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All That Kong: When Bob Fosse Wanted to Make a King Kong Movie

Did you know that in some alternative universe, there could’ve been a “King Kong” movie directed by none other than Bob Fosse (“All That Jazz”) and written by Paddy Chayefsky (“Network”)? I didn’t, either, until last week, and now I’m sharing the information with you. 

Every monster movie fan already knows about the 1976 remake of “King Kong” starring Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin, in which the big ape is played by huge animatronic sculptures and a man in a suit (makeup artist Rick Baker). In the mid-’70s, Fosse was at the height of his creative power after becoming the only person to win an Emmy, Oscar and Tony in the same calendar year (1973). He was obsessed with King Kong and decided to approach the flamboyant Italian movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, who had masterminded the remake, with an idea for a “sequel,” to be directed by him and written by his best friend Chayefsky.

According to Shaun Considine’s 1994 biography Mad as Hell: The Life and Work of Paddy Chayefsky, the idea evolved in early 1977 when Chayefsky started working on a project about a man’s “search for his true self.” That eventually led him to write the 1980 science-fiction movie “Altered States,” directed by Ken Russell. But the notion had somehow originated in a jokey conversation between Chayefsky, Fosse and producer Herb Gardner about teaming up on a satirical comedy in which Kong becomes a movie star. 

Seemingly nothing is known about the idea beyond that, and obviously it never happened. However, Anthony Uzarowski’s 2023 biography Jessica Lange: An Adventurer’s Heart says that Fosse saw the 1976 Kong film and liked it enough to write Lange a fan letter, which eventually led to the two of them becoming close and Fosse creating the role of the Angel of Death in “All That Jazz” for Lange.

I like to imagine that the “King Kong” comedy had a lot of long, eloquent, angry monologues of the sort that Chayefsky was known for, and of course a lot of razzle-dazzle musical numbers with fast cutting and bowler hats and jazz hands. Kong would have had to dance, although I can’t decide if he would’ve been barefoot or worn size 200 tap shoes. Maybe he’d wear shoes for all of the numbers except for the one where he has to climb. Maybe there would’ve been a recurring bit like in “All That Jazz” where Kong looks into a huge mirror and says “It’s showtime, folks!” but it’s subtitled because Kong can’t talk, only grunt and roar. Maybe the entire thing is his deathbed flashback after falling off the World Trade Center. 

It’s probably for the best that this project never got made, because it would have been a sliding doors moment for everyone, and we’d have been deprived of a lot of great work. Fosse might not have made “All That Jazz,” and Lange might not have been legitimized as an actress by her participation in the movie and gone on to enjoy a long and acclaimed career. And Chayefsky probably wouldn’t have done “Altered States,” though the latter might not have seemed like a tragedy for him because he hated the experience so much that he had his name taken off the finished movie, substituting the name “Sidney Aaron.” 

Can Rick Baker tap dance?

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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