The original King Kong, starring Fay Wray as the great ape’s love interest, as well as Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot, turned the larger-than-life gorilla into one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons. The 1933 film, which contains the now-famous line, “It was beauty killed the beast,” earned particular notice for its pioneering special effects. The film spawned a series of sequels, including Son of King Kong(1933), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), King Kong Escapes (1967) and King Kong Lives(1987).
Born on September 15, 1907, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, the actress Fay Wray appeared in some 90 movies during her career, but was best known for her role as Ann Darrow, an out-of-work actress who travels to Skull Island, where King Kong falls in love with her. When the giant ape is later captured and taken to New York City, he snatches Wray and climbs up the Empire State Building. Wray was reportedly asked to make a cameo in 2005’s King Kong; before that could happen, however, she died at the age of 96 on August 8, 2004.
In 1976, the producer Dino DeLaurentis released an updated, Oscar-nominated version of King Kong, featuring Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin. Lange, born on April 20, 1949, in Cloquet, Minnesota, made her big-screen debut as Dwan, an updated version of Ann Darrow, and was panned for her performance by some critics. Lange shook off the criticism and went on to appear in such well-received films as 1979’s All That Jazz and 1981’s The Postman Always Rings Twice with Jack Nicholson; she earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1982’s Frances. Lange won another Oscar for her supporting role in 1983’s Tootsie,with Dustin Hoffman. More Best Actress nominations followed, for 1984’s Country,1985’s Sweet Dreams and 1989’s Music Box. She took home her first Best Actress Oscar for 1994’s Blue Sky, co-starring Tommy Lee Jones.
Directed by Peter Jackson (the filmmaker behind the multiple Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy), the 2005 King Kong remake starred Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody and Jack Black. The film was a box-office success and won three Academy Awards, for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. Watts, who played Ann Darrow, was born September 28, 1968, in Shoreham, England, and raised in Australia. She gained notice in Hollywood with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive(2001) and the 2002 hit horror film The Ring. Among Watts’ other credits are 21 Grams (2003), with Sean Penn, for which she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination; The Painted Veil (2006), with Edward Norton; and Eastern Promises(2007), with Viggo Mortensen.