Continuing my interview with Marcel Delgado, August 16, 1970:
JL: So after Lost World there wasn’t that much work before King Kong?
MD: No, because there wasn’t very much of that kind of work. In fact, from there I went – I went down to work on the other jobs that were – In fact, there wasn’t very much for me to do. Well, I went down to propmaking, you know, making props and stuff, at which I learned a lot. I learned to do a lot of things. I taught myself how to model cars and all those sorts of things, make different things for motion pictures.
JL: Did that experience help you in building the models on Kong?
MD: Well, in fact, I think King Kong helped me on all those things. Because I experimented with different things. I like to experiment, and I did a lot of pictures where I needed – you have to know what you’re doing. Sometimes you have to, on this trick job, you know, you have to know what you’re doing. Sometimes you don’t know where to begin.
Sometimes they want -- like George Murphy, the senator, you know he used to be in pictures. And I worked with him on a picture where he was a magician, a dancer, you know, hoofer. And he's dancing on the stage and he sees a fountain spouting water on this side of the stage, and this fountain over here is dead. So while he's dancing he goes and touches the stream of water and picks it up on his finger and carries it all across and puts it over there on this other fountain. And that job was supposed to be a -- you know, it's a trick job to pick up a stream of water and carry it on your finger like this. "Well,
JL: Like that classic line from a script, “the volcano erupts.”
MD: So every time they came to me, perhaps I was the most notable for a thing like that; they used to come to me and say, “Well, Marcel, here’s a job for you.”
JL: Did you remain under contract to one studio or did you work freelance around Hollywood?
MD: Well, see, like I say, those jobs weren’t plentiful, like King Kong and Mighty Joe and all those things. Of course, now they are making pictures all over, in Japan, everyplace. But they’re making it with a gorilla suit. I mean, they don’t have the depth, they don’t have the meaning. All they do is just get a table and put it in there, and photograph it, and it’s nothing, just looks like what it is.
JL: A nice little toy set.
MD: Now you take that Dinosaurus!, it was just – nothing. Just some little trees over there made out of – something – there on the table and photographed, and that’s the way it looked on the screen. Didn’t have no depth.
JL: How large were the jungle sets for, say, King Kong or Lost World, how large would they be sometimes?
MD: Well, they differed in size. It all depends how deep they want them. They’re not exactly so wide, they just cover up probably about five or six feet. But if you want depth you have to put them farther down. You know, everything is by matte shots and stuff like that.
JL: A lot of which were pioneered by King Kong.
MD: You can get a lot of depth by doing that, by using glass and stuff like that.
JL: Working in this section of the business, have you ever been sensitive to special effect, ever noticed the effects in a movie more than you might have done otherwise? And if so, were there any movies that especially impressed you with their effects?
MD: Well, I really don’t know. Of course, I suppose they do impress me at certain times. Sometimes I still wonder how they do it, but I find out how, I work it out. Being myself a trick man, I say, I can figure out how they did it. Even though I wasn’t there, I can tell how this Ray Harryhausen made the skeleton play the duel with this man [in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – jl].
They asked me, “I bet you don’t know how he did it.” I says, “Well, right offhand I don’t.” But then I started to figure it out, and I didn’t know how he did it, but I explained to the fellow that asked me, and I said, “Is that the way he did it?” And he said, “Yeah, that’s what he did.”
I probably don’t notice at first, I mean, it probably don’t interest me at all. But if I want to find out something I can always figure out how he did it. So there’s a lot of ways of finding out.
JL: There’s a contemporary review of King Kong from 1933, and I quote: “So great is its impact that I venture to predict it will not be forgotten even in 1960.” And of course, here we are in 1970. Did you ever think you were working on a film that was going to be remembered that long?
MD: No. That’s what bothers me now, because the kids ask me, “Don’t you have any pictures?” I say, “Yes, I have a few pictures.” The only ones that I have are the ones they made for proofs, you know, for shooting. I picked them up off the floor, they only made them just temporarily, you know, just to see how the thing looked on the screen. I got some in there in my albums, those are the only pictures that I picked up. They’re not even finished, I mean, they’re not even developed right. The old pictures that I had in my albums, they were stolen by the kids, and they were replaced by some other photographs that they made of them. They replaced them with photographs of them that they printed themselves, but they stole my old ones.
JL: Which kids were these?
MD: The fans, you know, people that are interested in this kind of work. See, I get letters from different parts of the world. As long as it has been, it seems to me that now it’s starting to go a little more than than it did before. I never knew it was going to be like this. See, I get calls on the phone from New York, Georgia, and I get letters from as far as Africa and Japan, and they seem to know all about these things, you see. They ask me, “Why didn’t you get something?” I could’ve gotten King Kong over here, I could’ve had it here, I could’ve had that little gorilla that I made, but somebody beat me to it. I didn’t even think of stealing it myself because I didn’t want it.
JL: What are you gonna do with that in 30 years?
MD: You see, I didn’t know it was going to be like this. I mean, it didn’t interest me to bring them home because I fought with them all day, I played with them, I fixed them, I tore ’em down and built ’em all over again, so it didn’t bother me at all.
JL: It’s funny, if you mention Atlanta nobody thinks of Gone With the Wind, but if you mention the Empire State Building, everybody thinks of King Kong, whether they’ve seen the movie or not. Was there anything at all that struck you as unusual about the film? Fay Wray said that when she first saw the script she thought somebody was playing a practical joke on her. Did it strike you as unusual on that – or on The Lost World for that matter – that a major studio would put a major investment in that kind of movie.
MD: Well, The Lost World was done way back in 1924, wasn’t it?
JL: Twenty-five, released in 1925.
MD: Yeah, and they had their doubts then whether it would make a hit or not. But RKO, at that time when we made King Kong, RKO was just nearly on the brink of bankruptcy, and King Kong got ’em out of it.
JL: It sure did. The first time I saw it was in ’56 when it was reissued. It had been shown on a New York TV station 15 times in one week –
MD: The mistake that they did was to sell it with the rest of the library that they had in films. That probably would be showing if somebody owned it, owned the rights to it. I don’t think RKO had the rights to it anymore.
JL: RKO had sold out to Desilu at that time. There are several parts of Mighty Joe Young that are considerably more sophisticated than King Kong. One critic called it “King Kong for children,” and the comparison between the two is obvious. Did you ever find yourself consciously repeating processes in Mighty Joe Young that you had used on King Kong?
MD: Mr. O’Brien won the Academy Award for – for King Kong, was it?
JL: No, for Mighty Joe Young.
MD: For Mighty Joe Young. In fact, Mr. O’Brien said that I should’ve gotten it. Mrs. O’Brien now says that O’Brien told her that when he died, to give it to me. So she’s saving it for me now. I told her, “While you are living, you keep it; that’s yours.” But she wanted to give it to me, she said I deserved it, that Mr. O’Brien said that I deserved it. “Actually, Marcel should’ve had it.” But you see, he was given credit for everything, so he took it. Actually, that’s the way they go. See, it’s the producer that always gets the credit, not the people that work with him.
JL: He actually had four or five assistants working with him on King Kong. There are four or five names in the credits in addition to yours. I can’t remember any of them offhand.
MD: Well, Max Steiner got credit.
JL: For music, yes.
MD: And this fellow that made the sound effects. [Murray Spivack – jl]
JL: About Max Steiner. King Kong was one of the first movies to use a musical score that extensively. Did you plan any of your sequences with the idea that they’d be scored to music? Or did you just film them and leave it up to Steiner –
MD: Well, I don’t know, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I really don’t know.
JL: I read that David O. Selznick had O’Brien make up a demonstrator reel of the fight between Kong and the allosaurus, and shaking the men off the log, to sell the RKO board of directors on the idea. Do you recall working on that at all?
MD: Well, that's one thing that I wasn’t very much involved with because, you see, my job was entirely to attend to King Kong. That was my job originally, to take care of it every night, groom it, fix it. I was working all the time because one was working and the other I had in the shop, working on it. Once in a while I had a little time off, but not very much. Generally I had to work almost every night to get them ready for the next morning.
JL: Shooting went on for the better part of a year, didn’t it?
MD: Yeah, we worked there for about, must have been about a year and a half to finish up King Kong. See, it wasn’t originally King Kong, it was Creation when we started.
JL: He had planned Creation, hadn’t he, then wound up using the models on King Kong?
MD: Creation was the original story that we started on, but somehow they didn’t think very much of it, I guess. I don’t know what it was about it, I never read the script.
JL: Some other projects that Mr. O’Brien had in mind that never came about. El Toro Estrella, do you remember that?
MD: Oh yeah, they made a little – little picture, I think. Seems to me they made it in Mexico.
JL: That’s what I heard, Mexico or South America with live-action bulls --
MD: I think – I don’t know whether they made it or – He wrote the story, Mr. O’Brien wrote the story, and I think he sold it to Lesseur [sp?], Lesseur Studios. I don’t know whether Lesseur ever made it or not, but he sold it to Lesseur.
JL: Were there any other projects that you and Mr. O’Brien started on that didn’t pan out?
MD: Well, Gwangi was one of them. The original Gwangi, the first one. Ray Harryhausen finished it up not very long ago, it was shown last year sometime [The Valley of Gwangi (1969) – jl]. But evidently it wasn’t very good, because the kid didn’t commend very much about it. Then when I went to see it over here, it was on the Boulevard here, it only was there for one week. When I decided to go up there, it was already gone. So it didn’t show very much. So according to the comments of the kids, they didn’t think very much of it. But we made a sequence on Gwangi, oh, long before we started Mighty Joe. A little short sequence. I don’t know what year it was, but it was long before we made Mighty Joe.
JL: I’ve heard rumors that Harryhausen is working on a remake of King Kong in England; do you know anything about that?
MD: No, I really don’t. I don’t know what Ray is doing now. I don’t think his last picture did very good. I don’t think Gwangi made any money. By the way the kids talked about it, I don’t think they liked it very much. See, I go by the kids; they’re the ones that discover whether it’s good or not. These kids know more about it than we think. They know what’s going on. If they say it’s all right, it’s all right. But if they don’t like it – it’s got to be good, otherwise they don’t like it.
JL: After Mighty Joe Young did you work with Mr. O’Brien and Harryhausen on The Animal World?
MD: No, I didn’t. That was at Warner Bros., wasn’t it? Well, Mr. O’Brien was hired on that picture just for his name only. He didn’t have anything to do with it.
JL: Was it that way with the remake of Lost World too? His name is in the credits, but they used iguanas.
MD: Yeah, he didn’t have anything to do with that either. And It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, he was there just for his name only.
JL: Oh really, he didn’t do the animation for that?
MD: He didn’t do anything. He was just on the payroll there. He didn’t make it. In fact, he died during that time we were making Mad, Mad World. I built those models for Mad, Mad World, and I animated that scene -- you know, where the guys are rolling around on the ladder on the firetruck? And when I got through, the fellows said, "Ooh, Marcel, it's like real!" But you know, Lin Dunn [Linwood G. Dunn, visual effects supervisor on the film] is the sort of man who -- he has to say something is good. If somebody else says it, he doesn't approve it. So when they said, "Marcel, it's like real," he doesn't approve it. So they threw out my animation and had it done over by somebody else. So I disown it. I disown it. But I tell you right now, if they put that scene in the film the way I did it, the way I animated it, then you would have seen something.
JL: So during the last years of his life Mr. O'Brien didn’t really do that much work himself?
MD: No, he was just hired, you know, for his name only.
JL: How about the English film The Giant Behemoth, which was similar to the last episode of The Lost World; did he do much work on that?
MD: Did he work on The Giant Behemoth? I really don’t know. You know, it was Obie’s idea of remaking King Kong again. He wanted to remake it again in color. It would have been his dream to finish it up in color. But the kids say why make it? It’s there. They can’t make it any better. Even if it’s in color, they can’t make it any better.
JL: Several scenes that have surfaced that were cut from King Kong – where he’s picking the clothes off Ann, where he finds the wrong girl in New York and drops her, and several others – do you know when those scenes were cut out?
MD: Well, I think they were cut out at the very beginning, they were censored. Like when he tore the clothes off of Fay Wray, that was censored. And the spider scene was censored. I don’t know why, but I mean – you know, these years, why everything has changed. Some of those pictures, they have everything now [i.e., cut scenes have been restored – jl] My daughter saw it in Sacramento, she saw the whole thing, complete.
JL: King Kong?
MD: Yeah. She said she saw the whole thing, it was all together. When she saw it, it was in Sacramento, and they had a boy there describing the whole thing. And he says, “Many people are in the belief that Mr. O’Brien made these models, but really it was Marcel Delgado that made them.” My daughter was so thrilled about it she called me right away.
JL: As I said, that letter I read when somebody criticized Ray Harryhausen’s models compared to Willis O'Brien's, he said the criticism is accurate, but let’s give credit where it’s due: those models were made by Marcel Delgado. And he described the fact that you actually duplicated the muscle structure; rather than just padding with rubber you actually duplicated the muscles.
MD: Well, you see Ray doesn’t manufacture – he doesn’t fabricate his models, he casts them. And a cast model never works right. If you bend its arm like this, you can see a crease right there [inside the elbow – jl]. Mine don’t; they bend like this and you can see the muscles actually work. If you watch Mighty Joe, when the police are following them in the truck and he’s sitting in the back, and he goes and he spits at the cops [imitating Joe’s spit and “go away” gesture – jl]. That was the first time, when I saw that, that I thought the move was exactly right.
To Be Concluded ...
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- Addio, Cinevent 42!
- Cinevent, Day 4
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- Cinevent, Day 2
- Cinevent 42
- "A Genial Hack," Part 1
- "Here's a Job for You, Marcel," Part 3
- "Here's a Job for You, Marcel," Part 2
- "Here's a Job for You, Marcel," Part 1
- First Comes the Phone Call
- Songs in the Light, Part 3
- Songs in the Light, Part 2
- Songs in the Light, Part 1