Some Gigantic, Turned-On Ape... [The Ballad of Kong Pt. 3]

[Before traipsing deeper into the jungle, read Pt. 1 and Pt. 2...]

A side-trip to another Kong: As I hinted at briefly before, something else happened in the summer of '77 that didn't start out as having anything to do with King Kong, but ended up furthering my giant ape obsession regardless. Star Wars fever had slammed into the earth like a meteor, and my brothers and I were no exceptions to the rest of humanity that year. I had already read the paperback novelization (with the original, purplish Ralph McQuarrie-painted cover released the winter before, not the gold-colored movie poster-draped cover that was in circulation that summer) five times, I had the first couple issues of the comics, and was already buying the trading cards. I was a primed and raring-to-go convert to the Lucas cult before I had even stepped into the theatre.

Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for our parent's pocketbooks, we lived in a town without a movie theatre. In fact, we lived a good fifteen or so miles from the nearest movie theatre, and thus our sojourns into the big city were far and few between; we only saw new movies maybe four or five times a year, if we were lucky. So, when we went, we made sure that we were seeing something we really wanted to see. Usually, it would be, due to our tender ages, the newest Disney flick (like the Witch Mountain movies) or the latest in the Pink Panther or James Bond series (thankfully, my mother was a fan of both). I had started to push things a little more as I reached my teen years, and was able to convince them to see new science-fiction or fantasy movies like Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. So, it was not even a light certainty that we would get the opportunity to see this movie that well-timed mass merchandising had already brainwashed us into believing that we had some sort of moral imperative to go see.

This story would have no purpose if we hadn't gone to see it, and yes, after a small amount of pleading and begging, my brother Mark and I eventually wore down my mother's resolve. Meanwhile, my best friend Rusty and his little brother Rodney worked a similar magic on their mom, and thus, we found ourselves crammed into one vehicle one Saturday afternoon, heading into the "big city" of Anchorage, Alaska to make our acquaintance with R2-D2 and the rest of that motley crew of rebel heroes. It would have been a sad situation if the movie had sucked, but even if it did, we did not possess the critical faculties to say so, inexperienced in the ways of movies as we were at that time, and really, we were kids. If someone in the media had convinced us watching paint dry was the hottest and greatest new fad, we would have adopted the consumer lock-step and marched to the nearest house, staring at freshly-brushed walls all summer. So, whether Star Wars was actually any good was beside the point. It's just a happy coincidence that it actually was good.

So, where do you take five sugared-up, buzzing kids who have just spent the late afternoon and early evening watching droids, aliens, lightsaber fights, spaceships, and laser blaster battles? To the local ice cream parlor to get them even more sugared up and buzzing! The parlor, in this instance, was a local establishment (and failed attempt at franchising) called Soapy Smith's, named after the ever so-popular Gold Rush gangster and conman Jefferson "Soapy" Smith. (Because, if there is anything that goes perfect with a banana split, it is extortion and murder. "Would you like a cold case of murder with your strawberry parfait?") But, sugared-up and buzzing Star Wars fanatic kids aren't worried about such ironies; we just wanted more candy and ice cream. As I recall, the plan was actually to get us to eat some actual food, and I do remember having a hot dog, followed by the previously mentioned and murderously intentioned banana split. But I also had five dollars to spend on candy, and because I was deep in the early throes of a both a burgeoning card collecting habit and movie fandom, I bought a couple packets of Topps King Kong trading cards from the candy counter.

These cards were not for the 1933 version that had somewhat recently begun not just my Kong obsession, but also my jonesing for Fay Wray, a woman 57 years my senior. No, these were for the 1976 Dino de Laurentiis version, a film which I had not been given the chance to see (though in a couple years I would get a chance to see it and regret it highly). But standards of quality were not a factor that evening, instead it was the simple fact that I had the opportunity to purchase an item that had a snarling, roaring Kong on the wrapper, and the hope that inside of that wrapper, I would see numerous cards featuring dinosaurs galore. This hope reared its head only because I was unaware that Mr. De Laurentiis did not see fit to loading his Skull Island up with prehistoric beasts, but rather merely with a giant python. (And the man's name is Dino? Talk about not living up to your billing. Tsk tsk...)

So, I bought the cards, but did not open them until we were in the darkness of the car ride home, where Rusty and I began flipping through the cards, the only illumination provided by our pocket flashlights and intermittently glowing streetlights that our vehicle passed. What we discovered, to the complete opposite reaction of horror, was that we had in our hands little cardboard pieces of what to our parents' eyes would have been damn near pornography: a progression of images of a young and scantily clad Jessica Lange being drenched with a waterfall and in various other states of undress that seem like nothing now, but were certainly provocative enough for a couple of young boys at the time. Especially of interest to me was the "waterfall" card, where Kong douses Dwan to wash the mud off of her. Dwan sits with her legs under her on the palm of the giant gorilla's hand and takes her shower. On the card, while it is clear that she is wearing garments, it was easy enough to trick one's mind just enough to convince oneself that she was completely nude. While I have never been that into the Jessica Lange type, at the time, she worked for me just fine.

I said that our parents (or at least one of mine; my mom would have been fine with it) "would have" considered those cards nearly porn, but they never hard the opportunity. We never let our parents see the more intriguing cards, and we managed to keep our cards to the same level of secrecy that our little neighborhood gang eventually managed to keep our fairly well-stocked Playboy collection, which we obtained through means of having sharp little eyes always on the lookout for displays of female pulchritude. Playboy, Penthouse, Oui, Gallery, GenesisNugget, High Society, Hustler... we had them all. Never to be discovered by the elders of the village, our "comic book" collection was revered by the neighborhood boys. If you heard us say to one another, "Hey, you want to read some comics?," three out of five times we were heading off to look at titty mags.

But that was in the very near future; that collection would come about in the next year or so. For this moment, all that we had were these, for all purposes, completely innocent trading cards in our pervy little hands. I managed to keep my set of those cards -- completely innocuous by even the standards of that day, but that didn't matter to me then -- hidden from my parents. And I still have each of those cards today. [The images on this page are from my collection.]

It is always astounding to me the moments that stick with you as you shuffle through life. Embarrassing moments, squandered opportunities, and early small perversions all seem to exist in the same file cabinet in my head, while what most people would consider the larger, more important events in a life, like weddings and such, seem to have filtered out of my brain almost as soon as they happened. Somehow, this whole Kong card thing, along with most other movie-related "trivia," has convinced my gray matter that it is of far more revelatory importance to me than those other mislaid events. Somehow, this reveals more of my eventual character than I would realize at the time. And it is probably right.

[To be continued in Pt. 4 here...]


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