• On 18 Mar | '2022

Greeting Loyal Airmen, as you read today’s Flight Log, the Air Chief and Valerie are enjoying the warm climes of Florida visiting family and hopefully getting to catch a Red Sox spring training game at Jet Blue Park in Fort Meyers. All fingers crossed. Whereas we really won’t have access to our personal computer and will be keeping tabs with folks via Val’s laptop, the Air Chief decided to do up two entries ahead of time and schedule them to post on the two Fridays we are gone. And in that case, the topic couldn’t be what’s new, as we’ve know way of either knowing that ahead of time or being able to share it with all you Loyal Airmen. Trust me, our first new Flight on coming home will be a HUGE.  Okay, so what are we going to look at in this first away entry.


KING KONG (1933)


One of the greatest fantasy adventures of all time made by two World War One veterans, aviator Merian C. Cooper and filmtographer Ernest B. Shoedshe ack. Both men in Vienna shortly after war ended and then later reconnected in Britain where Cooper convinced Shoedsack, who who nicked named Shorty that adventure documentaries were the future of entertainment.


They formed their own film company and for several years traveled the world having real life adventures like a pair of authentic Indiana Jones.  Above Shoedsack and Cooper, a poster from one of their silent adventure films and Cooper in some exotic jungle with a lemur monkey on his back.


“Grass” was one of their more popular features of the migratory habits of nomadic tribes in Mongolia. Be it high deserts or uncharted South Sea Islands, the two embraced the challenges of finding the most exotic places and people in the world.


Eventually, Cooper tired of the globe-trotting and turned to his second love, aviation. He’d been a daring fighter pilot in the war and even help create a Polish air force to fight the Russians after that conflicted ended. At one time there was a statue of him in center of Warsaw. When invited by others to become an executive in the fast booming business of commercial aviation, Cooper turned in his passport to become a big shot desk jockey in New York.


Whereas Shoedsack had no intention of giving up making films. Still going it alone, he realized he would need someone to help plan his future expeditions and placed an ad in the New York papers looking for a young woman with secretarial skills willing to pack everything up and travel around the world with his outfit. To his delight, and most likely surprise, a beautiful brunette named Ruth Rose answered the ad and won him over. She was soon his invaluable right arm. She even saved his life once when while on a shoot, he was chased up a huge tiger. Ruth rush to their tents, grabbed a shotgun and shot the animal. Of course, it wasn’t any surprise to the others on the team that they were made for each other and soon married.

RKODavid Selznick

But the two friends wouldn’t be separate for too long. Over in Hollywood along about this time, RKO was sinking fast. Its recent crop of films had all flopped at the box office and studio David Selznick was in real trouble. Having known Cooper to be a savvy business man capable of making hard decisions, Selznick called Cooper and asked him to come out to Hollywood and help him save the company by becoming the Head of Studio Production. Upon arriving there, Selznick took Cooper into his new office on which a huge stack of scripts were covering his desk. Cooper’s orders, wade through them and trash those he believed couldn’t succeed and pick only winners. Cooper took to the job and began cutting not only scripts, but those productions that had already been green lit. Soon half of the RKO creators hated his guts. Which included their head of Special Effects, the amazing Willis O’Brien. Willis and his team and been eager to make a new dinosaur film after their early success with the silent classic “Lost World.” Though Cooper scrapped their idea, he wanted to give them another equally fantastic project.


During his years working in New York City, Cooper one day had looked out his window at the new engineering marvel that was the Empire State Building. He began daydreaming about a giant gorilla escaped from the wilds climbing atop that edifice as if to challenge the superiority of mankind and technology. It was an idea he brought with him to RKO.


But Cooper knew he couldn’t do it by himself and reached out to his pal Shorty, asking him to drop what he was doing and come to RKO and there become a director of high adventure films. Of course Shoedsack agreed but this time he brought along Mrs. Shoedsack. Ruth was exciting about his new role and supportive, though her initial reaction to Cooper were a bit cooler. And she quickly ordered the little guy to stop calling her husband Shorty.

One of the first features Cooper put Shoedsack on was a movie version of British writer A.E.W. Mason’s adventure classic, “Four Feathers.” It would be one of the last big silent movies produced. It starred William Powell, Richard Arlen, Clive Brooks and Fay Wray. A few years later RKO acquired the rights to Richard Connell’s short story, “Most Dangerous Game,” and Cooper optioned it as another project for Shoedsack to direct. Among its cast was yet again Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. It was about this time that Cooper was hoping to sell the RKO Board of Directors on making King Kong and he’d gone to Willis O’Brien and his team to get them to make up a model of the big gorilla.


Obie, as he was nicknamed, was a film innovator and with his team of Mario Larrinzaga and Byron Crabbe developed stop-motion-animation, and back screen projection. Two crucial elements that would make KONG possible. Still, Cooper was afraid the board wouldn’t go for it unless he had test footage to show them. So, he and Shoedsack came up with a plan to produce those test shots. During the day the sound stage would be busy filming “Most Dangerous Game.” Then after hours, Wray and Armstrong stayed behind with the film team and shot scenes for KONG.  Which was the working title of the project them.  Actor Bruce Cabot was brought in to play Driscoll, the heroic first mate aboard the ship.


When the Board of Directors saw the test sequence of Kong fighting the T-Rex, they were astounded and in the end gave Cooper the green light to produce his giant gorilla project.

2764d4e068f2d0d94efea8db0ba84202Cabot-Fay Wray-Armstrong

The studio suggested Cooper bring in best selling British writer Edgar Wallace to help with the script. Cooper and Wallace met one and loosely discussed the concept as a modern day Beauty & the Beast story. Before they could draft a script, Wallace took sick and with a few days passed away in a Los Angeles hospital. So here was Cooper pushing Obie and his team to start creating scenes and he still didn’t have a working script. Whereas young Jack Creelman had helped adapt “Most Dangerous Game” and was known for his flair with action movies, he got the job and produced the first completed script. It looked like things were coming together. But something was missing and Cooper just couldn’t put his finger on it. So he turned to Ruth Rose (Mrs. Shoedsack) and told her to try a re-write. Which is where she realized what was missing among all the fantasy and adventure was romance. Recalling her days with Ernest and their love affair, she smartly inserted the love story between Ann Darrow and Driscoll. She was canny enough to realize she and her co-creators were the actual archetypes of the story. Cooper was the model for Carl Denham hands down, Ernie was the rough and tumble in real Jack Driscoll and she for intents and purposes was Ann Darrow. Cooper loved the script and took it to Selznick. Upon reading KONG, the film mogol smiled, grabbed a pen and wrote one more word on the script’s cover page. KING…and thus KING KONG went into full production.


Once the principle photography had been completed, Cooper was frustrated to learn the studio had not given him any money for a music score to accompany the film. Rather they wanted him to do the standard process of using bits and pieces from unlicensed classic music pieces. Cooper wouldn’t have any of that and personally went to see RKA’s music director, Max Steiner. An Austrian music prodigy who was composing his own operas at the age of 15, Steiner had come to Hollywood in 1929 and promptly went to work for RKO. Cooper paid him $300 to write music for KING KONG thus allowing Steiner to write one of his most memorable scores. In his lifetime he would compose 300 scores, be Oscar nominated 24 times and win 3. Many critic consider him the Father of American Movie Music. One should that special note when watching the movie, that Steiner specifically separated the fantasy element form the realistic as there is no music in the movie until the ship Venture arrives at Skull Island. From that point on Steiner’s music sweeps us all away.

KING KONG debut simultaneously at the Radio Music Hall in New York and the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles in 1933. It was an immediate hit and the first movie to ever earn a million dollars. It would go to become one of the greatest films of all time.  We were all of 8 years old when our father took us to see a re-release in 1954, the days before VHS and DVD. It was the first movie we ever saw and its impact on us was powerful. So captivated was our young imagination by this tale of a giant gorilla ripped from his home where he simply wanted to be left alone and then hunted and butchered by civilization. We recall coming out of the theater realizing who the real monster was…and it wasn’t Kong.

All because of an 8 inch toy cover in rabbit fur. Now that’s movie magic. We’ve seen the movie hundred of times and it never fails to touch us. Cooper, Shoedsack, Rose, O’Brien and Steiner. They were wizards and we will forever be grateful to them all.

That’s it, Loyal Airmen.  What’s your favorite flick.

Ron (Over & Out!)



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