Edgar Wallace: The Man Who Gave Us King Kong

From 2005.

In 1992, a pair of German immigrant brothers were visiting me in Texas. They were in their twenties. One of them asked me, “Have you ever heard of Edgar Wallace?”

It was an odd question, I thought. What interest did he have in Edgar Wallace?

“Yes,” I replied. “He was the author of crime novels in the 1920’s.”

They were amazed. “You are the first American we have ever asked who knew who he was.” This was even more curious. Apparently, they had used the Edgar Wallace question to confound Americans. Why, I could not imagine.

“Wallace’s novels are still read in Germany,” they said. This did not impress me so much as it astounded me. Why would anyone read his novels at this late date? It must have something to do with the Teutonic mind. Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $25.00 (as of 06:10 EST - Details)

I had never actually read an Edgar Wallace novel. I had never even seen one. I have yet to see one. Yet they sold by the millions.

My literary gap was no liability. In the modern world, trivia counts. It matters not at all that a person has never read an author’s works. What matters is his familiarity with detailed though useless information about an author’s private life. So, I decided to lay it on. “He was a diabetic. He died early in the 1930’s, having spent all of his money, working in Hollywood on his final project.”

Then I delivered the coup de grâce. “Wallace’s last project is the only thing he ever wrote that anyone except Germans remember. He was working on a screenplay about a giant ape.”

In the Christmas season, 2005, the whole world is once again going to delight in the story that Edgar Wallace left to posterity.

Think about this. Wallace was one of the most popular authors of his era. He cranked out so many crime novels so rapidly – he took about a week to write one – that they were referred to as “Wallaces.” Yet he was forgotten in the United States within a decade. When most Americans think of crime novels, Edgar Wallace is not one of the authors they recall. He was not on the list in 1950, either.

Here was an author who had a remarkable skill: the ability to meet consumer demand as fast as it registered. He never suffered from writer’s block.

He spent every dime he made, and then some. Good Britisher that he was, he drank 30 cups of tea daily. Diabetic that he was, he added five spoons of sugar to each cup. Eventually, this killed him.

The Great Depression wiped him out financially. In December 1931, he went to Hollywood to earn a salary of $3,000 a week. Two months later, he died.


King Kong was released in 1933. No other movie released in 1933 has had a greater market. No other 1933 movie still grabs people, not as an artsy example of a classic early film, but for its own entertainment value. It was repeatedly released to the theater-going public. I saw it first in one of those re-releases, probably around 1954. Amazon.com Gift Card i... Best Price: null Buy New $25.00 (as of 04:35 EST - Details)

I later watched it on late-night TV. I bought the video – the uncut version, where he stomps on one native and chews up another. These scenes were cut out of the original release, to portray him as a victim.

Let’s face it, we are all suckers for a love story. We ignore what we want to ignore. The movie suggests what the ape did to all those previous sacrificial victims. He knew just where to find them, when to find them, and how to untie them. With fingers that big and rope that small, his dexterity indicated a lot of practice.

He was not polygamous. They were not living in the cave.

The technology of the stop-action photography was never matched. I still marvel at the battle between the T-rex and Kong.

Fay Wray established her reputation as Hollywood’s pre-eminent screamer, a reputation that Jamie Lee Curtis attempted to overshadow but failed, which is probably why she went into comedy.

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