Wednesday, July 10, 2013

King of the Congo (Columbia 1952) and Gloria Dea

In King of the Conga, his very last serial adventure, Buster Crabbe, formerly both Tarzan and Flash Gordon for the uninitiated among us, crash lands in Darkest Africa (i.e. the well-travelled Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, CA) and is promptly captured by the local Rock People tribe. Sartlingly, considering this is supposed to be sub-Saharan Africa, the Rock People are played by Hispanic performers wearing badly fitted black wigs. Not so startlingly considering that this is a Sam Katzman chapterplay from Columbia, the heads of the tribe are a white girl in full Max Factor makeup and the latest in Wild African Queen coiffure, and a medicine man (elderly William Fawcett) don up in what for all the world looks like a blond peek-a-boo wig a la Veronica Lake. Princess Pha, as the girl is named, gestures her way though the opening chapter but her command of English reveals itself in chapter 2 when she proclaims Buster "Thunda, King of the Congo," which is also the serials pulp fiction provenance. Our hero achieves said honor after gonging a gong that hadn't been gonged for centuries. Or something like that. This viewer was distracted by the sheer madness of the piece to take it all in. But there you are.

Princess Pha is played by Miss Gloria Dea, who hails from Alameda, CA, an exotic-looking dancer who later shows up in a bit in Ed Wood's much-maligned Plan 9 From Outer Space (released 1959). King of the Kongo was Miss Dea' only leading role. But Gloria was no Miss Nobody.

She was actually Gloria Metzner, aka Gloria de Werd, and the wife of band leader slash composer Hal Borne, formerly the music director at RKO. Miss Metzner was the daughter of a stage magician and had herself started in that profession at the ripe old age of 7. She later performed in the Earl Carroll's Vanities in Hollywood and even did the Billy Rose Aquacade at the San Francisco World's Fair in 1939 opposite another screen Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. She disappears from entertainment news after her run-in with Ed Woods and Plan 9.

Full disclosure: The above essay was "lifted" from "Braunhart Mania," an ancestry blog run by Gloria Metzner's relative Kenneth R. Marks. I am indebted to Mr. Marks.

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