It is mid August. I wake up to the sound of the oscillating fan lightly creaking as it pans back and forth across my room. My curtains flutter in rhythm, like an invitation to the magical world just outside those windows. I have been waiting for this day!
MGM’s backlots have been supercharged with activity for the last year. You could feel the suspense mounting in the air. Everyone knew it was a buildup to something huge. Knowing full well that today is the day, I leap out of bed, while wondering how they’re going to bring a 40 foot great ape to life. I can’t reckon how they might do it, but if anyone can, it’s Carlo Rambaldi.
The deep announcer voice on every radio station interrupts each song with breaking news…
Needed tonight! 4000 extras for a motion picture spectacular, entitled KING KONG! Come on down! Doors open at 5PM!
All morning and into the afternoon, this becomes The Buzz around town…
Everywhere I go today, I hear people talking about it… Have you heard about the remake of the classic King Kong? A new movie about a giant ape! And a new—unknown— leading lady! A 40-foot mechanical gorilla that moves! The anticipation was in the streets, on the schoolyard, in the supermarkets, and in the air. I can’t believe what I’m seeing, yet I live here. It feels like the 4th of July.
The tickets were easy enough to get. Heck, they’ve been giving them away like Halloween candy, so, like a good little lad, I go and line up with 4000 other law-abiding citizens. And so, here I stand… in a line that quickly wraps itself around the block.
I watch the flurry of action taking place all around me… people cutting into line, others yelling to curious onlookers, and cars driving by slowly, to get a good look at this historic event. Meanwhile, the 4000 extras quickly turns into 6000.
Folks are being turned away. It’s first come first serve. And some get rowdy. The circus begins to turn into a night at the fights. Many yell as they are ushered away, while demanding to talk to someone in charge. Soylent Green was the last big mob show here, but this is five times that size.
A special processing gate for non-studio employees gets opened up, close to the old caretaker’s house—the one Maureen and I once “occupied.” It’s downright unruly out here! And they have to escort those who truly belong here, through special entrance doors.
They begin to test the lights from crane towers, as technicians climb up and down scaffolding, to fine tune the details. A huge Pertox gas pump covers our star. No one can see what they came to see, yet. The lucky 4000 get herded into bleachers that represent Shea Stadium, in NYC.
Cut to the opening scene of Kong…Fade in page 1, below…
Same green card—I could get on that ship.
Above: Script pages by Lorenzo Semple Jr., with page one fade in… sheet right above is for camera
Above: If you can, read my handwritten notes! I wrote them when I got home, while sitting cross legged on my floor, at 3:35 am. Next to it, my transcription… interpreting myself 44 years later!
Finally, notice that I was at Desilu earlier that afternoon. No more sets were standing… just trees—the only sad part about this spectacular evening.
My Black and Whites from that night
A picture I took on this very night… I could not get any closer if I tried! Jessica makes eye contact with me as I shoot this; she is wearing a coat over her sparkling dress, in between scenes.
A personal note from me—
I lived amongst this set from start to finish. It is still a cherished memory from a special time and place. I have, throughout the course of my career, worked on several blockbusters, but this one stole my heart. I will forever be attached to this Kong and I have a book load of crazy stories and random events from the filming of this iconic movie. Until I finish that, I hope you enjoyed this story… one that took place exactly 44 years ago, this week.
Much more coming on Phantom of the Backlot on FB
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by DQ