf balls so he could play through the winter.

29. Warren G. Harding

Portrait of Warren G. Harding
Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers

Warren G. Harding loved playing poker and held weekly games at the White House. Rumor has it he even bet, and lost, an entire set of official White House china.

30. Calvin Coolidge

portrait of Calvin Coolidge
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Though three presidents (Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe) have died on the 4th of July, Calvin Coolidge is the only president to have been born on that date.

31. Herbert Hoover

portrait of Herbert Hoover
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

After he left office, Herbert Hoover wrote a number of books, including The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, the first biography of a president written by another president.

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, taken at the time of their engagement, circa 1903.
Portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, taken at the time of their engagement, circa 1903.
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Franklin married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905, they chose the date March 17 because President Theodore Roosevelt would be in New York City for the St. Patrick's Day parade, and he'd agreed to walk Eleanor, his niece, down the aisle. FDR and TR were fifth cousins.

33. Harry S. Truman

Harry Truman takes the oath of office in 1945; standing beside him are his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret.
Harry Truman takes the oath of office in 1945; standing beside him are his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret.
Central Press/Getty Images

Though Harry Truman met his wife, Bess, in the fifth grade and they were high school sweethearts, they didn't marry until they were in their mid-thirties.

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of a WWII map.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even though Ike's military career spanned both world wars and made him one of only nine men who have ever attained the rank of five-star general, he never once saw active combat.

35. John F. Kennedy

JFK during a campaign.
Keystone/Getty Images

JFK lived off of his family's considerable trusts, so he donated all of his congressional and presidential salaries to charities like the United Negro College Fund and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson behind a podium.
Keystone/Getty Images

Lyndon Johnson had two beagles named Him and Her. The dogs became national celebrities after being frequently photographed with the president; they were heavily featured in a 1964 Life magazine profile that stated, "Not many dogs have been privileged to shoo birds off the White House lawn, get underfoot at a Cabinet meeting, or mingle with dignitaries at a state ball."

37. Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon playing the piano.
National Archive/Newsmakers

Nixon's mother encouraged him to play piano at an early age and he went on to learn violin, clarinet, saxophone, and accordion. In 1961, he even performed a song he wrote on The Jack Paar Program.

38. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford in 1934.
Michigan University/Getty Images

Ford attended the University of Michigan, where he was a star football player. The team won national titles in both 1932 and '33 (Ford's sophomore and junior years). After graduation, he turned down offers to play with both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers; instead, he took a coaching job at Yale University because he also wanted to attend their law school.

39. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jimmy Carter was known for his frugality, and he went so far as to sell the presidential yacht while he was in office. The USS Sequoia had been in use since the Hoover administration, but by 1977, it cost $800,000 a year in upkeep and staffing. Carter sold it for $236,000.

40. Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan in 1965.
Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images

Ronald Reagan's last acting role was also his first go as a villain. The film, 1964's The Killers, was based on an Ernest Hemingway story and was intended to be one of the first made-for-television movies. The network, however deemed it too violent for TV, so it was released in theaters instead.

41. George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush in November 1978.
George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush in November 1978.
Dirck Halstead/Liaison

George and his wife, Barbara, met as teenagers in 1941 and were married just over two years later. They died within months of each other in 2018, and their 73-year marriage was the longest of any first couple. (The second-longest presidential marriage was that of John and Abigail Adams at 54 years. Adams was the only other president whose son also held the job.)

42. Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton does a crossword puzzle
Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Bill Clinton enjoys crossword puzzles so much he once wrote the clues for a New York Times puzzle in 2017.

43. George W. Bush

George W. Bush goes jogging with an injured army veteran.
President George W. Bush jogs with Army Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, at the White House in 2006.
Matthew Cavanaugh-Pool, Getty Images

In 1993—two years before he became the governor of Texas—George W. Bush ran the Houston marathon, finishing with a time of 3:44:52. He is the only president to have ever run a marathon.

44. Barack Obama

Obama playing basketball with his staff.
President Barack Obama plays basketball with cabinet secretaries and members of Congress on the White House court in 2009.
Pete Souza, The White House via Getty Images

Barack Obama's love of basketball was well-documented during his presidency, but according to one of his high school teammates, he earned the nickname "Barry O'Bomber" because of all the tough shots he was known to take (and miss).

45. Donald Trump

Donald Trump with a book.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Of the many commercial products that Donald Trump has put his name on, the Tour de Trump—a bike race meant to be the American answer to the Tour de France—might be the oddest. It was called that for its first two years (1989-'90) before being renamed the Tour de DuPont for its final six years as an event.

The 15 Funniest Secret Service Code Names

jackethead, iStock / Getty Images Plus
jackethead, iStock / Getty Images Plus

The tradition of Secret Service code names goes back to at least the Truman administration, when the large protection detail was permanently established for the president, his family, the president elect, and the vice president (though the agency itself has been around for more than 150 years). Still, the names themselves have never really been kept a secret. The code names—relics from before the encryption of electronic communications—often play into some part of the personality of the protected individual. Below are some of the more entertaining monikers that have been chosen over the years.

1. Edith Wilson // "Grandma"

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith with a secret service escort in 1917.
President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith with a secret service escort in 1917.
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Woodrow Wilson's second wife, Edith, was the first First Lady to receive Secret Service protection, but her code name had been around long before that legislation was passed in 1917. President Wilson had been widowed during his second year in office, and within months of his first wife's passing, he met and became enamored of Edith. Wilson's camp was concerned that the public wouldn't take well to his being in a new relationship so soon, and his protection took to referring to Edith by the decidedly unsexy code name "Grandma."

2. Meghan McCain // "Peter Sellers"

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain at a campaign rally in 2008.
Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain at a campaign rally in 2008.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When her father, John McCain, was the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, he went by "Phoenix." Because, per Secret Service rules, immediate family members need code names that begin with the same first letter, Meghan wound up with "Peter Sellers." Hers was the only full name ever to be shared with another person. Her siblings chose cartoon characters: "Popeye" and "Pebbles."

3. Newt Gingrich // "T-Rex"

Newt Gingrich in 2009
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The former Speaker of the House had a Secret Service detail when he was a presidential candidate in 2012 and chose his code name based on his love of dinosaurs. While he was in Congress, he famously had a replica T. rex skull on display in his office. 

4. Josh Bolten // "Fatboy"

White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" in 2006.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for Meet the Press

George W. Bush's Chief of Staff had a fondness for riding Harleys, and he chose his name based on his favorite motorcycle model. "My Secret Service detail loved the code name," Bolten once said. "Even the female agents, who end up getting called Fatgirls."

5. Frank Sinatra // "Napoleon"

Frank Sinatra at an airport in 1956
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though Sinatra hung around the Kennedy family a lot, it was President Nixon who requested he have a Secret Service name and occasional protection. It came in handy though: Ol' Blue Eyes was also a staple in the Reagan White House.

6. Happy Rockefeller // "Shooting Star"

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Happy Rockefeller, circa 1963.
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Happy Rockefeller, circa 1963.
Harry Benson/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Gerald Ford's vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, had the perfectly normal sounding code name "Sandstorm." However, his wife Happy's had to be changed once agents noticed how problematic calling someone "Shooting Star" could be. Former Secret Service agent Joseph Petro wrote, "Within a few days someone realized [that] wasn't such a good name, because in a broken transmission all you might hear was the word 'shooting,' and that could inadvertently set off a chain reaction and an awful lot of problems." Mrs. Rockefeller's code name was quickly changed to "Stardust." 

7. Ronald Reagan // "Rawhide"

President Ronald Reagan speaking during a press conference in 1981.
President Ronald Reagan speaking during a press conference in 1981.
Gene Forte/Consolidated News/Getty Images

President Reagan's love of ranching, and maybe also his history as an actor in Westerns, resulted in his code name, "Rawhide." Once, when a member of his security detail, Larry Rowlett, was asked if he ever called the president "Rawhide" to his face, he replied, "Yes—he was always very congenial and just kind of one of the guys. You know, if somebody referred to him as that he'd get a chuckle out of it." First Lady Nancy was only ever called Mrs. Reagan.

8. Karenna Gore // "Smurfette"

Al Gore and his daughter, Karenna
PAUL J. RICHARDS // Getty

Al Gore's daughter was 19 when he became vice president, and she spent years thoroughly regretting the code name she chose. "Ever since four years ago, when I was put on the spot and told 'two syllables' and 'it has to start with an s,'" she wrote in a Slate essay in 1997, "I have been cringing in the back seat when identified as 'Smurfette.'"

9. Ron Nessen // "Clam Chowder"

Press Secretary Ron Nessen holds a daily briefing with the press corps at the White House, circa 1974.
Press Secretary Ron Nessen holds a daily briefing with the press corps at the White House, circa 1974.

By all accounts, Gerald Ford's press secretary had a great sense of humor (he even hosted Saturday Night Live once!). He also apparently had an affinity for clam chowder, a code name that is somehow made funnier because of its specificity.

10. Ted Kennedy // "Sunburn"

Ted Kennedy addresses the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980.
Ted Kennedy addresses the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980.
Keystone/Getty Images

He was often referred to as the "Lion of the Senate," but during his presidential campaign for the 1980 election, the youngest of the Irish-Catholic Kennedy brood was code-named "Sunburn." Fittingly, his mother, Rose Kennedy, was called "Coppertone."

11. Ron Ziegler // "Whaleboat"

Ron Ziegler, Press Secretary to U.S. President Richard Nixon, speaks during a news conference in 1968.
Getty Images

Ziegler was just 29 when he took the job as Richard Nixon's press secretary, and though the Secret Service called him "Whaleboat," the reporters he gave cagey answers to twice a day preferred to call him "Zig-Zag."

12. William French Smith // "Flivver"

President Reagan with William French Smith making a statement in the Rose Garden in 1981.
President Reagan with Attorney General William French Smith making a statement in the Rose Garden in 1981.

We're not really sure why Reagan's Attorney General from 1981-1985 was called "Flivver," but it's not a terribly flattering term—it's slang for a cheap car in poor condition.

13. Hillary Clinton // "Evergreen"

First Lady Hillary Clinton in 2000.
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive

Quite an appropriate name, given that it's in its third decade of use. Clinton received the name "Evergreen" when her husband, Bill, moved into the Oval Office in 1992. And though she has lifetime Secret Service protection as a former First Lady, she would have needed it anyway in her high-profile roles as secretary of state and presidential candidate.

14. Prince Charles // "Unicorn"

Prince Charles talking to President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy at a private dinner in the White House in 1981.
Prince Charles talking to President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy at a private dinner in the White House in 1981.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Visiting dignitaries will sometimes receive code names, and Prince Charles got "Unicorn"—fitting, since it's a symbol the Brits use regularly.

15. Pope John Paul II // "Halo"

Pope John Paul II meets with President Jimmy Carter and his family in 1976.
Pope John Paul II meets with President Jimmy Carter and his family in 1976.
Keystone/Getty Images

Because, obviously.

This story was republished in 2019.

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