[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]
THE GIRL IN THE HAIRY PAW: King Kong as Myth, Movie, and Monster. Edited by Ronald Gottesman and Harry Geduld. Foreword: Rudy Behlmer. Layout and Design: Anthony Basile. An Avon Books “Flare” Edition. Paperbound, coffeetable size. 286 pages, illustrated. $5.95.
A browser’s delight, this paperbound first printing has much to recommend it, but not without qualification. The Girl in the Hairy Paw, whose cover blurb calls it “a documentary study of King Kong,” combines the multicritical anthology approach of the “Focus” series with interesting archaeology into the origins of the film, and with the visual appeal of the better coffeetable editions—a sort of Citizen Kong Book. Virtually every aspect of the film is covered: an examination of the origin in myth and literature of the ape’s representation of the bestial side of man, humankind’s physical aggressiveness and sexual lust; studies of the literary precursors of the film (Jonathan Swift, Madame Leprince de Beaumont, H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Edgar Wallace are all proposed as direct influences); the question of authorship of the actual screenplay (Edgar Wallace’s role is generally minimized in favor of Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, and Willis O’Brien, but Mark Bezanson presents an article in which he describes and quotes from a Wallace draft of the original screenplay, of which none of the others seems to have been aware, but which includes scenes found in the finished film); the process of model animation; sound dubbing; Robert Fiedel’s excellent reassessment of Max Steiner’s “corny” soundtrack score; and an anthology of the film’s influence on popular myth, including a number of parodies and cartoon recreations of the giant ape. Included are items as diverse as the magnificent storyboard drawings of Willis O’Brien (which alone are worth the price of the volume), several critical articles (most previously anthologized), Fay Wray’s reminiscences, Arnold Auerbach’s interview with Kong in retirement, Bob Newhart’s monologue of the rookie night watchman in the Empire State Building on that night of nights, Mad magazine’s famous lampoon of the film, and reproductions of posters, stills, cartoons, comic book pages, advertisements, and magazine covers using the Kong motif. The one additional thing the book’s concept seems to have called for is a printing of the film’s shooting script. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been included, nor does it seem to have occurred to the editors to do so, since they never even mention the possibility.