KING KONG Cartoon Series Guide
A Look Back at the Classic Rankin/Bass Show
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Steve Vincent, Classic Media, various
You know the name of King Kong
You know the fame of King Kong
Ten times as big as a man!
Thirty three years after King Kong first took the world by storm, the Eighth Wonder of the World returned in an all-new Saturday morning cartoon series. While rarely seen today, the show is fondly remembered by older viewers and holds a special distinction with Toho monster movie fans since it inspired both GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER (Gojira, Ebira, Mosura: Nankai-no Daiketto, 1966) and KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu no Gyakushu, 1967).
The animated KING KONG (a.k.a. THE KING KONG SHOW) was created by Rankin/Bass Productions, a company founded in 1960 by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Originally named Videocraft International, Rankin/Bass is best known for some of the most popular holiday specials in television history, starting with RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964) and including FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (1969), SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN (1970), and THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974).
In 1966, the company received permission from RKO General, Inc. to use the name and likeness of King Kong for an animated series and new live-action film. Working with writers Lew Lewis, Bernard Cowan, and Ron Levy, Rankin and Bass crafted the concept for KING KONG; renowned scientist Professor Bond brings his teenage daughter Susan and young son Bobby along on an extended exploration of Mondo (sometimes referred to as Skull Island), a tropical island that is home to a variety of dinosaurs, prehistoric animals, and mysterious beast called Kong.
After King Kong saves Bobby from a Tyrannosaurus Rex the two become best friends, and the giant ape joins the Bond family and Captain Englehorn (based on the character from the 1933 KING KONG) for adventures on Mondo Island and all across the globe. In addition to the occasional dinosaur attack, the group must deal with natural disasters, monsters, the military, alien invaders, and recurring villain Dr. Who, a deranged genius whose creations include the robotic Kong doppelganger, Mechani-Kong.
KING KONG premiered with an hour-long primetime pilot episode on the ABC network on Tuesday, September 6, 1966. The show moved into its regular Saturday morning timeslot on September 10 and was shown on ABC thru August 31, 1969 then offered in syndication by ABC Films. Twenty four half-hour episodes were produced, each containing two King Kong tales (which run about 7 minutes apiece) and one story of Tom of T.H.U.M.B. – a silly spoof of spy movies featuring a janitor and his assistant Swinging Jack who are accidentally shrunken to 4 inches and join the top secret organization T.H.U.M.B. (Tiny Humans Underground Militaristic Bureau) to battle the nefarious agents of M.A.D. (Maladjusted, Antisocial, and Darn mean). For reruns, the KING KONG pilot was later split into two shows (entitled “A Friend in Need” and “The Key to the City”), making for a complete series of 26 episodes.
The voice cast for the series included several regular Rankin/Bass performers. Professor Bond was voiced by Carl Banas, a popular commercial announcer from Canada who also played “Charlie-in-the-Box” in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER as well as the Scorpion and other villains in the first SPIDER-MAN cartoon series (1967). Bobby was played by Billie Mae Richards, most famous as the voice of Rudolph the Reindeer in many of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. Richards also played Billy Connor (the son of the Lizard) on the SPIDER-MAN show and provided the voice of Toschio in the initial US release of GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE (Daikaiju Gamera, 1966). The voice of Susan Bond was supplied by Susan Conway, the star of Rankin/Bass’ RETURN TO OZ (1964) and host of the 1970s television series DROP-IN.
Additional parts were played by John Drainie, a documentary narrator who had appeared in TV shows like MAGGIE MUGGINS (1955) and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (1956), Alf Scopp, and Paul Soles (the original cartoon voice of Peter Parker/Spider-Man). Oddly enough, Paul Frees (a Rankin/Bass veteran who also dubbed movies like RODAN) did not work on the show, though he would later provide the English dub voice for Dr. Who in KING KONG ESCAPES.
KING KONG has the distinction of being the first animated show created in Japan for broadcast in the United States. While scripts, designs, and voice acting were all done in the US by Rankin/Bass, the episodes were drawn overseas by Toei Animation (then known as Toei Doga). Many of the Japanese staff who worked on KONG were also responsible for some of the most famous anime of the 1960s and 70s. The animators included Sakei Kitamasa, Osamu Kobayashi (THE TALE OF GENJI), Norio Fukumoto (DEVILMAN, GREAT MAZINGER VS GETTER ROBO), Tsutomu Shibayama (GHOST QTARO, DORAEMON), Midori Kusube, Takao Kasai, Yasuo Maeda (NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD, WHITE WOLF), and Yasuji Mori (ALAKAZAM THE GREAT, LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON).
Toei also put production money into KING KONG in exchange for Japanese distribution rights. On December 31, 1966 the pilot episode— called KING OF THE WORLD: THE KING KONG SHOW (Sekai-no Osha Kingu Kongu Taikai)— was shown on the Japanese channel NET (Nihon Educational Television Co., Ltd). NET also broadcast the series KING KONG AND 1/7th TOM THUMB (Kingu Kongu 0001/7 Oyayubi Tomu) from April 5-October 4, 1967.
Compared to modern anime, or even other classic shows like SPEED RACER, the animation in KING KONG is rather crude… but the show definitely has a charm of its own. This is due in large part to appealing character designs from Rod Willis (RETURN TO OZ) and two Mad Magazine artists; Paul Coker Jr (character/production designer for FROSTY THE SNOWMAN and SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN) and the legendary Jack Davis (MAD MONSTER PARTY?, 1967). Davis reportedly created designs for the “angry Kong” while Coker worked out the monster’s happier expressions and also designed the Bond Family and arch nemesis Dr. Who.
The stories, while simplistic, are a clever mix of humor and adventure. The voice actors generally play things in a straightforward manner, but there are a few hammy characters (mostly villains) who often go over-the-top and imitate horror stars like Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre. KING KONG also includes some rather violent action. Kong’s battle with the Tyrannosaur in the pilot episode is surprisingly brutal for a kids’ show, and a nice reminder that the series was made long before the days of bland, safe children’s programming.
Topping off the show is some wonderful sounds effects (the jungle noises are a hoot) and great music by Maury Laws and Jules Bass, particularly “The King Kong Theme” that both explains the series’ premise and is a very catchy tune. After watching an episode or two of KING KONG, there’s a high probability the theme song will be stuck in the viewer’s head for hours.
While the KING KONG cartoon was in production, Rankin/Bass approached Toho Studios (who had previously made the hit KING KONG VS GODZILLA) about co-producing a live-action theatrical film based on the show. Toho executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka assigned screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa (MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS THE THING, GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER) to the project, but Sekizawa’s script “King Kong vs Ebirah: Operation Robinson Crusoe” was rejected by Arthur Rankin because he felt it did not capture the feel of the animated show. Rather than waste the screenplay, Toho replaced Kong with Godzilla and filmed it as GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER. Toho made only minor changes to the script so in the movie Godzilla exhibits some moments of oddly Kong-like behavior, including an interest in a beautiful woman.
Toho’s second attempt at a Rankin/Bass-style King Kong story, this time written by Takeshi Kimura (under the pen name “Kaoru Mabuchi”), hit the mark. The new screenplay featured concepts, characters, and situations introduced in the cartoon such as Mondo Island, Dr Who (who kidnaps King Kong after knocking the ape unconscious with gas bombs), an arctic hideout, Mechani-Kong, and even a lead female character named Susan. Arthur Rankin supervised the Americanization of the film, which was released in the US by Universal Pictures as KING KONG ESCAPES in 1968. After completing its theatrical run, the movie was shown repeatedly on television and is now available on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Following their work with Kong, Rankin/Bass would produce popular films and shows like MAD MONSTER PARTY?, the animated versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT (1977) and THE RETURN OF THE KING (1980), the television series THE JACKSON FIVE (1971), THUNDERCATS (1985), and SILVERHAWKS (1986), and the feature film THE LAST UNICORN (1982). The company also co-produced three TV movies with Tsuburaya Productions; THE LAST DINOSAUR (Kyokutei Tankensen Pora-Bora, 1977), THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (Bamyuda-no Nazo, 1978) and THE IVORY APE (1980). Production wound down in the mid-1980s, though Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass still occasionally re-teamed for projects up to the FOX holiday special SANTA BABY! (2001). Both men are now retired.
In 1998, the rights to all Rankin/Bass television programming from 1960-1974 were acquired by Classic Media, a New York-based company specializing in recognizable family entertainment properties such as the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, Lassie, Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Underdog, and Rocky & Bullwinkle. On November 15, 2005 Classic Media released two DVDs of the KING KONG show as part of the marketing blitz surrounding Warner Bros.’ DVD release of the original KING KONG and Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated theatrical remake.
The two volumes of Classic Media’s KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES feature the first eight episodes of the show plus parts 1 and 2 of the series pilot. With one or two exceptions, the episodes are presented complete and unaltered with full open and closing titles, commercial bumpers, and previews for the next show. Each DVD has an approximate running time of 108 minutes and a suggested retail price of $12.98.
PILOT (original broadcast 9/6/1966)
“King Kong”– Professor Bond brings his children Susan and Bobby with him on an exploration of Mondo Island. Bobby discovers a valley full of prehistoric beasts and is almost eaten by a Tyrannosaur before being rescued by King Kong. The small boy and the giant ape become fast friends, and Professor Bond and Captain Englehorn decide to take Kong to the US for study.
While at sea, Kong saves Englehorn and the Bond family from a giant octopus called the Kraken. But a severe storm washes King Kong to New York City. Kong climbs the Empire State Building, and the Bond family must stop an overzealous military from attacking the giant ape.
EPISODE 1 (original broadcast 9/10/1966)
King Kong: “Under the Volcano” – While exploring a long dormant volcano on a neighboring island, the Bond family is captured by the inhabitants of an underground kingdom. Kong races to the rescue, but the villains have prepared a trap for him as well.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “For the Last Time, Feller…I’m not Bait!” – When a boat containing plans for a top secret weapon sinks at sea, Tom and Swinging Jack use their mini-sub to recover the plans before they fall into the hands of M.A.D.
King Kong: “The Treasure Trap” – Bobby discovers an ancient sunken ship. As he explores the wreck, an earthquake strikes Mondo Island and traps Bobby underwater.
EPISODE 2 (original broadcast 9/17/1966)
King Kong: “The Horror of Mondo Island” – When Phantasium is discovered, a greedy mining corporation arrives on Mondo Island to dig up the rare metal. Bobby uses a war-painted Kong to send the miners packing before they destroy the island’s ecosystem.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Hey, that was a Close One World!” – Tom and Jack go underground to deactivate a M.A.D. doomsday weapon.
King Kong: “Dr. Who” – The evil scientist kidnaps King Kong. This short features many elements that would later appear in KING KONG ESCAPES, including a main villain who knocks out Kong with gas bombs then carries him from Mondo Island with helicopters.
EPISODE 3 (original broadcast 9/24/1966)
King Kong: “Rocket Island” – Dr. Who disrupts the launch of the Gemini Capsule in order to blackmail the US for 10 million dollars.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “I was a 9 ½ oz. Weakling Till One Day…” – M.A.D. agents capture Tom and Jack and put them in a miniaturized city so that the pair will think they’ve grown gigantic and go mad.
King Kong: “The African Bees” – A giant swarm of aggressive bees descend on Mondo Island, and King Kong uses his brains to protect Professor Bond and a moronic Texas millionaire.
EPISODE 4 (original broadcast 10/1/1966)
King Kong: “The Hunter” – A safari hunter named Ulrich Von Kramer uses Bobby as bait to trap the biggest game of all, King Kong. This story features some hilarious monologues from the egotistical Von Kramer and a battle between Kong and a Triceratops.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “I was a Starling for the USA!” – Tom and Swinging Jack infiltrate a flock of birds to learn which ones have become agents of M.A.D.
King Kong: “The Space Men” – A pair of weird aliens land on Mondo Island to get animal specimens (including Bobby and Captain Englehorn) before they conquer Earth.
EPISODE 5 (original broadcast 10/8/1966)
King Kong: “The Jinx of the Sphinx” – Kong and the Bond family travel to Egypt to investigate reports of a monster sphinx destroying ships on the Suez Canal. The sphinx turns out to be the first robotic creation of Dr. Who.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Cool Nerves and… Steady Hands” – M.A.D. agents fill the municipal swimming pool with nitroglycerine, and only Tom and Jack can get close enough to use a can of “nitro neutralizer” before the city is blown to smithereens.
King Kong: “The Greeneyed Monster” – Kong gets jealous when Bobby looks after Capt. Englehorn’s pet dog. This episode includes a giant vulture-like bird wearing a hat (!?) that tries to eat the pup.
EPISODE 6 (original broadcast 10/15/1966)
King Kong: “The Top of the World” – Dr. Who establishes a base at the North Pole and begins to melt the arctic ice with his atomic invention, the Meltifier. As Alaska begins to flood, the Bond family arrives to save the world with the help of King Kong.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “All Guys from Outer Space are Creeps” – Tom and Jack are tied to a firecracker and launched into space to befriend a two-headed beatnik alien from Saturn before he can join forces with M.A.D.
King Kong: “The Golden Temple” – Bobby and Professor Bond discover a sunken Etruscan temple off the coast of Mondo Island but, when the professor tries to explore further he is sucked into an underwater whirlpool.
EPISODE 7 (original broadcast 10/22/1966)
King Kong: “The Electric Circle” – An evil scientist decides to turn Mondo Island into a nuclear missile base for his country, so he kidnaps Bobby as bait to lure Kong into an electric trap. This episode features a very aggressive Triceratops (Professor Bond states that this dinosaur is the “most vicious animal in the world” and “He doesn’t kill for food, he kills for pleasure”) and a villain who sounds like Peter Lorre.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Mechanical Granma” – To learn why the bad guys are so “maladjusted, antisocial, and darn mean”, Tom and Jack infiltrate M.A.D. with a robot “Trojan Horse” built in the shape of a kindly grandmother.
King Kong: “Mirror of Destruction” – On a remote island near San Francisco (?!), a scientist has constructed a giant heat cannon. Dr. Who takes the inventor hostage, then lures the Bond family to the island in order to use the mirrored weapon to kill King Kong.
EPISODE 8 (original broadcast 10/29/1966)
King Kong: “Tiger Tiger” – Two perfectly preserved sabretooth tigers are found frozen at the North Pole. When Professor Bond thaws them out, the giant cats revive and attack an Eskimo village.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “The Day We Almost had It” – Only Tom can disarm a M.A.D. time bomb before the city is blown to smithereens… but Tom has amnesia after repeated hits to the head.
King Kong: “The Vise of Dr. Who” – Dr. Who lures the Bond family and Capt. Englehorn to a fake children’s home and traps them in a metal room with freezing and burning walls that slide inward like a giant trash compactor. Can Kong save them?
EPISODE 9 (original broadcast 11/5/1966)
King Kong: “King Kong’s House”– While looking for fossils in a large cave, Professor Bond and Bobby are sealed in by a sudden rockslide and have to deal with a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Tom Makes History”– Tom and Swinging Jack time travel to the Revolutionary War to save George Washington from the latest M.A.D. scheme.
King Kong: “MechaniKong”– King Kong is accused of attacking New Guinea, but the real culprit proves to be Mechani-Kong, a giant robot created and operated by Dr. Who. To clear his name, Kong goes toe-to-toe with his robot double.
EPISODE 10 (original broadcast 11/12/1966)
King Kong: “The Giant Sloths”– King Kong battles a pair of prehistoric giant, clawed ground sloths.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Tom Scores Again”
King Kong: “The Legend of Loch Ness”– The Bond family head to Scotland to investigate reports of the Loch Ness Monster, and Kong soon finds himself in a life-or-death struggle with the legendary lake serpent.
EPISODE 11 (original broadcast 11/19/1966)
King Kong: “Dr. Bone”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Blow, Jack, Blow!”
King Kong: “No Man’s Snowman”
EPISODE 12 (original broadcast 11/26/1966)
King Kong: “The Desert Pirates”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Tom and the TV Pirates”
King Kong: “Command Performance”
EPISODE 13 (original broadcast 12/3/1966)
King Kong: “The Sea Surrounds Us”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “The Girl from M.A.D.”
King Kong: “Show Biz”
EPISODE 14 (original broadcast 12/10/1966)
King Kong: “The Wizard of Overlord”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Just One of those Nights”
King Kong: “Perilous Porpoise”
EPISODE 15 (original broadcast 12/17/1966)
King Kong: “The Trojan Horse”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Runt of 1,000 Faces”
King Kong: “The Man from K.O.N.G.”
EPISODE 16 (original broadcast 12/24/1966)
King Kong: “Caribbean Cruise”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Hello, Dollies!”
King Kong: “Diver’s Dilemma”
EPISODE 17 (original broadcast 12/31/1966)
King Kong: “The Great Sun Spots”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Pardner”
King Kong: “Kong is Missing”
EPISODE 18 (original broadcast 1/7/1967)
King Kong: “In the Land of the Giant Trees”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Beans is Beans”
King Kong: “Captain Kong”
EPISODE 19 (original broadcast 1/14/1967)
King Kong: “Statue of Liberty Play”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “What Goes Up…”
King Kong: “Pandora’s Box”
EPISODE 20 (original broadcast 1/21/1967)
King Kong: “The Thousand Year Knockout” – Professor Bond brings his family to Paris for a public exhibition of King Kong. But their tour is interrupted by a giant gargoyle, which has awakened from a thousand years of suspended animation to battle Kong on the rooftops and towers of the city.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Our Man, the Monster”
King Kong: “Desert City”
EPISODE 21 (original broadcast 1/28/1967)
King Kong: “Eagle Squadron”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Never Trust a Clam”
King Kong: “The Kong of Stone”
EPISODE 22 (original broadcast 2/4/1967)
King Kong: “Murderer’s Maze”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Drop that Ocean, Feller”
King Kong: “The Great Gold Strike”
EPISODE 23 (original broadcast 2/11/1967)
King Kong: “It Wasn’t There Again Today”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “Plug that Leak”
King Kong: “The Mad Whale”
EPISODE 24 (original broadcast 2/18/1967)
King Kong: “The King Kong Diamond”
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: “The Scooby”
King Kong: “Anchors Away”
EPISODE 25 (2/25/1967)
“A Friend in Need” – Part 1 of the series pilot; featuring the Bond Family’s arrival on Mondo Island, King Kong’s battle with the Tyrannosaurus, the first meeting between Kong and Bobby, and the sea battle between Kong and the Kraken.
EPISODE 26 (3/4/1967)
“The Key to the City” – Part 2 of the series pilot; a storm at sea washes King Kong to New York City. Kong climbs the Empire State Building, and the Bond family must stop an overzealous military from attacking the giant ape.