King Kong’s return to the Empire State Building

It must have sounded like a great publicity stunt at the time.

In April 1983, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of King Kong, the owners of the Empire State Building decided to hoist an 84-foot inflatable replica of the lovestruck mega-gorilla to the top of the building, anchoring it to the mooring mast for a week.

A little tawdry, perhaps. But the Empire State Building was losing ground to newer, more fashionable skyscrapers. The owners, Harry and Leona Helmsley, thought the inflatable King Kong would keep the building in the public eye, wrote Mitchell Pacelle in his book Empire.

Kingkongballoon19832Of course, things didn’t go as planned. “The 3,000 pound balloon arrived deflated and folded into a crate,” explains Pacelle. “But the measurements had been bungled, and the crate wouldn’t fit into the elevator.”

Kong was unpacked, squeezed into the elevator to the 86th floor, then brought manually to the mooring mast to be inflated in front of a pack of media reporters.

Kingkongmovie“The balloon, alas, was hopelessly tangled. From the sidewalk, it looked like an oversize garbage bag blown up off the street.”

Kong’s shoulder popped during the inflation, and that, along with 100 mile an hour winds, postponed the unveiling, though two hired biplanes continued to fly around, mimicking the action in the movie (right).

“The next morning, with the winds subsided, Kong was hastily inflated,” said Pacelle. But he sprang another leak, the winds whipped up, and he was brought down forever.

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10 Responses to “King Kong’s return to the Empire State Building”

  1. Ron Frankl Says:

    I remember this event well, and I can’t believe it’s already been 30 years. I may be wrong, but I think the balloon was up there for more than two days. Most of the time, it did look like a big trash bag.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I saw it on the news and thought it was such a cool idea!

  3. Gimelgort Says:

    Wow, so Kong was twice as tall as the building? No wonder it was so hard to inflate!

  4. onyxpnina Says:

    Yes, I think it was up for about a week; I took a couple of pictures (which are, of course, still packed and uncategorized). It was, well, silly rather than impressive.

  5. dhonour Says:

    I love the image of trying to squeeze an inflatable King Kong inside the elevator. Going up??

  6. carolegill Says:

    wow! that must have been great.
    there should be a photo or painting of the scene from the original film. it wouldn’t be tacky in my opinion. Perhaps in the lobby. I’d love to see it!

  7. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    I worked on 34th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues at the time. When I looked east, poor “Kong” looked just like a giant, limp garbage bag. At the time, a Japanese, I think, was quoted in the press, calling the stunt “typically American — overblown, oversold, and failing to deliver”. Ouch.

  8. Greg Kenney Says:

    not sure about all the negative reactions, personally saw it and think it was a cool, ballsy move… think it lasted several days and though springing leaks, I could tell it was Kong, to describe it as a giant garbage bag is false… cmon’ New Yauk”! It exists as a great piece of nostalgia and definitely one of the first ‘buzz’ marketing events for its time! I loved it, but couldn’t find any photos of it last time visiting the ESbuilding… why’s that? they embarrased? and who cares what the Japanese think??? just cause they have Gozillla? didn’t Kong kick his spiny ass?

  9. Charlie Schwartz Says:

    I remember it….was actually hysterical

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