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Collectors: Mighty Joe Young Stop Motion Armature Replicas

September 8, 2010

I read from a reviewer of one of the past DVD releases of Mighty Joe Young (1949), paraphrasing him …. that the 1933 Classic King Kong was perhaps the more ‘revered’ as a classic icon, whereas the lesser known Joe Young was maybe the ‘beloved’ classic. Mighty Joe Young had most of the similar team behind King Kong, with Willis O’Brien, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Of course, we will try and overlook the RUSH job of  Son of Kong sequel later released the same frigg’n year (1933)! Maybe this was the beginnings of Sequelitis in early cinema history? But I am digressing.

Mighty Joe Young Armature front view

In an earlier SMW News post, with humorous intent, I spotlighted a mysterious unknown person behind a new website. Of course, I knew all along that it was Jeff Taylor, an accomplished stop motion armature designer & fabricator since the early 1990’s. He dropped out for some years but  just a few months ago, Jeff has come out of exile ;) . Stop Motion armatures when executed with the highest degree in design, engineering & craftsmanship, can be amazing pieces of Mechanical Sculptural Art  even without the rubber skin. Most newbies have no concept of what it takes to create a custom stop motion armature. I am not talking about ‘Kit’ type stop motion armatures or very simple jointed armatures.

The original King Kong armatures/puppets and associated props have been historically surrounded by drama, mystery and lore, achieving almost legendary proportions 8O . Although not as well known to the average public, the Joe Young Armatures/Puppets also had some sketchy historical drama, including, where many moons ago, amateur historians have often mistaken the Joe Young artifacts for King Kong. Too much for me to ramble about here about the historical  minutiae  but I will post some links and you need to read them first, so that you can get a grasp of it and also maybe better understand one of the videos that I will  post below after my dissertation :mrgreen: .  

Some links I am posting below may be a long read. When you have the time, maybe after dinner, brew yourself some java or tea, fire-up your cigar or pipe, and slip on your reading glasses …. check these out Part 1: The Wrong Kong, Part 2: The Wrong Kong, Part 3: The Wrong Kong then you got this, about Mighty Joe Young Armature stolen from Jim Danforth and eventually recovered, the armature came under dual ownership then actioned and sold for around $120,000.. This you got this brief article Clark Wilkinson & Lyle Conway: Original MJY Puppet. Bob Burns, a collector in Southern California,  has one of the original MJY. This fuzzy photo also appears to be the same Bob Burns MJY. I do not know how many MJY Puppets there were but this forum thread might answer that. There is an online preview of  Master of the Majicks Vol 2 hardcopy book and goes into further detail about Mighty Joe Young. Only some of pages are online (Chapter 7, pages 21 to 56) including photo of one of original armatures. This other MJY armature is a replica that the ‘Retired from Stop Motion’, well renowned ‘Former Armaturist’ Tom St. Amand, constructed years ago.

Mighty Joe Young Armature 3/4 view

All the above ‘keyboard rambling’ is sort of a prelude about this SMW News post. Jeff Taylor is exploring the area of offering some classic iconic puppet armature replicas from the stop motion cinematic historical past that may appeal to motion picture memorabilia collectors out there. I received some advanced photos of Jeff Taylor’s Mighty Joe Armature reproduction …. Front View & 3/4 View. I am extremely IMPRESSED with Jeff’s attention to exacting detail in replicating this classic iconic  piece of movie history, but also, seeing the MJY armature as a BRAND NEW construction …. the armature design from 1949 (over 60 years ago!) is still very advanced and similar to today’s more sophisticated armature designs. I am guessing, he must have somehow acquired the original MJY blueprints?

There was perhaps ONE design flaw in the Original MJY armatures, which was, too many spinal hinge joints. This has been somewhat discussed in years past, in articles from pros in the biz: Because of having ‘more’ hinge joints than needed in the spine, after you cover armature with the rubber skin, then as you animate the puppet, the internal spinal joints would have a tendency to go cattywampus and the puppet would actually shrink in height. Also, the joints might lock-up in the crooked positions. There was no way to straighten the crooked joints buried in the rubber unless you actually cut open the rubber to access the joints. Another historical ‘technical’ trivia bit ….. most of the photos that I have seen of the original, do not have that funky wire rib cage. I am not sure if all the MJY had that rib cage?  It is also my understanding there was a bladder type breathing device maybe hooked up to only a specific MJY puppet? Also, was there ever a MJY Armature with Ball Jointed Shoulders? My historical knowledge of Mighty Joe Young not so great. Again, Jeff has accurately reproduced the original in the most exacting detail. This is Jeff Taylor’s website. 8th Wonder Studio. I do not see anything yet on Jeff’s site about the availability of these rare limited edition MJY Stop Motion Armatures but you can always contact him. ‘Collectors’ in Tinsel Town and Worldwide, this sure looks like a rare opportunity for ‘you all’.

Bizarre MJY Puppet appearance: Desilu Studio (formerly RKO)/Westinghouse Corporate Promo (1958)Mighty Joe Young encounter with Cowboys scene
Beautiful Dreamer sceneBurning Building/Rescue scene

Topics: Stop Motion Armatures | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Collectors: Mighty Joe Young Stop Motion Armature Replicas”

  1. The Joe that was the Ackermansion was the same one that was finally sent to England (to Leslie Halliwell) and put on display for a while. The armature from this puppet is the one in Bob Burns’ collection, so the fourth Joe is still MIA.

  2. Dave says:

    I remember seeing a picture taken at the Ackermansion of one of the larger MJY models on display still with exterior a little shabby showing it’s age in Famous Monsters magazine. I was fortunate to be able to visit the Ackermansion back in 1970 and asked Forry about it. He said the model had to be returned so the armature could be reused. Don’t recall him going into any more detail at the time. Could this be the fourth Joe?

  3. charles says:

    I have some of the original negative of photos taken on the the set of Mighty Joe Young from 1948 they came from the estate of willis obrien I am unemployed now and might need to sell them if anyone know someone interested please contact me at 949 205-3219 or write me at foreverkong@yahoo.com Charles also some of the original storyboards but they would be the last to go

  4. landon says:

    Will the price of the mighty joe young armatures be at a high price.

  5. L.I.O. says:

    For anyone surfing the net and arriving here, there is also some discussion at this messageboard …..

    Classic professional armatures re-created…coming soon

  6. U_Ani says:

    This is all useful information. Those clips of the movie looked great. For an old film animation Joe has surprisingly much motion dynamism to him even today.

  7. There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding the surviving and missing Joe puppets. There are actually only three of the four 16″ Joe’s accounted for to date. The armature that Bob Burn’s has is reportedly the one that was once inside an exterior of Joe that was on display in England a few years back…..probably the one from the Desilu video. Jim Danforth’s was found at a thrift store (how did it ever end up there???) by Dave Allen who gave it to Jim as a gift. It was later stolen, resurfaced and sold at auction to Peter Jackson a couple of years ago. Lyle Conway bought a Joe with an exterior still intact from Clark Wilkinson, who received it from Merian C. Cooper…..Wilkinson actually thought it was Kong. According to Ray, two of the Joes had ball joints in the shoulders but we may never know for sure. Lyle has not had his X-rayed, and the unaccounted for fourth one has yet to surface. I believe Obie sold a couple of the horses to the Nassour brothers in the 50’s and Jim still has couple of the humans, recovered with some other stop-motion models in Pete Peterson’s belongings….but where are the rest? The five inch Joe, the ten inch Joe, the half-body Joe, the lions and the baby puppet would be wonderful to see. How can these masterpieces just disappear? Jim’s humans, identified by machinist Harry Cunningham himself as his work (he says he did not do the 16″ Joes), are marvels of engineering. The arms have press fit swivels that STILL work beautifully. I hope these treasures are sitting in someone’s collection and not lost to the ages.

  8. L.I.O. says:

    @JEFF – I should have perhaps re-worded about the spine joints. It’s not really a ‘flaw’ and obviously MJY puppets were reliable and very animateable but I’m guessing, when puppet was possibly repaired during MJY production, Delgado or whoever, may have been surprised at the discovery of the crookedly positioned joints! Very simple workaround fix …. just completely lock-off (tighten) a few of spine joints to eliminate that issue. If you had modified the design of original MJY armature (such as spine joints) then ‘technically’ it would not be a replica. By exactly reproducing the original design, you have in a way, resurrected the ‘Spirit of MJY’!

    The links I posted above Master of Majicks and the $120,000 Sold/Auction, somewhat partially answers a few of the technical questions that I posed, however, still surrounded by an element of Mystery, not knowing all the details which I think makes ‘MJY Historical Thang’, more intriguing and cool. Perhaps some day in future, the other original MJY armatures/puppets/artifacts may possibly be discovered!?!? :eek:

    P.S. Marcel Delgado (early 1970’s) ….

  9. One more thing….thanks for your amazing website. You’re really helping to keep this art form on the map. BRAVO.

  10. Hey Lio,

    Thanks for the plug! I’m glad you like Joe…it’s been a mind-boggling labor of love.

    The rib cage is a new, simple design that is completely removable and makes use of two existing swivel screws. There simply was no available reference for the original wire rib cage. Jim Danforth told me it was merely tied in place so I wanted to offer something more substantial. It’s the only part of the original design that has been changed…or perhaps I should say “added.” I did change the slotted screws to hex screws for more torque, and I replaced the taper pins with set screws because taper pins can loosen up and then you’re screwed (no pun intended), but beyond that, it is an exact replica of the original Joe. No shortcuts taken…..even the finger tips are all different lengths, just like the original! We’re striving for accuracy with this puppy! As far as Joe having too many spine joints, I would have to agree. For those who want to animate this armature, however, they could simply tighten down the extra ones they didn’t want to use. I didn’t want to change the original spine if I didn’t have to. We’ll update the website soon with more photos and purchasing info.



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