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|King Kong character|
King Kong featured in the original 1933 film.
|First appearance||King Kong (1933 film)|
|Last appearance||Kong: Skull Island|
|Created by||Edgar Wallace
Merian C. Cooper
|Portrayed by||Willis O'Brien (1933) (animator)
Rick Baker (1976)
Peter Elliot (1986)
Andy Serkis (2005)
Terry Notary (2017)
|Family||Little Kong (son)|
King Kong is a giant movie monster, resembling a colossal ape, that has appeared in various media since 1933. The character first appeared in the 1933 film King Kong, which received universal acclaim upon its initial release and re-releases. The film was remade in 1976 and once again in 2005. The character has become one of the world's most famous movie icons, having inspired countless sequels, remakes, spin-offs, imitators, parodies, cartoons, books, comics, video games, theme park rides, and even a stage play. His role in the different narratives varies, ranging from a rampaging monster to a tragic antihero.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Conception and Creation
- 3 Filmography
- 4 Theatre
- 5 Print media
- 6 Appearances and abilities
- 7 Legal rights
- 8 King Kong (Toho)
- 9 Other appearances
- 10 Electronic games
- 11 In popular culture
- 12 Theme park rides
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
The King Kong character was conceived and created by American filmmaker Merian C. Cooper. In the original film, the character's name is Kong, a name given to him by the inhabitants of "Skull Island" in the Indian Ocean, where Kong lives along with other oversized animals such as a plesiosaur, pterosaurs and other dinosaurs. An American film crew, led by Carl Denham, captures Kong and takes him to New York City to be exhibited as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
Kong escapes and climbs the Empire State Building (the original World Trade Center in the 1976 remake), only to fall from the skyscraper. Denham comments, "It was beauty that killed the beast," for he climbs the building in the first place only in an attempt to protect Ann Darrow, an actress originally offered up to Kong on Skull Island as a sacrifice. (In the 1976 remake, her character is named Dwan.)
A mockumentary about Skull Island that appears on the DVD for the 2005 remake (originally seen on the Sci-Fi Channel at the time of its theatrical release) gives Kong's scientific name as Megaprimatus kong and states that his species may be related to Gigantopithecus, though that genus of giant ape is more closely related to orangutans than to gorillas.
Conception and Creation
Merian C. Cooper became fascinated by gorillas at the age of 6. In 1899, he was given a book from his uncle called Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa. The book (written in 1861), chronicled the adventures of Paul Du Chaillu in Africa and his various encounters with the natives and wildlife there. Cooper became fascinated with the stories involving the gorilla, in particular, Du Chaillu's depiction of a particular gorilla known for its "extraordinary size", that the natives described as "invincible" and the "King of the African Forest". When Du Chaillu and some natives encountered a gorilla later in the book he described it as a "hellish dream creature" that was "half man, half beast" It was these stories that planted the seed of adventure in young Merian's mind.
Decades later in his adult years, Cooper got involved in the motion picture industry. While filming The Four Feathers in Africa, he came into contact with a family of baboons. This gave him the idea to make a picture about primates, but not just any primate, his favorite primate- the gorilla! A year later when he got to RKO, Cooper wanted to film a "terror gorilla picture". As the story was being fleshed out, Cooper decided to make his gorilla giant sized. Cooper stated that the idea of Kong fighting warplanes on top of a building came from him seeing a plane flying over the New York Insurance Building, then the tallest building in the World. He came up with the ending before the rest of the story as he stated, "Without any conscious effort of thought I immediately saw in my mind's eye a giant gorilla on top of the building". Cooper also was influenced by Douglas Burden's accounts of the Komodo Dragon, and wanted to pit his terror gorilla against Dinosaur sized versions of these reptiles stating to Burden, "I also had firmly in mind to giantize both the gorilla and your dragons to make them really huge. However I always believed in personalizing and focusing attention on one main character and from the very beginning I intended to make it the gigantic gorilla, no matter what else I surrounded him with". Around this time, Cooper began to refer to his project as a "Giant terror gorilla picture" featuring "A gigantic semi- humanoid gorilla pitted against modern civilization.
Once the film got green-lit and it came time to design King Kong, Cooper wanted him to be a nightmarish gorilla monster as he described him in a 1930 memo, "His hands and feet have the size and strength of steam shovels; his girth is that of a steam boiler. This is a monster with the strength of a hundred men. But more terrifying is the head-a nightmare head with bloodshot eyes and jagged teeth set under a thick mat of hair, a face half-beast half-human". Willis O'Brien created an oil painting depicting the giant gorilla menacing a jungle heroine and hunter for Cooper. However, when it came time for O'Brien and Marcel Delgado to sculpt the animation model, Cooper decided to back pedal on the half human look for the creature and became adamant that Kong be a gorilla. O'Brien on the other hand, wanted him to be almost human-like to gain audience empathy, and told Delgado to "make that ape almost human". Cooper laughed at the end result saying that it looked like a cross between a monkey and a man with very long hair. For the second model, O'Brien again asked Delgado to add human features but to tone it down somewhat. The end result (which was rejected) was described as looking like a missing link. Disappointed Cooper stated, "I want Kong to be the fiercest, most brutal, monstrous damned thing that has ever been seen!" On December 22, 1931, Cooper got the dimensions of a bull gorilla from the American Museum of Natural History telling O'Brien, "Now that's what I want!" When the final model was created (one that Cooper ultimately approved of), it had the basic overall look of a gorilla but managed to retain some humanesque qualities, such as a streamlined body and a removed paunch and rump. Distinctive aspects of the gorilla's anatomy that Delgado purposefully removed. O'Brien would incorporate some characteristics and nuances of an earlier creature he had created in 1915 for the silent short The Dinosaur and the Missing Link into the general look and personality of Kong, even going as far as to refer to the creature as "Kong's ancestor" When it came time to film, Cooper agreed that Kong should walk upright at times (mostly in the New York sequences) in order to appear more intimidating.
Origin of the name
Merian C. Cooper was very fond of strong hard sounding words that started with the letter "K". Some of his favorite words were Komodo, Kodiak and Kodak. When Cooper was envisioning his giant terror gorilla idea, he wanted to capture a real gorilla from the Congo and have it fight a real Komodo dragon on Komodo Island. (This scenario would eventually evolve into Kong's battle with the tyrannosaur on Skull Island when the film was produced a few years later at RKO.) Cooper's friend Douglas Burden's trip to the island of Komodo and his encounter with the Komodo dragons there was a big influence on the Kong story. Cooper was fascinated by Burden's adventures as chronicled in his book Dragon Lizards of Komodo where he referred to the animal as the "King of Komodo". It was this phrase along with Komodo and C(K)ongo (and his overall love for hard sounding K words) that gave him the idea to name the giant ape Kong. He loved the name as it had a "mystery sound" to it.
When Cooper got to RKO and wrote the first draft of the story, it was simply referred to as The Beast. RKO executives were unimpressed with the bland title. David O. Selznick suggested Jungle Beast as the film's new title, but Cooper was unimpressed and wanted to name the film after the main character. He stated he liked the "mystery word" aspect of Kong's name and that the film should carry "the name of the leading mysterious, romantic, savage creature of the story" such as with Dracula and Frankenstein. RKO sent a memo to Cooper suggesting the titles Kong: King of Beasts, Kong: The Jungle King, and Kong: The Jungle Beast, which combined his and Selznick's proposed titles. As time went on, Cooper would eventually name the story simply Kong while Ruth Rose was writing the final version of the screenplay. Because David O. Selznick thought that audiences would think that the film, with the one word title of Kong, would be mistaken as a docudrama like Grass and Chang, which were one-word titled films that Cooper had earlier produced, he added the "King" to Kong's name to differentiate.
- King Kong (1933) – The original film is remembered for its pioneering special effects using stop motion models, and evocative story. The film starred Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Bruce Cabot.
- The Son of Kong (1933) – A sequel released the same year concerns a return expedition to Skull Island that discovers Kong's son. The critics' response to the film was generally negative and it made a profit of $133,000.
- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) – A film produced by Toho Studios in Japan brought the title characters to life via detailed rubber and fur costumes, and presented both characters for the first time in color. The Toho version of Kong is much larger than the one in the original film. Two different endings were filmed. The original ending featured Godzilla killing Kong, but American audiences reacted negatively. That prompted Toho to film an ending strictly for American film-goers, with the Godzilla-Kong battle ending in a tie.
- King Kong Escapes (1967) – Another Toho film (co-produced with Rankin/Bass) has King Kong facing both a mechanical double, dubbed Mechani-Kong, and a giant theropod dinosaur known as Gorosaurus (who would appear in Toho's Destroy All Monsters the next year). This movie was loosely based on the contemporaneous cartoon television program, as indicated by the use of its recurring villain, Dr. Who/Dr. Huu, in the same capacity, Mechani-Kong as an enemy, Mondo Island as Kong's home and a female character named Susan.
- King Kong (1976) – A contemporary remake by Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis was released by Paramount Pictures, and directed by John Guillermin. Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange (in her film debut) and Charles Grodin starred. The film received mixed reviews, but it was a commercial success, and its reputation has improved in following years. It was co-winner of an Oscar for special effects (shared with Logan's Run).
- King Kong Lives (1986) – Released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) and starring Linda Hamilton, a sequel by the same producer and director as the 1976 film involves Kong surviving his fall from the sky and requiring a coronary operation. It includes a female member of Kong's species, who, after supplying a blood transfusion that enables the life-saving surgery, escapes and mates with Kong, becoming pregnant with his offspring. Trashed by critics, the film was a box-office failure.
- King Kong (2005) – A Universal Pictures remade the original (set in the original film's 1933 contemporary setting) directed by Academy award-winning New Zealand director Peter Jackson, best known for directing the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The movie starred Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks, Kyle Chandler, and Thomas Kretschmann. This incarnation of Kong is also the longest to date, running three hours and eight minutes. It was the winner of three Academy Awards for visual effects, sound mixing, and sound editing. It received mainly positive reviews and was a box office success, grossing over $550 million worldwide. Andy Serkis provided the motion capture performance for Kong, and co-starred as ships cook, Lumpy. Fay Wray, co-star of the original King Kong, was scheduled to make a guest appearance as the mother of Jack Black's character. She was to deliver the now iconic line, "It wasn't the planes. It was beauty that killed the beast.", but she died before he scenes could be filmed.
- Kong: Skull Island (2017) – A reboot produced by Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures and the second film in Legendary's Godzilla-Kong cinematic universe is set to be released on March 10, 2017. It will feature a "new, distinct timeline" and will take place in Detroit in 1971. The studio announced that Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson will star as the male and female lead. Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Tom Wilkinson, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, John Goodman, Thomas Mann, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, and Toby Kebbell will also star in supporting roles and Terry Notary will portray Kong through motion-capture. J. K. Simmons and Michael Keaton were originally going to star, but the two left the film early in its pre-production stages. The film will be directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts with the screenplay to be written by Max Borenstein, John Gatins, and Derek Connolly.
- Godzilla vs. Kong (2020) – In October 2015, Legendary announced plans to unite Godzilla and King Kong in a film together, currently titled Godzilla vs. Kong, set for a 2020 release date. Legendary plans to create a shared cinematic franchise "centered around Monarch" and that "brings together Godzilla and Legendary's King Kong in an ecosystem of other giant super-species, both classic and new". While Legendary will maintain its home at Universal Pictures, it will continue to collaborate with Warner Bros. for the shared cinematic franchise. In May 2016, Warner Bros. revealed the film's release date has been set for May 29, 2020.
In mid-2012, it was announced that a musical adaptation of the story (endorsed by Merian C. Cooper's estate) was going to be staged in Melbourne at the Regent Theatre. The show premiered on June 15, 2013, with music by Marius De Vries. The huge King Kong puppet was created by Global Creature Technology.
In December 1932, as the film King Kong was finishing production, Merian C. Cooper asked his friend Delos W. Lovelace to adapt the film's screenplay into a novelization. Published by Grosset & Dunlap, the book was released later that month on December 27, 1932, a few months before the film opened in the Spring of 1933. This was a part of the film's advance marketing campaign. The novelization was credited as being based on the "Screenplay by James A. Creelman and Ruth Rose. Novelized from the Radio Picture". The byline written under the title was "Conceived by Edgar Wallace and Merian C Cooper". However, despite the credit, Wallace had very little to do with the story or the character. In an interview, author-artist Joe DeVito explains:
- "From what I know, Edgar Wallace, a famous writer of the time, died very early in the process. Little if anything of his ever appeared in the final story, but his name was retained for its saleability ... King Kong was Cooper's creation, a fantasy manifestation of his real life adventures. As many have mentioned before, Cooper was Carl Denham. His actual exploits rival anything Indiana Jones ever did in the movies."
This conclusion about Wallace's contribution was verified in the book The Making of King Kong, by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner (1975). Wallace died of pneumonia complicated by diabetes on February 10, 1932, and Cooper later said, "Actually, Edgar Wallace didn't write any of Kong, not one bloody word...I'd promised him credit and so I gave it to him" (p. 59).
Cooper issued a reprint of the novelization in 1965 that was published by Bantam Books. Some time later the copyright expired and the publishing rights to the book fell into the public domain. Since then a myriad of publishers have reprinted the novelization numerous times. Blackstone Audio produced an audio recording of the book in 2005 narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Outside of the novelization, the film was serialized in a pulp magazine. In 1933, Mystery magazine published a King Kong serial under the byline of Edgar Wallace, and written by Walter F. Ripperger. This serialization was published into two parts in the February and March issues of the magazine.
In the U.K, the film was serialized in 2 different pulps both on October 28, 1933. In the juvenile Boys Magazine (Vol 23. No. 608). where the serialization was uncredited, and in that month's issue of Cinema Weekly where it was credited to Edgar Wallace and written by Draycott Montagu Dell (1888–1940). This short story adaptation would later appear in the Peter Haining book called Movie Monsters in 1988, published by Severn House in the UK.
In 1977, a novelization of the 1976 remake of King Kong was published by Ace Books. This novelization was called The Dino De Laurentiis Production of King Kong and was simply the 1976 Lorenzo Semple Jr. script published in book form. The cover was done by Frank Frazetta.
In 1994 Anthony Browne wrote and illustrated a book called Anthony Browne's King Kong. Credited as "From the Story Conceived by Edgar Wallace & Merian C. Cooper", the book was published by the Turner Publishing Company. It was re-released as a paperback in the U.K in 2005 by Picture Corgi.
To coincide with the 2005 remake of King Kong, various books were released to tie into the film. A novelization was written by Christopher Golden based on the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson. Matt Costello wrote an official prequel to the film called King Kong: The Island of the Skull. These books were published by Pocket Books. Various illustrated juvenile books were published, as well, by Harper Books: Kong's Kingdom was written by Julia Simon-Kerr; Meet Kong and Ann and Journey to Skull Island were written by Jennifer Franz; Escape from Skull Island and Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World—Junior Novel were written by Laura J. Burns; The Search for Kong was written by Catherine Hapka; and finally, a Deluxe Sound Storybook of Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World was written by Don Curry. Weta Workshop released a collection of concept art from the film entitled The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island that was published by Pocket Books. The book was written and designed to resemble and read like an actual nature guide and historical record.
In 2005, Ibooks, Inc., published an unofficial book featuring King Kong called Kong Reborn by Russell Blackford.
In 2004 DH Press published Kong: King of Skull Island, an illustrated novel labeled as an authorized sequel to the 1932 novelization of King Kong. A large-paperback edition was released in 2005. As well a CD audiobook narrated by Joey D'Auria was released by RadioArchives, and an interactive two-part app was released in 2011 and 2013 respectively by Copyright 1957 LLC. Authorized by the family and estate of Merian C. Cooper, the book was created and illustrated by Joe DeVito, written by Brad Strickland and John Michlig, and includes an introduction by Ray Harryhausen. The novel's story ignores the existence of Son of Kong (1933) and continues the story of Skull Island with Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll in the late 1950s, through the novel's central character, Vincent Denham. In 2005, DeVito and Strickland wrote another book called Merian C. Cooper's King Kong for the Merian C. Cooper Estate. This book was published by St. Martin's Press. It was a full rewrite of the original 1932 novelization, which updates the language, paleontology and adds five new chapters. Some additional elements and characters tie into Kong: King of Skull Island enabling the two separate books to form a continuous storyline.
In 2013, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of both characters, Altus Press published Doc Savage: Skull Island. This book featured a crossover between King Kong and the pulp hero Doc Savage in a new, officially sanctioned book written by Will Murray and based on concepts by artist Joe DeVito, who also did the cover artwork. The story is set in 1920. Shortly after returning from military service during World War One, Doc Savage searches for his long-lost grandfather, the legendary mariner Stormalong Savage, with his father, explorer Clark Savage, Sr. The search ultimately leads father and son to the mysterious Skull Island and its prehistoric denizens, including King Kong.
In March 2016, Altus Press announced a new novel by Will Murray called King Kong vs. Tarzan, set in 1933. In this story King Kong encounters Edgar Rice Burroughs' Ape Man Tarzan during the sea voyage in which Kong is transported to New York from Skull Island.
Over the decades, there have been numerous comic books based on King Kong by various comic-book publishers. For details on this aspect of the character's print media appearances see King Kong (comics).
Appearances and abilities
In his first appearance in King Kong (1933), Kong was a gigantic prehistoric ape, or as RKO's publicity materials described him, "A prehistoric type of ape." While gorilla-like in appearance, he had a vaguely humanoid look and at times walked upright in an anthropomorphic manner. Indeed, Carl Denham describes him as being "neither beast nor man". Like most simians, Kong possesses semi-human intelligence and great physical strength. Kong's size changes drastically throughout the course of the film. While creator Merian C. Cooper envisioned Kong as being "40 to 50 feet (12.2 to 15.2 m) tall", animator Willis O'Brien and his crew built the models and sets scaling Kong to be only 18 feet (5.5 m) tall on Skull Island, and rescaled to be 24 feet (7.3 m) tall in New York. This did not stop Cooper from playing around with Kong's size as he directed the special effect sequences; by manipulating the sizes of the miniatures and the camera angles, he made Kong appear a lot larger than O'Brien wanted, even as large as 60 feet (18.3 m) in some scenes. As Cooper stated in an interview, I was a great believer in constantly changing Kong's height to fit the settings and the illusions. He's different in almost every shot; sometimes he's only 18 feet (5.5 m) tall and sometimes 60 feet (18.3 m) or larger. This broke every rule that O'Bie and his animators had ever worked with, but I felt confident that if the scenes moved with excitement and beauty, the audience would accept any height that fitted into the scene. For example, if Kong had only been 18 feet (5.5 m) high on the top of the Empire State Building, he would have been lost, like a little bug; I constantly juggled the heights of trees and dozens of other things. The one essential thing was to make the audience enthralled with the character of Kong so that they wouldn't notice or care that he was eighteen feet (5.5 m) high or forty (12.2), just as long as he fitted the mystery and excitement of the scenes and action. Concurrently, the Kong bust made for the film was built in scale with a 40-foot (12.2 m) ape, while the full sized hand of Kong was built in scale with a 70-foot (21.3 m) ape. Meanwhile, RKO's promotional materials listed Kong's official height as 50 feet (15.2 m).
In 1975, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis paid RKO for the remake rights to King Kong. This resulted in King Kong (1976). This Kong was an upright walking anthropomorphic ape, appearing even more human-like than the original. Also like the original, this Kong had semi-human intelligence and vast strength. In the 1976 film, Kong was scaled to be 42 feet (12.8 m) tall on Skull island and rescaled to be 55 feet (16.8 m) tall in New York. Ten years later, Dino De Laurentiis got the approval from Universal to do a sequel called King Kong Lives. This Kong had more or less the same appearance and abilities, but tended to walk on his knuckles more often and was enlarged, scaled to 60 feet (18.3 m).
Universal Studios had planned to do a King Kong remake as far back as 1976. They finally followed through almost 30 years later, with a three-hour film directed by Peter Jackson. Jackson opted to make Kong a gigantic silverback gorilla without any anthropomorphic features. This Kong looked and behaved more like a real gorilla: he had a large herbivore's belly, walked on his knuckles without any upright posture, and even beat his chest with his palms as opposed to clenched fists. In order to ground his Kong in realism, Jackson and the Weta Digital crew gave a name to his fictitious species Megaprimatus kong and suggested it to have evolved from the Gigantopithecus. Kong was the last of his kind. He was portrayed in the film as being quite old, with graying fur and battle-worn with scars, wounds, and a crooked jaw from his many fights against rival creatures. He is the dominant being on the island, the king of his world. But, like his film predecessors, he possesses considerable intelligence and great physical strength; he also appears far more nimble and agile. This Kong was scaled to a consistent height of 25 feet (7.6 m) tall on both Skull Island and in New York. Jackson describes his central character: We assumed that Kong is the last surviving member of his species. He had a mother and a father and maybe brothers and sisters, but they’re dead. He's the last of the huge gorillas that live on Skull Island ... when he goes ... there will be no more. He's a very lonely creature, absolutely solitary. It must be one of the loneliest existences you could ever possibly imagine. Every day, he has to battle for his survival against very formidable dinosaurs on the island, and it's not easy for him. He's carrying the scars of many former encounters with dinosaurs. I’m imagining he's probably 100 to 120 years old by the time our story begins. And he has never felt a single bit of empathy for another living creature in his long life; it has been a brutal life that he's lived.
In the upcoming film Kong: Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts stated that "This is going to be the biggest Kong there's ever been, Not 10 foot or 30 foot, but a 100-foot ape". Vogt-Roberts also stated in regards to Kong's immense stature, The thing that most interested me was, how big do you need to make [Kong], so that when someone lands on this island and doesn’t believe in the idea of myth, the idea of wonder – when we live in a world of social and civil unrest, and everything is crumbling around us, and technology and facts are taking over – how big does this creature need to be, so that when you stand on the ground and you look up at it, the only thing that can go through your mind is: "That's a god!"
While one of the most famous movie icons in history, King Kong's intellectual property status has been questioned since his creation, featuring in numerous allegations and court battles. The rights to the character have always been split up with no single exclusive rights holder. Different parties have also contested that various aspects are public domain material and therefore ineligible for copyright status.
When Merian C. Cooper created King Kong, he assumed that he owned the character, which he had conceived in 1929, outright. Cooper maintained that he had only licensed the character to RKO for the initial film and sequel but had otherwise owned his own creation. In 1935, Cooper began to feel something was amiss when he was trying to get a Tarzan vs. King Kong project off the ground for Pioneer Pictures (where he had assumed management of the company). After David O. Selznick suggested the project to Cooper, the flurry of legal activity over using the Kong character that followed—Pioneer had become a completely independent company by this time and access to properties that RKO felt were theirs was no longer automatic—gave Cooper pause as he came to realize that he might not have full control over this product of his own imagination.
Years later in 1962, Cooper found out that RKO was licensing the character through John Beck to Toho studios in Japan for a film project called King Kong vs. Godzilla. Cooper had assumed his rights were unassailable and was bitterly opposed to the project. In 1963 he filed a lawsuit to enjoin distribution of the movie against John Beck as well as Toho and Universal (the film's U.S. copyright holder). Cooper discovered that RKO had also profited from licensed products featuring the King Kong character such as model kits produced by Aurora Plastics Corporation. Cooper's executive assistant, Charles B FitzSimons, stated that these companies should be negotiating through him and Cooper for such licensed products and not RKO. In a letter to Robert Bendick Cooper stated,
My hassle is about King Kong. I created the character long before I came to RKO and have always believed I retained subsequent picture rights and other rights. I sold to RKO the right to make the one original picture King Kong and also, later, Son of Kong, but that was all.
Cooper and his legal team offered up various documents to bolster the case that Cooper owned King Kong and had only licensed the character to RKO for two films, rather than selling him outright. Many people vouched for Cooper's claims including David O. Selznick (who had written a letter to Mr. A. Loewenthal of the Famous Artists Syndicate in Chicago in 1932 stating (in regard to Kong), "The rights of this are owned by Mr. Merian C. Cooper." But Cooper had lost key documents through the years (he discovered these papers were missing after he returned from his World War II military service) such as a key informal yet binding letter from Mr. Ayelsworth (then president of the RKO Studio Corp) and a formal binding letter from Mr. B. B. Kahane (the current president of RKO Studio Corp) confirming that Cooper had only licensed the rights to the character for the two RKO pictures and nothing more.
Unfortunately without these letters it seemed Cooper's rights were relegated to the Lovelace novelization that he had copyrighted (he was able to make a deal for a Bantam Books paperback reprint and a Gold Key comic adaptation of the novel, but that was all he could do). Cooper's lawyer had received a letter from John Beck's lawyer, Gordon E Youngman, that stated:
For the sake of the record, I wish to state that I am not in negotiation with you or Mr. Cooper or anyone else to define Mr. Cooper's rights in respect of King Kong. His rights are well defined, and they are non-existent, except for certain limited publication rights.
In a letter addressed to Douglas Burden, Cooper lamented:
It seems my hassle over King Kong is destined to be a protracted one. They'd make me sorry I ever invented the beast, if I weren't so fond of him! Makes me feel like Macbeth: "Bloody instructions which being taught return to plague the inventor."
The rights over the character did not flare up again until 1975, when Universal Studios and Dino De Laurentiis were fighting over who would be able to do a King Kong remake for release the following year. De Laurentiis came up with $200,000 to buy the remake rights from RKO. When Universal got wind of this, they filed a lawsuit against RKO claiming that they had a verbal agreement from them regarding the remake. During the legal battles that followed, which eventually included RKO countersuing Universal, as well as De Laurentiis filing a lawsuit claiming interference, Colonel Richard Cooper (Merian's son and now head of the Cooper estate) jumped into the fray.
During the battles, Universal discovered that the copyright of the Lovelace novelization had expired without renewal, thus making the King Kong story a public domain one. Universal argued that they should be able to make a movie based on the novel without infringing on anyone's copyright because the characters in the story were in the public domain within the context of the public domain story. Richard Cooper then filed a cross-claim against RKO claiming while the publishing rights to the novel had not been renewed, his estate still had control over the plot/story of King Kong.
In a four-day bench trial in Los Angeles, Judge Manuel Real made the final decision and gave his verdict on November 24, 1976, affirming that the King Kong novelization and serialization were indeed in the public domain, and Universal could make its movie as long as it did not infringe on original elements in the 1933 RKO film, which had not passed into public domain. (Universal postponed their plans to film a King Kong movie, called The Legend of King Kong, for at least 18 months, after cutting a deal with Dino De Laurentiis that included a percentage of box office profits from his remake.)
However, on December 6, 1976, Judge Real made a subsequent ruling, which held that all the rights in the name, character, and story of King Kong (outside of the original film and its sequel) belonged to Merian C. Cooper's estate. This ruling, which became known as the "Cooper Judgment," expressly stated that it would not change the previous ruling that publishing rights of the novel and serialization were in the public domain. It was a huge victory that affirmed the position Merian C. Cooper had maintained for years. Shortly thereafter, Richard Cooper sold all his rights (excluding worldwide book and periodical publishing rights) to Universal in December 1976. In 1980 Judge Real dismissed the claims that were brought forth by RKO and Universal four years earlier and reinstated the Cooper judgement.
In 1982 Universal filed a lawsuit against Nintendo, which had created an impish ape character called Donkey Kong in 1981 and was reaping huge profits over the video game machines. Universal claimed that Nintendo was infringing on its copyright because Donkey Kong was a blatant rip-off of King Kong. During the court battle and subsequent appeal, the courts ruled that Universal did not have exclusive trademark rights to the King Kong character. The courts ruled that trademark was not among the rights Cooper had sold to Universal, indicating that "Cooper plainly did not obtain any trademark rights in his judgment against RKO, since the California district court specifically found that King Kong had no secondary meaning." While they had a majority of the rights, they did not outright own the King Kong name and character. The courts ruling noted that the name, title, and character of Kong no longer signified a single source of origin. The courts also pointed out that Kong rights were held by three parties:
- RKO owned the rights to the original film and its sequel.
- The Dino De Laurentiis company (DDL) owned the rights to the 1976 remake.
- Richard Cooper owned worldwide book and periodical publishing rights.
The judge then ruled that "Universal thus owns only those rights in the King Kong name and character that RKO, Cooper, or DDL do not own."
The court of appeals would also note:
First, Universal knew that it did not have trademark rights to King Kong, yet it proceeded to broadly assert such rights anyway. This amounted to a wanton and reckless disregard of Nintendo's rights.
Second, Universal did not stop after it asserted its rights to Nintendo. It embarked on a deliberate, systematic campaign to coerce all of Nintendo's third party licensees to either stop marketing Donkey Kong products or pay Universal royalties.
Finally, Universal's conduct amounted to an abuse of judicial process, and in that sense caused a longer harm to the public as a whole. Depending on the commercial results, Universal alternatively argued to the courts, first, that King Kong was a part of the public domain, and then second, that King Kong was not part of the public domain, and that Universal possessed exclusive trademark rights in it. Universal's assertions in court were based not on any good faith belief in their truth, but on the mistaken belief that it could use the courts to turn a profit.
Because Universal misrepresented their degree of ownership of King Kong (claiming they had exclusive trademark rights when they knew they didn't) and tried to have it both ways in court regarding the "public domain" claims, the courts ruled that Universal acted in bad faith (see Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd.). They were ordered to pay fines and all of Nintendo's legal costs from the lawsuit. That, along with the fact that the courts ruled that there was simply no likelihood of people confusing Donkey Kong with King Kong, caused Universal to lose the case and the subsequent appeal.
Since the court case, Universal still retains the majority of the character rights. In 1986 they opened a King Kong ride called King Kong Encounter at their Universal Studios Tour theme park in Hollywood (which was destroyed in 2008 by a backlot fire), and followed it up with the Kongfrontation ride at their Orlando park in 1990 (which was closed down in 2002 due to maintenance issues). They also finally made a King Kong film of their own, King Kong (2005). In the summer of 2010, Universal opened a new 3D King Kong ride called King Kong: 360 3-D at their Hollywood park replacing the destroyed King Kong Encounter. On May 6, 2015, Universal announced that a new King Kong attraction titled "Skull Island: Reign of Kong" will open at Islands of Adventure in Orlando in the summer of 2016.
The Cooper estate retains publishing rights for the content they claim. In 1990 they licensed a six-issue comic book adaptation of the story to Monster Comics, and commissioned an illustrated novel in 1994 called Anthony Browne's King Kong. In 2004 and 2005, they commissioned a new novelization to be written by Joe Devito called Merian C. Cooper's King Kong to replace the original Lovelace novelization (the original novelization's publishing rights are still in the public domain) and Kong: King of Skull Island, a prequel/sequel novel that ties into the original story. In 2013, Richard M. Cooper (who's thanked in the books credits) endorsed Doc Savage: Skull Island, a crossover book featuring King Kong and Doc Savage that was written by Will Murray and based on concepts by Joe DeVito. In 2016, the Cooper estate endorsed the sequel called King Kong vs. Tarzan in which King Kong encounters Edgar Rice Burroughs Ape Man. They are also involved in a musical stage play based on the story, called King Kong The Eighth Wonder of the World which premiered in June 2013. The production also involved Global Creatures, the company behind the Walking with Dinosaurs arena show. As well, the estate authorized a six issue comic book series in 2016 called Kong of Skull Island by Boom! Studios.
RKO (whose rights consisted of only the original film and its sequel) had its film library acquired by Ted Turner in 1986 via his company Turner Entertainment. Turner merged his company into Time Warner in 1996, which is how they own the rights to those two films today.
DDL (whose rights were limited to only their 1976 remake) did a sequel in 1986 called King Kong Lives (but they still needed Universal's permission to do so). Today most of DDL's film library is owned by Studio Canal, which includes the rights to those two films. The domestic (North American) rights to the 1976 King Kong film still remain with the film's original distributor Paramount Pictures, with Trifecta Entertainment & Media handling television rights to the film via their licence with Paramount.
King Kong (Toho)
|Godzilla film series character|
|Relations||Mechani-Kong (robot replica)|
|First appearance||King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)|
|Last appearance||King Kong Escapes (1967)|
|Created by||Merian C. Cooper|
|Portrayed by||Shoichi Hirose (1962)
Haruo Nakajima (1967)
In the 1960s, Japanese studio Toho licensed the character from RKO and produced two films that featured the character, King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and King Kong Escapes (1967). Toho's interpretation differed greatly from the original in size and abilities.
Among kaiju, King Kong was suggested to be among the most powerful in terms of raw physical force, possessing strength and durability that rivaled that of Godzilla. As one of the few mammal-based kaiju, Kong's most distinctive feature was his intelligence. He demonstrated the ability to learn and adapt to an opponent's fighting style, identify and exploit weaknesses in an enemy, and utilize his environment to stage ambushes and traps.
In King Kong vs. Godzilla, Kong was scaled to be 45 m (148 ft) tall. This version of Kong was given the ability to harvest electricity as a weapon. In King Kong Escapes, Kong was scaled to be 20 m (66 ft) tall. This version was more similar to the original, where he relied on strength and intelligence to fight and survive. Rather than residing on Skull Island, Toho's version resided on Faro Island in King Kong vs. Godzilla and on Mondo Island in King Kong Escapes.
In 1966, Toho planned to produce "Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah" as a co-production with Rankin/Bass Productions however, Ishirō Honda was unavailable at the time to direct the film and Rankin/Bass backed out of the project, along with the King Kong license. Toho still proceeded with the production, replacing King Kong with Godzilla at the last minute and shot the film as Godzilla vs The Sea Monster. Elements of King Kong's character remained in the film, reflected in Godzilla's uncharacteristic behavior and attraction to the female character Dayo. Toho and Rankin/Bass later negotiated their differences and co-produced King Kong Escapes in 1967, loosely based on Rankin/Bass' animated show.
Toho Studios wanted to remake King Kong vs. Godzilla, which was the most successful of the entire Godzilla series of films, in 1991 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the film as well as to celebrate Godzilla's upcoming fortieth anniversary. However they were unable to obtain the rights to use Kong, and inititially intended to use Mechani-Kong as Godzilla's next adversary. However it was soon learned that even using a mechanical creature who resembled Kong would be just as problematic legally and financially for them. As a result, the film became Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, with no further attempts to use Kong in any way.
- The King Kong Show (1966). In this cartoon series, the giant gorilla befriends the Bond family, with whom he goes on various adventures, fighting monsters, robots, mad scientists and other threats. Produced by Rankin/Bass, the animation was provided in Japan by Toei Animation, making this the very first anime series to be commissioned right out of Japan by an American company. The show debuted with an hour-long episode and then was followed by 24 half-hour episodes that aired on ABC. This was also the cartoon that resulted in the production of Toho's Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (originally planned as a Kong film) and King Kong Escapes.
- Kong: The Animated Series (2000). An animated production from BKN International set many decades after the events of the original film. "Kong" is cloned by a female scientist named Dr. Lorna Jenkins who also used the DNA of her grandson Jason to bring it to life. Jason uses the Cyber-Link to combine with Kong in order to fight evil. This show, coming a few years after the release of Centropolis' Godzilla: The Series repeated at least two of the monsters (although with vastly different backgrounds) seen in the Godzilla series. The show ran 40 episodes and aired on Fox Kids. After the series ended, two direct-to-DVD movies were produced. Kong: King of Atlantis, released in 2005 and Kong: Return to the Jungle, released in 2007. The first movie was produced to try and cash in on the 2005 King Kong remake and that same year, Toon Disney's "Jetix" would air not only this movie but the original series as well to also take advantage of the 2005 movie's release.
- Kong: King of the Apes (2016). An animated series by 41 Entertainment aired Netflix. The first episode aired as a two-hour movie followed by 12 half-hour episodes. Avi Arad is executive producer of the series. The series Synopsis reads "Set in 2050, Kong becomes a wanted fugitive after wrecking havoc at Alcatraz Island's Natural History and Marine Preserve. What most humans on the hunt for the formidable animal don’t realize, though, is that Kong was framed by an evil genius who plans to terrorize the world with an army of enormous robotic dinosaurs. As the only beast strong enough to save humanity from the mechanical dinos, Kong must rely on the help of three kids who know the truth about him."
- The King Kong suit from King Kong Escapes appeared on Ike! Greenman episode 38 called Greenman vs Gorilla. Due to copyright reasons, King Kong's name was changed to Gorilla.
- The premise of a giant gorilla brought to the United States for entertainment purposes, and subsequently wreaking havoc, was recycled in Mighty Joe Young (1949), through the same studio and with much of the same principal talent as the 1933 original. It was remade in 1998.
- King Kong bears some similarities with an earlier effort by special effects head Willis O'Brien, The Lost World (1925), in which dinosaurs are found living on an isolated plateau. Scenes from a failed O'Brien project, Creation, were re-used for the 1933 Kong. Creation was also about a group of people stumbling into an environment where prehistoric creatures have survived extinction.
- The Mighty Kong, an unofficial (this is why it was called Mighty Kong rather than King Kong) straight to video 1998 animated musical/remake of the 1933 film. It featured the voices of Jodi Benson as Ann Darrow and Dudley Moore as Carl Denham. This film also featured a song score by the Sherman Brothers. At the end of the film, King Kong falls from the Empire State Building after getting out of the net that the blimps were using on him. Due to this being a family film, King Kong survives the fall.
- Banglar King Kong – An unofficial Bangladeshi musical based on the King Kong story and directed by Iftekar Jahan. The film uses large amounts of stock footage from King Kong and premiered in June 2010 in the Purnima Cinema Hall in Dhaka.
- Other similar giant ape films include:
- The 1961 British film Konga where a chimpanzee is turned into a giant ape after being fed growth serum by a deranged scientist, and attacks London.
- The 1969 American film The Mighty Gorga which features a circus owners's quest to capture a giant ape in an African jungle.
- The 1976 Korean 3D film A*P*E. where a giant ape runs amok in Seoul South Korea.
- The 1976 Queen Kong, another British film that parodies King Kong with a gender reversal between the giant ape and the object of the ape's affection
- The 1977 Hong Kong made film The Mighty Peking Man that featured a huge ape-like bigfoot that attacked Hong Kong after it was brought to Hong Kong from its territory somewhere in India near the Himalayas.
King Kong in the name
There were other movies to have borne the "King Kong" name that have nothing to do with the character.
- A lost silent Japanese short, Japanese King Kong (和製キングコング Wasei Kingu Kongu?), directed by Torajiro Saito, featuring an all-Japanese cast and produced by the Shochiku company, was released in 1933. The plot revolves around a down-on-his-luck man who plays the King Kong character in a vaudeville theater to earn money to woo a girl he likes. The film does not actually involve King Kong per se.
- King Kong Appears in Edo (江戸に現れたキングコング Edo ni Arawareta Kingu Kongu?). A lost two part silent Japanese period piece that was produced by a company called Zensho Kinema in 1938. The film revolves around kidnapping and revenge amongst the characters. The "King Kong" in this film is a trained ape (that looks more like a yeti) who is used to kidnap one of the characters. Judging by the plot synopsis presented by periodicals at the time, the "King Kong" is regular sized and is only depicted as gigantic on the advertisements for promotional purposes.
- The 1959 Hong Kong film King Kong's Adventures in the Heavenly Palace which featured a normal sized gorilla.
- The Hindi films King Kong (1962) and Tarzan and King Kong (1965) which featured the professional wrestler King Kong and has nothing to do with the famous movie monster although the latter film featured a normal sized gorilla.
- The 1968 Italian film Kong Island (Eva, la Venere selvaggia, literally Eve, the Wild Woman) which was advertised in the U.S as King of Kong Island. Despite the American title, the film featured normal sized gorillas and takes place in Africa.
- The 1981 Mexican film Las Muñecas Del King Kong (The Dolls of King Kong) which featured exotic jungle girls. The "King Kong" in the film was simply a giant ape statue on top of a building.
- In Mad Monster Party?, the giant gorilla "It" (with the vocal effects provided by Allen Swift) is a larger knock-off of King Kong and is most likely named "It" due to copyright reasons. Baron Boris von Frankenstein didn't send an invite to "It" since "It" can be a bore and had crushed the Isle of Evil's wild boars the last time "It" was invited as he explained this to his assistant Francesca. Boris has his zombies patrol the island just in case "It" shows up uninvited. When "It" does show up, it goes on a rampage and snatches up the monsters and Francesca (where "It" develops a crush on her) and climbs the Isle of Evil's tallest mountain. Boris convinces "It" to take him instead of Francesca which "It" complies to. After Francesca is off the island with Boris' nephew Felix Flanken, Boris sacrifices his life where he drops the vial containing the secret of destruction which destroys himself, "It," the Isle of Evil, and everyone else that was on it at the time.
- In Mad Mad Mad Monsters (a "prequel of sorts" to Mad Monster Party?), there was a knock-off of King Kong called Modzoola.
- The corpse of the 1976 King Kong makes an unauthorized appearance in the film Bye Bye Monkey.
- King Kong appears in the 1996 Imax film Special Effects: Anything Can Happen. In this film, the classic climax of the 1933 film is recreated with modern (at the time) digital special effects.
- King of the Lost World (a direct-to-video movie produced by The Asylum) taking elements from both King Kong and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The film was released on December 13, 2005, just one day before the theatrical release of Peter Jackson's version of King Kong. The Gigantopithecus is a giant ape that appeared in the 2005 movie King of the Lost World (a loose adaptation of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). It is estimated to be 9.8 feet (3 m) high and has an interest in attacking intruders as it threw a flight attendant in the beginning of the movie. It eventually got intimidated when a plane chases it with a torch.
- King Kong appears in the Where My Dogs At? episode "Buddy and Woof Do the MTV Movie Awards." He appears on the stage background at the MTV Movie Awards hosted by Jimmy Fallon (who was the back-up host after Dave Chappelle slipped on a banana peel during his intro and had to be taken to the hospital). After Jimmy Fallon makes a comparison of King Kong and Jack Black after Jessica Simpson gave birth to Jack Black's child, King Kong ended up crushing Jimmy Fallon with his fists much to everyone's delight. When the MTV Movie Awards are over, King Kong gets out of his shackles and heads home.
Tiger Electronics released various King Kong games in the early 1980s. These include
- A Tabletop LCD game in 1981
- A game for the Atari 2600 home video game system in 1982
- A handheld game in 1982 in both a regular edition and a large screen edition. The regular edition was later reissued by Tandy in 1984.
- An "Orlitronic" game (for the international markets) in 1983
- A color "Flip-Up" game in 1984.
Konami released 2 games based on the film King Kong Lives in 1986. The first game was King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch for the Famicom, and the second was King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu, for the MSX computer. In 1988, Konami featured the character in the crossover game Konami Wai Wai World. All these games were only released in Japan.
In 1992, Nintendo produced an educational game called Mario is Missing that features a treasure hunt level involving King Kong in New York City. The character is represented by images of his arm grabbing the Empire State Building in the NES version and a full body statue in the SNES version.
In 2005, various games were released to tie into the film King Kong. Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie was released on all video game platforms. It was the first game released by Ubisoft on the Xbox 360. Another game called Kong: The 8th Wonder of the World was released for the Game Boy Advance while a miniature pinball game was also released.
Besides starring in his own games, King Kong was the obvious influence behind other gigantic city destroying apes, such as George from the Rampage series, Woo, from King of the Monsters (who was modeled after the Toho version of the character) and Congar, from War of the Monsters. As well as giant apes worshiped as deities like Chaos and Blizzard from Primal Rage.
In popular culture
King Kong, as well as the series of films featuring him, have been featured many times in popular culture outside of the films themselves, in forms ranging from straight copies to parodies and joke references, and in media from comics to video games.
The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror III" features a segment called "King Homer" which parodies the plot of the original film, with Homer as Kong and Marge in the Fay Wray role. It ends with King Homer marrying Marge and eating her father.
The controversial World War II Dutch resistance fighter Christiaan Lindemans — eventually arrested on suspicion of having betrayed secrets to the Nazis — was nicknamed "King Kong" due to his being exceptionally tall.
Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention recorded an instrumental about "King Kong" in 1967 and featured it on the album Uncle Meat. Zappa went on to make many other versions of the song on albums such as Make a Jazz Noise Here, You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 3, Ahead of Their Time, and Beat the Boots.
In 1972, a 550 cm (18 ft) fiberglass statue of King Kong was erected in Birmingham, England.
Daniel Johnston wrote and recorded a song called "King Kong" on his fifth self-released music cassette, Yip/Jump Music in 1983, rereleased on CD and double LP by Homestead Records in 1988. The song is an a cappella narrative of the original movie's story line. Tom Waits recorded a cover version of the song with various sound effects on the 2004 release, The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered.
Theme park rides
Universal Studios has had popular King Kong rides at their theme parks in Hollywood and Orlando.
The first King Kong ride was called King Kong Encounter and was a part of the Studio Tour in Hollywood. The ride opened in 1986 and was destroyed in 2008 in a major fire. Universal opened a replacement 3D King Kong ride called King Kong: 360 3-D that opened July 1, 2010.
On May 6, 2015, Universal announced that a new King Kong attraction titled Skull Island: Reign of Kong will open at Islands of Adventure in Orlando in the summer of 2016, making it the first King Kong themed ride since Kongfrontation closed down 14 years earlier at Universal Studios.
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