Friday, August 19, 2022

Cable Surfing and Kites - Fun and Games on the Streets of San Francisco - 1890s Style


Kids these days just don’t know how to have fun. What with the cell-phones, the video games and the social mediums, no one can find time to go outside and play anymore (or at least that’s one complaint I’ve heard going around). Some would blame climate change for keeping people inactive and inside, while others pin the blame on channel surfing or (in this age of cable television) cable surfing, if you will.

Ironically, however, about 130 years ago, in the Streets of San Francisco (and environs), cable surfing was one of the ways kids got out to play. They surfed cables running under the Streets of San Francisco that powered the city’s now-iconic cable cars.

The cable lines afford some odd amusements to the boys. A single roller-skate and a long bent wire were the equipment with which I some time ago saw a daring little scamp have a perfectly glorious time on Union street. The wire was bent in some way, so that when thrust through the slot it caught the cable, and, standing upon one foot, the other swinging free, the amateur gripman was sailing into paradise on an even keel, when a stony-hearted policeman saw and summarily ended his enjoyment.

Kids in Oakland enjoyed a similar, yet more elaborate, system of riding the cables, at least until they were replaced by regular old trolleys.

Before the trolley superseded the cable on the Mountain View road in Oakland the boys living along that line had a contrivance on a similar principle, but on a more elaborate scale, that for a long time was s source of endless joy to them and unbounded terror to passing horses. Their contrivance consisted of a rude platform on four very small truck wheel. Some mechanical genius among them had rigged up a very practicable sort of grip, and for a time it is probable that this primitive car made more trips in a day and carried more passengers than did the combined rolling stock of the road’s lawful owners.

These descriptions are both drawn from an article by Adeline Knapp, that appeared in the San Francisco Call on March 1, 1896 (page 16), entitled “Street Sports in San Francisco.”


Other local street sports included kite flying, “Duck,” land-toboggans and craps.

The popularity of kite-flying in San Francisco was uplifted by the weather patterns, the terrain and the presence of significant Chinese and Japanese populations, “with whom the pastime is almost national.” The writer waxed nostalgic, Mary Poppins’ Mr. Banks-wise, about the joys of flying kites for adults and children alike.


Just now, while Eastern children are still enjoying their winter coasting, sliding and skating, the boys of San Francisco are in the midst of the kite-flying season.

This is a diversion that, to the extent to which it is carried here, is almost peculiar to San Francisco of American cities. It is not that boys in all cities do not fly kites, but the kite season is a peculiarly interesting one in this particular City.

There are several reasons for this. The steady, pleasant winds that blow at this season; the unusual advantages offered by our blessed green hills and the example set by the many Chinese and Japanese in our midst, with whom the pastime is almost national, are some of these. It has sometimes, indeed, been a matter of surprise to me that our amusement-seekers have so long left this fascinating diversion to the boys of the City. we are not wise, we grown-up San Franciscans, or we should fare forth with the children to fly our kits against the brilliant February sky and to feel ourselves growing young again as we ran with them against the soft, strong, steady breeze. There is a certain joy in flying a kite, in feeling the life, bird-like thing tugging at the sustaining string, and to exult in its flight in which you are yourself an important factor.

But whether we join in the sport or are impelled by considerations of supposed dignity to refrain from it, it is well worth the while of a lover of the beautiful to pay a visit to Rincon or Telegraph or Russian Hill, or any of the highlands that lay parkward or toward North Beach, and there watch the boys send up their kites. Sometimes the air seems fairly alive with them. There will be great white sails spread out against the blue, side by side with the elaborate gilded and decorated creation of some Chinese kite-maker, while lower down flutter the quaint red and green and yellow birds affected by the Japanese. Dancing, pulling, swaying, sailing out over the City, they seem as really alive as are the gulls that circle and swirl above the waters of the bay. The sight, once beheld, is something ever after to remember with delight.

Coasting downhill was another popular sport. The style of coasting varied by neighborhood, on Russian, Telegraph and Rincon Hills, with a wheeled street luge, sled or roller skates as the preferred means of coasting.

The snow and ice bring many joys to Eastern children that our youngsters by the Golden Gate can know nothing of. Coasting, however, is not one of these. I have dared many a perilous descent in my childhood days, but never anything half so thrilling as a plunge I saw four boys take recently down the grade from Jones to Taylor streets on Broadway.

Their coaster was of a sort the most primitive, a long board on what had evidently once been the rollers of a pair of skates. The boy who sat at the rear end manipulated a sort of sweep attached to the board and which apparently served as brake and rudder. Down they swept, like a small whirlwind, with a yell and a whirring of wheels that would have struck terror to the heart of a tenderfoot. Seeing them one might have thought they were rushing headlong to destruction, but the watchful angel that seems to guard the destinies of boys was, as usual, close at hand, and the daring quartet made the descent safely, and running quietly around the corner into Taylor street just as I had closed my eyes to avoid seeing them dashed to atoms.

The boys who live about Telegraph and Russian hills have a perilous fashion of coasting on rough sleds down the sides of the cliffs, a descent sufficiently allied to danger to render it royal sport for a boy. In the raining season, when the ground is wet, slippery and treacherous, coasting over snowdrifts is not half so exciting. It is really a very pretty and nerve-tingling sight to see the little fellows scramble up the face of an almost perpendicular cliff and dash down again, a whole line of them, in single file, in their rudely built sleds. Were the sight not close at hand we might well deem it worth traveling far to witness as a picturesque exhibition of reckless daring.

It is only among the North Beach hills that this sort of thing is popular. The boys of that locality are of a more reckless nature, even in their play, than are their fellows south of Market street, for instance. This may be because they are of different nationality or because of the greater freedom of life on the high hills that overlook the water. Whatever may be the reason, it is certain that one sees no such life-and-limb-endangering sport among the dwellers on the south side. The boys about Rincon Hill have a pretty way of coasting on roller-skates, and is as interesting sight to see a string of them, hand in hand, come swinging down the steep grades of Harrison and Bryant streets.

I spent a pleasant half hour or more not long ago watching a sturdy lad of perhaps 15 treating half a dozen little chaps to rides on his feet. He was mounted on roller-skates himself, and upon his downward trips he would take a small boy on each foot. Clinging tightly to their friend’s legs, the small chaps wriggled and screamed with delight as the queer trio buzzed along down the hill. If appearances go for anything each member of the queer coasting party was about as uncomfortable as human beings could well be, but it would have been hard to tell which was the most supremely happy.

“Shooting craps” was popular among newsboys and “small girls in some of the lower districts of the City.

I have seen a painfully large number of groups of girls this winter engaged in this pastime, sitting on the sidewalks at the foot of flights of steps or against convenient area-rails. The sight is a curious if not particularly attractive one. The object of the game seems to be the increase of the collection of buttons which each girl makes on a long string. I have wondered a good deal as to how the game sprang into such wide popularity among them. The circumstance is certainly one to be noted with regret.

And finally, they played a game called “duck on a rock.”

Hop-scotch seems to be a favorite diversion among both boys and girls south of Market street, while on the north side “duck-on-a-rock” holds first place in juvenile esteem. Here again topography plays an important part in determining preference. There are stones to be had in plenty along the rocky cliffs and streets, and the cliffs themselves make jolly backgrounds against which to set up a “duck.”

Knapp’s article does not explain the game, but a description of the game from a decade later seems consistent with the accompanying picture.

Duck-on-a-rock is an old game, but for generation after generation it holds its place in the hearts of the boys who know how to play it. Here it is now for all of you, and girls may become really quite expert at “throwing straight,” if they will try to play the game, too.

A large stone with a smooth top is chosen for the rock, and each player is provided with a stone of the right size to be easily held in that hand. These are the ducks.

Draw a line twenty-five to thirty feet distant from the rock, according to the size of the field played in, and back of this line is “home.” The next step in the game is to “pink for duck,” which consists in each player’s throwing his stone from “home” to the rock. The one whose stone lies farthest from the rock, when all have thrown, is “It,” and must place his stone on the rock for the others to throw at, their object being to knock it off. He must stand near the rock.

If any player knocks the stone from the rock, there must instantly be a general stampede for “home.” The player who is “It” must quickly replace the stone on the rock, and when he has done so must try to touch any player who has not yet reached “home.” The one so touched becomes “It” and must place his “duck” on the rock to be thrown at, standing near by himself.

Cherokee Harmonizer (Centre, Alabama), July 19, 1906, page 3.

There are other complications and alternate procedures for determining who is it, that kick in in the event that no one knocks the duck from its perch on the first try.

Adeline Knapp saw in the game (at least as played on Powell Street in San Francisco) a vision of the potential strength of alloys being smelted in the American melting pot.

I watched a group of boys playing this game on Powell street, at the foot of the high bluff up which Vallejo street clambers and goes wandering heavenward. Quaint, foreign-looking little fellows they were, making a pretty picture bending back and forth in their muscle-developing sport, and I caught phrases from half a dozen different languages in their talk. French, Italian, German, Irish, Mexican, Spanish and one negro lad were among the group playing this Yankee game in this most interesting of cities. It is hard to forecast what is to be the outcome of all this mixing of races, but certainly if we are wise it should be something good and of ultimate value.


 San Francisco Call, March 1, 1896, page 16.



Wednesday, August 17, 2022

du Chaillu, Fremiet and Gemora - Going Ape over early influences on King Kong



King Kong became an instant classic upon release of the original film version in 1933. Critics praised the display of technical advances that allowed for novel special effects which, for the first time, made film-makers “supernaturally powerful - on the screen. We can film anything.”i

But not everything in the film was new.

In “King Kong” the late Edgar Wallace and the director, Merian C. Cooper, didn’t create anything new, but expressed the old in different, phantasmagoric terms.

The tale of “Beauty and the Beast” is given a Hollywoodian twist in scene and setting and character, but the same plot the cinema capitol has used ever since its foundation is repeated here.

 The Cincinnati Enquirer, April 16, 1933, Section 3, page 3.

The dramatic influences did not end with “Beauty and the Beast.” Elements of the plot may have been derived from earlier gorilla-themed films and even older artistic and literary representations of gorillas abducting women.

For more than a decade before the release of King Kong, women imperiled by gorillas had been a standard movie plot device in documentaries (real and fake), dramas, comedies, dramatic-comedies and sensational advertising images promising more sex, danger and lasciviousness than the films actually delivered.

An expedition ventures deep into the jungle and finds natives ready to sacrifice a woman to appease a large gorilla and spare the rest of tribe. It sounds like the opening of King Kong, but it is a description of the notorious fake-documentary, Ingagi (1930).

A gorilla on a remote island loves a beautiful woman and is brought with her to the United States. The gorilla “develops a strange jealousy which drives the beast into a murderous fury.” When panicked by disturbing lights and sounds, the gorilla “breaks out of cage in which he is confined, seizes and runs off with her.” In the end, the ape is killed and the woman saved. It reads like the end of King Kong, but it is from a review of the less-than-classic Lorraine of the Lions (1925).

These and other jungle or gorilla-themed films may have influenced the creation and production of King Kong. Even the title of King Kong may have been influenced by earlier films. The King of the Kongo (1929) was the first-ever “talking” serial with sound in every episode.

And the film Congorilla combined the sounds of “Kong” and “gorilla” in 1932, the year before King Kong’s release.

Motion Picture Herald, Volume 108, Number 3, July 16, 1932, page 6.


The abduction of women by gorillas had even been represented in high art since shortly after the existence of gorillas had been established by Western scientists and naturalists. A sculpture by Emanuel Fremiet won the Medal of Honor at the Paris Salon in 1887. The sculptural representations were likely influenced by fantastical tales told by local Africans to gullible, early explorers.

These and other artistic representations over the years may have had conscious or subconscious influence on the creation and naming of King Kong.ii Along the way, a French-American naturalist, a French sculptor and a Phillipines-born costume designer/make-up artist/actor may all have played a role in shaping the popular perception of gorillas and their portrayal in literature and on the screen, elements of which found their way into King Kong.


Gorilla Tales

Gorillas live in such remote locations that Western naturalists were not even certain of their existence until the second half of the middle of the 19th Century. Although rumors of their existence had been around for centuries, they were unknown (or at least unproven) to science until 1847 and unproven until 1859.

Early accounts of gorillas included accounts by native Africans that included dramatic tales of abductions or kidnappings of humans by gorillas. Those accounts were never taken very seriously by naturalists, but the dramatic imagery took hold in the public perception (or mis-perception) of gorillas’ behavior for decades, coloring artistic and dramatic representations of the large apes, and ultimately inspiring the creation of King Kong.

In 1847, Americans Thomas S. Savage and Jeffries Wyman published their finding of the existence of a second large ape in Africa, in addition the the chimpanzee; an animal they referred to as a gorilla. They had not observed them in the wild, but had access to a single skull and related stories about their behavior from locals and other explorers.

The silly stories about their carrying off women from the native towns, and vanquishing the elephants, related by voyagers and widely copied into books, are unhesitatingly denied. They have been averred of the Chimpanzee, but this is still more preposterous. They probably had their origin in the marvellous accounts given by the natives, of the Enge-ena, to credulous traders.

“Notice of the External Characters and Habits of Troglodytes Gorilla, a New Species of Orang from the Gaboon River,” Thomas S. Savage, M. D., Jeffries Wyman, M. D., Boston Journal of Natural History, Volume 5, Number 4, December, 1847, page 424.

The French-American zoologist, Paul du Chaillu, is widely regarded as first establishing proof of the existence of gorillas in 1859, with reports of observations made in the wild and dead specimens put on display in New York City. Despite Savage’s early skepticism about the rumors of gorilla kidnappings, Harper’s Weekly’s accounts of du Chaillu’s gorilla discoveries in 1859 added fuel to the fire.

The Africans believe that gorillas are men like themselves, who would speak if they did not believe that they might be obliged to work. A sulky race of idlers, in truth! ill tempered, and - though partial to young negresses, whom, it is said, they frequently keep for months together in captivity, and for whose society they desert their proper spouses - very fierce and implacable to man.

Harper’s Weekly, March 5, 1859, page 148.

Winwood Reade, who visited Africa shortly after Paul du Chaillu, cautioned against accepting stories that were “not sufficiently absurd to be put aside as incredible,” but “were not so thoroughly corroborated” as accounts of other behaviors he took more seriously.

[One such] story is the one so often told, not only of gorillas, but of all large monkeys - of women being run away with. At a village on the right-hand bank of the Fernand Vaz, the women are said to have been frequently chased by gorillas as they went to fill their calabashes at the spring. A woman was brought to me who stated that she herself had excited the passion of a gorilla, and had hardly escaped him. In all this, however, there is nothing wonderful. We know that monkeys are susceptible animals. But when one hears of a woman being carried off to the woods and living among apes in a semi-domesticated state, we are justified in thorough disbelief.

W. Winwood Reade, Savage Africa, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1864, page 184.


Gorilla Art

In 1859, as news of du Chaillu’s discoveries trickled back to Europe, a French sculptor named Emanuel Fremiet created what may be the first artistic rendering of a gorilla abducting a woman. His “Gorille Femelle,” in plaster, was submitted to the Paris Salon for exhibition in 1859. The jury rejected the sculpture, in part (it is believed) because they saw in the sculpture a “scene of appalling lust.”

But the joke was on them, because the gorilla was female. That fact was engraved directly on the base of the piece (Gorille Femelle), just in case the anatomically correct, sculpted form wasn’t enough to convince them. Although the jury rejected the piece from exhibition in the salon, the sculptor Nieuwerkerke, then the Director of Fine Arts, ordered the piece to be placed in a side bay, behind a green curtain, so that it was available for viewing, despite not being technically on display in the exhibit.iii

The critic, Theophile Gautier, pronounced it a “masterpiece.” But before the piece was ever cast in bronze, Belgian workers destroyed the plaster original one day, carried away by a feeling they did not explain.iv



From a different perspective.

Fremiet revisited the gorilla-gets-girl motif more successfully nearly two decades later.  In this case, the gorilla is portrayed with an arrow or spear through its left shoulder and holding a rock as a potential weapon.  This second sculpture won the Medal of Honor for sculpture at the Paris Salon of 1887.v

Three years after Fremiet’s “Gorille enlevant une femme” won the Medal of Honor at the Paris Salon, Puck magazine adopted the image as a political cartoon, lampooning the Speaker of the House, Republican Thomas Brackett Reed, who had recently made what were considered unilateral changes to the quorum rules in the House of Representatives. Critics labeled him “Czar,” “dictator,” or “tyrant.”vi


The Reed Outrage.

Speaker Reed, of the House of Representatives, has been guilty of one of the most disgraceful acts to be found in the whole history of that body. It was an outrageous usurpation of power that he should decline to recognize long established rules for the government of that body, and in effect declare, “I am the rules.”

Lancaster Intelligencer (Pennsylvania), February 5, 1890, page 2.

Puck portrayed Reed as an ape-man in place of the original gorilla, with a gavel in place of the original stone, carrying off Columbia instead of an African woman; an arrow labeled, “Carlisle” (Democratic Congressman from Kentucky, who led the opposition to the rules change) sticks out of his shoulder. vii

Despite the beastly depiction of the adoption of the rule, the rule remained in place and was eventually considered fair by all parties.

Quorum counting was invented by Speaker Reed, so far as regards its adoption by the House. The narrowness of the Republican margin, of course, and the impossibility of preserving a quorum under the old rules if the Democrats persisted, as they did, in refusing to answer to their names, was what instigated this innovation. The departure, however, was so clearly in the interest of common fairness and common sense that it soon appealed to everybody, and was adopted by Reed’s political enemies when in power.

Pawnee Courier-Dispatch (Pawnee, Oklahoma), December 1, 1925, page 4.


Fremiet’s vision gained more viewers and achieved a wider recognition a few years later, when the Eden Musee in New York City installed an animatronic wax-work model of the piece. They advertised the piece with lithographic posters plastered all over the city. That poster may be the source of antique lithographs that come up for sale at auction periodically. The scene in the poster matches a description of the setting of the wax-figure as displayed in the museum.  It's not quite the Empire State Building, but they were on the highest point around. 

The anti-vice activist, Anthony Comstock, took umbrage with the poster, but not the wax figure. The wax figure, it was said, had been made in Germany by a friend of Fremiet, furious that his erstwhile fiance’s parents had married her off to an “ugly but immensely wealthy banker.” “It was more lifelike than Fremiet’s marble, for the girl’s features were the features of the banker’s bride.”viii


From the New York World.


The huge wax gorilla that is carrying off a maiden at the Eden Musee was in fine working order Tuesday afternoon. The mechanism in his midst was moving smoothly. His eyes were rolling fiercely as they turned towards the pursuers, who have wounded him with an arrow, as he looked down at the victim clasped in his long, hair right arm. His awful teeth were gnashing by clockwork and he was altogether horrid to the crowd that gaped at him.

The World Tuesday called attention to this reproduction of Fremiet’s sculpture and described it as the latest thing in waxworks. It certainly is. Among the many people whose interest was aroused was Anthony Comstock. He saw the group and he saw numerous life-size lithographic pictures of it. Manager E. J. Crane had covered 150 28-sheet stands with these posters. They are scattered all over New York, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Mount Vernon, Yonkers and adjacent towns. The lithographs are much more lurid than the group itself. Mr. Comstock decided to object to the lithographs.

. . . Fremiet’s sculpture of a gorilla carrying off a maiden is world-famous. Even the marble is sufficiently horrible. The ferocity of the huge beast and the deadly terror of his victim contribute to make it repulsive. Yet the lover of art cannot but admire the sculpture, while he feels a thrill of disgust and an intense desire to spring at the throat of the giant ape and throttle him.

[The wax sculpture from Germany] was placed on exhibition in this city Saturday at the Eden Musee. It is almost inexpressibly horrible. It stands in a dimly lighted chamber in the middle of a grove of trees. The full moon is coming up above the horizon. Clasped in the gorilla’s right arm and pressed tight to his shaggy bosom is the form of a girl. Her eyes are closed, for she has swooned, but even in her fearful dread she seeks with all her feeble power to free herself from the embrace of the monster. Her shapely figure, scantily draped, seems to be not a feather’s weight in the gorilla’s powerful grasp. One hand she presses against the gorilla’s hairy chest, in the vain attempt to release herself. . . .

The beast himself is a nightmare.” If drunkards saw him in their dreams, no need for lectures on temperance. His long, muscular left arm hangs to his knees. In that hand he holds a rock that he has grabbed up to hurl at his pursuers. For he is pursued. The feathers of an arrow that has struck him in his ruthless flight and part of the arrow shaft project from his paunch. He has his death wound. Moved by hideous mechanism, he turns, now to scowl upon those he has left behind, now to gloat over the hapless maiden in his grasp. . . .

There was a crowd about this group all last evening. Some women look at it - most of them looked only for a moment. “Dreadful! horrible!” they exclaimed, and hurried away.

Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), November 29, 1893, page 4.


At about the exact same time the wax version was making headlines in New York City, a Professor Bartlett in Boston gave a lecture on Emmanuel Fremiet, and “gave stereopticon views of some of Fremiet’s most noted works, including the famous ‘Joan of Arc’ in the palace des Pyramids, Paris, and ‘The Horrible Gorilla and Young Girl,’ which he called [Fremiet’s] masterpiece.”ix

The Eden Musee in Montreal also obtained a wax version of the same piece in their collection. An image from their 1902 catalog looks more like a modern “Bigfoot” than Fremiet’s gorilla. It’s not clear whether it was the same one that had been in New York, or a copy. But in either case, they cleaned up the more titillating aspect of the sculpture by adding clothes, and introduced more drama, with signs of a struggle - a man, knife drawn, lying lifeless nearby.


 Gorilla Myths

Despite the fact that actual scientists and naturalists never took the rumors of gorilla kidnapping and trans-species sexual assaults seriously, those stories remained in the public consciousness and spawned decades of implausible fake-news “reporting” on the issue.

One such item included an American showman who hired a woman to help him capture a gorilla in the Congo.

Col. Charles J. (Buffalo) Jones, the famous cowman, who has just passed his seventieth year, is now somewhere in the interior of the French Congo, West Africa, upon a quest such as not even a Hagenbeck [(circus owner)] had the hardihood to attempt. With the aid of a woman whom he has cast in the strangest role that ever fell to a huntress, the white-hair adventurer hopes to accomplish an exploit which has never yet been achieved - the capture of a living adult male gorilla; which, to a degree surpassing all other brutes, combines the qualities of cunning might strength and fiendish ferocity.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 26, 1914, Sunday Magazine, page 3.


The “huntress” was more Annie Oakley than Faye Wray; a member of Buffalo Jones’ earlier “lion-roping enterprise, and was the hero of many hairbreadth escapes.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 26, 1914, Sunday Magazine, page 3.


The kidnapping danger was “real,” at least as supposedly told to Buffalo Jones in a letter to his sister, Olive, as told to him by a “reputable Englishman, Frank K. Williamson, who had spent one-half of his three-score years in the French Congo, and was there proclaimed King by a tribe of cannibals.” The King of the Cannibals! Sounds like a bunch of Hokey Pokey. Coincidentally, the expression “hokey pokey” has its roots in an English music hall song, “The King of the Cannibal Islands.”x


“I had always thought the tales of gorillas stealing women to be myths, but here I had authentic evidence from a trustworthy witness. The woman, he said, one day wandered off about a mile from the village in search of food. A huge gorilla suddenly sprang from the bush, snatched her up in his harms and bore her away into the forest.

“The brute beat her into submission with slaps of his great hands, and when her resistance became more frantic, bit her with his fangs.

“The astonishing thing is that when night came the animal set about building a hut for his captive, a thing which he never does for his mates of his own species. The female gorilla plaits a nest for herself and her young ones in the topmost branches of a tree, but the male gorilla does not help, curling up at the bottom of the tree to protect the family from leopards and other enemies.

“It actually looked in this case, that the gorilla was aware his prisoner was accustomed to living indoors, and attempted to build for her a home such as that to which she was used. From trees he tore limbs or uprooted saplings with his mighty hands and leaned them in a circle against a big tree, so as to form a sort of wigwam. He then covered the framework with brush and grass.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 26, 1914, Sunday Magazine, page 4.

In 1922, a full-page spread gave similar treatment to supposed attacks by an Orangutan. In this case, an orangutan had apparently kidnapped a young Malay girl. Her distraught father eventually found her after a frantic, months-long search, only to have her run away again, to rejoin her orangutan lover in the forest. The story was illustrated with not one, but two sculptures by the French artist, Emanuel Fremiet.xi

Washington Times, November 12, 1922, The American Weekly section, page 9.

Fremiet was apparently fascinated with struggles between humans and animals. Fremiet’s work includes at least eleven such pieces.



Two depict a gorilla carrying away a woman and one depicts an orangutan attacking a woman. Another sculpture depicts a large ape in a victory pose over a Roman gladiator.

Two depict bears mauling men; one a stone age man who has already killed a bear cub, and the other a gladiator. Another flips the script, with a man holding the head of a bear in an apparent victory pose.

Two depict struggles with elephants. In one, a man takes a baby elephant while looking over his shoulder, perhaps on the lookout for a vengeful adult elephant. In another, an elephant is trapped; the human is not shown, but his handiwork is obvious in the man-made snare around its foot.

One depicts a mythological Centaur subduing a bear bare-handed. Finally, St. George, astride a horse in full armor, slays a dragon with his lance or spear.

In a seemingly more innocent scene, Fremiet portrays a half-human/half-animal Pan gently teasing a bear cub with a stick. But stick may be an arrow, so perhaps the Pan is merely giving the young bear a taste of what to expect in the future - not so pleasant after all?

In several of these works, Fremiet portrayed humans as the initial aggressor.  The two gladiators were presumably fighting with captive animals. The stone-age man had killed a bear cub before being mauled by a bear and another beheaded a bear; a man is stealing a baby elephant and an elephant is caught in a snare. 

Other pieces are more ambiguous.  The piece with the orangutan strangling a woman, for example, shows a knife and a young orangutan nearby.  Was the human the aggressor and/or the mother orangutan simply protecting her small child?  And in the second version of the gorilla abducting a woman, the female gorilla is shown with an arrow or spear through her shoulder, raising the question of whether she had been attacked first, or while running away.  

In any case, “critical” analyses suggesting that Fremiet’s gorilla statues somehow represent prevailing attitudes about race and sexualityxii seem misplaced. Taken as a whole, Fremiet’s many sculptures portraying struggles between humans and animals seem to speak more to struggles between human brains and animal brawn, than race or sexuality.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a lance merely a lance.

And, in any case, primitive abduction scenarios were never limited to specific species or specific races.  Jamin's "Rapt a l'age de pierre" was painted one year after Fremiet exhibited his second gorilla-abduction piece.

Rapt a l'age de pierre, Jamin, 1888, Wikimedia Commons.


The press did not limit itself to fake-news about gorillas; fake-news about animals and animal behavior, generally, became such a problem that the President of the United States entered into the fray against the so-called “nature fakirs” (fakers).

[President Theodore Roosevelt] says:

“Like the White Queen in ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ these writers can easily believe three impossible things before breakfast, and they do not mind in the least if the impossibilities are mutually contradictory. Thus one story relates how a wolf with one bite reaches the heart of a bull caribou or a moose or a horse, a feat which of course has been mechanically impossible of performance by any land carnivore since the death of the last saber toothed tiger. But the next story will cheerfully describe a doubtful contest between the wolf and a lynx or a bulldog, in which the latter survives twenty slashing bites. Now, of course a wolf that could bite into the heart of a horse would swallow a bulldog or a lynx like a pill.

Carbondale Daily News (Carbondale, Pennsylvania), August 20, 1907, page 1.


Gorilla Stories

As the scientific community grew to know more about gorillas and their habitat and behaviors, the old stories were given even less credence. But that didn’t stop artists from exploiting the dramatic potential of gorilla-on-girl violence, including in the new medium of film.

A letter to the editor of a film industry magazine describes one of the early attempts at gorilla-themed fiction.

Dear Sir - Excuse the liberty I take in criticizing the motion pictures, but a picture was shown here last week in which a gorilla kidnaps a woman and they fall in love with each other. Outside of frightening the children, it was a most disgusting exhibition. Brutal murders, gruesome and impossible subjects are NOT what the people want. A degenerate might find them interesting, but never a healthy human being.

Anthony, Kan., March 17, 1909.

The Moving Picture World, Volume 4, Number 13, March 27, 1909, page 374.

The public’s interest and fascination in exotic jungle locations was boosted by ex-President Teddy Roosevelt’s extended safari and hunting expedition in Africa, almost immediately after leaving office. Film footage of Roosevelt’s trip were edited into a commercial film, and shown all over the world. Roosevelt published his own account of his trip in a popular book, “African Game Trails,” but with no mention of gorillas.


Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), April 16, 1910, page 9.



Theodore Roosevelt, African Game Trails, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910.


But even before Roosevelt arrived in Africa, a hunter name Fritz Duquesne beat him to the punch. He capitalized on interest in Roosevelt’s upcoming trip with a story entitled, “Hunting Ahead of Roosevelt in East Africa.” The article included an account of his encounter with a gorilla.

Duquesne had been sent to Africa to capture living specimens of “each African quadrumana” (apes and monkeys) for a “German naturalist society.” He traveled with a German professor who, like the filmmakers in King Kong, tried to capture the capture of a gorilla on film. In real life, however, it did not end well for the professor.

The most dangerous animal of all to capture is the gorilla, as much on account of the country it inhabits as on account of its enormous strength, as the following incident will illustrate:

. . . [A] six-foot male gorilla descended unsuspectingly and entered the trap. I signaled, the four ropes were pulled at once, and we had our animal - for a moment. He roared in fury, twisting, jumping and biting the ropes into pieces. The natives were pulled about like dolls as he tried to reach first one and then another. The professor jumped about in excitement, trying to focus a camera on the infuriated animal.

At last the mighty arms of the gorilla broke a hole through the net and he tore the rest from him as though it were a rotten rag. Most of the natives fled in dismay. The professor dropped his camera and tried to escape; in a moment the gorilla grasped him in its terrible hands.

. . . Out on the veld beside a native village a lonely little slab marked “Carl Bloch” sticks up above the grass. It is the professor’s grave. Hunting is not all exciting adventure and laughing victory. It has its tears, like other things.

The Columbia Record (South Carolina), June 12, 1909, page 7.

Accounts of exploits by Roosevelt and others may have helped spur wider interest in adventure tales of remote, wild jungles and the beasts that inhabit them, including gorillas.

A few years later, Edgar Rice Burroughs introduced his character, “Tarzan of the Apes.” “Tarzan of the Apes” first appeared in serial form in 1912, and in book form in 1914. In the original story, Tarzan was raised by “an ape, a huge, fierce, terrible beast of a species closely allied to the gorilla, yet more intelligent.” No gorillas kidnap any woman, but Terkoz, an ape of the same tribe as Tarzan’s protectors, abducts Jane, an American woman alone in the jungle. Tarzan rescues Jane, subduing Terkoz with with a “half-Nelson of modern wrestling.”

Several plot elements of Tarzan had appeared on stage five years before publication. “Melmoth the Man-Monkey” was a human, living in Africa, with ape-like personality, strength and behaviors. Like Tarzan helping Jane who was marooned in Africa with her father, Melmoth helps a young woman named Lucy who is in Africa accompanying her primatologist father on an expedition.

The level of humor in Melmoth may be gleaned from one of the opening lines in the play: 

“It’s the most necessary necessity that ever necessitated a necessary necessitation.”xiii


An early review of Melmoth ties the story back to Fremiet’s gorilla-and-girl statue, and highlights the sculpture’s lasting influence and notoriety. The reviewer praised the dramatic choice of making Melmoth’s condition a result of trauma within the womb, as opposed to an example of trans-species procreation.

They hadn’t dared - and I don’t wonder - to give to their Melmoth a gorilla for a father and a woman for a mother, thus dramatizing that dreadful piece of statuary which shows a beast more horrible than any faun or satyr, carrying a girl away to the forest. It is told at the beginning of the play, that before Melmoth’s birth his mother was so frightened by a gorilla that her was marked by a facial resemblance to a monkey, not only, but was also abnormally, unhumanly, ferociously brutish whenever his monkey overpowered his contrastingly exalted human nature.

The Washington Post, June 2, 1907, page 2.


It’s hard to say whether Melmoth influenced Tarzan specifically, but Melmoth looks Tarzan-like in his leopard-skin tunic, in a cartoon of the character.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1908, page 6.



Gorilla’s on Film (with apologies to Duran Duran)

In 1913, the Solax film studio released “Beasts of the Jungle,” using actors inter-cut with an imported menagerie of animals. As in King Kong, a young woman tames a beast - although this time a tiger.

“Beasts of the Jungle,” a thrilling animal drama, will be featured at the Mozart theater next week. The photoplay is said to be tinted, toned and accurately photographed. Scenes are laid in the treasure-laden hills of the African Transvaal and the aromatic sphere of India. Settings and costumes were secured at a large expense. Animals and scenery used in the production were procured at a cost of $18,000.

The picture tells the story of an American engineer and his little daughter. The child, lost in the jungle, finds herself a hut where a tiger has been trapped. Making friends with the beast, when found by her parents, the child is permitted to take the animal home with her as a pet. A thrilling scene caps the climax, in which a struggle between a man-eating lion and the engineer takes place. As only means of escape, with his family, the engineer sets fire to the building and destroys the beast.

Los Angeles Evening Express, March 1, 1913, page 12.


Some believe this film “spurred the cycle” of narrative jungle movies, with plots rather than documentary (or supposedly documentary) footage.xiv The studio’s company of animals included a lion, a tiger, two elephants, a parrot and a monkey.

Nero, the lion, used in this production, is a big majestic animal only two years in captivity. . . .

Princess, the tiger, is a large sinuous animal, by turns snarling or spitting, or submissive as a cat. . . .

Big ponderous Jumbo and his young son Trump are elephants that, in the aggregate, weigh about a ton. Young and frail little Trump tips the scales at 700 pounds.

Laura, the parrot, is a marvel. Laura is on familiar terms with everybody, and glibly repeats at appropriate occasions whatever she hears about the studio, including “tales out of school.” She is a linguist, and can say “Vilst tu ein Vienna snitzel und Pilsner haben?” . . . .

Mr. Dick is a personage according to the Darwinian theory, and an animal according to common sense. Dick, the monkey, is a diversion between rehearsals. . . .

The Moving Picture World, Volume 15, Number 2, January 11, 1913, page 162.


Not to be outdone, Universal Studios also established its own “zoo.” Universal’s gorilla starred in their comedy, “Joe Martin Turns ‘em Loose,” alongside a zookeeper in drag.

Joe Martin is a real, live gorilla out in Universal City. Paul Bourgeois is in charge of the Universal Zoo. In this comic scream the gorilla is sent to him as a present. Mr. Bourgeois is in the character of an old maid. She goes to a circus, and Joe, following unseen, unlocks all the animal cages and literally “turns ‘em loose.”

Picture and the Picturegoer, January 1, 1916, page 318.

The year 1914 saw the release of several more movies with plot elements involving gorillas and girls. Episode 19 of The Perils of Pauline featured a scene in which Pauline was attacked in a freight car by a gorilla who had escaped from a circus.xv Almost Human featured an almost-human gorilla who rescues a young girl from a burning house.xvi And What the Firelight Showed featured a gorilla entering a home through a woman’s bedroom window - although the only real danger was posed by her protective older brother. The “gorilla” was actually her boyfriend in disguise, sneaking in to invite her to a fancy ball. Her brother mistakes him for a real gorilla and shoots him dead.xvii And in England, Big Ben Films released a movie entitled The Gorilla, although I have been unable to find any synopsis of its plot.xviii


“Tarzan of the Apes” hit the big screen in 1918, complete with a “huge gorilla.”

Motography, Volume 19, Number 26, June 29, 1918, page 1223.


The headline promised the “man who bested huge gorilla,” the text promised “combat with a huge baboon,” and a different advertisement showed what appears to my untrained eyes to be an orangutan. It’s not clear whether the copywriters were not clear about what a gorilla was, or all three appear in the film.



In 1918, a plug for the value of using film in education claimed that photographic imagery was more memorable than a dry lecture. But they never promised reality - this one looks more like a stop-action animation model.


Reel and Slide, March 1918, page 5.

The 1920 film, Go and Get It, featured an Ape Man - a gorilla with a human criminal’s brain transplanted into its skull.xix


In 1925, something more closely resembling plot elements of King Kong hit the theaters. In Carl Laemmle’s Lorraine of the Lions, an ape on a deserted island falls in love with a beautiful woman, is captured and brought to the United States. Panicked by disturbing lights and sounds, he escapes, seizes the woman and runs off with her. In the end, the ape is killed and the woman saved. Despite these similarities, the plot of Lorraine of the Lions more closely resembles Tarzan of the Apes.

“Lorraine of the Lions” . . . is a modern story which deals with the life of a girl who was shipwrecked on a south sea isle, growing up among the beasts of the jungle.

Her father was a circus man and was transporting the circus to America from Australia when the ship was wrecked. The girl and a large number of animals were the only ones saved. The child grew up with the beasts never seeing the sight of a human being for twelve years.

The child’s grandfather conducts a successful search, bringing the girl back to civilization Her romantic experiences prove fascinating to her suitors but Bimi, the immense gorilla brought back from the jungle by the girl develops a strange jealousy which drives the beast into a murderous fury.

Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan), December 23, 1925, page 16.

During a storm Bimi gets panic-stricken, breaks out of cage in which he is confined, seizes Lorraine and runs off with her. Don, fearing for Lorraine’s life, pursues, and rescues her. Bimi is shot and killed, much to the regret of his mistress.

Motion Picture News, Volume 32, Number 7, August 15, 1925, page 845.

The Billings Gazette (Montana), January 17, 1926, page 17.


Gorillas weren’t all drama and terror. The Gorilla, a gorilla comedy, became a hit on Broadway in 1925.

Sneaking in on padded monkey-feet, it opened April 28 to a typical first-night audience, seemingly all set for a cheese-cake feast. Those who came to sneer remained to cheer, for that is just what they did. . . .

It is a slashing, smashing, crashing burlesque of the mystery play craze, with an equipment of gag and situation laughs that combine into easily the most screamingly and furiously funny play in New York this year. . . . [I]t isn’t a satire, it is a roaring lampoon. Yet it has some grisly thrills and even sex punch, where the girl is brought onto the stage, her clothes mostly torn off her, unconscious, and being carried off by a huge gorilla for the second act curtain.

What a combination for a box-office winner.

Variety, Volume 78, Number 12, May 6, 1925, page 27.


A film adaptation of The Gorilla was released two years later.


Exhibitor’s Herald, Volume 31, Number 9, November 12, 1927, page 9.

They made a talking remake in 1930.


Screenland, Volume 22, Number 2, December 1930, page 8.

The actor who played the gorilla in the silent version got some extra publicity out of the suit, for himself and his car.

The actors are Charles Gomorra, whose costumes have made the part of “The Gorilla” famous, and his friend, Miss Edna Marion, both of whom are Chrysler “72” owners. The car here is “The Gorilla’s Chrysler “72” roadster.

The Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1928, part VI (automobile section), page 5.

Charles Gemoraxx (as spelled in IMDB.comxxi) enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, mostly as a makeup artist, but also as an actor and in the wardrobe department. One of the Phillipines-bornxxii actor’s earliest film credits was as the “ape-suit creator” for the 1925 version of The Lost World. He later accumulated more than fifty acting credits as a “gorilla,” as well as a few as an “ape,” a chimpanzee and a bear.

He was not the only actor to play gorillas on screen during the period, but he may have been the most prolific - and perhaps the only one to make his own suit.


Bottom Left: “Charles Gemora, left, in the disguise he himself made and used in ‘The Leopard Lady.’”

Picture Play, Volume 28, Number 2, April 1928, page 97.


The first-ever “all talking serial” featured a gorilla. King of the Kongo ran for ten chapters, beginning in August 1929.

The King of the Kongo

A Serial That Talks

(Mascot Pict. Corp. - 10 Reels)

 . . . Right up with the parade, [Nat Levine] presents the serial fans with the latest fare done with theme song, synchronized score and talk. . . . The film combines an adventure story of the Kongo, some cleverly interwoven library material, animals (with sound) and the usual hair-raising climax at the close of each chapter.

. . . In spite of warnings of a ferocious gorilla that holds a reputation as a killer of travellers enroute to the temple, the two set out; he, to find his brother and she to gather some tidings of her father’s fate.

Motion Picture News, Volume 40, Number 7, August 17, 1929, page 668.

The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), December 19, 1929, page 30.


Like actual gorillas, gorilla suits were potentially dangerous. A Los Angeles movie theater’s advertising stunt resulted in a $300,000 gorilla suit lawsuit in 1929.

Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1929, page 21.


Publicity stunt proved basis for damage suit when Mrs. Hazel Pasley began action against Principal Theaters, Inc., in Los Angeles. Man dressed as gorilla to advertise a production came up behind Mrs. Pasley on street, according to her charges, and seized her. Fright caused a nervous breakdown, she says; $302,300 damages are asked.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 18, 1929, page 4.


The name of the film or event being advertised is not mentioned in any of the articles about the case. Perhaps it was Charles Gemora the Gorilla Guy, the owner of a Chrysler “72”, inside that suit. And perhaps the offending “gorilla” was promoting Stark Mad, a “serio-comic thriller” released in January 1929; another film in which Gemora wore his gorilla suit.

“Stark Mad” is the story of a millionaire who organizes an expedition to penetrate the Central American jungles in search of his long lost son. The party discovers the ruins of an ancient city in the heart of the jungle. Here the party is intercepted by Prof. Dangerfield, an experienced explorer, who brings the long lost son into camp. The prodigal is insane from the results of a siege of the jungle fever.

Between the activities of the insane man and those of Bungawunts, the gorilla, who steps into the picture and out again, usually taking with him some unsuspecting member of the exploring party, the picture is packed with suspense and thrills from start to finish.

The comic side of the production is furnished by Louise Fazenda as Miss Fleming, secretary to the millionaire head of the party.

Chattanooga Daily Times (Tennessee), August 18, 1929, page 47.


In 1930, the dance team of Salvo and Gloria toured the country with their new act, “The Peacock and the Gorilla.” A promotional shot for the act bears somewhat of a resemblance to Fremiet’s sculpture.


The gorilla costume to be worn by Salvo will be the original costume of the play, “The Gorilla.” In creating this unique act, Salvo and Gloria spent considerable time at the New York zoo studying the movements and mannerisms of the gorillas. For artistry and weird contrast, “The Peacock and the Gorilla” has been lauded by many critics.

Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina), April 5, 1930, page 16 (image on the right from “Gorillas - Real and Mythical,” Carle E. Akeley, Natural History, Volume 23, Number 5, September-October, page 430).

They were still performing the dance four years later, after the release of King Kong, when they (according to one reviewer) “out-konged King Kong.”

Salvo and Gloria, the new continental dancers from New York, gave the guests a breath-taking adventure last night when they introduced their thrill number, the ‘Peacock and the Gorilla.’ Gloria was a magnificent peacock and Salvo ‘out-konged King Kong’ in his spectacular gorilla costume, the original costume used in the New York play, ‘The Gorilla.’”

The Shreveport Journal (Louisiana), November 1, 1934, page 3.

Ingagi, arguably the most notorious of the gorilla-themed films, was released in 1930. Like King Kong, it featured the sacrifice of a woman to appease a gorilla; but unlike Kong, Ingagi billed itself as a documentary. The documentation was fake, however, and the Federal Trade Commission eventually elicited a confession from the man in the gorilla suit - Charles Gemora, admitting that the scenes had all been filmed in Hollywood with local actors. It was a big scandal, but made a lot of money.

The Gorilla Talks! I mean, boys and girls, that that furry creature, who in “Ingagi” caused the epidermis to start perambulating up and down our spines, can converse. Even as you and I. And perhaps sometimes better.

For the ape-like gent to whom the young lady was (perhaps not unwillingly) sacrificed in that now-famous film hoax, proves to be none other than the well-known screen colony figure of Charlie Gemora - sculptor, artist, human being.


Evolution: Gemora’s first conception of a gorilla (directly above) has evolved, with years of study, into the suit he wears to-day (top).

Motion Picture, Volume 41, Number 1, February 1931, page 31.


Synthetic “Gorilla”

The synthetic gorilla which recently was discovered to be the gag in the film Ingagi is one of the most ingenious and difficult make-up jobs in the movies. . . . Only a handful of actors in the world know how to make monkeys of themselves while a gorilla costume takes from two to three weeks to make with as many as 16 persons working on it constantly at a cost that approximates $1,200. It consists of three suits of finely woven silk jersey, the one closest to the body made of the finest materials procurable. Chinese hair, two strands at a time, is implanted by hand in the outer. Silk floss muscles are sewn in the second. The gorilla’s belly is of sheet rubber, the head of crude rubber over a solid copper foundation, through which piano wires are strung to move the jaws. The terrifying teeth were once the handle of a toothbrush, while the tongue is a rubber bath sponge. Finger and toe nails, made of celluloid film, complete the imposing real gorilla make-up that can fool even a nation’s foremost scientists.

 Herald and Review (Decatur, Illinois), August 28, 1930, page 6.


Reminiscent of the hilarious hoaxes put upon the grateful public by the late P. T. Barnum, this film stands along among the animal records and may be given a place comparable to that held in literature by Captain Traprock’s Cruise of the Kawa [(a fake account of a South Sea Islands exploration)].

The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), May 21, 1930, page 13.


[Ingagi] was advertised as an educational film and was supposed to be the authentic record of an intrepid African explorer, Sir Hubert Winstead, F. A. S, F. R. G. S., in the gorilla country.

Few pictures of its time were more popular until the Federal Trade Commission closed in. The story centered around the annual sacrifice of a virgin by an African tribe hoping to pacify a ferocious gorilla by deserting the maid in a forest so she could be dragged off to the animal’s lair and added to his harem.

The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), July 15, 1948, page 28.


No record was ever found of the existence of the supposed explorer, Sir Hubert Winstead, F. A. S, F. R. G. S., despite his supposed title and lengthy, very specific credentials. Sir Hubert’s last name may have been the first clue to the fake nature of the fake nature film. 

In 1930, the town of Winsted, Connecticut was still remembered as the “nature-fake depot of old.”xxiii Many of the fake “nature fakir” stories published decades earlier had appeared under the dateline of Winsted, Connecticut. A story about a giant frog shaking the foundations of the house it was under, for example, was published under dateline Winsted, Connecticut, as dispatched to Joseph Pulitzer’s “yellow journalism” organ, the New York World. The victim, a Mr. Middlebrooks, went to great lengths to save his house from the monstrous frog.

The frog weighed fully six pounds, he says, and every time it croaked the bungalow cracked and shook.

Mr. Middlebrooks bought an anchor, strong rope and enough red flannel to bait 100 hooks, and will try to save his property by capturing the bullfrog. - Winsted (Conn.) dispatch to New York World.

The Arlington Enterprise (Arlington, Kansas), August 13, 1909, page 7.


Evening Star (Washington DC), January 30, 1911, page 4.


Although producer [Merian C. Cooper] never listed "Ingagi" among his influences for "King Kong," it's long been held that RKO green- lighted "Kong," despite the studio having fallen into receivership in the midst of the Depression, because of the bottom-line example of "Ingagi": Gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals enormous profits. And if that was indeed the case, there's no doubt that "King Kong" was by far the best thing to be spawned by "Ingagi."

Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2006, section E, page 6.


Although the producer may not have listed the film as an influence, two plot elements were lifted directly out of Ingagi and placed in the middle of King Kong, suggesting perhaps it was more of an influence than he cared to admit.

The “highlight” (or lowlight) of Ingagi was a sequence in which a woman was sacrificed to a gorilla, with the suggestion of some sexual intent. The supposedly “real” gorilla was played by none other than Charles Gemora. In addition, the character of Carl Denham in Kong describes (at about 18:30)xxiv a scene he once shot in Africa, of a rhinoceros charging a cameraman. A scene matching that description had appeared in Ingagi (beginning at 41.35).

Charles Gemora’s gorilla suit might, possibly, may have a more direct connection to King Kong. Following his death in 1961, Gemora’s obituary in the entertainment trade magazine, Variety (August 30, 1961, page 63) suggested that he “achieved his first measure of fame as the oversize gorilla of the film, ‘King Kong,’ and later appeared in various ape guises in ‘The Unholy Three,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Love Life of the Gorilla.’” There is, however, no proof or any other evidence of his participation in King Kong. And, according to the American Film Institute, most modern sources suggest that all of the ape scenes in Kong were created through animation, and not a live actor. It seems unlikely that Gemora actually played the ape.xxv

Adding fuel to the fire, a 71-year old ex-stuntman and rodeo rider, working as a security guard in Chicago, Illinois, came forward in 1976, claiming to have played the role of King Kong in the original film, wearing his own custom-made, $3,500 ape suit, which he had specially made for his audition.xxvi His name was Carmen Nigro, although his professional name had reportedly been Ken Roady. He also claimed to have toured with his suit as part of a “girl-and-gorilla act” (similar to Salvo and Gloria’s peacock and gorilla act).

Nigro claims to have perfected his gorilla act during travels to Malaysia to see the gorilla in its natural habitat, and to have played the gorilla in The Unholy Three (1930). Gorillas live in Africa not Malaysia, however, and credits Charles Gemora as having played the gorilla in The Unholy Three, so perhaps Nigro’s boasts should be taken with a grain of salt - or not taken at all.



Fremiet’s gorilla sculptures, the wax museum copy and its advertising posters; Tarzan of the Apes, Lorraine of the Lions and Stark Mad; The King of the Kongo, Congorilla, Ingagi and even Charles Gemora’s gorilla suit; all of these and more may have been direct or indirect influences on the plot, portrayal and naming of King Kong.




But don’t get me started on the influence of The Wild Women of Borneo.





Hitler as Fremiet's Gorilla - Punch 1939






i  Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, March 11, 1933, page 8 (quoting the director, Merian C. Cooper).

ii  In an exchange of letters in 1964, between naturalist and film maker, William Douglas Burden, and “King Kong” creator, Merian C. Cooper, Burden recalled conversations the two had had during the years 1929 and 1930. Burden recalled that Cooper had “especially liked the strength of words beginning with ‘K,’ such as Kodak, Kodiak Island, and Komodo. It was then, I believe, that you came up with the idea of Kong as a possible title for a gorilla picture. . . . I believe that it was the combination of the King of Komodo phrase in my book and your invention of the name Kong that led to the title you used much later on, King Kong.” Mark Cotta Vaz, Living Dangerously, New York, Villard Books, 2005, page 193. Cooper’s love of K-words may have been the clincher, but even assuming these recollections are true, Cooper would likely have been familiar with the serial, “The King of the Kongo,” in 1929, the same year he was said to have been taken by Burden’s phrase, “King of Komodo.” Consciously or subconsciously, it seems likely that “King of the Kongo” may have had some influence on the later-named “King Kong.”

iii  Jacques de Biez, E. Fremiet, Paris, Jouve & Cie, 1859, pages 64 et seq.

iv  Jacques de Biez, E. Fremiet, Paris, Jouve & Cie, 1859, pages 64 et seq.

v  Art historians generally assess Fremiet’s gorilla abduction groups “in the context of shifting discourses of evolutionary theory.” Other scholars have drawn connections between these works and “the racist slippage between Africans and apes present in fin-de-siecle French science and popular culture . . . .” One writer “argues that Fremiet’s groups demonstrate the weakness of nonwhite subjects - a Negress, for example - and thus work to justify colonial rule.” See, “Scarified Skin and Simian Symptoms: Experimental Medicine and Picasso’s Les Demoisells d’Avignon,” Kathleen Pierce, (, citing Maria Pele Gindhard, “The Art and Science of Late Nineteenth-Century Images of Human Prehistory at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 139.


Looking at Fremiet’s entire oeuvre of animal-human violence, however, may suggest that sometimes an ape is just an ape, and a victim is a victim, not representative of larger sociological issues, or at least not those particular social issues. Fremiet’s work includes at least eleven pieces depicting physical struggles between animals and humans or human-like beings. Two depict a gorilla carrying away a woman and one depicts an orangutan attacking a woman. Another sculpture depicts a large ape in a victory pose over a Roman gladiator. Two depict bears mauling men; one a stone age man who has already killed a bear cub, and the other a gladiator. Another flips the script, portraying a man holding a bear head in an apparent victory pose. Two depict struggles with elephants. In one, a man takes a baby elephant while looking over his shoulder, perhaps on the lookout for a vengeful adult elephant. In another, an elephant is caught in a man-made snare; the human is not shown, but his handiwork is obvious. One depicts a mythological Centaur subduing a bear bare-handed. Finally, St. George, astride a horse in full armor, slays a dragon with his lance or spear.


In several of the works, human men are portrayed as the initial aggressor. The two gladiators were presumably fighting with captive animals. The stone-age man had killed a bear cub before being mauled by a bear, a man is stealing a baby elephant, and an elephant is caught in a snare. In the piece with the orangutan strangling a woman, the circumstances are more ambiguous, but a knife and a young orangutan are nearby, so perhaps the human was the aggressor or the adult orangutan was defending the young one. In the sculptures depicting women being taken by gorillas or strangled by an orangutan, the women are depicted wearing clothing more-or-less typical of the clothing worn by women who live in the regions where those animals live. And the women are being taken or mauled involuntarily, so the suggestion that the sculptures imply “stereotypes about the lascivious and degenerate sexuality of African, and particularly Hottentot, women” seems misplaced. And if those sorts of arguments were given any weight at all, what does that say about the sexual overtones of a centaur bear-hugging a bear to death or a gladiator and stone-age man being bear-hugged to death by a bear? Or of the African man depicted stealing a baby elephant? Or St. George and the dragon? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a lance merely a lance.

vi  The Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), March 12, 1891, page 11.

vii  Columbia was the female personification of the United States (a feminine Uncle Sam). Columbia was later mostly supplanted by Lady Liberty, following the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

viii  Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), November 29, 1893, page 4.

ix  The Boston Globe, November 29, 1893, page 3.

x  See my post, “Hokey Pokey” and Madame Boki - Hawaiian Royalty and the History and Origin of “Hokey Pokey.”

xi  Washington Times, November 12, 1922, The American Weekly section, page 9.

xii  See, “Scarified Skin and Simian Symptoms: Experimental Medicine and Picasso’s Les Demoisells d’Avignon,” Kathleen Pierce, (, citing Maria Pele Gindhard, “The Art and Science of Late Nineteenth-Century Images of Human Prehistory at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 139.

xiii  Washington Post, June 2, 1907, page 2.

xiv  “Missing Links: The Jungle Origins of King Kong,” Gerald Peary,

xv  The Moving Picture World, Volume 22, Number 10, December 5, 1914, page 1437.

xvi  The Bioscope, Supplement to Volume 25, Number 421, November 5, 1914, page viii.

xvii  The Bioscope, Supplement to Volume 23, Number 391, April 9, 1914, page vii.

xviii  The Bioscope, Volume 23, Number 397, May 21, 1914, page 884.

xix  Austin-American Statesman (Texas), April 3, 1921, section two, page 6.



xxii  He has been variously described as “born in the Philippines,” “Spanish-American” and born to a father in the U.S. Navy while stationed in the Philippines; none of which are mutually exclusive, so they may all be true.

xxiii  Detroit Free Press, November 23, 1930, part 5, page 1.

xxiv (King Kong, in Italian).

xxv  “King Kong, History” AFI Catalog of Feature Films, the First 100 Years 1893-1993.

xxvi  “Hints from a Gorilla: Start at the Top,” Peter Gorner (Chicago Tribune Service), The Miami Herald, January 19, 1976, page 1D.