Pull the String! No, Not Bela's String... King Kong's! [The Ballad of Kong Pt. 9]

[This is the ninth part of an ongoing (and resurrected) series called The Ballad of Kong. To read the previous parts, start with Pt. 1 from December 2005.]

In once again picking up my multi-part memory slideshow regarding the early years of King Kong's influence in my life, I have encased in amber within my stupid brain a prehistoric notion of Kong that far precedes any viewing of a Kong film or video, or any reading of a book or magazine on monsters, or any sneakily clandestine ogling of Jessica Lange on Topps trading cards. It is a vivid memory of my playing with a King Kong puppet as a small child. Not just a generic, stuffed gorilla that some money-grubbing opportunist says is King Kong, but rather an actual merchandising tie-in to a late 1960s television cartoon that I most certainly have viewed on Saturday morning television when I was a child, but I truly have no actual recollection of the show. I only remember the toy.

But the toy was not played with in Alaska, where we lived for most of my childhood. 
I remember playing with the puppet, but I did not possess the thing. I am a tad fuzzy on the details from here on out, but I do dredge up a picture of Kong belonging to a cousin, or a friend of a cousin, in Wisconsin in the early '70s. The locale might even be my Granny's house. I do have slight memories of playing at other houses in Wisconsin in that period, but my memory of the Kong puppet incident is set somewhere between the organ and the big stone fireplace setting at Granny's wonderful house. This leads me to believe that the Kong puppet might have belonged to a cousin. 


Since I still possess a great many of the toys that I owned in my youth, I find it hard to believe that it belonged to my brother Mark or I, though that is not out of the question. Perhaps it was a toy purchased but left behind in the trip before we headed back to Alaska? It's sad if it is so, because that puppet is worth a mint now.

The King Kong Talking Hand Puppet, sold by Mattel, was bright blue and yellow in color, while his face was made of a hard rubber. Why he was blue and yellow doesn't make sense to me since in every picture that I see from the TV series, Kong is clearly black or blackish brown in coloration, with a lighter tannish color on his underside. The puppet had a string imbedded in the cloth comprising the sleeve for one's hand. A steady, long tug of this string (using what the box calls a "Chatty-Ring," would cause Kong to say many assorted phrases -- such as "I'll swat that airplane! or "Hang on! Here we go!" or "Let's leapfrog over a mountain!" Bobby's squeaky kid voice (far squeakier than in the cartoon, where he seems a bit older) also comes out of the puppet, which is a big strange sounding if Bobby is no longer attached to the toy (he comes buttoned on Kong's arm, but can be easily removed). For Kong himself, a thunderous voice emanates from deep within the bowels of the plush simian, a sound which must have passed for crystalline clarity in those days but has that slight echo that seems to come with most pull-string toys. [Note: What Kong spoke, or rather, roared is beyond my memory, and is entirely unimportant to that memory. I have relied on the internet for that information.] The Kong that I actually grew to love did not speak somewhat like a human, and it is proper that my earliest memory of the creature is similarly bound in a lack of English.

The show that the puppet was based on was called The King Kong Show, and ran for three seasons starting in fall of 1966. I would have just turned two when it came on the air, and five when it went off, so I fell into the target audience of the show eventually in that span. If indeed I had seen the show as a child, I am not sure if I would have made the connection between the show and the puppet, since the colors of the different Kongs are so different from each other. And yet, the puppet did come with a boy character named Bobby Bond, whom I do not recollect in my memories of the puppet, and he is the same boy who has adventures with Kong in the cartoon show. The other confusing thing about the talking puppet is that Kong does not actually talk in the show (at least the few episodes I have found online). He grunts and makes other sounds back to Bobby and the other humans who converse with him, but does not actually talk as we do. 

If I would have remembered anything about this cartoon from my childhood, it would have been the theme song. But even here, my memory is negligent. I was able to find people singing the song on Youtube, and even a clip or two of the song with its cartoon opening, and it is pretty catchy. Here are the lyrics...

"King Kong!
You know the name of
King Kong!
You know the fame of
King Kong!
Ten times as big as a man!

Throughout the land,
you've heard about this wonder!
Listen closely and
you will hear the thunder
of this mighty ape,
and he's a friend of man!
So goes the legend...
the legend of..

King Kong!
You know the name of
King Kong!
You know the fame of
King Kong!
Ten times as big as a man!

One day, a boy
too young to know the danger,
Made a friend of
this giant fearsome creature,
and the life they led
on their island home
became a legend...
the legend of . . .

King Kong!
You know the name of
King Kong!
You know the fame of
King Kong!
Ten times as big as a man!"

One other note... The King Kong Show was produced by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, whom you may know better as the creators of such stop-motion animated specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Year without a Santa Claus. They co-produced a feature film with Toho (the studio of Godzilla and his pals) in 1967 called King Kong Escapes [Kingu Kongu no Gyakushū]. The film had its roots in this show, which does have an episode featuring a battle between Kong and a mechanized double, a plotline directly used in the film version. I saw King Kong Escapes as a teenager, but had no idea of the connection with the older cartoon show. I just thought it was a direct sequel to 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla, also co-produced by Toho. From the beginning, though, it was easy even then to tell the similarities in design between the robot Kong in the film and many other characters designed for Rankin-Bass productions, of which I was a fanatic since a wee child.

Getting back to the King Kong Talking Hand Puppet, this memory may explain why I have been so drawn to puppets over my lifetime, even becoming a puppeteer for many, many years within the Moorish circus my friends and I performed in annually at our local renaissance faire. I still own many, many puppets in my personal toy collection, retain a perfectly happy relationship with all things Muppet even nearing middle age, and am fascinated anytime that I find old puppets in antique stores and even new ones in toy shops. If I had indeed owned the King Kong Talking Hand Puppet when I was a kid vacationing in Wisconsin, then it is a very sad thing that it didn't survive the transition back to Alaska.

So it had to be an accident if it was mine. I would have never parted with it willingly. Not King Kong. A boy and his gorilla need to be together.

RTJ

*****

To see an episode from The King Kong Show for yourself, check this out...



And to see the King Kong Talking Hand Puppet talk, watch this video...



[Editor's Note: The pictures in this piece were found on a French King Kong fan forum -- http://king-kong.fansforum.info/t193-THE-KING-KONG-SHOW.htm -- and also on Ebay, where a King Kong Talking Hand Puppet (or even the stuffed doll that looks very similar) in fine condition will run you a few hundred dollars. So it is very doubtful I will ever get one of my own. But if I ever win any size portion of the lottery, that puppet is mine.]

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