‘Beverly Hillbillies’: The Chimpanzee Behind Cousin Bessie, Judy, Also Appeared on ‘Gilligan’s Island’

by Keeli Parkey
(Original Caption) USA: Television still from The Beverly Hillbillies. In this scene, Donna Douglas as Elly May and Max Baer, Jr., as Jethro Bodine are seated in an automobile. Irene Ryan as granny and Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett are standing beside them.

Some of the memorable moments during the years-long television run of “The Beverly Hillbillies” came when the character of Cousin Bessie appeared in the show.

What made these appearances memorable is the fact that Cousin Bessie is a chimpanzee! You read that correctly – a chimpanzee. According to IMDb, the chimpanzee who portrayed Cousin Bessie was named Judy.

Judy made her first appearance in “The Beverly Hillbillies” in the season three episode titled “The Ballet.” It originally aired in November 1964. She would go on to make dozens of appearances in the show from 1964 through 1970.

However, “The Beverly Hillbilles” was not the only famous television show that hired Judy the Chimpanzee. There were several others. One was the very popular sitcom, “Gilligan’s Island.”

Judy’s appearance with the castaways also came during 1964. She appeared in the third episode of this show’s first season. This episode was titled “Voodoo Something to Me” and it originally aired on Oct. 10 of that year. Instead of having a cute character name like “Cousin Bessie” in “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Judy’s character in “Gilligan’s Island” was simply known as “Chimpanzee.”

Judy the Chimpanzee Had Many Other Roles During Her Career

Judy’s Hollywood career included several more television appearances than those she made in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Gilligan’s Island.”

Her first role was an uncredited appearance in the 1964 film “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.”

Some of the other credits on her filmography – and yes, this chimpanzee has a filmography – include “Mister Ed,” “The Munsters,” “Flipper,” “The Addams Family,” “Green Acres,” “Lost in Space,” “Daktari,” and “The Magical World of Disney.”

While working in “Daktari,” Judy became very fond of one of her costars. She showed her affection for this costar, Cheryl Miller, by kissing her on the lips.

Judy went to Hollywood from a jungle in Kenya. At only one month of age, she was brought to the United States.

The owner and trainer of Judy the chimpanzee was Ralph Keller. He worked as a trainer of exotic animals. During her life, Judy also learned to follow 75 different hand signals. Some of her favorite foods included sweetened coffee and a doughnut.

Another Animal Made a Famous Appearance on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

The appearance of the chimpanzee Judy as the character of Cousin Bessie wasn’t the only time an animal led to a lot of laughs on “The Beverly Hillbilles.”

For example, in the January 1964 episode titled “The Giant Jackrabbit,” a kangaroo made an appearance. The kangaroo is mistaken by Granny (played by Irene Ryan) for a jackrabbit.

This episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” is remembered for another reason.

That reason is that when it aired it became one of the most viewed episodes in the history of television. It had 65 percent of Americans watching that January night. That’s a number completely unheard of in this day and age of streaming and on-demand viewing.