We live in truly wondrous times. In these days of features-loaded DVD releases and affordable big-screen TVs with room-rumbling sound systems, it's hard to imagine a period when you could not simply pop in CITIZEN KANE to watch on a whim, or treat your children to your favorite sections of THE WIZARD OF OZ, jumping from the Wicked Witch's awesome first appearance ("Who killed my sister?") right to the Cowardly Lion's excellent "If I Were the King of the Forest" song. And you have to turn up the volume all the way to watch the scene in SUPERMAN where, as the theme music swells, Christopher Reeve takes off from the Fortress of Solitude after his tutoring session with Marlon Brando. (My daughter does a great Margot Kidder as Lois Lane impression; "You've got me? Who's got you?")
But back in the older days — pretty much up until the mid-80's — a film fan had to hope against hope that the local theater would host a revival of a favorite flick. Being a college student helped; I remember being knocked out when I visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus for the first time and saw leaflets for lecture hall showings of everything from DOUBLE INDEMNITY to the 60's BATMAN movie. That's when I figured college would be all right. (Well, that and the lack of parental supervision, etc.)
Outside of college, one way that a fortunate few were able to see classic films was through participation in film clubs. A group of people would get together for regular 16mm screenings of classic films, often with a guest present who had some level of involvement with the movie and who would participate in a "Q and A" session following the show. As you might expect, these weren't exactly Joe Lunchbucket affairs; not just anyone could get hold of a 16mm print to show in their rec room (not to mention book a director, producer or star to appear for the discussion session).
On a Saturday night in 1964, cinephile Bob Forbes gathered about 40 friends to see KING KONG with Merian C. Cooper himself as special guest. Patron saint of all collectors Bob Burns (also current owner of the only surviving Kong armature) was present for the event and later given a copy of a recording of the evening's discussion with Mr. Cooper. Tom Weaver transcribed the tape recently for an article in Monsters From The Vault magazine (Volume 9, Number 18) [http://www.monstersfromthevault.com/], and the piece is accompanied by a rather well-traveled photo of Cooper, pipe in hand, smiling as he regards a boxed miniature ape (which can also be seen on page 133 of the book I wrote with Bob Burns, It Came From Bob's Basement).
Here's the exchange leading up to the unveiling:
Forbes: We have the producer and the director here with us ...
Cooper: ... Also the writer (small laugh).
(An interjection here: Cooper did not pass up many opportunities to reinforce his claim of authorship of KING KONG, and this small gathering of film fans would be no exception. We'll discuss the tangled tree of "who wrote what" in future installments of the Kong Files.)
Forbes: And the writer. The creator, the man who made... Well, it's your picture all the way through. But I thought it would be very interesting if we had its star with us.
Incredulous Woman in Audience: Fay Wray?!?!
Forbes: No, not Fay Wray. The fellow who was just shot off...
Same Incredulous Woman in Audience: No!
Forbes (indicating a small wooden box marked "Kong"): So I went over to RKO, or Desilu, and I have here its star.
Once Again, the Same Incredulous Woman in Audience: Bruce Cabot? (Oddly, no one laughs at this straight-faced comment)
Forbes: He's been out for quite a few years, so... (The box is opened and there are gasps all around) ...He doesn't look the best, but I thought you'd be interested in seeing it — I know I was. He's kind of old and dilapidated...
And there he is. Once again, a tattered Mighty Joe Young stands in for Kong. Perhaps it's even the same puppet Desi Arnaz brandished for a visiting "Westinghouse representative" seven years earlier [See 'Wrong Kong - Part 1']. To Cooper's credit, he plays along and doesn't ruin the evening by pointing out his host's well intentioned error (he was, after all, the inveterate showman upon which Carl Denham was patterned).
Another undated photo of the same Mighty Joe Young puppet, with added padding in the case, a bit more wear than we see in the Merian C. Cooper picture, and a mournful upward stare.
Yet another in a series of instances where Mighty Joe is
misidentified as Kong — as if they're the Smthers Brothers or
something — and, alas, not the last time; there'll be more cameos
by Mighty Joe in future installments of the Kong Files. In the meantime,
fair warning to KING KONG '33 purists out there; next week's topic involves...gasp...the
1976 remake (another example of "the Wrong Kong"?).
(Writer John Michlig's online article KING KONG: LOST AND FOUND can be seen at http://www.skullisland.net/KongBoomer.html. He's currently working with filmmaker James Mansfield on a documentary entitled EIGHTH WONDER: THE AMAZING TRUE STORY OF CARL DENHAM AND THE BEAST-GOD OF SKULL ISLAND, the startling details of which he promises to share in the very near future.)
THE KONG FILES and contents are © 2004-2006 John Michlig and written for KongisKing.net, subsidary of The One Ring®, Inc.