The e-mail I received Sunday from my former colleague Phil Drake ended simply:
“P.S. Did they ever catch Moe?”
Monday morning it was the first thing I asked our intern Thomas Himes, who has been on “Moe Watch” almost since coming to the paper from his Ivy League university in Pennsylvania.
When another reporter questioned my news judgment, I responded, “How the hell did the Washington Post get access to the search for Moe? We’ve got to stay on this.”
About 30 minutes later, Thomas told me the closest thing to a Moe sighting over the long Fourth of July weekend was reports of a man in a chimp suit running in traffic near Big Bear.
“Yeah,” he said. “Someone said they saw a man dressed like a monkey off the side of the road. Or, maybe it was a monkey. No one’s sure.”
The story of Moe the chimp has grown to legendary proportions over the past several years. In the 1970s and ’80s he lived with St. James and LaDonna Davis at their Vincent Avenue home in West Covina.
The chimp starred in “B.J. and the Bear” – a TV take on Burt Reynolds’ “Smokey and the Bandit” – with a monkey!
As one of several chimps who played Bear, Moe and his human companion B.J. outwitted the dimwitted Sheriff Lobo in episode after episode.
After a run-in with the West Covina police in 1998 and a biting incident the next year, Moe was removed from the Davises’ house and placed at the Animal Haven Ranch near Bakersfield.
Then, on Moe’s birthday in 2005, the Davises were mauled by two jealous apes as they delivered a birthday cake to their beloved chimp. St. James lost his nose and his testicles defending LaDonna from the berserk animals.
Moe was moved again. This time to Jungle Exotics in Devore.
A few months ago the Davises were in the news again, when LaDonna’s purse was stolen from a shopping cart at a Target store. They held a press conference with super attorney Gloria Allred and a few days later the suspected purse snatcher was caught.
Moe’s story is big enough that the Washington Post, famed home of Woodward and Bernstein, paid reporter William Booth to travel to Devore last week and discuss Moe’s latest misadventure with the Davises.
Booth’s editors sent him here during a historic presidential election. He was given the assignment to cover a missing chimp at a time when oil and gas prices have reached all-time highs.
The hunt for Bin Laden has dragged on for years. The Iranians are about to go nuclear. Foreclosures are on the rise and banks like IndyMac of Pasadena are near collapse.
Yet, the Washington Post, the paper of record in our nation’s capital, has assigned a reporter to write about an escaped monkey.
There’s a good explanation though.
“Usually, a piece about an escaped chimpanzee is catnip to news editors, especially over a long holiday weekend. Like a good shark attack (or poodle-eating alligators or lurid panda sex), your missing-chimp story is a leafy green perennial of the news business,” Booth wrote.
I’ll second that.