Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Brush with Greatness -- Big Ape

King Kong comes out this month.  That is King Kong number three.  The first King Kong was in 1933.

I lived next door to the family of Willis O'Brien, creator of the big ape movie.  O'Brien's ex-wife and two kids lived there.  The kids were teen-agers, Willis (Jr) and Bill.  Bill was blind from an early age.  My grand father and Bill used to play chess.  Bill would bring his special chess board with raised squares and peg holes, and his special chess men, with pegs that fit into holes to hold the men upright.  The white men had tops ground down at an angle so you could tell the white men from the black men by touch.  Bill and grandfather would play, and Bill would make his moves by touching the pieces gently and figuring the moves in his head.  I think that is brilliant.

   Willis, called "Weeks", was considered a juvenile dilinquent by his family, but his escapades seem rather more capricious than violent.  He went swimming in the Hollywood reservoir. Horrors, what a crime, in 1933.

   Anyway O'Brien produced King Kong while his family was living next door.  He was already known for an animated feature called "The Lost World", made with miniatures, which were painstakingly photographed one frame at a time. We knew that there was one full sized Kong head, one foot, and one hand.  All the rest of Kong was miniature. And I got to see and hold, a miniature Fay Wray, smaller than a present day Barbie. 

   Miniature Fay Wray was photographed in miniature Kong's hand, and then the scene shifted to full sized, real Fay Wray in Giant size Kong's hand. Real Fay Wray let out some full sized screams and the illusion was perfect. What you saw was a giant ape holding a terrified woman.  Special effects were not as sophisticated then, but neither were audiences.  The effect was paralyzing.

   I am not sure I was allowed to see such a horror film at age nine.  But I have seen it many times since, and of course, it is my favorite version.


mavarin said...

How cool!  John was just watching documentaries about the 1933 film last week.  Y'know, I've still never seen it all the way through! - Karen

bamawmn46 said...

How wonderful to be able to recall such wonderful tidbits and facts about a classic movie!!  Interesting also is the compensation Bill made from chess board to brain via touch.  The body is an amazing miracle!!  


jckfrstross said...

Have a great day:) wow you lived next door to the maker of king kong:)


deslily said...

The original King Kong (when on television and when i was very young) scared the pants off of me lol.. but there was something about the story that always made me watch it over and over thru the years.  

I hope to see this latest version only because i think Peter Jackson is the only person who can really "see" fantasy fiction and did such a fantastic job on Lord of the Rings that I want to see what he did with King Kong.

This doesn't mean I will ever stop watching the b&w version.. never happen!

valphish said...

Now that is cool, Chuck.  You know, I have never seen King Kong.  Makes me want to see it.  Take care, Chuck! xox

deslily said...

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!  I'm Caroling thru J-land!!

fitzzer said...

Very cool - and what a wonderful memory.