Despite creating one of the most iconic characters of all time, Willis O’Brien’s career is nearly defined by projects not getting made: from Creation to War Eagles to Gwangi to Carl Denham and the Abominable Snowman, the few movies he actually got to do were the exception far more than the rule. One such project is King Kong vs. Frankenstein, a concept he was selling around in 1960, eventually trading out the title for King Kong vs. The Ginko, so as to not step on Universal’s Frankenstein flicks (which were long out of fashion, even then, The Munsters notwithstanding).
The concept had Frankenstein’s grandson Kurt creating a monster from African animal parts, originally as a worker, but upon seeing how awesome his creation is, he decides to put it in a show. Not to be outdone, Carl Denham, who’d smuggled not-quite-dead-yet Kong back to Skull Island, goes and retrieves our favorite gorilla so the two monsters can have a promotional boxing match, which naturally spills out into the streets of San Francisco (triggered by an act where the monster would drop a girl and Kong would go crazy), both plummeting to death from Golden Gate Bridge. The original treatment was 9 pages long, and while that’s fairly unavailable to the public still, OB’s awesome concept art is available in abundance.
With RKO out of the movie biz, O’Brien was desperate to get anyone to agree to roll the project, and thus wound up trusting the fully fleshed-out King Kong vs. Prometheus screenplay (completed by George Worthing Yates of Them, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Amazing Colossal Man, and more) to producer John Beck.
Beck turned around and sold the script to Toho Studios, who were looking to do a big anniversary picture (and were doing quite well with the heavily-Kong-inspired Mothra). Toho asked if they could substitute Prometheus with Godzilla, and Beck hastily agreed without O’brien’s knowledge or consent, and when OB finally heard about King Kong vs. Godzilla, he was heartbroken, passing away shortly thereafter. This sour note can color people’s perception of the Godzilla franchise (this was the movie that launched a “Godzilla series” in earnest), but it’s safe to assume no malice on Toho’s part, since Tsuburaya idolized O’Brien, and the two Kong pictures they produced were loaded with homage to the original…hell, their whole line owes to Kong; it’s no coincidence that “Godzilla” is only one letter away from “Gorilla”!
Beck was also the dude who sold the King Kong vs. Godzilla rights to Universal, leading indirectly to the countless licensing nightmares both franchises have in the US to this day. On the other hand, we can also thank this project for Toho’s formative Frankenstein films, and countless more confusing German movie posters.
Beck’s actions were underhanded, but it is believable that this was the only way he could see for the picture to get made. The story seems like it wouldn’t really work that well, and the US had had its fill of giant monsters at that time, while Japan was just getting started. At least something wonderful resulted from it…. though, like a great many O’Brien projects, it’d be neat to see this eventually come to light.