"Pilot of the Plane that Killed King Kong"
King Kong 1933 - Merian C. Cooper (uncredited)
Merian Caldwell Cooper – born October 24, 1893, Jacksonville, Florida. Cooper was an American movie actor, director, screenwriter and producer. His most famous work was the 1933 movie King Kong.
Cooper entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1915 but left in his senior year. In 1916 he joined the Georgia National Guard to help chase Pancho Villa in Mexico. Cooper became a bomber pilot during World War I. He was shot down and captured by Germans, serving out the remainder of the war in a POW camp.
Polish Independence - From late 1919 until the 1921 Treaty of Riga, he was a member of a volunteer American squadron in the Kosciuszko Squadron of the Polish Air Force supporting the Polish Army against the Soviets along with his friend Cedric Fauntlroy (photo right). On July 26, 1920, his plane was shot down, and he spent nine months in a Soviet prisoner of war camp. He escaped just before the war was over and made it to Latvia. He was decorated for valor by Polish commander-in-chief Józef Pilsudski with the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.
Film Career - Hugely innovative, Cooper became the #2 man at RKO Studios before and after WWII. He continued his innovation with breakthroughs like color and the wide screen. Cooper was John Ford's favorite producer with whom to work.
Though too old, he went anyway to fight in WWII and was assigned to the US Army Air Force in Asia taking over General Chenault’s Flying Tigers. Going on many missions and carefully planning them to have no loss of life, he was famous for his hard working, relentless planning. Lt. Col. Cooper became the Executive Officer of the squadron and at the war's end, he was promoted to Brigadier General.
Cooper was a pioneer in aviation, creative in the use of airplanes in the movies and a member of the board of directors for TWA. Cooper has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame where his name is misspelled "Meriam C. Cooper". He was honored by NBC Radio's "This Is Your Life" in April of 1949). Guests included Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Fay Wray, and wife Dorothy Jordan.
Director Schoedsack donated $100 to the Officers' Mess fund at Floyd Bennit Field to secure the pilots and their craft. He gave each of the pilots $10 under the table. They were so pleased with Schoedsack's generosity that they decided to do something special to show how much they appreciated it. As Schoedsack shot the planes approaching him, he realized that they were actually linked together by lines decorated by colorful flags. Needless to say that scene had to be re-shot.
The movie (made in time-laps photography with an 11-inch animatronic, rabbit fur-covered ape) took much longer to make than anticipated. Cooper jokingly remarked (referring to the budget over-run of the production), "I’d like to shoot that ape myself." And ironically he did.
The planes used to topple King Kong from the top of the Empire State Building were four basic Navy training models, Curtiss 02C-2 from Navy NY. Interlaced scenes were shot using these real planes, miniatures and a full-scale mock-up.
In a studio close-up shot featuring a Vickers-style gun on a swivel mount, Cooper and Schoedsack took the part of pilot actors flying one of the planes attacking King Kong. They made the final straffing run that fatally wounded the giant ape.
Cooper died April 21, 1973 in San Diego, California, of cancer. He and friend Robert Armstrong, who played Carl Denham in King Kong, died within 16 hours of each other.
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