Bedtime for Bonzo

Bedtime for Bonzo is a 1951 American comedy film directed by Fred de Cordova, starring Ronald Reagan, Diana Lynn, and Peggy as Bonzo.[3] It revolves around the attempts of the central character, psychology professor Peter Boyd (Reagan), to teach human morals to a chimpanzee, hoping to solve the "nature versus nurture" question. He hires a woman, Jane Linden (Lynn), to pose as the chimp's mother while he plays father to it, and uses 1950s-era child rearing techniques.[4]

Bedtime for Bonzo
Original 1951 film poster
Directed byFred de Cordova
Produced byMichael Kraike
Written byscreenplay by
Lou Breslow &
Val Burton
story by
Ted Berkman &
Raphael Blau
StarringRonald Reagan
Diana Lynn
Walter Slezak
Jesse White
Ann Tyrrell
Brad Johnson
Peggy as "Bonzo"
Lucille Barkley
Music byFrank Skinner
CinematographyCarl E. Guthrie
Edited byTed Kent
Distributed byUniversal-International
Release date
Running time
83 min
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,225,000 (US rentals)[2]

A sequel was released called Bonzo Goes to College (1952), but featured none of the three lead performers from the original. Peggy died in a zoo fire two weeks after the premiere of Bedtime for Bonzo;[3] another chimp was hired for the second film whose name really was "Bonzo". Reagan did not want to work on the second film, as he thought the premise was unbelievable.[5]



A. H. Weiler of The New York Times called the film "a minor bit of fun yielding a respectable amount of laughs but nothing, actually, over which to wax ecstatic."[6] Variety described it as "a lot of beguiling nonsense with enough broad situations to gloss over plot holes ... Cameras wisely linger on the chimp's sequences and his natural antics are good for plenty of laughter."[7] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "If you can stomach all this, you'll find some giggles in this farce, which is okay when paying attention to the recently deceased chimp, but is perfectly terrible when trying to tell its story. Ronald Reagan, as the naive professor of things mental, must have felt like the world's sappiest straight man playing this silly role, and the others aren't much better off."[8]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 67%, based on 12 reviews, with an average rating of 5.83/10.[9]

As President, Reagan screened the film for staff and guests at Camp David.[10]

The film was later referenced in connection with Reagan in the 1986 Ramones song "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)", in the Dead Kennedys' 1986 song "Rambozo the Clown", and in a track on a 1984 Jerry Harrison record, sampling Reagan and credited to "Bonzo Goes to Washington". A song unflattering to Reagan entitled "Bad Time for Bonzo" is featured on The Damned's fourth studio album, Strawberries. It was also referenced in a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip,[11] Bloom County comic strip (October 11, 1981), as well as in the Strontium Dog comic story "Bitch", published in 2000 AD, which featured President Ronald Reagan being kidnapped out of his own era and taken into the far flung future setting of the comic. Other notable references include the 1966 Stan Freberg comedy album Freberg Underground, and the 1986 video of the British band Genesis's song "Land of Confusion". In the 1980s satirical British TV show Spitting Image, Reagan was shown as having appointed a dead taxidermied Bonzo as Vice President. In the ALF episode "Pennsylvania 6-5000" ALF is concerned about nuclear war, calls Air Force One over a shortwave radio and tells the president he wants to talk to him about his [nuclear] bombs. Reagan misinterprets this to mean the "Bonzo" film.

The movie is referenced in the MMORPG video game DC Universe Online. Following the two-player duo "Gorilla Grodd's Lab", the Flash quips at Gorilla Grodd "It's bedtime for Bonzo".

A song released by Nickelodeon for the 2004 presidential elections had a line mentioning that Reagan "acted with a chimp when he was a movie star".[12]

The film was also referenced in the second season of the FX television series Fargo, when the character Karl Weathers (played by Nick Offerman) says he will not shake Ronald Reagan's hand, because "the man made a movie with a monkey, it wouldn't be dignified".

In the 2017 film War for the Planet of the Apes, a human soldier's helmet has the title of the film written on it.

In the final scene of the final episode of season 3 of 12 Monkeys, James Cole's father tells the young James, "bed time for Bonzo".


  1. "'U' Sets Premieres For First Quarter". Motion Picture Daily: 2. February 7, 1951.
  2. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  3. "A 5-year-old chimp named Peggy made a monkey out of her human co-star Ronald Reagan". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  4. Rickey, Carrie. "Reagan's film persona: Cheerful, humble, kind." The Philadelphia Inquirer. June 6, 2004. National A22.
  5. Bergan, Ronald (September 19, 2001). "Frederick De Cordova: Film director famed for embarrassing Ronald Reagan with a chimp".
  6. Weiler, A. H. (April 6, 1951). "The Screen: Two Films Have Premieres". The New York Times: 31.
  7. "Bedtime for Bonzo". Variety: 11. January 17, 1951.
  8. Coe, Richard L. (March 15, 1951). "The Chimp's A Lot Cuter Than Reagan". The Washington Post: B11.
  9. "Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  10. Weinberg, Mark (May 2, 2019). "'I'm the One Wearing the Watch': An excerpt from 'Movie Nights with the Reagans'". GW Magazine.
  11. "Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 03, 1986 on". Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  12. "Nickelodeon President Song". YouTube. Event occurs at 49s.
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