Many of us have seen the original film classic, King Kong. Although this movie is more than 70 years old (it was released in 1933), modern-day viewers still marvel at its special effects and theatrical power. Yet few people are aware that one of this movie’s main characters, Carl Denham—the daring filmmaker who tracks down and captures the giant gorilla, Kong—was patterned after the movie’s producer and director, Merian C. Cooper.
Merian Cooper was an incredible man, whose life makes Indiana Jones’ look quite dull by comparison. Cooper was a champion boxer and wrestler, adventurer, filmmaker, war hero, soldier of fortune, author, innovator, and storyteller. By the time he made King Kong, Cooper had established a reputation for making jungle and wildlife movies on location in far-away and exotic places. His films also exhibit his fascination with aviation. For he had been a World War I bomber pilot—until he was shot down and presumed dead by the Army. In fact, he spent a year in a German POW camp, recovering from injuries.
Undaunted by this experience, Cooper fought and flew again—this time for the people of Poland in their conflict against the Soviet Union (1919–1921). Again he was shot down and endured nine agonizing months in a Soviet Union slave labor camp, until he miraculously escaped and fled to Latvia.
Cooper was a true American patriot and zealot for freedom. His service to his country began even earlier when he enlisted in the Georgia National Guard and served with General Pershing to drive Poncho Villa out of the United States (1916). He also served and flew with General Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group (the Flying Tigers) before America’s involvement in World War II and afterward served his country in other theaters of operations, attaining the rank of Brigadier General.
As a filmmaker, Cooper not only pioneered such innovations as stereophonic sound, Cinerama, stop-action animation, and 2- and 3-strip process color (leading to Technicolor). He is also responsible for many of Hollywood’s greatest movies. King Kong, the Four Feathers, the Last Days of Pompeii, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, the Quiet Man, and The Searchers—just to name a few—are his works. If a task required courage, creativity, and unmitigated drive—Merian C. Cooper rose to the occasion every time.
But for all his towering accomplishments and colorful adventures, Merian C. Cooper showed little promise as a boy and young man. Timid, shy, and physically small, he never grew taller than five foot six inches. When his parents discussed who among their children would achieve success, Merian was never mentioned. Merian was even upstaged by his bothers’ mental prowess and described himself as having “a fourth-rate intelligence” and as being wholly undistinguished among all his family members.
How did this shy, small, and un-promising boy burst forth into such unparalleled success? In his own words, he compensated for his deficiencies with sheer effort and physical courage. He simply faced his weaknesses and worked harder than his more-gifted counterparts to achieve success. It worked.
Hard work and dedication will always do more than natural ability and intellect. That is the answer whenever we feel inadequate and lacking in natural gifts. Work harder and trust God for strength; you can overcome any challenge that confronts you.
The Scripture indicates that God can turn the curses of adversity into blessings of achievement and growth (Deut. 23:5; Neh. 13:2). Most times it takes a little help from us. It takes our faith, persistence, determination, and hard work.
Dear God, when adversity and challenges confront me, give me the faith and determination to rebound and succeed. Amen.