Last Night’s TV – My Monkey Baby

OH. MY. GOD. This has to have been one of the weirdest and worrying documentaries I have ever seen. In many ways, it would be the easiest thing to just laugh at the people who were filmed for this programme because, bluntly put, most of them are screaming loons, but there’s an infinitely darker side to their stories which, in the main, isn’t amusing at all.

This Channel 4 film followed three couples who have “monkey babies” – primarily Capuchins – but not as pets; they’re substitutes for children. That’s not only sad, it’s shocking and what these people are putting their primate ‘babies’ through in order to satisfy their own sad need to be needed is quite horrifying.

They’re selfishly denying these monkeys the right to live as monkeys, choosing instead to dress them up, make them wear nappies and have diets that consist of the foods they’d spoil a human child with. It was rather sickening viewing to be honest.

The three couples in the film were Jesus and Carmen, Lori and Jim – who are pictured above – and Mary Lynn and Bob. Of those three couples, only Jesus and Carmen had any awareness or insight into the absolute weirdness and absurdity of having a monkey as a substitute for a baby. For the other couples – with the possible exception of Bob who wasn’t that big a part of the whole ‘monkey baby’ thing – they disturbingly treated the monkeys like they would a child.

The two women who were most prominent the film were Lori and Mary Lynn, both of whom clearly have profound emotional and mental problems and they sublimate their longing to be a ‘mommy’ onto the primates they’ve bought.

Lori described how she no longer has contact with her six human children because as they grew up, they began wanting independence from her and other unthinkable things such as freedom, and that was something she couldn’t tolerate, so, quelle surprise, her children did one at the first available opportunity and haven’t looked back apparently. And if her behaviour with her monkey baby Jessica Marie was anything to go by, one can understand why.

Lori and Jim dress their “daughter” Jessica Marie up in frilly dresses, put make-up on her, file her nails and they give her toys as well as indulging her by feeding her her ‘favourite’ foods such as cake and sweets. Jim said of Jessy, “If I hear someone call her a monkey, I throw a fit. She is my daughter, one hundred percent.” And freakily, she looked a lot like him too. The resemblance really was quite uncanny…

However, on a serious note, had I been interviewing Jim, I’d have asked him if he would’ve had a human daughter’s top teeth removed lest she bite him and would he need to keep a human daughter on a lead while outside in case she takes off into the trees and never comes back?

I felt sorry for Lori in many ways; she’s clearly a very disturbed woman, but I felt more sorry for Jessica Marie. She’s a primate who for the entire eighteen years of her life so far has had no contact with other primates and isn’t allowed the exercise she needs, or the diet she needs and who is essentially a captive wild animal who’s being treated like a living doll. It was gross to watch.

Equally as grim was how Mary Lynn treats her monkeys – yes, plural – and especially the one who seemed to be her favourite, Silly Willy. I got a very strong feeling that despite her seemingly gentle Southern drawl and apparently tender treatment of Silly Willy, there was something rather darker to her than we got to see in last night’s film and I was left feeling rather worried about what happens to those monkeys when the cameras aren’t around.

One very unpleasant scene showed one of the monkeys taking its nappy off, so an irate Mary Lynn shouted, “Have you taken your panties off?!” As punishment for this misdemeanour, the monkey was put back in its very tiny cage, screaming and fighting all the way. The cages were only briefly glimpsed but they were clearly totally inadequate; they were tiny and stacked one on top of the other with no space for the monkeys to move properly in. The narrator said this locking away of the monkey was Mary Lynn’s equivalent of “the naughty step”.

Like Lori, Mary Lynn wanted to be a ‘mom’ more than anything. Due to a cancer at a young age, she’d had to have a hysterectomy so she’d never had children of her own. She had at one time had two step-daughters but when the marriage to their father broke down, contact with those children was lost. We weren’t told who instigated this loss of contact but we were told that instead of seeing her step-daughters, Mary Lynn “devotes all her time to her monkeys” so that was maybe explanation enough.

At one point in the programme, we saw Mary Lynn anxiously consulting an animal psychic to find out if Silly Willy, in a fit of real silliness, had swallowed Mary’s hormone replacement pills. Fortunately though, over a mobile phone conversation, Willy ‘told’ the psychic, Sonia, that he hadn’t taken the tablets. The relief was palpable… and frickin’ weird as all get out, as they say in the Bible belt.

We were witness too to how Mary Lynn and Lori and Jim find some people are a little bit unwilling to view their babies as real children and Lori was horrified to be asked to leave a restaurant because she and Jim had an animal with them. The couple seemed genuinely shocked that their ‘baby’ – who was all dressed up in her frilly frock and securely tied to her pushchair, as you do with infants because tying them down is really vital – when the waitress asked them to leave.

And Mary Lynn took Silly Willy on a shopping trip for toys but as kids do, he got all excitable in the shop so she took him to “the quiet corner” where she said to him, “Now, you’re losing your control, let’s sit down here for just a minute. Shhh now…”

This constant stream of absurd and bizarre talk continued throughout the programme but towards the end, we heard how, in order to pay for the monkey’s upkeep and the clearly regular and necessary consults with animal psychics, Mary Lynn runs a monkey show which involves her parading these poor animals in costumes and with props. I got a feeling there was definitely something rather dark and Mary Chipperfield like about her…

As I said earlier, the only couple who had any clue that what they were doing wasn’t ‘normal’ were Jesus and Carmen. He frequently stated he didn’t want children and that was ok with Carmen but they decided that a monkey as a baby would be fun.

“I think I’m financially stable enough so we’re gonna go ahead and get a monkey now” said Jesus as the couple eagerly anticipated collecting their baby girl, Butters.

Butters had been bred by a professional breeder of primates called Cheryl and one look at the conditions under which she kept her multitude of monkeys will have had animal rights activists going nuts. And rightly so.

There was a horrible moment when Butters, at just 10 days old and for the benefit of the cameras, was taken to “say goodbye” to her real mother. The real mother frantically tried to reach out of her cramped cage for her infant and the longing in her eyes was gut wrenching. This baby monkey should’ve stayed with her mother until she was around a year old and would have done in the wild, but anxious to exploit the bizarre market for substitute babies, breeder Cheryl took the baby away from its mother when it was only days old.

Frankly, overall, this programme was sickening as were the people in it and the animal cruelty displayed in it. I’m not blaming the film makers; they were merely documenting what is actually happening to some of the 15,000 captive primates living in American homes, but I do hope that someone reported the breeder who was filmed and I really hope that the law in America is changed – and soon – to stop people being able to legally own small primates and treat them in this horribly weird way.

The couples in this film clearly thought they were being ‘good parents’ and treating these animals well in that they weren’t treating them like animals at all, and that’s precisely why they were in fact exhibiting extreme cruelty. They wanted these animals as living dolls and while they should’ve been free to live in their natural habitats with their own kind, they are instead dressed up and in effect played with. At the risk of repeating myself, it was sick and very, very weird.

What did you think of the film and the people in it?

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.