James H. Burns has posted a trilogy of fine articles at The Thunder Child about a New York City TV station’s tradition of programming sf and fantasy movie marathons on holidays, leading whole families to park in front of the set on Thanksgiving and watch King Kong for the zillionth time.
King Kong in the City: A Thanksgiving Tradition: Burns tells about his father’s affinity for the famous ape movie, and his personal memory of discovering the film on Saturday morning TV in the Sixties. The station was New York’s channel 9 (the former WOR-TV) and in the next decade it broadcast the movie every Thanksgiving, before long adding the sequel, Son of Kong, and 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, another stop-motion animation picture, from Kong’s creators. The annual tradition lasted until 1985.
Chris Steinbrunner: A Renaissance of Fantasy: Chris Steinbrunner, an executive with WOR-TV, is according to Burns “one of the great unsung heroes of fandom, who helped run many of his era’s conventions, was an Edgar-award winning author, wrote one of the very first books on science fiction and fantasy movies, published many books (with Centaur Press)… and produced what may well be a lost 007 special!…” Burns says, “My old pal was a pretty neat guy, and a while ago, I was stunned that save for a short Wikipedia entry, there was virtually none of Chirs’ history on the web.” Articles like this surely will keep him from being forgotten.
One of the great times Chris and I were together came early one morning in 1983 when we ran into each other high atop the Empire State Building, gathered on the Observation Deck for a special press party commemorating King Kong’s fiftieth anniversary. With the men in suits and the ladies elegantly attired, champagne was poured as we looked towards the bi-planes in the distance, booked especially for the event, that buzzed as though in a dream, above the shores of Manhattan.
When someone asked Chris about Kong Thursdays, he replied, as he almost always did, with a quick pause, a sudden smile, and said: “King Kong on Thanksgiving…? Whoever would have thought of such an odd idea?”
Meanwhile, At the Empire State Building: The third installment is about the Empire State Building and Fay Wray.
Postscript: Burns also mentions that King Kong debuted on television in 1956 when WOR bought the rights for its pioneering program, The Million Dollar Movie, which aired the same film every day for a week. In Los Angeles KHJ adopted the Million Dollar Movie format and there I first encountered Godzilla at perhaps the age of 7 or 8. Clueless about Raymond Burr’s B-movie career I thought — How cool is it that the most famous actor on TV, the star of Perry Mason, was in this epic monster movie?
Chris Steinbrunner was a great character, with an affected semi-Brit accent, who was equally at home with SF, Sherlock Holmes and mysteries, fields in which he was an acknowledged expert. For years, because he worked as a producer at WOR-TV, he was the person who supplied NYC-area conventions with films, in the days before the invention of the VCR. He was a wonderful raconteur, and held his own with the heaviest drinkers of the era. He is still greatly missed by those of us fortunate to have known him.
Raymond Burr was in the US version of Godzilla, which had been dubbed into English. But if you watch the original in Japanese (which isn’t even titled “Godzilla”) …
Huh. That was a family ritual for years, although we took different “lessons” from Kong. For a time King Kong was preceded by Yellow Submarine, which was particularly poignant in ’81. (Dad managed to catch his football games only because we had multiple sets.)
Million Dollar Movie introduced me to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.