TIME WAS WHEN DON MCLEOD'S parents in Manchester, Calif., had high hopes for their son. "They wanted me to be a doctor, or lawyer, or engineer," he says. But even as a child, McLeod liked jumping around and grunting like an ape. "I can clearly picture my dad saying, 'Good Lord, son! Stop that, or you're going to grow up to look like a monkey!' "
Dad was right. Now 48, McLeod is the world's foremost pseudo-simian.
Seen weekly as the lead ape in the syndicated TV series Tarzan: The Epic Adventure, McLeod—who once studied mime with Marcel Marceau—has devoted his career to becoming Hollywood's top banana. Since first putting on an ape suit to hurl luggage in a series of award-winning American Tourister commercials (PEOPLE, Feb. 14, 1983), he has thumped his chest in movies including Trading Places and Naked Gun 2½. After first touring Japan for American Tourister in 1981, he has returned seven times—once even appearing there with the Moscow Circus. "I came out in a cage and was presented as a real gorilla," he says. "They never told them I wasn't real!"
The job does have drawbacks. "It's really, really hot in an ape suit," says McLeod, who cools himself in his 40-pound getup with ice vests. But the actor—who lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif., with singer Lisa Ritner, 27—admits his job otherwise isn't taxing: "There's never any pressure to remember lines. You just have to remember your grunts."
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