How the Real Became Unreal via Paperback
Few people remember writer Earl Monroe. Even those aware of his work misunderstand him completely.
First things first: “Earl Monroe” was not his real name. When I eventually learned his true identity, I was asked by his surviving family members to keep it secret, which I am only too happy to do in light of the tragic narrative surrounding his foray into the world of Kong.
Monroe is known to a certain demographic as the man who sensationalized the story of Carl Denham and his discovery on “Skull Island” to the extent that it became filed next to the likes of Chariots of the Gods in the collective consciousness. Entertaining nonsense not meant to be construed as true.
His book, The Real King Kong, is very difficult to find — those that did appear on shelves were recalled due to legal action by Monroe’s widow and RKO. If you do get hold of a copy (I scooped one up at a garage sale when I was 11, but that’s another story) it doesn’t take long to sense that this is a grand-if-poorly-constructed joke.
The book appeared late in 1969, direct to paperback, and was actually instrumental in pulling me into the story. My first copy was a tattered volume picked up at a rummage sale in the mid-seventies; I was a kid, so I bought every word as absolute truth. After all, it was a published work with a nifty cover that said “true story” right on it!
As I got older and more suspicious of anything and everything (yes, I was reading Chariots of the Gods and its ilk at the time), I began to see the absurdity in this work of “nonfiction” — not to mention random sprinklings of blatant racism in the depiction of the inhabitants of Palau Batu Tengorak (Professor J. L. Ellsworth, who famously cooperated with the dreadful Journey to Skull Island documentary, suffered much the same fate).
In 1999, the Villa Maisonneuve cache was uncovered in France by James Mansfield, reinforcing some strangely specific aspects of the tale related exclusively in The Real King Kong (more on that on future installments). The controversy and red tape Mansfield encountered afterward when trying to safely catalog the material for study and a documentary is an epic tale in itself. It was, in fact, his discovery that moved me to resume my research for Eighth Wonder.
Then, a miracle.
As I was “shaking trees” and making inquiries based on the findings at Villa Maisonneuve, I was contacted by the family of “Earl Monroe.” I remember the first remark to me by his daughter was, “You are asking the right questions.”
They — it was a family effort — offered to make available to me an immense trove of notes and interview transcriptions he had assembled for the book that he’d labored over before his publisher succumbed to lawsuit pressure and bastardized his material.
I did not hesitate for a second.
A Treasure Chest
“Monroe’s” enormous archive of raw interview transcripts—over one thousand carefully typed and hand-annotated pages in all—reflect firsthand recollections and impressions of dozens of people who were either involved in or present for events leading up to and following the fiasco of December 18th, 1931.
His quest for information was obsessive. He recorded interviews with persons who worked in various capacities at Royal Pictures (financier and distributor of the cinematic output of the Carl Denham Motion Picture Company), administrative personnel who were privy to Denham’s ensuing legal obstacle course, guards and inmates who had contact with him while he was incarcerated, sailors who claimed to have made the trip to “Skull Island” with Denham, countless patrons of the “Eighth Wonder’s” catastrophic opening night, and one of the detectives who investigated the showman’s murder.
Given the tightly insular nature of Denham’s very few close relationships during the height of his career, these documents are crucial in any attempt to present, at last, an authentic portrait of the man.
“Earl Monroe” succumbed to cancer in 1968, before he could see the butchered and sensationalized version of his nearly-complete manuscript appear in print. It is my hope that Eighth Wonder and the Denham Restoration Project will, at long last, vindicate his hard work.