Where a Whole Army Couldn't Get at Him... [The Ballad of Kong Pt. 1]

[Before you go on, read the prologue to this article here.]

Yeah, the sizing is completely wrong in this promo photo.
But this picture has always fascinated me...
Whatever possessed my parents in those days to allow me such latitude, especially given my more than occasional admittedly horrid behavior, is beyond me to this day. Maybe it was the impending divorce they were going through at the time. While massively upset about this, I was still able to close my mind to that situation enough to embrace my afternoons away on my lonesome in 1977, the summer before the close of my twelfth year.

Allowed to leave my younger brothers in our then babysitter's stead (Mrs. B.), whose home was a couple blocks away, I struck out after lunch most days to arrive home and in my own care for a few hours. I did have a handful of chores with which I had been entrusted to complete, such as feeding the dog and cats, which I took care of invariably, and cleaning up the dishes and removing the garbage from the kitchen, which I took care of rather sporadically. I would then sometimes go outside to hang with my best friend Rusty and his brother Rodney, or I would read books and comics, draw, or play the trading card-and-dice baseball game simulator that I had designed (with special rules adjusted for both 1-vs-1 and solitaire play).

The Manster (1959)
But what I discovered quickly that summer, almost completely by accident, was the afternoon movie matinee show that the local CBS affiliate, KTVA, would air each day at 3:00 p.m., right after my beloved Match Game '77 and the less knee-slapping but still oddly fascinating Tattletales (I was a big fan of Bert Convy and Orson Bean in those days). Turning on the TV well after I normally watched those game shows, I chanced upon the black-and-white image of a man with a large eyeball growing out of his shoulder. I repeat: GROWING OUT OF HIS SHOULDER! This was no Match Game '77! Completely by happenstance, I had tripped on an image which blew my twelve-year-old mind, and, of course, meant that I would not only be returning to that channel every single day for the rest of the summer, but I also immediately needed to watch the rest of this brain-searing broadcast from another dimension.

The movie turned out to be The Manster, a less-than-OK film by most people's standards, but one which opened yet another door in my burgeoning interest in movies. After the hero/villain split in twain and battled himself to the death on the edge of that erupting Japanese volcano, I knew exactly where I would be the next afternoon. I admit that I do not remember exactly what the next film turned out to be, nor do I ever recall any films that weren't of the horror, science fiction, or mystery genres. (There may have been some other films in the mix, but I haven't any recollection of such an occurrence.) There just seemed to be a monster or alien movie day after day after day, and I was utterly delighted. I would throw a blanket and pillow on the living room floor, use our popcorn maker to heat up a fresh batch of crunch-crunch (always with melted butter), and tune in to the goodness.

I do recall many of the prime Godzilla and other Toho productions (including, most importantly to me in my Kong enthrallment, King Kong vs. Godzilla), my first meetings with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Dracula, and Basil Rathbone's rendition of Sherlock Holmes. I even recall what is considered a minor effort of monster mayhem, but one which I will defend most vociferously, The Monster That Challenged the World. It is also where I saw three films in my personal cult, the equally ridiculous War of the Gargantuas, Fiend without a Face, and The Green Slime. But the film that I was most excited about seeing on those most edifying and monstrous afternoons? The mighty Kong, himself!

I had seen Kong once before, at the age of ten. Just a random film on a random Saturday afternoon broadcast where it rained and so I was stuck inside. It turned out to be most fortuitous for me, as Kong was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen. Honestly, I didn't know what hit me. And it seemed, for about three years, that I would never see the 1933 King Kong again. I continued learning about the original mainly from what would turn out to be latter-day editions of Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, of which I had managed to trade with a buddy and stash a couple copies. The stashing was a form of self-preservation, which was a necessity lest my parents discover the "fur bikini" shots of the surely divine Raquel Welch, whose treasures I had already discovered at that tender age, even though I was still a few months away from actually seeing One Million Years B.C. (There were also a number of rather provocative shots of some other Hammer girls that I found most titillating, but I digress...) While I had seen Kong already, all of the information that I knew about the film came from mentions in Famous Monsters. Luckily for me, Ackerman himself had been equally influenced by King Kong in his own youth. To find a grown man with a similar obsession to mine was fascinating to me. Wasn't he supposed to be a grown up?

One such magazine that
influenced me in those days.
Additionally, in the back of Famous Monsters (and other Warren magazines of the time, such as Eerie and Creepy, which I was also seeing for the first time) were advertisements for 8mm and 16mm films, which I was primarily interested in because I was searching out a shortened version of a Hammer Frankenstein film which had been shown to us by our teachers at the end of our sixth grade graduation camp the previous year. (We also saw short scenes from others, including The Man Who Could Cheat Death and Horror of Dracula.) I not only discovered that film could be purchased, but so could a couple of ten-minute long snippets of King Kong, along with condensed versions of many other horror films that I longed to have not only the money to purchase, but also the clams with which to buy a camera to view them.

There was another side influence at that time that was affecting my personal King Kong mania... the 1976 version of King Kong. I had not seen it, of course; there was no VHS yet and my parents did not take me to it in the theatres. But it was advertised everywhere when I was eleven, there was merchandising around (glasses, lunchboxes, etc.), and that summer of 1977, in conjunction with the night when we first saw the original version of Star Wars, obtain several packs of Topps King Kong trading cards that would become even more fascinating to me when I reach puberty. [More on this in a later installment of this article...]

This was a time, O young and X-treme ones, that when you ran across a film that you wanted to see, you watched it then and there. Cable TV was indeed available in the '70s (even in Alaska) but not in the capacity nor range that we know today. The technology for the VCR had been developed but was not quite readily available to the casual public. The only real choices that you had (outside of the movie theatre) to see movies at all were the four VHF channels on your television dial. There were a couple of local UHF channels hanging about, but they never came in very clearly, especially in those days, and I don't remember much on them from the '70s besides a few extremely fuzzy Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Gandy Goose cartoons. (We had two television antennae with tinfoil formed into flags hanging off of them -- how good do you think the reception was?) It was pretty much the ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS affiliates, and that was it for choice. You really had to take advantage when they showed a movie that you were interested in, because you never knew when it would come down the pike again, if at all.

And so I believed, with my naive head lacking any knowledge of the burgeoning wave of technology due to hit the world in the next few years, that I was fated to never to see this that original King Kong movie again. I longed to see it and scanned the TV listings for another showing, but never happened across it. I had resorted to remaining enthralled over the big ape by scanning the pages of cheesy monster rags and scrounging for tidbits on the film in the local library. Of course, I was also privy to endless King Kong gags in the pages of MAD Magazine, often due to the magic renderings of Don Martin and Sergio Aragonés. And then, in a day that shall forever be titled, in the silly Martin style, "ONE FINE AFTERNOON IN FRONT OF THE TV," I found to my delight once again the film that I thought, at that time, would be withheld from my sight forever...

[To be continued in Part 2...]


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