Early in his career, Paul Mason got a break of monstrous proportions. Hired by producer John Beck to Americanize the Toho classic King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) for theatrical release by Universal-International in 1963, Mr. Mason still has many fond memories of the project.
In more recent years, Mr. Mason served as the senior vice president of production of Viacom Productions. He has also executive-produced such films as 2009’s Hachi: A Dog’s Story (with Richard Gere and Joan Allen) and The Amityville Horror (2005), wrote for the popular TV programs Welcome Back, Kotter and CHiPs, and worked as the executive in charge of production on such long-running series as the ’90s version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Diagnosis Murder, among many other credits. Brett Homenick caught up with Paul Mason to discuss the Americanization of King Kong vs. Godzilla in this 2012 interview.
Brett Homenick: How you did you get your break in the entertainment industry?
Paul Mason: I came to L.A. after graduating from Northwestern University. I did not get a break for many years. I took odd jobs and some writing jobs and kept doing whatever writing jobs popped up. I finally got a rewrite on a film called Angel Baby, and the agent, John Beck, became a good friend.
BH: How did you get hired to write the script for King Kong vs. Godzilla?
PM: John Beck, who had been my agent, became a producer. When Toho made King Kong vs. Godzilla, they assumed the King King rights were public domain and were horrified to discover that Paramount owned them. In the settlement, Paramount acquired the American rights and gave them to John Beck to produce. John hired me as the writer, and we also produced and voiced. I played many of the parts. We shot about fifteen minutes of the newscasters, which we created, and then rewrote the story and changed the film. It was great fun. Paramount made a lot of money and Universal later bought the rights.
BH: Did you watch the Japanese version before writing the script? If so, what were your initial thoughts about the movie?
PM: Yes. We (Bruce Howard, my co-writer) and myself watched the movie several times and then decided to write in the American newscasters and switched around a lot of the action. We tried very hard to stay true to the characters and built the script so it led to the great battle between KK and G.
BH: The Japanese version has a satirical edge to it, yet the American version is, more or less, a straight-forward monster movie. Whose decision was it to remove so much of the humor?
PM: We thought we were being funny. Both Bruce and I had written a lot of comedy. It was our line when KK gets his chest burned, “He’s chicken,” that got the biggest laugh.
BH: What approach did you decide to take with the material?
PM: We wanted t it to be entertaining. We felt we were dealing with a classic, but we had to “Amemricanize” it.
BH: You co-wrote the screenplay with Bruce Howard. What was that process like, and what did each of you contribute to the script?
PM: Bruce and I had been writing together for awhile. We had both written for stand up comics and various comedy shows, including Beetle Bailey cartoons for Al Brodax, and when when John Beck asked me to work on King Kong vs. Godzilla, I asked Bruce if he wanted to work on it with me.
BH: How long did it take to write the script? How many drafts were written?
PM: We wrote it pretty fast, about a month. Then three days of filming and a week to cut it together and a week to put in all the American voices.
BH: Please describe your working relationship with director Thomas Montgomery.
BH: What do you remember about the process of dubbing? Do you remember which dubbing company was used or any of the voice actors?
PM: We hired a dubbing company and did it all ourselves. We played many of the parts and hired other actors to do some of the voices.
BH: Do you recall which voices were dubbed by yourself and/or others (or the name of the dubbing company)?
PM: No. We were many of the characters. Bruce was a comic and had many voices. I had a few. We hired some actors as well.
BH: Did you work at all with Michael Keith (Eric Carter), James Yagi (Yutaka Omura), Harry Holcombe (Dr. Arnold Johnson), or any of the on-camera talent at all? If so, what stories can you share?
PM: Do not remember any of those names.
BH: Were you aware, at the time, of the story that Willis O’Brien (the stop-motion animator who brought King Kong to life in 1933) had written, which ultimately (and controverisally) became King Kong vs. Godzilla?
PM: No. Not at all.
BH: John Beck was the producer who brought O’Brien’s story to Toho Studios. What do you recall about Beck?
PM: John was a great guy. I had no idea he had brought the project to Toho. I think they made it on their own. But you never know. It was my understanding that Paramount brought in John.
John Beck got the rights and turned it over to myself and Bruce. We wrote the script, cast the actors, shot the new footage, dubbed in the voices and got the stock shots from old movies, and put together the film. I thought we also used PD music, but I am not sure. I cannot remember the name of the editor. He was very good.
BH: Do you remember who wrote which parts of the film (or even certain lines of dialogue)?
PM: No. But Bruce came up with “He’s chicken,” which always made me laugh.
BH: Personality-wise, what were John Beck and Bruce Howard like?
PM: John was wonderful. A terrific executive and a good friend. Bruce was my writing partner for a couple of years and a funny guy and a nice guy.
BH: As you may be aware, there was a rumor that persisted in America for decades that there were two endings to the movie, one shot for Asian audiences (in which Godzilla triumphs) and one shot for Western movie-goers (where King Kong is victorious). This, of course, is false. Were you aware of these rumors? In any case, was there any consideration at the time of changing the ending to make it more suitable for Americans (i.e., making Kong a decisive victor)?
PM: Never heard of it. I only know about the ending we have. I know of no discussions to change the ending.
BH: What other experiences can you share about working on the movie?
PM: It was a lot of fun for a young writer, and we got to do everything. I later learned that writers seldom have that kind of freedom.
BH: What did you think of the completed (Americanized) film?
PM: I loved it. So did my children and my grandchildren.
BH: Since King Kong vs. Godzilla, what projects in the movie industry have you worked on?
PM: Oh, my. I have been a busy boy since then and still am. Just finished a movie in Sri Lanka with Ben Kingsley called A Common Man.