Skip to main content

MARCEL DELGADO: The Artist That Built "King Kong"




"I don't wanna work in the movies. I want to be an artist".

Should I mention the 1933 classic motion picture “King Kong” two names will immediately come to mind: Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien. Should I mention the 1949 Academy Award winning motion picture “Mighty Joe Young” three names immediately come to mind and possibly a fourth: Merian C. Cooper, Willis O’Brien and his protégé Ray Harryhausen. The possible fourth being Executive Producer John Ford.




Image result for images of 1949 mighty joe young


However, there is a forgotten name:
Marcel Delgado that without his work and invention neither of those films might have had so memorable title characters.

Image result for images of marcel delgado

Unfortunately very little has been written about him and most of what is posted on the web turns out to be about a model of King Kong he made for the Don Post Studio’s in 1968, see the picture below, and not the man himself.

Image result for images of marcel delgado

Even his one paragraph obituary gives little detail other than mentioning the 1933 motion picture “King Kong”. Go to the Turner Classic Website and the sites filmography for Marcel Delgado only lists the 1933 "King Kong" and the 1949 "Mighty Joe Young". As for his occupation TCM indicates he was only part of the “Tech Staff”. I could only find one other filmography that mentions the 1935 “The Last Days of Pompeii”, but a complete list of his work seems unknown. To the motion picture industry Marcel Delgado seems to have worked upon only two movies, but I was able to put the following biography together and it is sadly an incomplete life.
Marcel Delgado was born January 16, 1901 in La Parrita, Coahulia, Mexico. By the age of six Marcel was attempting to make toys and models from river clay and began dreaming of becoming an artist. In 1910 his family left Mexico to escape the revolution that was sweeping people up.

Image result for photos of 1910 mexican revolutionImage result for photos of 1910 mexican revolution

Marcel Delgado's family moved to the unincorporated community of Saticoy, California in Ventura County. Where they became farm laborers. Little else is known about Marcel's formative years in Ventura County. Except after his father passed away the young man was forced to leave school to head the family.

Saticoy.JPG

We do know it wasn’t until Marcel was 17 that he found it necessary to learn English and by that time the family was relocated to Los Angeles. Between working at a convenience/grocery store in 1921 Marcel Delgado started to take art lessons at the Otis Arts Institute now known as Otis College of Art and Design. The Art School was established in 1918 and in the 1940’s had as a Staff Teacher Norman Rockwell. I had to track down references about the school and noted the school’s listing of its famous graduates starting in 1920 does not contain Marcel Delgado’s name.
While Marcel Delgado was at the school Willis O”Brien realized a need for a sculptor on a film he was about to start work upon. “Obie” because of his work on such Dinosaur shorts for the Edison Company as “R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.” and 1918’s “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain” had been hired by First National Pictures, the future 20th Century Fox, to make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” into a film. Creating his Prehistoric creatures for those previous few minute long films required only wooden armatures which could break easily. O’Brien knew he needed metal armatures with the ability to be moved into different positions and that was above him at the time. Making inquiries he was led to the Otis Institute and a student named Marcel Delgado.
In an interview Delgado stated:
“Mr. O'Brien took an interest in my work and one night he asked me, 'would you like to work in motion pictures?' I told him I would not because I wanted to be an artist and didn't want to lose any time. Every time he saw me he asked again and offered me $75 a week to come to work for him. I always said no, and I really know why; I was only making $18 a week but I guess I felt secure. One Friday he asked me to lay off work and visit the motion picture studio. Obie left a pass at the gate and when I went in Obie met me and took me to his little shop. There was a 'phone, some cameras and pictures all around. 'How do you like your studio?' he asked. 'It's yours if you want it.' It was a twenty-year-old boy's dream! So I signed up and worked for the next couple of years building dinosaurs for The Lost World.”

http://silentmoviemonsters.tripod.com/TheLostWorld/LWDELGADO.html
---and the team of O’Brien and Delgado was born.




From Ray Harryhausen’s excellent book “A Century of Stop Motion Animation”:

“Before Delgado began work on the models Obie designed more technically advanced ball-and socket armatures made of aluminum which improved on the previous designs, allowing for smoother animation and better rigidity during photography. Delgado made clay models of the main creatures based on Obie’s drawings to work from and began to construct the bodies on the armatures. He started by placing rough rubber muscles on various parts of the armature (if a bladder was to be used this would of course be inserted first) which would stretch and change shape realistically when the joints were moved to different positions. He then stuffed the metal ribcage and the outer area of the armature with cotton, forming the basic shape of the animal which was then covered with latex rubber. Finally the models were painted in colours that would ‘reflect’ best in black and white photography. Although relatively crude by today’s standards the models were state of the art in the early 1920’s and today still have a quality of innocence and charm”

Image result for images of 1925's the lost worldImage result for images of 1925's the lost world

Image result for images of 1925's the lost worldImage result for images of 1925's the lost world

As the above paragraph indicates Willis O’Brien was the designer and Marcel Delgado the forgotten model maker. Both men would do the animation of the dinosaurs. Delgado described what happened at the end of a day’s shoot:
“During the course of production, after the day’s work was over, these puppets had to be restored, groomed, repaired if broken. They had to be in perfect condition for the next day. Many times they were torn down completely to overhaul the steel skeleton when it was worn out. This happened frequently and it was quite a chore to maintain them in animating condition.”
A requirement for later films such as “King Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young”. Once more illustrating what work Marcel Delgado actually did as a member of what TCM described aspart of Willis O’Brien's “Tech Staff”. A “Tech Staff” of two that would eventually grow to three with the edition of another member of Marcel’s family, his, also unknown brother Victor. In all there were 49 different Dinosaurs made for the movie.

Image result for images of marcel delgadoImage result for images of 1925's the lost world

In 2001 a restored edition of the 1925 “The Lost World” was released on DVD.
Stan Winston stated:

“Our creature animation in the Jurassic Park films basically descends from The Lost World of 1925. Willis O’Brien is our great pioneer, and this superb restoration inspires new awe for his imagination and craftsmanship”. 
 WInston's statement has no mention of the man who made the armatures and co-animated the film is made. Once more indicating how forgotten Marcel Delgado is today.
The DVD runs 93 minutes and contains footage discovered in Romania actually doubling the length of most versions that where known to still exist. There was one I saw decades ago at approximately 58 minutes, but it was said some of the scenes where out of order. It is estimated from production notes that there is between 45 minutes to an hour of additional footage still lost.

What Marcel Delgado did between 1925 and 1931 when work began on “King Kong” I can find no references. We know that Obie worked on a series of cancelled projects for First National Studios two of which were entitled “Atlantis” and “Frankenstein”. One has to wonder what his version would have looked like as it would have pre-dated Universal Studio’s James Whale production starring Boris Karloff and Colin Clive.
We know that O’Brien and Delgado started work in 1931 for RKO on a cancelled project entitled “Creation”. Does this sound somewhat familiar? It was about modern men encountering dinosaurs on an island. Only 20 minutes of footage was shot and apparently 4 minutes of it is still around today. Oh, the man who cancelled O’Brien’s film was RKO Studio’s head of production Merian C. Cooper. He was afraid the film sounded too close to his own pet project about a giant gorilla battling Komodo dragons and the pre-work on “King Kong” started.

Here is a drawing for "Creation":

Image result for images of willis o'brien's movie creation
Marcel Delgado would work on both the 1933 “King Kong” and 1933 “Son of Kong” creating the armatures for the different stop motion characters. The armatures he made for the several Kong puppets just needed servicing and the fur covering changed to become either Kong’s son, or “Mighty Joe Young”.


Marcel Delgado holding one of the large hands of Kong for close-ups,

Image result for images of marcel delgado


The armatures for "King Kong"

Image result for images of marcel delgado

Image result for images of marcel delgadoImage result for image of 1933 king kong


Image result for image of 1933 king kongImage result for images of son of kong


The armature for the Brontosaurus in 1933's "King Kong".

Image result for image of 1933 king kongImage result for king kong brontosaurus 1933
I could find nothing on Marcel Delgado between 1935’s “The Last Days of Pompeii” where he worked as a model maker until he resurfaces first in 1941 as “one of the crew” on Orson Wells’ “Citizen Kane”.

Image result for images of 1935 last days of pompeii

Then after another eight years in 1949 Marcel Delgado resurraces to help film a couple of small scenes such as Joe claiming the tree at the orphanage during the first sequence in “Mighty Joe Young”.

Image result for images of 1949 mighty joe youngImage result for images of orphanage sequence from 1949 mighty joe young


Image result for images of orphanage sequence from 1949 mighty joe youngImage result for images of orphanage sequence from 1949 mighty joe young


It appears Marcel Delgado must have just become one of the contract technicians working films as assigned by RKO pictures, but even that is impossible to say for sure. Ray Harryhausen’s “A Century of Stop Motion Animation” mentions Delgado from time to time, but only in passing as his dinosaur armatures from as far back as 1925’s “The Lost World” were reused over the years by either Willis O”Brien or other stop motion animators on different films.
I was able to find Delgado’s name associated with George Pal’s 1953 film “War of the Worlds" as an "un-credted" model builder.. The film won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

Image result for images of 1953's war of the worldsImage result for images of 1953's war of the worlds

The following year the Academy Award for Best Special Effects went to the Walt Disney classic “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, Marcel Delgado was listed once more as an "un-credited" model builder..

Image result for images from walt disney's 1954 movie 2o,000 leagues under the seaImage result for images from walt disney's 1954 movie 2o,000 leagues under the sea

What work Marcel Delgado did between 1954 and 1960 I could not locate anywhere.  However, he became the "un-credited" dinosaur builder for 1960's semi-comical "Dinosaurus". The work was crude due to the limited budget.

Image result for images of 1960 movie dinosaurusImage result for images of 1960 movie dinosaurus

Image result for images of 1960 movie dinosaurus

Marcel Delgado's name,"un-credited", may also be associated with some early stop motion work by Jim Danforth, but this cannot be confirmed. Although some of his previously made armatures definitely where utilized by Danforth. Marcel  Delgado would retire from motion pictures in 1965.

Besides the model of "King Kong" made in 1968 by Marcel Delgado for Don Post, He also created model heads, such as "King Kong", to be made into masks.

In 1970 Marcel Delgado gave an interview to Jim Lane. Here are the links to the three part posting on Lane's blog: Jim Lane's Cinedrome. It is very interesting and it appears to be the only known interview given by Delgado who six years later would pass away.

http://jimlanescinedrome.blogspot.com/2010/05/heres-job-for-you-marcel-part-1.html

http://jimlanescinedrome.blogspot.com/2010/05/heres-job-for-you-marcel-part-2.html

http://jimlanescinedrome.blogspot.com/2010/05/heres-job-for-you-marcel-part-3.html


As to Marcel Delgado's death and what caused it. The most I could find was it was a result of some unstated accident and that Marcel Delgado died on November 26, 1976. His work however is immortal and it is up to my reader mention it from time to time. At least whenever the 1933 "King Kong" plays.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Walt Disney, Max Fleischer Animation Feud

When we think of Walt Disney we think of all those classic animated shorts, feature length films and of course going to Disneyland and Disney World. What most of us don't think about, or today may even know about are two incidents in his past. The first was very literally a Cartoon War with Max Fleischer and the other accusations of Walt Disney being a racist. The purpose of this article is not to take sides, but to attempt to fairly present the facts pertaining to these two events.

WALT AND MAX
.
Part One:The Two Main Combatants:
Max Fleischer born July 19, 1883 in Karkow, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austria-Hungary. Walter Elias “Walt” Disney born December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. Their Seconds, Their Brothers: Dave Fleischer born July 14, 1894 in New York City, New York
Lou Fleischer born May 18, 1889 in New York City, New York Roy Oliver Disney born June 24, 1893 in Chicago, Illinois.


Part Two: A short Back Story: You will be reading about two Animation Studios locate…

Noble Johnson African-American Pioneer Actor:

Noble Johnson the Pioneer African-American Actor is buried five minutes from my home. He is just up the street from my Senior's community of "Friendly Valley" in another valley called "Eternal", His resting place is located in Newhall, California on Sierra Highway off of the 14 Freeway, Noble Johnson rests within the "Garden of Peace" in plot A-270.



The question is do you recognize his name?

Probably not, but if I said he portrayed the Chief of the natives of Skull Island in Merian C. Cooper's 1933 "King Kong". You would immediately recognize that character.



Noble Johnson the man and actor was anything, but that Chief spouting Hollywood Native Jibberish about turning Fay Wray into the Bride of Kong. This is the story of one of the finest early African-American actors in the motion picture industry. Who appeared in 145 films, wrote two early screen plays and produced one feature film among other accomplishments.

Noble Mark Johnson was bo…

I BOMBED PEARL HARBOR: December 7, 1941 in Motion Pictures

75 years ago today, December 7, 2016, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War 2. One of my neighbors was a ten year old girl in Hawaii that day in 1941. She saw the attack as it happened.

Revisionist history tells us that the Japanese made two major mistakes that day after the attack was over. The first was Admiral Nagumo's decision not to search for the missing American aircraft carriers. The second was his decision not to continue to the West Coast and attack our military bases and ship building facilities there. That same revisionist history states had either been successful the United States probably could not have entered the war for months, or years.

However, this article is not about military history, or the history of World War 2 as it actually happened. This is a look at a few select motion pictures made about that attack as produced by both the United States and Japan. Films that have lost interest to many Millennial…