Please don't pummel our new King Kong. That’s the request Krewe of Bacchus officials are making ahead of their 50th anniversary parade on Sunday.
For years, parade-goers have pelted the Bacchus procession's towering figures of King Kong, Mrs. Kong and Baby Kong with beads.
"That’s a tradition we’d like to put to bed,” Bacchus captain Clark Brennan said. “That was the first 50 years. Now let’s move on to the next 50 years. Please don’t throw at the Kongs.”
This year, Bacchus invested $600,000 in new Kong figures and a jungle-themed, three-section super-float, BacchaKong. The imposing new fiberglass Kong, built by Barry Kern's team at Kern Studios, was inspired by the 2017 film “Kong: Skull Island.”
“They’re works of art,” Brennan said of the new figures. “If you really look at their teeth, eyes, hands, fur — it’s all hand-carved. Kong moves and growls, and the eyes light up. It’s the latest and greatest technology.”
Hurling heavy strands of beads at the animatronic figures can damage them, Brennan said. In fact, the organization spent thousands of dollars annually to repair the now-retired Kongs.
More important, King Kong and Mrs. Kong will no longer ride alone aboard their own mini-floats, where bead-throwers could target them without fear of striking a krewe member.
Instead, their new super-float will also be populated by human riders led by float lieutenant Jay Timon. Beads hurled at the float — a practice that is already illegal — could injure riders, even as they're trying to toss Kong-faced footballs and other customized throws.
The original King Kong figure, created by master float-builder Blaine Kern, made its Bacchus debut in 1972, four years after the parade’s founding.
But its inspiration dates back decades earlier.
As a boy, Blaine Kern, now 90, loved the original 1933 “King Kong” movie. In 1960, he conceived a giant gorilla for the Krewe of Alla ball at the Municipal Auditorium. Five men tugged on ropes to move the beast’s arms and mouth. It was the show-stopper in an elaborate “King Kong”-themed production, complete with krewe members costumed as “natives,” fake explosions and a real-life woman who was rescued after a net dropped from the ceiling onto Kong.
A decade later, with the fledgling Bacchus and Endymion at the vanguard of a new generation of “superkrewes,” Kern brainstormed ideas for how to make the parades more eye-popping. He pitched the idea of a Kong character to Bacchus’ co-founding captain, Owen “Pip” Brennan, Clark Brennan’s father.
As Blaine Kern Sr. eyed the gaggle of tourists filing into Mardi Gras World’s gift shop, he flipped on his Mr. Mardi Gras grin, his calling ca…
“Kong was exciting, and Bacchus was exciting,” Blaine Kern said. “I needed something in the parade that would say that.”
Brennan agreed, so Kern’s studio birthed Kong. Kern recruited Sandy Daigle, the younger sister of his longtime studio manager, Jerelyn “Pixie” Naquin, to ride with the ape as the damsel in distress. Dressed in a negligee, Daigle lounged in Kong’s hand, which moved up and down.
The gimmick proved short-lived. Clark Brennan said motion sickness forced Daigle to dismount after several blocks. Blaine Kern said she was removed for other reasons.
“I had to take her off because she was creating too much of a sensation," Kern said. "She stopped the whole parade. The college boys laid down on the parade route and wouldn’t let the float pass, she was so pretty.”
Even without her, Kong was a hit. Mrs. Kong joined him in 1973, followed by Baby Kong in 1982.
For unknown reasons, parade-goers began to express their affection by pelting the Kongs with beads.
“It didn’t happen early on,” Clark Brennan said. “Then somebody threw something, and everybody just went crazy.”
The only upside, Brennan said, is that the krewe donated the hundreds of pounds of beads that accumulated on the old, riderless Kong floats to charities for resale.
He hopes they won't have any to collect this year.
Regardless of how the new Kong fares on the route, Blaine Kern is a big fan of the more aggressive-looking ape: “He’s fierce-looking. The crowd will love it.”
And, Bacchus hopes, will let it pass in peace.