Born in Africa, the real Zippy lived the better part of his life with Bonnie and Lee Ecuyer. Adopted when he was just three months old, he was trained to eat at the dining room table with a spoon and fork (no knives, thank you). He drank from a glass, brushed his teeth and dressed himself. He became famous in the 50s as performer on The Ed Sullivan Show, Gary Moore Show and Howdy Doody (a fitting show for an ape). In 1954 Rand McNally’s Book-Elf Books division published Zippy Goes to School by Lee Ecuyer with photos by Albert G. Westelin and Ecuyer.
The heartwarming tale is about Zippy trying to make his way in primary school, navigating the cliques and clacks, trends and fashions, loves and hates that plague many students today. And he had his difficulties; the kind that would trigger medication for children in our overly medicated society. But Zippy had a dream – and atavistic ambition.
He wanted to be like Bob, the Safety Patrol Boy, and wear a badge and exert power. “How Zippy admired Bob and the white belt he wore! He wished he could become a member of the Safety Patrol some day.” (Perhaps to get back at his human tormentors? Or not?)
But there was an insurmountable problem. As much as Zippy tried, the teacher and students made a monkey out of him because he couldn’t read, ‘rite or do ‘rithmetic. After all, he was a chimp.
Frustrated, he lashed out, only to be punished and belittled by his so-called friends. “The teacher shook her head. ‘Oh, Zippy, how naughty you are! I think you should wear the dunce cap. Shouldn’t he, girls and boys?” He was ashamed to be sure – but also seething inside. If it were me, I would be plotting revenge.
And the best revenge was to do what Chimps do best. Zippy became a master at geography (well, he found Africa on the globe). And for doing so well, this monkey was thrown a bone. His dream came true. “He wore a white belt and big silver badge.” Power was in his retractable grasp.