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Man Booker longlist includes Hollywood surprise

July 28, 2009 | 12:55 pm

Cheeta_andfamily

The Man Booker Prize longlist -- of a dozen elite literary titles -- includes one big surprise: "Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood." For months, publisher Fourth Estate maintained the charade that the book was an autobiography penned by a 70ish-year-old chimp. He wasn't available for interviews in October, a spokesman explained: "He’s running scared. He’s a monkey. He’s hiding in the corner of his cage."

But of course, "Me Cheeta" was actually written by a human -- James Lever, a 30ish Brit whose knowledge of Hollywood was steeped in old tell-all autobiographies. The project -- like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" -- was conceived by the publisher and handed to the writer. Even without the whole written-by-a-chimp pose, this book is an unusual turn for the very literary Man Booker committee.

When "Me Cheeta" came out in the U.S. earlier this year, we called on Richard Schickel -- who called Lassie for the insider's take.

Rin Tin Tin and I are into what we call "extreme romping." Once a week, we head for the back country, where we leap crags and ford rivers -- just like in the movies, except there are no bad guys. Last week, before beginning our trip home, he mentioned that Cheeta the Chimp had just written "Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood" and asked if I'd read it.

"It's on my Kindle," I said, "but I haven't got around to it. I'm not big on star autobios. I met Cheeta once, when I was starting 'Lassie Come Home.' He was pretty full of himself in those days."

"Still is, if you read the book. Thinks he deserves some kind of special Oscar."

"Don't we all?" I sighed.

Anyway, that night I dug into "Me Cheeta." I must say it's the best-written star autobio I've ever read. Obviously it was ghosted, but it carries no "as told to" credit. It's full of sexy gossip: There's stuff about Paulette Goddard and Ronald Colman (!), Miriam Hopkins and Fernando Lamas (!!), Joseph Cotten and Deanna Durbin (!!!) that'll curl your coat.


Read the complete review to hear what Cheeta thought of his leading men. Oh, and by the way? The complete list of Man Booker Prize nominees is after the jump.

The early stages of the Man Booker race are somewhat mysterious for Americans as many of the longlisted books have yet seen a U.S. release.

A.S. Byat, "The Children's Book" -- out in the U.S. in October
J.M. Coetzee, "Summertime" -- out in the U.S. in October
Adam Foulds, "The Quickening Maze" -- American release not scheduled
Sarah Hall, "How to Paint a Dead Man" -- out in the U.S. in September
Samantha Harvey, "The Wilderness"  -- out now
James Lever, "Me Cheeta"
Hilary Mantel, "Wolf Hall"  -- out in the U.S. in October
Simon Mawer, "The Glass Room" -- American release not scheduled
Ed O'Loughlin, "Not Untrue and Not Unkind" -- out in the U.S. in April 2010
James Scudamore, "Heliopolis" -- out now 
Colm Toibin, "Brooklyn"
William Trevor, "Love and Summer" -- out in the U.S. in September
Sarah Waters, "The Little Stranger" -- out now

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Cheeta, Johnny Sheffield as Boy, Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane in 1939's "Tarzan Finds a Son."

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