King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson

He is an enormous, terrifying Beast that lives on an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by prehistoric monsters and worshipped by a tribe of primitive natives that consider him a god. He falls in love with a young Beauty who is sacrificed to him, is captured, taken to New York, and put on show. He escapes, wreaks havoc on the city, and makes a tragic last stand against the forces of civilization atop the Empire State Building. He is King Kong – one of the most amazing, popular, and iconic characters in the history of motion pictures.

His 1933 debut was an amazing piece of pure cinema – simultaneously a terrifying monster movie, an epic fairy tale, a tragic love story, and a deeply resonant cultural myth – that grabbed the imagination of audiences everywhere and went on to become a box office triumph and a motion picture classic. In the seventy-two years since, Kong has appeared in five additional, extremely popular, and largely successful feature films, including a 1933 sequel, two charmingly kitschy Japanese knockoffs, a spectacular Academy Award-winning remake that was one of the pop culture events of the 1970s, and that remake’s ill-fated 1986 sequel. In 2005, Kong returns yet again in an eagerly anticipated new version of the classis tale directed by Lord of the Rings visionary Peter Jackson.

The making of these movies were epic adventures equal to any that appeared on the screen. The creators of each film faced a tremendous series of creative, technical, logistical, and financial challenges and the stories of how they overcame these challenges to create such enduring pieces of popular entertainment are as thrilling as the films themselves.

Ray Morton’s King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon is the first book to chronicle the making of all seven feature films in which the character of Kong has appeared. Based on extensive research, the book contains interviews with many of the surviving members of each production and is generously illustrated with photographs, production art, and promotional material, much of it from the author’s extensive personal collection.


I. The Father of Kong — a profile of Merian C. Cooper – war hero, aviator, motion picture pioneer, and the man who created, co-produced, and co-directed King Kong.
II: “It Was Beauty Killed the Beast”: The Making of King Kong — This chapter focuses on the development, production, and release of the classic original 1933 King Kong. Highlights include: the development of the story and script by Merian C. Cooper and screenwriters Edgar Wallace, James A. Creelman, Horace McCoy, and Ruth Rose; a profile of co-producer and co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack; the casting of stars Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot; the creation of Kong’s groundbreaking stop motion special effects by animation pioneer Willis O’Brien; and the composition of the film’s innovative score by Max Steiner. The chapter concludes with a look at the film’s critical reception, its impact on the public, its many successful re-releases in theaters and on television and on the gradual transformation of Kong from film star to full-fledged cultural icon.
III: “Some Baby”: The Making of The Son of Kong – This chapter focuses on the making of Kong’s 1933 sequel, The Son of Kong. Highlights include: the development of the story by Executive Producer Merian C. Cooper and screenwriter Ruth Rose; the role of director Ernest B. Schoedsack in the production; the creative and personal difficulties of special effects creator Willis O’Brien; the return of Robert Armstrong and the casting of co-star Helen Mack, as well as the effect of the film’s reduced budget and hurried shooting schedule on the final product.
IV: King Kong Goes to Japan: The Making of King Kong Versus Godzilla and King Kong Escapes — This chapter focuses on the Toho Studio’s King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963) and King Kong Escapes (1967). Highlights include: a history of Toho Studio’s Godzilla series, the success of which inspired the company to team their greatest monster with Merian C. Cooper’s giant ape; a profile of Ishiro Honda, the director of both films; the development of the stories and screenplays; an overview of the special effects techniques used to bring the films to life; and the creation of the alternative American release versions of each film.
V: “Here’s to the Big One”:” The Making of Dino De Laurentiis’s King Kong — This chapter focuses on the creation of Dino De Laurentiis’s 1976 remake of King Kong. Highlights include: the conception of the idea to remake the original film by the flamboyant Italian producer; De Laurentiis’ battle with Universal Pictures over the rights to remake the original film; the development of the updated story and screenplay by writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; the creative contributions of director John Guillermin; the casting of stars Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange (who made her screen debut in the film). The chapter also focuses on the film’s arduous shoot; the crew’s experiences filming on location in Hawaii and in New York City at the (then) newly opened World Trade Center; the creation of the film’s innovative make-up and mechanical special effects (including the construction of a life-size Kong robot) by Rick Baker, Carlo Rambaldi and Glen Robinson; and the incredible promotional and merchandising campaign that accompanied the film’s release on December 17, 1976.
VI: “You Are Dealing with a Lady”: The Making of King Kong Lives – This chapter focuses on Dino De Laurentiis’s ill–fated 1986 sequel, King Kong Lives. Highlights include: De Laurentiis’s initial attempts to develop a sequel in the 1970s: his creation of an independent studio and distribution company in the 1980s and his initiation of a King Kong sequel as one of its flagship projects; the development of the story and screenplay by Executive Producer/Screenwriter Ronald Shusett and co-screenwriter Steven Pressfield; the return of director John Guillermin; the creation of the creature effects by Carlo Rambaldi; the casting of stars Linda Hamilton, Brian Kerwin and John Ashton; the film’s production at De Laurentiis’s North Carolina studio; and its disastrous release in December 1986.
VII: The Kongs That Never Were — This chapter provides an overview of the various Kong projects over the years that were developed, but for one reason or another never reached fruition. Projects surveyed include: Merian C. Cooper’s proposed second sequel to the original film and his plan to produce a Cinerama remake in the 1950s; Willis O’Brien’s idea for a film that would have pitted Kong against a giant version of Frankenstein’s monster; and The Legend of King Kong — Universal’s planned 1976 remake (boasting a script by Academy Award–winning screenwriter Bo Goldman) that was ultimately derailed by Dino De Laurentiis’s version.
VIII: The Sons of Kong — This chapter focuses on the many Kong spin-offs, rip-offs, and spoofs produced over the years, including the 1949 and 1998 versions of Mighty Joe Young, Konga (1961), Queen Kong (1976), Mighty Peking Man (1977), and everybody’s favorite — 1976’s APE a.k.a. The Giant Horny Gorilla. It also takes a look at several cartoon versions of the story, including two television series aimed at children —King Kong (1966) and Kong: The Animated Series (2001)—as well as The Mighty Kong, a musical version of the story produced in 1998. The chapter concludes with a survey of Kong references in films such as Jurassic Park, The Cider House Rules, and The Godfather Part II, and television series such as Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld.
IX: The Collectible Kong — This chapter provides an overview of the many pieces of Kong merchandise that have been produced over the years, including toys, books, posters, games, puzzles, models, trading cards, action figures, candy bars, record albums, lunchboxes, key chains, and (believe it or not) bourbon bottles.
X: The Return of the King: Peter Jackson’s King Kong — This chapter focuses on the development, production, and release of the Lord of the Rings director’s epic new version of King Kong.

King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon is published by:

Applause Theater & Cinema Books
Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
33 Plymouth Street, Suite 302
Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-337-5034 ext. 203
Fax: 973-337-5227

It is available in bookstores and at and other online retailers.