Today's Glamour Starter --- Fay Wray
I'd resolved to stay off the King Kong bandwagon, at least until all this excitement over the remake died down, but hanged if these dynamite art stills of Fay Wray didn't come along, and… well … here they are. Just to avoid treading on too-familiar ground, I did a quick Google image search, and found surprisingly few underclad poses of our girl. Actually, this is only a few of them, as I don’t want to bore you readers, but if there’s sufficient interest, a stimulating Part 2 may well arrive at a later date!
Long before there was a King Kong DVD, there was the King Kong Treasure. Or should we call it the King Kong Falcon? Whatever term best describes the unattainable among collectors in those heady days when owning 16mm prints of favorite films was truly a mark of distinction. I’d been bitten by the collecting bug (no, let’s call it a scorpion) way back in 1964, the year I first saw King Kong on Channel 3’s Picture For A Sunday Afternoon. I’d just combined my meager purse with two other boys in the neighborhood so that our eleven dollars might obtain a pair of 8mm "home movies" from the back pages of Famous Monsters (folks, there are entire discussion groups on line devoted to this magazine alone!). Castle Film’s eight minute version of Dracula (or more if you were willing to run your projector real slow) was plenty okay with us, and all that great dinosaur footage in Official Film’s condensation of the 1925 Lost World would be seared into our memories for life. King Kong, however, was not even available in 8mm, not no way, not no how. If you wanted to see that, you’d have to wait for it on television, and by the mid- sixties, with color TV gaining its foothold, those old B/W movies were suddenly becoming passe; even the really great ones like King Kong were being pushed aside in favor of things like Taza, Son Of Cochise, and Ten Thousand Bedrooms. Our search for Kong became as frustrating as Jack Driscoll’s. The first breakthrough came surprisingly in a theatrical revival, just after I’d turned sixteen in 1970. Janus Films of New York, they of the foreign imports and art-house successes, picked up "The Mighty Monarch Of Melodramas" and added a little spice to the program that would rock Kong fandom to its very foundations. Rediscovered footage, long buried in a collector’s attic (why is it always the attic?), promised long suppressed, graphic footage that would make the old mealy-mouthed King Kong look like one of the Marquis chimps. Imagine my anticipation when I literally ran out of the school building, drove ninety MPH through a rainstorm (the Lord really does protect fools and children) in order to catch the 4:00 show at the Carolina Theatre in Winston-Salem, NC (it was an hour from home). I watched the thing three times that weekend, and yes, I know I should have been slapped into military school instead and taught real discipline, or at the very least, compelled to play junior varsity football, but thank heaven my parents weren’t like that, and besides, when a child has reached this level of disorder, what can one do? At least I’d seen King Kong again, and within two years, when I began collecting 16mm film, I knew I had to own King Kong as well.
Now, if you wanted to possess King Kong during those peak days of film collecting (that is, before DVD essentially wiped it all out), you had several ways to go. First was the "dupe" route. That’s just a print off a print … a muddy, bootlegged, unworthy thing. And you’d be clipped by $160 even for that. Alright, fair enough, but does it have the outtakes? After the Janus re-issue, no one wanted to see Kong again without the outtakes. Try explaining an incomplete print to a surly audience in your parent’s basement! They want to see Kong using natives for toothpicks, and dropping Gary Cooper’s future wife from that apartment building! What makes your film collection so special if you can’t give them that? The answer, of course, was to get a Janus print, or at least a dupe off a Janus print. Those tended toward $175+, assuming you could find one. But wait! How about that "monkey" print (so called because of the cryptic title etched on to the leader negative), so recently discovered in England, and spirited out aboard a clipper ship bound for the Americas? Could one of those be had? Well, yes, if you knew a collector who knew the collector who’d made that dangerous voyage. The monkey prints were supposed to be the best. Their only superior would be an original Janus print, and you’d have to commit a felony to get one of those (that’s okay, just tell us when and where!). A monkey print would even trump an original C&C (a note here for the uninitiated … C&C prints were those generated for TV distribution after RKO sold its library in 1955). I can’t recall the number of King Kong prints we used to "check out" at collector conventions over the years. I do have a vague memory of the night I ran my (first) print of Kong in the smoke-filled den of a crowded fraternity house back around 1974. We’d mixed a lethal potion called PJ, a fruity, alcohol-laced concoction that put everyone in a proper festive mood for the big ape thriller, and believe me, after working your way to the bottom of one of those PJ barrels, reel changes do not come easy, especially when your fingers feel thick as bananas, and they're asking you to repeat the picture over and over again!
Well, all of that’s smoked meat now. The day King Kong was released on DVD, I dropped by the Wal-Mart right after Frugal Breakfast, and paid $20 plus change for the absolute best presentation of that movie I’d seen in all my years of Kong pursuit. Rest assured that irony wasn’t lost on me. Decades of travel, expense, and heartache in search of the perfect print of King Kong … and it all ends at a Wal-Mart store not half-a-mile from my front door. I guess that’s real progress.