King Kong vs Godzilla 5 Pieces of Little Known Trivia
While Godzilla vs Kong dominates the box office, 1962's King Kong vs Godzilla is back in the spotlight.
No, that’s not a typo in my title. This article is not about Godzilla vs Kong, the new blockbuster in theaters and on HBO Max at the moment. This is 5 weird pieces of trivia regarding the 1962 original King Kong vs Godzilla, the Toho feature that was retrofitted for American audiences in 1963 by a shameless huckster named John Beck. With the release of Godzilla vs Kong, I couldn’t resist watching the rubber suit version.
King Kong vs Godzilla is a complete and utter delight. High camp to the hilt, the film manages to be a charming anachronism, low budget schlock and a triumph of low-fi ingenuity all at once. While watching it I was drawn to find out what little there was to know about the Americans who were tacked onto King Kong vs Godzilla so that Americans might see it without the necessity of too much dubbing or subtitles.
Here are 5 strange facts about the American revamp of King Kong vs Godzilla
5. It took 3 days to Americanize King Kong vs Godzilla -
John Beck wasn’t a conman, per se. Rather, the American producer was simply in the right place at the right time to facilitate the deal between the rights holders to King Kong and Toho studios, originators of Godzilla. Fact number 4 has a few more details on that part of the story, but first, let’s introduce director Thomas Montgomery.
A veteran of the early years of television, Montgomery was known for being fast and cheap. His experience on TV classics such as Sea Hunt and My Mother the Car attest to his willingness to film everything in front of him and ask very few questions. Thus, Montgomery was the exceptional choice for the 3 DAY shoot that created the American sequences of King Kong vs Godzilla. Sure, it makes no sense that the United Nations has what appears to be its own version of CNN before CNN, but the framing is just enough to tack up the flimsy American news portion of King Kong vs Godzilla.
4. John Beck didn’t have the rights to King Kong when he made the deal of King Kong vs Godzilla.
I said earlier that John Beck wasn’t a conman, per se. One person who might dispute that notion is Merian C. Cooper, the creator of King Kong. Cooper was under the impression that he owned the character King Kong, having created the character in 1929 and licensed it to then movie studio, RKO Pictures in 1932. However, after RKO was bought out by Universal, Cooper didn’t hear from the company regarding Kong and gambled on his assumed ownership.
Then, in 1962, Cooper heard through the grapevine that King Kong vs Godzilla was going to be made. Assuming he had legal standing, Cooper asserted his ownership, only to find out that not only did he not control the character, the company had been profiting from King Kong merchandise for years without telling him. Cooper filed suit against Universal Pictures and John Beck to stop the deal with Toho studios but found he no longer had key documents that indicated he still owned the rights to his creation. Cooper watched in utter disbelief as Kong went from a brilliant stop motion creation to a bastardized, rubber suited joke. In a letter to his lawyer in the midst of the legal battle, Cooper lamented
“It seems my hassle over King Kong is destined to be a protracted one. They'd make me sorry I ever invented the beast, if I weren't so fond of him! Makes me feel like Macbeth: "Bloody instructions which being taught return to plague the inventor."
3. King Kong began life as King Kong vs Frankenstein -
Willis H O’Brien was integral to the film creation of King Kong in 1932. His talent for stop motion animation created some of the most awe-inspiring sights in the early days of film. By 1963, Willis was still beloved for his creation and he was interested in bringing Kong back to life. It was O’Brien who approached John Beck, then famed as a producer of the Jimmy Stewart classic Harvey as well as the camp phenomena, The Singing Nun.
Beck loved the idea but Beck being Beck, rather than partner with the legendary O’Brien, instead stole the idea, shopped it to studios and got a bite from Toho Studios. Toho was interested in pairing off their legendary monster, Godzilla and when they saw the script for Godzilla vs Frankenstein, they thought it rather simple to swap out Shelley’s Monster for Cooper’s monster. Beck agreed, rewrote the script, uncredited, and never spoke to O’Brien again. Instead, Beck spoke with Universal Pictures and they licensed Kong through Beck to Toho and King Kong vs Godzilla was born.
2. King Kong Vs Godzilla’s American star ended his career in softcore porn.
After stealing the rights to King Kong out from under Merian C Cooper, Beck waited for Toho to finish their Japanese only cut of the movie. He then turned his eyes toward choosing an actor to help give the American version of King Kong vs Godzilla a reassuring newsman’s cadence and style. For that, Beck turned to actor Michael Keith. A television veteran, Keith had crossed paths with King Kong vs Godzilla director Thomas Montgomery when he worked on the television series Sea Hunt.
It would be, arguably, Keith’s biggest role and the only shot he would get as a big screen leading man. Keith would make only two other film appearances after King Kong vs Godzilla. In 1977’s The Worm Eaters, a horror film about murderous mutant worms, and in 1995, Keith made an appearance in a softcore porn movie called Bikini Bistro starring Marilyn Chambers and Amy Lyn Baxter. These movies were made 18 years apart and more than a decade after his last television appearance.
1. King Kong vs Godzilla’s unlikely connection to Foxy Brown
The other American actor in King Kong vs Godzilla was actor Harry Holcombe. His name is not one you likely remember. That is, unless you are a big fan of Pam Grier. After years as a utility player on television, after King Kong vs Godzilla, Holcombe returned to the big screen as the corrupt Mayor in the big city that Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown has to overcome. Therefore, Godzilla and King Kong are only one degree away in film proximity to Foxy Brown.
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