PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1965 Donruss King Kong Trading Card Set
Kong, the True King of Comedy?
by Kevin Glew
He had been portrayed as a wild rampaging monster and as a tragically lovesick beast, but it wasn't until 1965 that King Kong was presented as a comedian.
That's the role that Donruss gave the gigantic ape in their 55-card, 1965 offering. Cards in this issue picture King Kong making wisecracks in various movie scenes.
"I like the humor they inserted into the Donruss set," said Pete Lee, who owns the No. 5 Current Finest, 1965 Donruss King Kong set on the PSA Set Registry. "The cards were not intended to coincide with the movies, and I've never been a purist when it comes to comic books, movies, or things like that."
Danny Orozco, who has built the registry's No. 2 and 3 Current Finest, 1965 Donruss King Kong sets, also enjoys the funny captions.
"Donruss did a great job with the captions," he said. "I think the funny quotes were there to appeal more to kids."
But not all collectors are laughing at Kong's fictitious quips on these cards. Some consider them to be an insult to one of the silver screen's most recognizable and fearsome monsters. This helps explain why many of these cards can still be purchased in PSA MINT 9 grade for under $50 each.
In 1965, Donruss was a fledgling card producer and they opted to unveil their King Kong series three years after the theatrical release of King Kong vs. Godzilla and 32 years following the original movie. Orozco and Lee grew up in the sixties and were well aware of King Kong. Orozco had seen the original movie on TV and was captivated by photos of Kong in publications like Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
"We all knew about King Kong as kids," said Lee.
The King Kong set fit nicely with Donruss' other non-sports offerings in the mid-sixties, and funny monsters seemed to be en vogue during that era. The 1959 Topps You'll Die Laughing and 1961 Nu-Cards Horror Monster series, for example, were both monster sets that incorporated humor, and in 1965, there were two prominent comedies based on monster-like families - The Addams Family and The Munsters - running on TV.
The 1965 Donruss King Kong set also represented an opportunity for the company to make headway in the non-sports market. Topps had also purchased the rights to create a series of King Kong cards that year, but after an initial test run (likely in select Brooklyn stores), they decided not to distribute their set nationally.
Many of the same images were used in the Topps Test and Donruss sets, but the Topps Test cards are rarer and more coveted today than the Donruss cards. Some collectors also prefer the more refined design of the Topps Test cards and the fact that their backs include a narrative that's true to the original 1933 movie.
The white-bordered fronts of the 1965 Donruss King Kong cards boast black-and-white photos from multiple movies. On each card, there's a dialogue bubble coming out of Kong's (or another character's) mouth that shares a humorous crack. For example, while battling a dinosaur on card #4 Kong inserts a stick in his ferocious foe's mouth and quips, "This is the best tooth brush we have, sir."
Meanwhile, card #11 features King Kong bursting through the gate on Skull Island in the original 1933 movie, sending people scrambling for safety. But the terror of the scene is alleviated when Kong says, "Who stole my bubble gum?"
Also, to add an interactive component, Donruss included 10 cards (#0, #5, #6, #18, #24, #25, #35, #37, #50, and #54) where the dialogue bubble was left blank and collectors were encouraged to write in their own caption.
The bottoms of the fronts exhibit the card number and the film company's copyright information in all capital letters (© 1965 RKO GENERAL INC.).
"The white borders are great and so are the photos," commented Orozco. "That's all we needed back then; there was no need to be extravagant with the design. These cards were elaborate enough for us at the time."
Each card back is a piece of a large color puzzle that features an artistic rendering of King Kong clutching a woman, an image which appears to be a tribute to the relationship between Kong and Ann Darrow (played by Fay Wray) in the original movie.
The 1965 Donruss King Kong cards were distributed in five-cent wax packs with gum. The set includes a card #0 but no #16.
"That's a little trick that Donruss played on collectors," said Orozco. "When I was collecting that set [as a kid], I was like, 'Where's No. 16? Where's No. 16?' Everybody was worrying about where No. 16 was."
Card #0, which offers an iconic photo of King Kong discovering Ann Darrow in the original King Kong movie, is a key card. Not only is this a "Write Your Own" caption card (so it's frequently found with writing on it), but it also suffered additional wear being on top of collector piles. Not surprisingly, this was the hardest card for Orozco to obtain in high grade.
The last card "All right, knock it off, you cats!" (#55), which exhibits a large photo of an angry Kong, is also elusive in top condition. It was regularly damaged being on the bottom of collector piles.
One of Lee's favorite cards is #24. It's a "Write Your Own" caption single that flaunts a close-up headshot of Kong baring his teeth. It's also one of the highest population cards in this series.
Lee also points out that some of the wisecracks on the cards parodied popular advertising campaigns of the day. For example, card #9, which showcases King Kong propping open a dinosaur's mouth during a battle, has Kong saying, "Look, no cavities!" This is a nod to Crest's "Look ma, no cavities!" slogan of that era.
Card #53, meanwhile, shows Ann Darrow (Fay Wray's character) in Kong's hand in the original movie and offers the caption, "Let HURTS put you in the driver's seat." This is a play on the ubiquitous Hertz rental car slogan ("Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat") from that period.
Orozco notes that Godzilla can be seen on several cards (#17, #21, #30, #32, #33, and #42) in the set.
"One of the differences between the Topps Test issue and the Donruss set is that the Donruss version added photos of Godzilla," noted Orozco.
These cards appeal to both King Kong and Godzilla enthusiasts.
Among the set's most difficult cards to track down in high grade are "I said, 'Beat it, Mac!'" (#14) and "I think you have been eating onions again" (#17). Just seven of each of these have been submitted and neither has had an example grade above PSA NM 7. Both cards are plagued by poor centering.
It's also interesting to note that of the eight examples PSA has evaluated of "I should have taken the elevator" (#52), six have received grades with qualifiers. This card, which highlights Kong on top of the Empire State Building in the famous finale of the original movie, is almost always found off-center top to bottom.
Orozco, who has amassed 30 ungraded 1965 Donruss King Kong sets, says centering issues are common on these cards. Soft corners, gum stains, and creases are also prevalent.
"Back in the sixties, we put rubber bands around our cards, which creased them," said Orozco. "We didn't know any better."
Lee adds that many collectors also wrote on the "Write Your Own" caption cards, which significantly lowers the grade of these singles.
"If you're looking for cards in high grade, you might get a little bit frustrated searching for cards from this set," said Lee.
Percentage-wise, the 1965 Donruss King Kong cards are tougher to find in PSA 9 or better condition than the Topps Test cards (see accompanying chart).
But despite their condition sensitivity, their age, and the fact that they feature one of Hollywood's most revered monsters, the 1965 Donruss King Kong cards remain relatively affordable, even in PSA 9 grade.
This could change, however, with the new interest in King Kong generated by Kong: Skull Island, which was released in theaters March 2017, and with a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla set for 2020.
"When it comes to the monster cards, Kong is No. 1 to me," said Orozco. "I think the Donruss set is going to get more popular amongst serious collectors as the years go by."
For more information on the 1965 Donruss King Kong trading card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/non-sports-cards/1965-donruss-king-kong/32533.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Danny Orozco for providing the images for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of May 2017.
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