This morning, I was researching the history of “Zippy” the chimp, a famous television performer in the 1950s, known for “his” ability to roller skate. (“Zippy” is a stage name; the chimp was female and known by her handler as Jade). But in searching the archives for Zippy, I found Debbie.
This image is hard to process. One of the ways that we tell Zippy’s story is by emphasizing “his” talent and skill. Numerous youtube clips like this one and the popularity of this iconic image emphasize that his ability to roller-skate was unique. Yet here’s four-year-old Debbie, valued at $2000 (or $9100 in 2018 currency), offered for free by Norman Docktor.
(Norman Docktor is listed here as a “Philadelphia pet-store proprietor”) even though the Billings County Pioneer was published in Medora, North Dakota. My hunch is that this shop is linked to Docktor Pets, a popular chain of pet stores in suburban malls in the 1980s and 1990s; protestors accused these stores of cruelty. (Irv Docktor was an illustrator for his half-brother Milton’s pet stores; Norman may have been Milton’s brother.)
Debbie’s talent and her “cuteness” seems to have had little impact on her value. Her sign emphasizes that she “needs a home” and that she “will work for free.” I can’t find any other information about what happened to her, though Zippy’s own tale perhaps provides some clues. More on that soon, I hope.