SUSPENDED ANIMATION #252
“You know the name of King Kong.
“You know the fame of King Kong.
“Ten times as big as a man.
“One day, a boy, too young to know the danger,
“Made a friend of this giant fearsome stranger!
“And the life they led on their island home became a legend
“The legend of … King Kong.”
That was the classic theme song by composer Maury Laws and lyricist Jules Bass for the animated ABC Saturday morning The King Kong Show that premiered in September 1966 and ran for 26 half hour episodes. The song was recorded in London, England using primarily British studio musicians
It not only explained the premise of the series but is perhaps one of the most memorable of cartoon theme songs, more so than the actual episodes. There was a soundtrack album released by Epic Records that had four complete episodes with new narration by Bob McFadden.
A 45 single was also produced as a promotional item that featured the King Kong theme on one side and Tom of T.H.U.M.B. theme on the other performed by “the Maury Laws Orchestra”. These versions were entirely different than the ones used on the television show or the soundtrack album. (More about Kong cartoon music by Greg Ehrbar click here).
The King Kong Show was the third animated television series produced by Rankin-Bass. In 1966, the company got permission from RKO who owned the rights to the character for an animated series under the stipulation that they also produce a live action film.
The concept of the show was that renowned and widowed archeologist Professor Bond (voiced by Carl Banas) brought his blonde teenage daughter Susan (Susan Conway) and his young son Bobby (Billie Richards) with him when he went to conduct some studies on the mysterious tropical island Mondo. What makes the island special is because it has a valley that is home to extinct prehistoric animals. There are rumors of a massive beast that also roams the island.
The show premiered with an hour-long primetime pilot episode on the ABC network on Tuesday, September 6th, 1966. This special was later divided into two separate episodes of the series.
While looking for some unique moss for his father, Bobby encounters a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex but is saved by Kong. Bobby befriends the giant ape and brings him home to his amazed family and Captain Englehorn (a character from the original 1933 live action film) who is the captain of the ship Java Queen. They decide to take Kong to New York by towing him on a huge raft attached to the back of the ship.
During the voyage Kong saves them all from a giant octopus called the Kraken but in a severe storm, King Kong is washed overboard and finds himself in New York City. He climbs the Empire State Building and the Bond family must stop the military from killing him.
The show moved into its regular Saturday morning timeslot on September 10, 1966 and was shown on ABC thru August 31, 1969 and then offered in syndication by ABC Films.
There were two roughly seven minute episodes and in between was an episode of a spy spoof (a popular genre at the time) of Tom of T.H.U.M.B. (Tiny Humans Underground Militaristic Bureau) who had been accidentally shrunken to four inches tall with his friend the martial artist Swinging Jack. The duo battled the evil agents of M.A.D. (Maladjusted, Antisocial, and Darn mean) but their size and inexperience are the basis for the humorous approach.
The character designs are attributed to Rod Willis and Jack Davis (who concentrated primarily on Kong) although apparently Paul Coker Jr. also did designs for the Bond family and series main villain, Dr. Who, an evil scientist.
Writers included Lew Lewis, Bernard Cowan, and Ron Levy who not only scripted adventures on the island (like trapped on a sunken shipwreck, confronting inhabitants of an underground kingdom, battling killer bees) but around the world (like Egypt to defeat a giant Sphinx, the North Pole with sabretooth tigers, Scotland to deal with the Loch Ness Monster) as well as having them deal with not just dinosaurs but natural disasters, aliens looking for human specimens, a deadly hunter, and even the iconic robotic Mechani-Kong created by Dr. Who.
The King Kong Show has the distinction of being considered the first animated show created in Japan for broadcast in the United States. The scripts, storyboards, character designs, and voice acting were all done by Rankin/Bass but the episodes were animated overseas by Toei Animation that also put production money into the show in exchange for Japanese distribution rights.
To satisfy the stipulation that a live action Kong film was made, Rankin-Bass made a deal with Toho Studios. Their first script was rejected by Arthur Rankin Jr. as not close enough to the animated series. It was later revised and filmed as Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (1966) changing Kong to Godzilla.
The second attempt resulted in King Kong Escapes (1968) which was supervised by Rankin. It included elements from the cartoon including Mondo Island, Dr. Who (voiced by Paul Frees), Mechani-Kong and a blonde female named Susan Watson. The Bond family did not appear.
In 1967, to appear in the summer just before the fall premiere television season, Marvel packaged a comic book to promote the Saturday morning cartoons appearing on ABC. It was a one-shot called America’s Best TV Comics. (ABC)
Two of the debuting cartoons were the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man so it was not surprising that the American Broadcasting Company went to Magazine Management run by Marvel publisher Martin Goodman to “prepare and edit” the special sixty-eight page comic book. It was distributed by the Independent News Company that distributed Marvel comics but there was no indication in the book itself that it was connected with Marvel. Roy Thomas wrote the advertising copy in the book but none of the stories.
Marvel had quietly packaged comics for outside companies before with production head Sol Brodsky in charge as he was for this book where he hired freelancers for the new stories featuring the new characters. The cover which featured Kong, George of the Jungle and Journey to the Center of the Earth is usually credited to Mike Royer (with the Marvel characters done from stats).
The ten page story inside that featured Kong is untitled but usually referred to as “Kong at the Circus” with pencil artwork by Brodsky and inks by Frank Giacoia. The Bond family takes Kong to California to appear in P.T. Bunkum’s circus for one week in exchange for a donation of $100,000 for their favorite charity.
Supposedly, the Rankin-Bass animated Kong battled a living version of the Statue of Liberty (the work of Dr. Who) in issue No. 34 of the Japanese Shonen Magazine. Additional Kong stories (both adaptations from the series and original) also appeared in the magazine while the show was running in Japan. Hikari No Kuni Comics had comic magazines based on the series as well.
The show produced a variety of merchandise including a talking doll and a talking hand puppet with a detachable Bobby Bond figure that usually got lost. Milton Bradley released a board game. There was a Kenner Give-A-Show projector slide series.
As Rankin-Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt has revealed from his research, “There was even a plastic jungle playset released by Multiple Toys which came with a large plastic Kong with magnetic grip. There were coloring books and figures based on Mecha-Kong. Multiple Toys made a carded King Kong bendable figure.”
I have always been a huge King Kong fan so I naturally watched the show every Saturday and even today can sing the theme song. Some of the episodes have been released on videotape but not the entire series.