Over the years, many apes of various shapes and sizes have passed through New York City’s tangled web with varying degrees of success. Some have prospered and thrived, while others were left penniless and forlorn. Some became renowned and legendary personages, while others became objects of derision and scorn. Some apes were even elected to city government, joining other powerful if less-developed forms of life there. But one ape experienced the entire spectrum of highs and lows; working his way from the very top to the very bottom in April of 1983.
King Kong (heretofore Big Wheel of Skull Island) was forced to relocate to NYC and make it his home…and make it his home he did!!! Never before, or since, did an ape “do the town” the way Kong did it, with time and energy to spare. Learning self-reliance and initiative from his free and easy days on the island–battling a prehistoric beast here, a strange-looking intruder there–, Kong was more than ready for his trip to New York and his star-crossed but high-spirited romance with Fay Wray.
Alas, just when it seemed that the Big Ape had made a monkey of the Big Apple and had achieved the heights of love and that of the Empire State Building, a squadron of biplanes ruined the King’s plans for a triumphant municipal and nuptial future.
Any ape that comes to New York and makes a spectacle of himself atop the Empire State Building will invariably run into trouble: the bigger the ape, the bigger the trouble. This is what King Kong experienced in 1933 and this is what happened again in 1983 when the 50th anniversary of the film was being commemorated.
An ambitious but hopelessly unfortunate group of promoters, called the Kong Project, constructed a 3,000 pound, eight-story nylon balloon model of the late and legendary ape, which they intended to tether outside the 86th floor of the Empire State Building for all to see. From the start, things went wrong with the ape-balloon suffering a blowout in its armpit during a test and dangling in a heap from the side of the building, bringing disappointment to eager onlookers. Undaunted, the promoters (after correcting the tangled tethers and repairing the punctured hole) cheerfully announced that Kong was still scheduled to make his debut for his seven- to ten-day appearance the next day.
Over the course of a week, with millions of people watching on television and hundreds of thousands along the streets, highways and byways of the city craned for a glimpse of the famous ape, the Empire State Building was always there…but King Kong was rarely to be seen. Days came and went and spectators caught, if anything, only sporadic sightings of his inflated image. On those rare occasions when he was spotted, far from looking like the great ape of the silver screen, he looked more like an escapee from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As it turned out, there wasn’t enough time to fully repair the puncture; the balloon continued to leak.
Meanwhile, the promoters continued the ballyhoo as if nothing untoward had happened. While Kong was foolishly dangling above, hemorrhaging air, down in the lobby an endless array of press conferences featured government officials and corporations pledging services to the Kong Project in glowing terms and cynical posturings. King Kong-related memorabilia and souvenirs were on display and were sold nearby, accompanied by a week of continuous showings of the film in revival theaters and on television. Hundreds of dignitaries and press representatives consumed hor d’oeuvres in the building’s observatory while a man in a gorilla suit standing next to Harry Helmsley (then owner of the Empire State Building) greeted one and all to the happy gathering.
The absurdity proceeded with two vintage biplanes, replicas of those that neutralized the beloved Kong, buzzing the building…while dodging photographer-packed helicopters, sightseer-merry chartered planes, and airliners flying special routes swarming to and fro. By this time, however, no one really cared and most New Yorkers couldn’t wait until the dignitaries, the officials and (especially) the promoters would get lost and take their balloon with them.
King Kong had to have been rolling over in his grave during all of this, but such are the ups and downs and in-betweens of show biz and of matters concerning ape and man.
- The Empire State Building: A View from the Top (susanmarg.com)
- The Empire State Building: From King Kong to IPO (images.businessweek.com)
- Going Up (deaconjohn1987.wordpress.com)