Beauty is dead... Ann Darrow joins Jack Driscoll and KING KONG into the world of shadow & light & the memory of film..
I’m built wrong. I’ve been crying nonstop for the last 3 hours over the news that a 97 year old woman that I never met, talked to, corresponded with or was related to in anyway had died. The last time I cried this hard, was in the wake of hearing a police officer telling me my mother had died in a fire on the edge of a lake.
Where does this emotion for Fay Wray come from?
To many, she was 2nd bill to a frame by frame animated toy we know as KING KONG. She was that blonde screamer in that old black and white film from 71 years ago. I’m sure many of you believed she must’ve passed on years ago, but not I. I have always known that the woman for whom Kong gave all still walked this Earth.
For me, I have no memory prior to Fay Wray’s eyes widening in terror and excitement as she beheld the toothy grin of Kong in that nightmarish dream she found herself in. That’s it. My first moment of conscious thought that I can date. Up on the 2nd floor of 4526 Red River at the age of 2 1/2 years old… I woke up into an amazing world. A world that caused me to open my eyes wide in terror and excitement. One that I too screamed along with her. It wasn’t the Eighth Wonder of the World, it was the ONLY WONDER IN MY WORLD.
And there she was, dressed in that gown. “Blondes are kinda scarce around here” Her screams still echo in my mind with fear and exhilaration. The thrill that makes you wonder if it’s true. KING KONG has long been declared my favorite film of all time.
The story of KING KONG to me has always been an education about love, being a man and never giving up. Be it Bruce Cabot the second that log drops into the chasm and he decides to go after Ann Darrow all on his own through a jungle that has already claimed everyone he’s called friend for his adult life. He could figure that she was dead, killed by a savage gigantic ape, but something tells him she’s still alive. Something in him that believes in her, in something he’s only just acknowledged in his hard boiled life… that he wasn’t meant to crack up and go sappy just to have his yolk ripped out this soon. Fate isn’t that cruel, destiny is not that harsh. Love is worth fighting for, it’s there past the unseen terrors of the jungle and the gargantuan nightmares of this fevered Skull Island. This man that wasn’t a hero, wasn’t a stand up guy. He was just one of the toughest mugs anyone had ever seen, a hard case that cracks for nobody no time. And here he was tracking a giant ape past dead dinosaurs, up a mountain peak, past fights the likes of which no one had ever seen. All for love. All because he saw something beautiful in Fay Wray’s little lost girl. This woman that puts the brave foot forward, tries not to be a bother, that is something soft and wonderful in a world he’s only known to be granite and steel with little give in either. For this, he’d give his all. He’d track this creature through New York… He’d go out on the zeppelin docking at the top of the Empire State Building whilst biplanes ripped the skies with machine gun fire as a giant crazed monkey lashed out in wild abandon. Even then on that delicate precipice atop the world he was there to hold her tight to his chest.
She’s that reason to dress up, to take a bath, to shave and comb your hair. She was that thing that Driscoll sailed the seven seas searching for though he never knew it. His rosebud, his Wizard of Oz, his stuff that dreams were made of. Fay Wray was all that and more.
For that dang beautiful monkey… For Kong she was the same… she was a reason to not chew down. A strange new thing in his primitive hard jungle life. Something fragile and precious. Gollum had his ring, Kong had Fay Wray. Kong defended her from every danger that would pluck her away from this Earth. He fought that T-Rex for her, to keep her safe. How many decades had these two steered clear of one another. How many times had Kong watched from afar as that fierce predator ripped another to pieces. Had the Rex killed his parents, his siblings, his mate and his offspring? Had he never stood toe to talon with the beast before she gave him the courage to fight this demon? That lashing whipping tail… those snarling, hissing, snapping jaws of razor sharp teeth. She pushed him to be better than he had ever been, to be stronger, to fight harder. No wall, no matter how tall or how strong would keep him from her. “There’ll be no locks or bolts between us, Mary Kate… except those in your own mercenary little heart,” Wayne would one day say to Maureen O’Hara, and had Kong a voice and a vocabulary that could be understood… would he be better spoken?
His was a tough love, an unrequited love. One he gave with no conditions save that she stay with him. He expected nothing, but he would keep her safe. It was something unspoken for Kong. Something forbidden. He had none that could love him in his world. Life was cruel to him, yet wondrously forgiving. Though he hadn’t love long, for those moments he held Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in that paw of his… he loved. He loved and he understood what life was all about. How he would take the flesh ripping agony of flying gatllin guns tearing his life away…. How he’d fight a hopeless fight atop a world he didn’t understand, and how in his last dying moments he would hold her one last time before falling from the top of it all… And for Kong it wasn’t a sad death, he knew love… he saw tears in Ann’s eyes, he saw pain in her face for him. He felt empathy before the lead struck home and the concrete floor this man-made jungle ripped him forever from this world. Love and beauty let him live and die with a degree of dignity… even for a giant fumbling ape there was love.
I know… I know… I’m reading into it, but this is what I see when I see KING KONG…. When I see Fay Wray. Of all her other films, the one that is a companion piece for KING KONG is Wallace Beery’s VIVA VILLA! Made the very next year, with Fay donning jet black hair and a Latino complexion, she was the beauty and the elegance in Wallace Beery’s brilliant Pancho Villa. In many ways, Beery’s Villa is a verbally articulate Kong. She was wonderful in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, DIRIGIBLE, DOCTOR X and THE VAMPIRE BAT she was wonderful. Through it all, she never found a role that defied the very emulsion of film the way her Ann Darrow did in KING KONG. Most people know that it was Fay Wray in King Kong’s hand. For me, Fay Wray was the first love I ever had.
I’ve seen KING KONG countless times. The film and my love for it has earned me some of the greatest friendships in my life. She led a long and wonderful life. She never hated Kong, and always stayed true to him. I remember in September of 1996, AICN was only a half year old at that point, and a Gorilla at a Chicago Area Zoo saved a little boy that fell into her cage. Fay flew up to Chicago to pay tribute to the gorilla and said, “I thought that was thrilling, It showed that that mamma gorilla was something more than just an animal.” She joked that the gorilla’s rescue of the 3 year old boy restored the reputation to gorillas everywhere, “ever since Kong took me to the top of the Empire State Building.” She was 88 at the time. I remember being thrilled, thrilled that at 88 she was still carrying on the memory of Kong.
In an odd way… Kong, that hard boiled yet sappy sailor and Fay Wray all taught me an early lesson about love. Kong and Cabot taught the passion, and Fay gave me reason for my waking eyes to love. Like Kong it was love at first sight and forever.