This relatively rare Golden Records audio production of “King Kong” aired sometime during the early 1960s, most likely in 1963 or 1964. Not strictly a dramatization meant to be broadcast for an old time radio program, it was part of a series of LPs titled Famous Monsters Speak, featuring classic monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, etc.) advertised in, and promoted by Famous Monsters of Filmland. To the best of my knowledge there was only a single attempt to dramatize King Kong on radio, and that was in 1933 to coincide with the now classic film’s initial release. This extremely rare 1933 serial adaptation was originally written as sixteen 15-minute episodes, but when a major earthquake hit Los Angeles news coverage pre-empted an episode, so the writer, William S. Rainey, was forced to do a quick rewrite, combining two episodes into one and making the serial a 15-parter rather than 16. It aired from March 18 to April 22, 1933 on Saturdays and Mondays. It was never transcribed (saved to disc), or heard from again. However, a recent find (from a Virginia collector) of the original written radio scripts–the only complete set–was uncovered and is counted as a major find for lovers and historians of Old Time Radio. [Photo top right: Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray watch as a vision of Kong emerges from the smoke of Cooper’s pipe.]
Which brings us to this week’s Old Time Radio showcase, as Halloween once again approaches and is the time for stories of the macabre, of the supernatural, of grisly murders, mayhem, and most of all–monsters. King Kong was conceived by Edgar Wallace (who died from undiagnosed diabetes in the early stages of drafting the film–1875-1932) and Merian C. Cooper (1893-1973) and was inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost Island. The basic plot involves a filmmaker, Carl Denham, in search of an uncharted realm known as Skull Island somewhere in the Indian Ocean, a “lost island” where time has stopped and prehistoric dinosaurs and other large beasts still roam, and where the island’s natives have built a gigantic wall as a defense against the mighty Kong, to which they offer periodic sacrifices to insure their safety. Before the long ocean voyage can begin, however, Denham (played by Robert Armstrong–1890-1973), walking the streets of New York City, spies a young out-of-work woman, Ann Darrow (played by Fay Wray–1907-2004), and convinces her to become part of his latest wildlife film, to join this “adventure of a lifetime” as the lead female interest in the film. Of course, things go awry when they reach their destination, and the hair-raising, deadly surprises they encounter as they explore Skull Island in search of Kong and battle its primitive monsters, make for a frightening film-going thrill-ride for youngsters of all ages. We all know how it ends, with Kong on display back in New York, and the tragic (now iconic) closing sequences where Kong meets his fate, and the sympathy the audience has grown to feel for the giant ape leads to the now-famous line of dialogue from Denham, “Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”
As for this audio dramatization of King Kong, it is notable for several reasons, not least of which is that aside from the now lost 1933 serial adaptation–and to the best of my knowledge based on recent research–it is one of a kind, as no other radio version has ever been made, so this non-radio LP adaptation of the movie is all we have, and an excellent one it is (especially given its half-hour format). Cherney Berg (1922-2003) adapted King Kong for the Famous Monsters Speak series, as he did all of them. They were recorded and transcribed onto large vinyl discs (33 1/3 rpm long-playing records, the format used for music albums at the time, and even into the 1980s until the CD became the recording medium of choice). For those seeking copies of this LP, please note that many sellers are offering a specialty item as the “King Kong radio version 1938.” Such a recording does not exist, so buyer beware. Below is an example of one of the Famous Monsters Speak albums.
So listen now to this rare audio dramatization of King Kong, one of the world’s most enduring monsters, a superb rendering suitable for children of all ages, especially during the Halloween season.
Play Time: 36:17
[Left: Merian C. Cooper – Center: Fay Wray poses in one of the many cheesecake publicity photos taken to promote the film. – Right: Tarzan’s Cheetah, drinking his (or her, both sexes were used in the films) sorrows away, bemoaning the fact that alongside King Kong the funny little monkey and clearly the star of the Tarzan movies doesn’t get any respect.]
To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.