Meeting Crystal, the Monkey from NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM Movies by Allen and Linda Anderson

Don’t we all, deep in our hearts, want to meet a celebrity superstar someday?

Our opportunity came when we interviewed Thomas (Tom) Gunderson and met his family’s most famous member—Crystal, the adorable capuchin monkey who starred in the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM movies, among many other memorable roles.

Linda and Crystal

Linda Anderson and Crystal

Meeting this delightful A-lister movie star was a special part of our extensive research as co-authors with Robin Ganzert, president of American Humane Association, for our new book ANIMAL STARS: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors (New World Library, September, 2014, We had to literally go “behind the scenes” to see for ourselves how the animals we all love in film, television, and commercials are trained and cared for.

When they’re on set, American Humane Association Certified Animal Safety Representatives make sure conditions are right for animal safety. Their jobs are part of American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit’s mission for their “No Animals Were Harmed” service. But what are animal actors’s lives like when they are not on set? We wanted to find out firsthand.

Meeting Crystal

Driving through Southern California’s dry terrain in mid-July we traveled to the home of Thomas Gunderson, his wife Stacy, and their two children. Coming from the Midwest’s Twin Cities, we were definitely not part of the LA world of fashion and coolness. Would Crystal, with her fame and status, view us as just one more celebrity hound? Would she be sociable or distant?

Robin Ganzert and Crystal

Robin Ganzert and Crystal

Robin Ganzert’s previous experience visiting Crystal and Tom on the set of WE BOUGHT A ZOO made us hope we’d come away from the experience without needing a shower. When Robin, a petite blond CEO with a soft Southern accent, first met the capuchin film star, Crystal leapt from Tom’s arms to Robin’s shoulder. The generous monkey was on a break and eating her favorite treat–flavored yogurt. Wanting to share, she slathered our coauthor’s hair with her yummy, gooey dairy product. Talk about human/animal bonding! Crystal made a new friend, and Robin had her first yogurt shampoo.

Tom and Stacy graciously greeted us on that hot summer day. Their faces shone with big, loving smiles. We felt immediately relaxed, sensing our visit would be fun and productive. Our first glimpse of Crystal was of her on the couch, in the family’s den, which is the center of a large open main floor. She only glanced at us briefly and continued to focus on one of the Gunderson children.

Carefully picking through each strand, she made sure every hair was in place as she groomed the child. Crystal’s patient work looked like a tedious task, but with each movement of her hands her little monkey face showed love and satisfaction for a job well done.

From this initial family tableau, it was clear that Crystal’s job on a film set might be to learn from Tom how to perform movie magic. But at home, taking care of the family she deeply cares about is Job Number One.

While Crystal continued ridding the Gunderson offspring of fleas and ticks, which of course, they did not have, she surreptitiously checked us out by occasionally glancing in our direction. Tom said, “Crystal will say hi to you in her own time. She doesn’t like people trying to get her to like them.”

Life as a world-famous Hollywood star must be grueling. Was Crystal’s indifference to us a sign of diva behavior? No, according to Tom, just a careful monkey protecting herself and her family from strangers.

We sat on the adjoining couch and prepared our notepads and tape recorder for the interview, all the while commenting on sweet and adorable Crystal. At last, Crystal completed her grooming tasks and began to move around. When this intelligent individual began to realize we were not there for her autograph, she officially invited us to stick around for a while and scrambled over to greet Linda.

Allen took photos of Crystal sitting on Linda’s shoulder. Enticed by Tom spooning flavored yogurt, she posed for the camera with her elbow resting on Linda’s head while making a show of how tiresome celebrity photos can be for a star.

At Home

Tom and Stacy introduced us to Squirt, Crystal’s capuchin best friend and playmate. What a great animal star trainer Tom is with his gentle, kind, and loving manner. Crystal shows every sign of feeling secure, loved, and always supplied with her favorite flavored yogurt.

And Tom made us feel even more comfortable with Minneapolis meeting Hollywood when he revealed that he had spent part of his childhood in Minnesota near where we live. Maybe it’s a small world after all. One in which animal stars can come down from the big screen and let us all get to know them and their human and animal families in whole new ways.

Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of Angel Animals Network ( and co-authors with Robin Ganzert, Ph.D. of ANIMAL STARS: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors, Foreword by Mart y Becker, DVM.

Tom Gunderson and Crystal

Tom Gunderson and Crystal

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