Mail Order Monkeys

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The strange era when kids could buy live monkeys through the post via comic book ads.

Back in the glory days of the comic book ad pages, it was generally a given that the product being advertised was not going to live up to the extravagant hype. X-Ray Spex did not allow you to see through girls clothing. The Atomic Submarine was made of cardboard. The Lifesize Ghost was a balloon. And, most shamefully unlike the advertised product, Sea Monkeys were just tiny brine shrimp. But now and again, the advertisers delivered exactly what they promised, and of course, these instances were always the most horrific imaginable.

A regular ad in late Sixties and early Seventies comic books offered “a darling pet monkey”, and who wouldn’t want one of those? It cost a whopping $18.95, at a time when most mail order tat was a quarter of that, so you knew you were in for something special. And for that price, you not only got a monkey who would share your lollipops, plus a cage, a collar and leash, free toy and ‘instructions’. Though no food seems to have been supplied.

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The idea of live monkeys being shipped through the post to eager juveniles might seem – at the very least – foolhardy, but that is indeed what was happening. Apparently, some 173,000 squirrel monkeys were posted to sticky-fingered comic book readers between 1968 and 1972, and while live delivery was guaranteed, from that point on both monkey and the new owner were on their own, often locked in a battle for survival. Small monkeys are notably feisty little creatures, and being shipped in a box across the country is probably not the best way of calming them down. There are several tales about how excited children opened the box containing their new chum, only to find that this was going to be a difficult friendship as a blizzard of fur, teeth, claws and naked fury exploded into the room, firing bodily functions with gleeful relief as they attacked everything in their path. You can’t blame them, frankly. Suffice to say that the advert image of a cheery monkey in fancy clothes sat calmly on someone’s hand was probably where the truth in advertising element fell apart.

Naturally, the arrival of an excitable monkey was often an unexpected surprise for parents, and indeed the local neighbourhood when the furious beast successfully made a bid for freedom after savaging the household. There are a couple of film-worthy stories online from people who bought monkeys – spoiler alert: it doesn’t always end well. Jeff Tuthill’s story in Comic Book Resources is dramatic, as this brief quote reveals:

“I grabbed it by its tail, and it came down on, starting literally up by my shoulder, like a drill press it landed on my arm, and every bite was breaking flesh. It was literally like an unsewing machine. It was literally unsewing my arm coming down, and I was pouring blood. I grabbed it by its neck with both my wrists, threw it back in the cage. It’s screaming like a scalded cat. I’m pouring blood. My friend’s laughing uncontrollably, and my father finally comes in the basement door and goes, ‘Jeffery! What are you doing to that rabbit?’”

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This NPR story is even more dramatic: https://www.npr.org/2014/04/25/306868280/monkey-madness

Monkeys were not the only animals to be shipped through the post to eager comic book readers – seahorses, easter chicks (tastefully dyed for the occasion) and the ever-popular household pet the racoon also featured in ads, before someone finally stepped in and decided that this was probably not a very good idea.

DAVID FLINT

 

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