The truth of the kaiju-sized urban legend about King Kong vs. Godzilla's ending
1p>For years, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was the subject of one of the most endearing urban legends in the study of science fiction cinema. American genre fans spent decades believing that the movie had two distinct endings, and that the winner of the film's eponymous battle depending on which one you saw. In the original Japanese ending, supposedly, televised interview with Raymond Burr , in which host Bob Costas speculated the two endings happened "because the countries have rooting interest in their own particular monster." The story circulated for many years before being debunked in the 1990s, but its actual origin goes all the way back to 1963 (the year the film's American version came out) and a little publication called Spacemen.
Released by Warren Publishing and edited by the late Forrest J. Ackerman (the same team behind Famous Monsters of Filmland), Spacemen was a short-lived fan magazine that ran for eight issues and tackled topics such as Buck Rogers, Harryhausen movies, Japanese spectacles, and of course alien invasion pictures. In addition to production/promotional photographs, the magazine ran stories on new and upcoming genre films. Most notably, there was an article from their seventh issue, published on September 7, 1963, about a big-screen confrontation between two giant movie monsters from opposite sides of the world.
Opening with a two-page spread of behemoths towering over a city skyline, the article in issue #7 of Spacemen declared that King Kong, "believed dead for 30 years," had returned to cinema screens. ("King Kong is back & don't ask how because nobody knows," the article proclaims, implying that the Kong in this movie is the same Kong who was gunned down at the Empire State Building in 1933, though the great ape in the Godzilla series is clearly a different beast.) Then comes clarification that Kong's latest outing is an international project called King Kong vs. Godzilla, followed by a recounting of the film's plot. Inevitably, the synopsis shifts to Kong and Godzilla's climactic battle on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, "where they can really throw their weight (a combined 99 million pounds) around."
Then comes the following:
"Does King Kong best his saurian adversary or does Godzilla prevail over the mammoth ape? SPACEMEN lets you in on a secret: 2 endings have been filmed & if you see KING KONG vs. GODZILLA in Japan, Hong Kong, or some Oriental sector of the world, Godzilla wins! On the other hand, in the USA & England, for instance, Kong wins!"
And thus an urban legend, rife with outdated nomenclature, was born.
The article in question does not provide a source for this "revelation," but the stage had effectively been set for it to one day spread like wildfire. Because Spacemen was a companion magazine to Famous Monsters of Filmland, it was a simple enough process to repurpose content in other magazines from Warren Publishing — which is precisely what happened. The "double ending" yarn subsequently appeared in issue #51 of Famous Monsters and then again in the 114th issue of that same publication. Appearances in such a beloved genre magazine meant it would only grow from there and filter into other outlets.
That error-ridden Ian Thorne book repeated the story, as did mainstream publications like the Los Angeles Times (a columnist, likely seeking attention, claimed to have seen the "Godzilla wins" ending on television in his Tokyo hotel room). There was also the "Genus III" edition of the board game Trivial Pursuit, wherein "Godzilla" was the 'correct' answer to the question 'Who won the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla?' Through all of this, the dual endings to King Kong vs. Godzilla attained status as a "fun fact" in 20th-century pop culture. (Though people seemed content to omit Spacemen's claim that the "Godzilla wins ending" was also shown in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.)
Of course, knowledgeable fans eventually set the record straight — or at least attempted to. During the 1990s, publications such as Markalite magazine, Ed Godziszewski's The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla, and Steve Ryfle's book Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G" clarified that that Japanese version did not, in fact, conclude with definitive victory for Godzilla. Not to mention the arrival of the internet meant there were now much simpler ways for fans to acquire Japanese home releases of King Kong vs. Godzilla and see for themselves that even in director Ishiro Honda's original cut, only Kong rises to the surface at the end. And, once the Criterion Collection of the first series of Godzilla films comes out in late October, Western fans will finally be able to watch the original Japanese version to the very end.
But, whether King Kong or Godzilla will emerge victorious in next year's rematch remains to be seen.