March 25, 2017


(ABC, September 6, 1966-March 4, 1967)

Videocraft International, Toei Animation

Susan Conway – Susan Bond
Billie Richards – Billy Bond
Bernard Cowan – Professor Bond
Carl Banas – Captain Englehorn
John Drainie – Unknown
Alfie Scopp – Unknown
Paul Soles – Dr. Who

            Filmmaker Merian C. Cooper became interested in primates when he was a young boy. By the time his career took him to RKO Pictures, he wanted to make a “terror gorilla picture.” He would become inspired to make the gorilla giant-sized after seeing a plane flying over a tall building in New York City and imagining the gorilla fighting warplanes while on top of it. He was also further inspired by William Douglas Burden’s adventures chronicled in his book Dragon Lizards of Komodo and wanted his gorilla to fight a giant Komodo dragon.

King Kong concept art.

            Willis O’Brien and Marcel Delgado handled the initial design of the gorilla. Cooper wanted the gorilla to be gorilla-like, but O’Brien wanted to add human-like features to make him more sympathetic to the audience. After several versions were designed, the gorilla eventually took a streamlined version of its natural shape while also retaining some human characteristics, such as walking upright most of the time. Cooper decided to name his creation “Kong,” liking the strong sound the “k” gave it and the mysteriousness it encompassed. While deciding on the title for the film, he wanted it to be simply Kong to focus on the central character. Producer David O. Selznick feared that audiences would mistake the one word-titled film for a docudrama like Cooper had earlier made and added “King” to the title to differentiate it.

            King Kong was written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, and was directed by Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film centered on filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) chartering Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) to take him to Skull Island where he would film his latest picture. There, they encountered the giant Kong and other dinosaurs. Denham captured Kong and brought him back to New York City to put on display. Kong soon escaped, kidnapped Denham’s star, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and took her to the top of the Empire State Building. Kong and the other creatures were created with a combination of stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection and miniatures, as well as large-scale props. 

            The film opened on March 23, 1933 and became a box office success. RKO quickly put a sequel into production. Son of Kong was released that December, again directed by Schoedsack and written by Rose with Armstrong and Reicher reprising their roles. The film was done as more of a comedy, returning Denham and Englehorn to Skull Island where they encounter a smaller, friendlier albino version of Kong. The film was a modest success, making only three times its budget and earning mixed reviews.

Concept art featuring Dr. Frankenstein's giant monster (left).

            In the 1960s, O’Brien had come up with an idea for pitting Kong against a giant version of the Frankenstein Monster. After securing permission from RKO to use Kong, producer John Beck began shopping the idea around for a studio to make it (RKO no longer was a production company by that time). The cost of stop-motion animation kept domestic studios away from the idea, and Beck turned overseas. Around that time, Toho Co., Ltd. was planning a return for their Godzilla character. Always wanting to do a Kong film, Toho purchased the script written by George Worthing Yates and had it rewritten by Shinichi Sekizawa; replacing the Monster with Godzilla. Director Ishiro Honda had toyed with the idea of using stop-motion to emulate the earlier Kong movies, but budgetary concerns had Kong join Godzilla in the realm of rubber suits worn by actors.

            King Kong vs. Godzilla debuted on August 11, 1962 and became the fourth-highest grossing movie in Japan, as well as the largest grossing film in Toho’s Godzilla franchise to date. Beck had retained the rights to produce a version of the film for non-Asian markets and had American actors intercut into the footage to explain the origins of Godzilla and narrate the action, as well as alterations to the original footage. His version of King Kong vs. Godzilla premiered on June 26, 1963 and earned $1.2 million against the $200,000 Universal Pictures paid to release the film. 

King Kong, dinosaur fighter.

            After Rankin/Bass Productions (known at the time as Videocraft International) had created the successful Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, ABC approached them to make a traditionally animated television series for children. Co-founder Arthur Rankin eventually saw that as an opportunity to work on a film property he grew up loving and secured the rights from RKO to make a King Kong cartoon, with the option to make a full-length feature film. With writers Lew Lewis, Bernard Cowan (who also provided voices) and Ron Levy, Videocraft centered the series around a friendlier version of Kong that befriended the family of scientist Professor Bond (Cowan) after they had come to explore Mondo Island (sometimes Skull Island). Like the original King Kong, the island was full of dinosaurs, but there were also additional human threats; in particular, the mad scientist Dr. Who (no relation to the British time-traveler, voiced by Paul Soles) bent on world domination and Kong’s destruction. Natural disasters, aliens and the military occasionally played a role to oppose Kong. Returning from the original film was Captain Englehorn (Carl Banas), who was made a friend of the Bond family.

            Each episode consisted of two 6-minute King Kong segments. In between, Videocraft included an original segment: Tom of T.H.U.M.B. Inspired by the story of Tom Thumb, the segment focused on a three-inch tall secret agent named Tom who worked for T.H.U.M.B. (The Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau). He and his equally-tiny Asian sidekick, Swinging Jack, were shrunk by an experimental ray and their division was created so that they could continue to serve their country. They were sent out on missions by their boss, Chief Homer J. Chief, to foil the fiendish plots of the evil organization, M.A.D. (Maladjusted Antisocial and Darn mean). The segment was a spoof on the spy genre.

Dr. Who captures the Bond family.

            The King Kong Show premiered with an hour-long pilot establishing the premise of the series; later broken up into two episodes for reruns. It aired in primetime on ABC on September 6, 1966 before the show made its Saturday debut on September 10. The series was the first to be created in Japan for broadcast in the United States, as all the animation duties were handled by Toei Animation (then Toei Doga). The animation, however, was cruder compared to other anime made at the time. Rod Willis, Paul Coker and Jack Davis handled all the initial character designs, and the music was composed by Maury Laws and Jules Bass. The show aired its last original episode on February 18, 1967 but ran an additional two weeks by splitting the pilot up into two episodes. While ABC didn’t order any additional episodes, it did put the show into syndication and kept it on its schedule well into 1969.

Mechani-Kong strikes!

Toei also put their own money into the show’s production in exchange for the Japanese distribution rights. The pilot aired on Nihon Educational Television Co., LTD (now TV Asahi) on December 31, 1966 as King of the World: The King Kong Show (Sekai-no Osha Kingu Kongu Taikai). The series proper debuted on April 5, 1967 as King Kong and 1/7th Tom Thumb (Kingu Kongu 0001/7 Oyayubi Tomu). 

In the meantime, Rankin had decided to exercise the film option by adapting a concept introduced into the show: Dr. Who’s mechanical copy of Kong, Mechani-Kong. The script was submitted to RKO at the same time that Toho pitched their own Kong film. RKO liked the Videocraft script better, and allowed Toho to make a film based off of it (Toho recycled their rejected script as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster). RKO liked The King Kong Show and asked that Rankin be included to supervise the production as their representative. While it retained Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong, the Bond family was dropped from the story in favor of new characters and retained no continuity with any of the previous films. King Kong Escapes (called Counterattack of King Kong in Japan) was released on July 22, 1967 in Japan and June 19, 1968 in the United States. Paul Frees, one of the Rankin/Bass regulars who worked on The King Kong Show, provided the English dubbing voice for most of the male characters. Although Toho wanted to make another Kong film, their rights to the character expired shortly after the film was released.

Kong on DVD.

In the intervening years, King Kong was remade twice: once by Dino De Laurentiis in 1976 (which updated the climax with the use of the Twin Towers), and the second time by Peter Jackson and Universal in 2005. Another reboot of the franchise came in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island, which exists in a shared universe with Legendary PicturesGodzilla. As part of the promotional campaign for the Jackson film, Sony Wonder released 8 episodes of The King Kong Show across two DVDs in their entirety. In most cases, the episodes also contained their respective commercial bumpers. The pilot episode was also included, broken up in its two-episode version across both sets. 

“King Kong” (9/6/66) – The Bond family discovers Kong on Mondo Island and brings him back to the US for study, which ends up putting him in trouble with the military.
Split into the episodes “A Friend in Need” and “The Key to the City” in syndication.
“Under the Volcano / For the Last Time, Feller...I'm not Bait! / The Treasure Trap” (9/10/66) – The Bond family is captured while investigating a dormant volcano. / Tom and Jack recover top secret plans from a sunken ship. / An earthquake traps Bobby underwater as he explores a sunken ship.
“The Horror of Mondo Island / Hey, that was a Close One World! / Dr. Who” (9/17/66) – Bobby dresses up Kong to scare off a mining corporation looking for a rare metal. / Tom and Jack have to disarm a MAD doomsday weapon. / An evil scientist kidnaps Kong.
“Rocket Island / I was a 9 12 oz. Weakling Till One Day... / The African Bees” (9/24/66) – Dr. Who disrupts a capsule launch in order to hold the US ransom. / MAD puts Tom and Jack in a miniature city. / Kong must protect Professor Bond and a millionaire from a swarm of bees.
“The Hunter / I Was a Starling for the USA! / The Space Men” (10/1/66) – A safari hunter uses Bobby as bait to trap Kong. / Tom and Jack infiltrate a flock of birds to learn which of them are MAD agents. / Aliens land on the island to collect specimens before they invade.
“The Jinx of the Sphinx / Cool Nerves and... Steady Hands / The Greeneyed Monster” (10/8/66) – The Bonds and Kong travel to Egypt to investigate Sphinx attacks. / Tom and Jack have to diffuse a public pool filled with nitroglycerine. / Kong gets jealous when Bobby takes care of Englehorn’s dog.
“The Top of the World / All Guys from Outer Space are Creeps / The Golden Temple” (10/15/66) – Dr. Who heads to Alaska in order to melt the ice and cause the tides to rise. / Tom and Jack must befriend an alien before he can join MAD. / Professor Bond is sucked into a whirlpool while investigating a sunken temple.
“The Electric Circle / Mechanical Granma / Mirror of Destruction” (10/22/66) – A scientist decides to make the island a nuclear missile base for his country. / Tom and Jack use a mechanical grandma to infiltrate MAD. / Dr. Who steals a heat device in order to kill Kong.
“Tiger Tiger / The Day We Almost Had It / The Vise of Dr. Who” (10/29/66) – Professor Bond accidentally revives two frozen sabretooth tigers. / Tom gets amnesia after disarming a bomb. / Dr. Who lures the Bonds and Englehorn into a trash compactor trap.
“King Kong's House / Tom Makes History / MechaniKong” (11/5/66) – A hunt for fossils traps Professor Bond and Bobby in a cave with a tyrannosaurus rex. / Tom and Jack time travel to save George Washington. / Dr. Who creates a robotic duplicate of Kong and unleashes it on New Guinea.
“The Giant Sloths / Tom Scores Again / The Legend of Loch Ness” (11/12/66) – Kong faces off against a pair of giant sloths. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / The Bond family takes Kong to Scotland to investigate the Lock Ness Monster.
“Dr. Bone / Blow, Jack, Blow! / No Man's Snowman” (11/19/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Desert Pirates / Tom and the TV Pirates / Command Performance” (11/26/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Sea Surrounds Us / The Girl from M.A.D. / Show Biz” (12/3/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Wizard of Overlord / Just One of those Nights / Perilous Porpoise” (12/10/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Trojan Horse / Runt of 1,000 Faces / The Man from K.O.N.G.” (12/17/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Caribbean Cruise / Hello, Dollies! / Diver's Dilemma” (12/24/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Great Sun Spots / Pardner / Kong is Missing” (12/31/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“In the Land of the Giant Trees / Beans is Beans / Captain Kong” (1/7/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Statue of Liberty Play / What Goes Up... / Pandora's Box” (1/14/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Thousand Year Knockout / Our Man, the Monster / Desert City” (1/21/67) – A trip to France puts Kong against a reanimated gargoyle. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.  / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Eagle Squadron / Never Trust a Clam / The Kong of Stone” (1/28/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Murderer's Maze / Drop that Ocean, Feller / The Great Gold Strike” (2/4/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“It Wasn't There Again Today / Plug that Leak / The Mad Whale” (2/11/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The King Kong Diamond / The Scooby / Anchors Away” (2/18/67) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

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