The idea for all the movies about King Kong are based loosely on the exploits of William Douglas Burden, a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. He went searching for and brought back several Komodo dragons. It was his search and capture and the eventual fate of these creatures that inspired the story of King Kong! Dirk
King Kong Based on True Story (sort of)
by Dirk Vander Ploeg
"Elements of the 1933 Kong movie are based on the 1926 real-life expedition of William Douglas Burden, a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History," says Gregg Mitman, a professor of the history of science and medical history at UW-Madison and an expert on how animals are portrayed in popular culture.
Ann (Naomi Watts) is caught between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Kong (performed by Andy Serkis) in Universal Pictures' King Kong - 2005
I don't know if he was a real adventurer or not, but he did what no one had done before. Captured a mythical creature thought only to exist in superstition and fairy tales.
"Burden traveled to Indonesia to film and capture the Komodo dragon, which he thought was the closest living relative of dinosaurs," he says. "When Burden brought back two live Komodo specimens and housed them in captivity in the Bronx Zoo, they died. Meridan Cooper, producer of the 1933 film version of Kong, wrote at the time, 'I immediately thought of doing the same thing with a giant gorilla.'"
Correspondence indicated that Burden attributed the Komodo dragon's death to modern civilization. "This is why Cooper chose the Empire State Building and modern airplanes to kill off Kong. They were fitting symbols of civilization and the machine age that many feared were destroying nature," stated Mitman.
The film's enduring appeal could be based on our endless hope for happiness, which in this case is the opportunity for love between the beauty and the beast. It is this unrequited love that makes the story believable and so very human. The tale begins on an island paradise - unspoiled by modern man. The current movie builds on the 1976 version and the 1933 classic original. Kong is reminiscent of the restorative properties of nature in all its glory.
"The explorers believed that through hunting, with the camera or the gun in remote regions of the earth, following in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt, that their own manhood, threatened by material comfort and moral complacency, could be restored," Mitman adds. "In the wilds of nature, the trappings of civilization might be shed, one's character laid bare and a more authentic self found."
William Douglas Burden described his first encounter with the Komodo Dragon like this:
Behold the Living Dragon, the Komodo Dragon. Living on a tiny island called Komodo, the ancestors of these giant lizards were walking the earth in prehistoric times as long as 40 - 60 million years ago. While they can not fly or breathe fire, Komodo Dragons can grow up to ten feet long and weigh as much as four hundred pounds. Armed with razor sharp teeth, the real-life dragon is capable of swallowing up to 80% of its own body weight in one meal. Read on to learn more about the Komodo Dragon.
"[He] approached step by step, the great bulk of his body held clear of the ground...the black beady eyes flashing in their deep sockets... A hoary customer, black as dead lava... Occasionally, he stopped and raised himself on those iron forelegs to look around. ...
Nearer he came and nearer... with grim head swinging heavily from side to side. I remembered all the fantastic stories I had heard of these creatures attacking both men and horses, and was in no way reassured. Now listening to the short hissing that came like a gust of evil wind, and observing the action of that darting, snake-like tongue, that seemed to sense the very fear that held me, I was affected in a manner not easy to relate. ...
The creature was now less than five yards away, and its subtle reptilian smell was in my nostrils. Too late to leap from hiding-if I did, he would surely spring upon me, rendering me and devouring my remains as he had devoured the dead deer. Better to take my chances where I lay, so I closed my eyes and waited."
William Burden definately was not a coward and reminds me of those daring explorers and adverturers such as H. Rider Haggard’s hero Allan Quartermain of King Solomon's Mines.
Source material based in part on articles found at wisc.edu and madison.com.