Gargantua, the gorilla, was the subject of a lot of speculation last week. Prize exhibit of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's circus, this 550-lb. monster, with a nine-foot span between his outstretched hands, is the most terrifying beast in captivity. A vengeful misanthrope, he spends his days brooding in a glassed-in cage with chilled steel bars. Last week came reports that horrendous Gargantua is soon to have a mate.


John Ringling North, head man of Ringling Brothers, has long dreamed about a romance for Gargantua. Aside from its publicity value, it would be good business, if it worked. North values Gargantua at $100,000, and it would be worth while to perpetuate the line. Fortnight ago Mr. North announced that he had found a fiancee. Weight: 438 Ib. Age: 8. Her name was M'Toto. Her reputation and background were beyond reproach. Whether Gargantua would approve of her remained to be seen.


Mr. North found the unpretty creature in Cuba, where she had been living in luxury's lap as the pet of Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Hoyt. Eight years ago she was a two-month-old infant jouncing on her mother's back around the jungles of French Equatorial Africa. Hoyt, who had retired from a U. S. Central Leather Co. job in Argentina to hunt big game, shot the infant's gorilla father for a museum piece, and his guides slew Mother Gorilla for fun. The little puckered face of the infant won Mr. & Mrs. Hoyt's heart. They christened the orphan M'Toto (Swahili for "Little Child"), and took her with them to Paris. There, though she had the services of good French pediatricians, M'Toto contracted double bronchopneumonia. When she finally recovered, the doting Hoyts decided to move to a warmer climate. Off they went to Havana.


In the garden of their $300,000 estate, they put up quarters for M'Toto: a combination playhouse and exercise room, a house with a living room and bedroom. M'Toto had a proper bed, with mattress and sheets. A prized possession was a sofa pillow with ToTiTo (her nickname) embroidered on it. She learned to blow her nose properly with a handkerchief, count up to 15, blow kisses and brush her teeth. Since Paris, she has not had a moment's illness.


Mr. North would not divulge what he paid for MToto, but it was known that Mrs. Hoyt has turned down offers as high as $20,000. M'Toto is devoted to her mistress, and whenever Mrs. Hoyt returns after a long absence beats her breast wildly, embraces Mrs. Hoyt in a mighty hug, laughs and grunts with joy. But Mrs. Hoyt agreed with Mr. North that his plan would probably be a good thing for both gorillas.


Last week, unaware of what was in store for her, M'Toto enjoyed her remaining days of maidenly independence. (North's plans were to transport her to Ringling Brothers' winter quarters at Sarasota, Fla. some time in February.) Under the eye of Keeper Tomas Vincente, who keeps her under control with an electrically charged rod, M'Toto lumbered blissfully around the Hoyts' fenced-in garden, and dined alfresco at a garden table.


M'Toto eats sumptuously. For breakfast: milk, cereal, orange juice and limewater. For a midmorning snack: 25 bananas and a quantity of guava jelly. For dinner: a quart of vegetable soup, three eggs, chicken salad, vegetable puree, and lemon or apple pie, which she downs without a belch. For tea: milk, cereal and some tapioca. For supper: a baked apple with milk and biscuits. Between times she raids the icebox in the servants' kitchen. Her weakness is ice cream. She will steal a quart at a time, hurry off to the garage roof and sit there hilariously gorging herself. Because she likes to smoke and tip the bottle—forbidden dissipations—Mr. Hoyt keeps cigars and liquor locked up.


Only times M'Toto is dangerous are when she is crossed or when she thinks Mrs. Hoyt is being attacked. Once, when her mistress brought a photographer into the garden, M'Toto uncomprehendingly grabbed Mrs. Hoyt to protect her, accidentally knocked her down. Mrs. Hoyt had to have six stitches taken in her scalp.


For the bride-to-be, Mr. North is building a duplicate of Gargantua's cage, plans to put the cages side by side until Gargantua gets used to seeing M'Toto around. Because of Gargantua's sour nature, introductions will be cautious and lengthy. Not until the irascible Gargantua shows signs of affection will he be let into her cage.


One discordant doubt has crept into the romance. From scientists came the suggestion that North may have more on his hands than he bargained for. Although the Hoyts should know whether M'Toto is a he or a she, determination of a gorilla's sex is difficult. Zoologist William Mann, director of Washington's National Zoological Park, said he was under the impression that M'Toto was a male. Anthropologist Adolf Hans Schultz said that there had been several classic mistakes in the past when zoos attempted to mate gorillas. Said Dr. Schultz: ''I should like to have a ringside seat when Toto and Gargantua are placed together. If they are both males there will be one hell of a fight."


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