Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Monkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Does this face say Turkey day at your house?
Some of you older readers will remember that Thanksgiving used to --and sometimes still doubles as King Kong day! Yep, if you had cable 20-25 years ago you'd know that Thanksgiving was also the "Day of Great Apes" thanks to the programmers at WOR in New York. For a number of years they'd always show the original King Kong early on Thanksgiving afternoon, followed by at least 2 additional Giant Gorilla movies --and more often that not, It'd be Son of Kong then Mighty Joe Young. (which was always followed up on Friday by 3 more features of Godzilla movies.) And the tradition --albeit in subtle fashion--that holidays have also meant Mammoth Monkeys has continued for some time. Consider that the original King Kong was released at the beginning of the year 1933 and Son of Kong (rushed into production) came out December of that same year...PLUS the last three movies with King Kong in the title (spanning 30 years) were ALL released within 5 days of each other in mid-December. AND- just last year TCM made sure Thanksgiving week was throughly-Kong dominated with the long-awaited DVD release of the original 1933 film (in a box set with --you guessed it-- Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young) as well as a Holiday airing of the movie and a new Turner production (also on the DVD) of I'm King Kong: The Merian C. Cooper story. So who am I to fly in the face of tradition? --in doing my part this year to keep Super-Simians as much a part of the holidays as tensil and those plug-in candles with the screw-in blubs, (plus since I'm still behind on my Halloween postings) here's your Arglebargle quota of Kong for the weekend. Dig in!

King Sized B.S.
One of the more interesting things to me about the promotion of Merian C. Cooper's King Kong was the tapestry of lies the studio endorsed when it came to the how and why of the groundbreaking special effects. Several pieces of production art were prepared, supposedly providing "the real story" of how the effects were accomplished --unfortunately there wasn't a whole lot of truth to them. The story I've heard is that the studio really didn't want folks to know how the effects were done so they did this to hopefully steer any rival studios down the wrong path. Which seems really odd now, considering Willis O'Brien's stop-motion techniques were not exactly headline news in 1933...He had already stunned the world with pixilated Dinosaurs running around London EIGHT YEARS earlier In the Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1925!) (click to enlarge)

This studio explanation ran many years later as a double page spread in Famous Monsters magazine early all King Kong issue.


It actually made a connection between the non-existant Kong costume, and the that-era, ape-costume actor Charles Gemora. While there was no truth to the fact that Gemora played Kong onscreen, Rumors persisted up to, and even after his death when the papers reported that "Charles Gemora, the man who played King Kong has died." I'd love to know the real connection is with that story...(click to enlarge)

UPDATE: Hey, ask and ye shall receive, I guess! (It sure didn't take long to get a response...)

Buzz Wrote:
"The Charles Gemora misconception/connection to KONG can be traced to an uncompleted short subject he worked on. The short used marrionettes that were caricatures of Hollywood celebrities. The climax would have been a re-enactment of KING KONG with Gemora holding a Mae West marionette (IIRC). Why the short was never completed, I don't know, but stills from it have appeared in a couple of books on Hollywood films".
...and Jimtex wrote:
"The apesuited Charles Gemora and Mae West marionette pic is in the book "The Making of King Kong" by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner. It was from an abandoned (due to its high cost) three-color Technicolor short entitled "The Lost Island".

Thanks for reminding me Jim, I actually have that book (I knew I'd seen that still somewhere, --I think it was before Bob Burns gave me a course in the various Hollywood Gorilla-men and their esteemed careers-- I just had forgotten it was the Gemora suit in this shot!)
Here's that very-rare still from that very-rare book. Enjoy!



Kong Cards & Comics etc.

One of the harder card sets to get nowadays is the 1960's set of the original Kong movie. Here's six cards from that set that sold on eBay a couple of years back (...for a fairly hefty price as I recall).


Here's yet another blast from the past...


This little Kong ditty ran in a the seventh issue of the 1970's newspaper-mag The Monster Times...which ironically had a Godzilla cover (above ) To my knowledge it's never been reprinted outside of that forum, so enjoy! (and, as always click to enlarge)



While we're on the subject of TMT, Gray Morrow provided this outstanding version of the King of Skull Island for the very first issue of that little mag back when it premiered in 1971.

Rounding out this section with this great foreign Kong poster that looks almost as much like super-cool model box art.

And speaking of offbeat...check out this publicity still that has Kong squaring off against the same Stegosaur that gave Carl Denham and co. troubles early in their adventures on Skull Island (In the film they never actually met).

which brings us to...

...That Elusive Spider Scene.


Here's the biggest, nicest still I could find from the "lost spider pit sequence" from the original King Kong. Consider it a concellation prize for any spider-scene promises you might've received by anyone else in the last year. Hoo-Boy.
Okay, I'll explain...
William Stout and I got into an interesting conversation at his table at San Diego Con in 2005. I told him I was working on a King Kong rarities DVD and we started talking about the lost Kong Spider scene. He suddenly got kind of seroius and leaning forward said "Hey, ya know what we oughta do...we oughta do a fake one. Y'know...the entire sequence!"
Fake the whole scene? I laughed. Sure! That'd be great...I'm totally onboard.
We loosely talked about what would be needed to do tackle such a herculean task. It was mostly just wishin', but it was fun to speculate on the possibilities. (Besides, if he was at all serious I definitely wanted in!
Little did we suspect that half a world away in New Zealand that very thing was happening for real at Peter Jackson's King Kong special effects unit. Their version of the lost Spider scene was being prepared as an extra for the springtime release of Jackson's Kong to DVD. I was pre-sold on the disk based based on that nugget alone...since it was one I had given semi-serious consideration to myself. I bought the disk the day it came out and watched the extras --including their Spider scene-- right away, before I even looked at the movie again.
When I saw Bill Stout again at this past summer's Comicon it wasn't long before our talk came around to Jackson's Kong DVD.
So, how 'bout that Spider sequence? I pointedly asked.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
What a shame. "With the same money and materials we could've really kicked some ass!"
"We at least would've hired look-alike actors to double for the 1930s actors they were supposed to be replacing ...Sheez!"
We had pretty much the same opinion that the live "actors" in the sequence didn't look like like the seafarin' type --they looked like animators (which they were)...all white and doughy. (They didn't act much like actors either if you ask me...)
Plus --as was the case with almost every scene that was shot green screen for The Jackson Kong, every actor was rim-lit.
Rim-Lit??? You SHOW me a scene in 1933 Kong where a crowd shot is rimlit! The lighting between the new fleeing Venture crew scenes and the original Kong sailor footage don't even come close to matching. So many aspects of this production are nearly-maniacal in their meticulousness (the recreation and construction of period models, using original time period equipment, replication of technique, etc., etc...)that it's almost unfathomable to me how both showy AND slip-shod the overall un-Merian C. Cooper-esque parts of the newly-finished sequence feel.
They had all the resources. They had previously unimaginable --almost magical-- holy-grail-type reference materials as well as half the money in the world to make sure the match of new footage to the original 1933 film was seamless as Klaatu's saucer.
Why? How could this have turned out so disappointingly? I can't tell you how let down I was by the final product. It was like having a can't-lose date with a porn-star supermodel, who during the course of the date tells you she's becoming a nun and is now celibate.
For me it really came down to this...When I hear "Spider scene from King Kong" I would naturally expect to see the ABOVE SCENE in motion.
WHERE THE HELL WAS THIS SCENE?? Where was THIS SPIDER?
I didn't even need an entire bogus sequence, just that scene in motion woulda done it for me!
All that I wanted was to see what proceeded and followed this frozen film frame I'd first laid eyes on in Famous Monsters magazine when I was twelve.
Instead we get some scuttling, fast-moving, big-assed, Tim Burton inspired-looking beastie, and a bunch of other un-Obie looking (in my opinion) 21st century critters. Thanks loads.
But okay, It's Thanksgiving...I'm off the soapbox (I've just been needin' to blow off some steam about that whole deal for awhile now).

Big thanks for this post go out to Merian C. Cooper, Willis O'Brien, Gray Morrow, Steve Hickman and John Simons, The Monster Times, Time Warner, Forrest J. Ackerman and William Stout ...I couldn'ta done it without ya.

I do have more animation and art-related posts coming up soon so you art-fans hang in there.
'Til then...Happy Holidays!

7 Comments:

Anonymous Buzz said...

The Charles Gemora misconception/connection to KONG can be traced to an uncompleted short subject he worked on. The short used marrionettes that were caricatures of Hollywood celebrities. The climax would have been a re-enactment of KING KONG with Gemora holding a Mae West marionette (IIRC). Why the short was never completed, I don't know, but stills from it have appeared in a couple of books on Hollywood films (FLESH & FANTASY may be one).

4:18 AM

 
Blogger Tony Aguirre said...

And people wonder why I hate Peter Jackson. Someone should've told the emperor he was naked before he went all the way outside.

2:56 PM

 
Blogger C. Martin Croker said...

Hey thanks, Buzz! I actually remember reading that now (Though I think it must be like 25 years now)..'cause I definitely remember the Mae West puppet hook. Thanks large for the info.

5:44 PM

 
Anonymous JimTex said...

The apesuited Charles Gemora and Mae West marionette pic is in the book "The Making of King Kong" by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner. It was from an abandoned (due to its high cost) three-color Technicolor short entitled "The Lost Island".

7:16 PM

 
Blogger Robert Pope said...

Wow. I gotta get a better computer at home; I just read this now! Great stuff. Makes me hate the Jackson version all the more. Shooting bugs off a man's face at point-blanck range with a tommy gun. Oog.

10:46 AM

 
Anonymous Mark said...

Greetings from Gorillamen.com!
While I always love to see others discussing KONG and ape film in general, I had to toss in my two bits about the greatest of the Gorilla Men, Charles Gemora and his connection to the biggest of the silver screen simians.
As both Buzz and Jimtex write, Charles played a giant ape opposite marionettes in the abandoned film THE LOST ISLAND. Years prior to this effort, Charles appeared as a massive, menacing gorilla towering over a miniature cityscape in the trailer for the lost 1930 version of THE GORILLA (pre-dating KING KONG by 3 years). It is a striking image that I don't doubt lingered in the public conciousness. Gemora was also one of Hollywood's greatest gorilla suit performers and it's no big stretch to assume that others guessed it was him in KONG based on his presence in other simian film outings. The producers of KONG went to extra efforts to obscure that the mighty jungle behemoth was only several inches high - if his name was ever associated with the film, I surmise that few would try to discount the notion.
The man himself was distraught over the association. Charles Gemora was, by all accounts, an honest and upstanding fellow who would never try to garner kudos for somethig he had not done. The venerable Bob Burns had the honor of sharing time with the effects and make-up man before he passed on. When the subject came up, he emphatically denied any involvement and Burns remarked to journalist Tom Weaver, "That was a sore point with him."
On a website dedicated to her father, daughter Diana Fox Jones addressed this sensitive issue with a letter to her departed dad.

Open Letter from Diana Fox Jones

Dear Dad,

I just got wind of an incredible error in the relating of your credits. I am compelled to clear the air for the movie buffs who are interested in your story.

It has been written on certain sites and articles that you took the credit for King Kong. Your obit stated that too. This is so far from any truth! You never, never took credit for being the great Kong.

Great misinformation from a family member (you know who) who wanted you to be more than just a nameless guy in a monkey suit. Anyone who called, or would listen, would get that story. I want that story to look like chalk on a board, erased with one swipe of the typing hand.

I am so sorry dad, your otherwise spotless name is slightly tarnished from what seemed a harmless exaggeration. The record is set straight for you and you can "rest in peace"...

Your loving daughter,
Diana

PS
I hooked up with Bob Burns, the famous sci fi collector, who is the owner of the metal skeleton of King Kong. It is definetly smaller than Charlie :-)

Charles was involved in the movie industry for over forty years and entertained millions through his effects work (WAR OF THE WORLDS) and his gorilla roles (THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL). While it's unfortunate that some still encounter this misinformation regarding KONG, I always relish the chance to dismiss it and tell others of his genuine accomplishments.
Thanks for letting me bend you ear!
ciao
Mark

2:43 AM

 
Anonymous jimmyThePipe said...

(Haven't been through here a while, so I stop in.) I haven't seen the new King Kong, because I like the old one so much.

See, that's a problem if they don't know how to recreate a scene. If they knew what materials were used for the spider (like a small puppet, or whatever they used) it should've been no problem. 'No, letsch inhaencsh it!' they said. It's more like they shot another scene for their movie, based on a scene from the original.

Yea, I'm a monkey fan. I made myself into a monkey for a project. (http://www.geocities.com/jimmy_the_pipe/superHeroForWeb.jpg)

Have a happy holiday!

11:18 AM

 

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