“A Kong-sized memory” by Kathy Bock


This coming Saturday, August 24th, at 10 p.m., Cinema Center (in cooperation with Shaffer Multimedia) will offer a free screening of the classic movie King Kong (1933) on the front of the Arts United Center building. For Kathy Bock, this outdoor venue brings back a fond movie memory.


One summer night when I was about 6, I saw the classic movie King Kong (1933) outdoors under the
stars. It wasn’t at a drive-in theater, though. Let me explain with a little story.

Back in those days (the 1960s), my parents rented a small cottage on Corey Lake in Michigan where we spent our summers. I loved it there — swimming, skiing, fishing for bluegill…doing all the fun things people do at a lake. But for my family and our lake gang, the real excitement of summer happened on the weekends, when Jack Cronk blew in.

I say “blew in” because Jack always arrived in swirling cloud of dust. I can still see his sparkly, green-finned convertible roaring down the dirt road toward our cottage every Friday night, signaling the official start of the weekend.

Although he wasn’t a large man, Jack was larger than life. He was big-hearted, adventurous, and did everything on a grand scale. Instead of just lighting a grill like a normal person, for instance, Jack would pull out a fire-breathing blowtorch that made all the women scream and the dogs run like hyenas for cover.

But I digress. One night, King Kong was being shown on TV, and Jack decided the whole gang should watch it together, outside by the old apple tree. (Was this even possible? My young brain could hardly fathom the idea of TV al fresco.) But Jack hauled out a portable black & white TV set and placed it on top of a small pop shed. (In hindsight, I realize the actual name of this structure, which housed a large refrigerator, was probably “beer shed,” but hey, I was 6. I had other priorities.)

Anyway, Jack did some fiddling with the TV’s rabbit ears and voilà, a young girl was suddenly transported across the ocean to the fictional Skull Island in search of a giant ape named Kong. I was mesmerized. The ominous drumming, the suspenseful music (by Max Steiner), the groundbreaking stop-motion animation (by Willis O’Brien), the masterful storytelling — it all worked its magic on me.

But I can’t underestimate the power of the venue that night. For me, one of the reasons that movie was so memorable has to do with the circumstances under which I saw it: I was outdoors, surrounded by family and friends, in the dark of night. This wasn’t just a movie — it was an event.

Jack Cronk, like the promoter Carl Denham in King Kong, understood the power of spectacle. He knew this movie was too big to be seen on a small screen. And while he couldn’t enlarge his TV set for us, he did the next best thing. He made our “theater” as big and wondrous as possible. There was popcorn (and undoubtedly beer) as a small group of friends formed a semicircle of lawn chairs to watch this classic tale of beauty and the beast, inexplicably framed by the beauty of a Michigan night sky.

This was movie magic, pure and simple, and I’ll never forget it. And now you have a chance to experience it, too. This coming Saturday, August 24th, as part of Taste of the Arts, Cinema Center will show King Kong for free at 10 p.m. across the front of the Arts United Center building. Grab your lawn chairs, folks, and come on down.  

If you’ve never seen the original King Kong before (or even if you have), I can’t imagine a better way to watch it now. Many of the best scenes are set outdoors at night, making an outdoor night venue the perfect way to experience this film. And don’t forget, this is a movie about a gigantic 25-foot ape. Doesn’t he deserve to be seen on the big screen? (Seriously, you may never get another chance. I’ve been waiting 50 years for this one!)

If you come, I promise you the experience will be something you’ll remember all your life. And you know I’ll be there, giggling like a kid over the size of Kong’s head, and remembering with great respect the man who first introduced me to the magic of movies one dark summer night a long time ago, on a small flickering screen.

I’ll save a seat for you, Jack.

Jack Cronk in front of the old pop shed. 



Kathy Bock is a freelance advertising copywriter, Cinema Center board member, and chair of the Events committee. She’s seen all the remakes of King Kong but still prefers the original, which she’s watched too many times to mention (including a weeklong “kong-athon” when the two-disc Collector’s Edition came out in 2005 and she hardly slept). Kathy has never seen the film on the big screen and is praying that it doesn’t rain on Saturday. 
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