Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on November 27, 1990 · 53
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · 53

Chicago, Illinois
Issue Date:
Tuesday, November 27, 1990
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Section 5 (DlicagO (Tribune Tuesday, November 27, 1990 N Dob Greene msm tiii ti fci mm l.l.l.-l I..III. I I II I. I... 11,11 J.U.IIII, . I MM.., I, I """" 1 m ,4 V 1 ( X3 f: -V w Saying so long to Mr. Kong R ith the end of the year coming up, I fl 0 you will soon be seeing in the news papers long lists ot the most prominent people who died during 1990. Carmen Nigro will not be in cluded on any of those lists. So we'll mention his passing here, instead. Carmen could be sort of a goofy guy, but I 'liked him a lot and besides, how many men do you know who could claim to be the original King Kong? "Claim" is the right word, by the way. Carmen swore that he truly was King Kong, but film historians around the world still get apoplectic when they hear this. Carmen never cared about the film historians. "They weren't there," he would tell me. "I was." When I first met Carmen, he was 71 years old and working as a security guard in the subbasement of an insurance company in the Loop. He told me that when he was founger he had worked as a stunt man in lollywood. For "King Kong" the 1933 movie mai nas oecome a cinemauc classic he said he had been hired to play the gorilla. But I had always thought that the King Kong character was a wonder of early animation and special effects. "They used an animated doll for most of the sequences of the gorilla," Carmen said. "But for all of the scenes where they needed someone to act like a real gorilla that was me. It was me on top of the Empire State Building, for example." He provided details: "What they did is, they used a backdrop showing New York City. Then they built a model of the very top part of the Empire State Building, and I stood on top of that. Most of the airplanes were really a movie 1 1 Carmen Nigro in 1976, and King Kong projected on the backdrop. But they had about three of them little gas-powered planes, and they hooked the planes up to wires and aimed 'em at me. "The way it worked, I had this little doll in my hand that was supposed to be Fay Wray. I put the doll down on the ledge, and then I had to catch one of them little planes. I was wearing ballet shoes covered with fur, and I had rubber suction cups on the bottoms, so I could stay balanced on top of the building." As we mentioned earlier, certain film historians take violent exception to Carmen Nigro's account. They say that if you look closely at the film, you can see that King Kong was never played by an actor. So on the one hand you have the film historians, cloistered in musty projection rooms, analyzing the movie shot-by-shot to make their point And on the other hand you had Carmen Nigra making his point It was quite an experience walking along Jackson Boulevard in the Loop with a 71 -year-old security guard who is hunched over and hopping around like an ape. "All right, Carmen," I said through my teeth, trying to maintain a normal expression. "I get the picture. Stand up." But he wouldn't not until I would concede that he was really King Kong. "All right, Carmen," I said as he hopped down the street. To his credit, he knew a lot of the technical details about the filming of "King Kong" stuff that the average security guard fantasizing that he was a movie monkey might not necessarily know. And he loved to explain the technique behind his King Kong walk: "It's like this. Your gorilla thrusts his body forward, and he weaves. He has a side-to-side motion." He retired from the security guard job, and for several years he and his wife lived in a basement apartment in Cicero. To keep busy, he would go around to elementary schools and to Cub Scout meetings, entertaining the children with stories about his adventures as the original King Kong. And then, during this past year, he died. He was 84; he had moved to Speedway, Ind., so that his wife could be closer to her own family. His relatives sent me the memorial program from his funeral service; Carmen Nigro did not leave much of an estate, they said, but he willed the gorilla head from his King Kong costume to his nephew, David Weiss, 16, of Hometown, 111. So was Carmen Nigro really King Kong? Hey, why not. Carmen deeply believed that he was King Kong, and that's good enough for me. As self-images go, that's a pretty swell one. Rest in peace, Kong. You made me smile. For a 'hooky cop getting inner-city kids to go back to class can be a dismal, unending battle against. inescapable fact w x' v I , if N " X.- Ms I X v. .. Tribune photo by Bob Flit By Frank James (S ylvis IlU depr A lai ylvia Lee walked to the middle of a depressingly dingy living room in the Henry Horner housing project. : was around 1 1 a.m. on a Wednesday. laree TV was tuned to a same show. A heavy old woman in a drab housedress filled a chair. A man in his 30s and a teenage girl sat on a couch, the girl propping up two babies on her lap. On another couch, almost blending into it, was one more young woman. She was stretched out on her back, dead asleep. Lee, a truant officer, had come in search of a high school girl. Let's call her "T." Seventeen and already the mother of two, T.. is an occasional student, so far this year marked absent more than present in the Crane High School attendance books. "Where's T.?" the truant officer asked the old woman, who turned out to be T's grandmother. "That's her there," said grandma, pointing to the inert figure on the couch. Lee walked over to T., who had barely stirred despite the activity in the apartment With a pen, Lee gave T. s arm a lick, like a drummer hitting a snare. "Why aren't you in school?" she asked the girl, who by now had raised her head a little. The girl didn't answer. Her eyelids barely lifted. After a few more questions from Lee and some barely audible answers from T., Lee announced that she wanted to see the girl in school, with an adult, on Monday, or she might resort to serious action, such as getting the state's attorney to begin legal proceedings. After leaving the apartment, Lee turned to a companion and said: "Now that's a hopeless case, a hopeless case. She wouldn't even open her eyes. But I keep talking. What else can I do?" In recent weeks, truancy has been in the news after what reportedly was the city's first conviction of parents under truancy statutes. A West Side couple, whose 15-year-old son missed 17 days at Amundsen High School this year, was sentenced to probation and ordered to attend school council meetings. 4' L . . 1 r Tribune photo by George Thompson 'I keep going back hoping I can help some student over an obstacle.' Truant officer Sylvia Lee The case reflected a more aggressive enforcement program intended to stem the drastic rise in chronic truants, up S3 percent in two years, to 16,163 in the 1988-1989 school year. Truant officers say they take many cases to court but until now have failed to get convictions because of the raft of documentation and follow-up required. Still, as a day of rounds with a truant officer in one of the city's grimmest areas demonstrates, even such court victories may not offset the indifference of some truants or the paralyzing conditions that keep others out of school. In a city notorious for its school dropout rate (40.1 percent at last count), Crane High historically has had one of the worst Its class of 1988 dropout rate was a staggering 62.S percent A truant officer at such a school sees many "hopeless" cases. Despite the odds against her, however, Lee keeps talking, trying to cajole, shame or scare students back to school. She's a bounty "hunter but not one looking for a monetary re- . ward. The prize she seeks is a kid back in school and, perhaps, a life saved. Lee is a "hooky cop" whose beat includes those islands of despair that most Chicagoans try to avoid: the decaying housing projects. Crane draws many of its students from Henry Horner and Rockwell Gardens, which helps explain why, on an average day, more than 100 of the high school's 900 enrolled students are no-shows. Some Fridays, more than 200 pupils skip school. "It's a social-economic thing. There are home or gang problems, substance abuse or a lack of motivation," said Lee. "Basically it comes down to poverty." Stricter attendance policies and counseling nave raised Crane's average daily attendance to about 80 percent this year. Two years ago, it was in the mid-60s., Statewide, last year's average See Truants, pg. 2 APUeerphoto David Marwell at the center: The files tell a dramatic story about the entire Nazi regime." Nazi record center's past collides with new Germany By Ray Moseley ERLIN The young man had grown up under Adolf If ! 1 J I . - lt nnicr, nau served in me M Hitler Youth and now want- ' ed to join the Nazi Party. But his application was rejected. The Nazis discovered that he had committed an unpardonable offense: He had received medical treatment from a Jewish physician. Many other aspirants were rejected because of evidence of homosexuality. Those cases are among millions recorded in the files of the Nazi Party. Together, they form a fascinating and often chilling portrait of the party's organizational structure, the rules by which it conducted itself and the way bureaucrats applied those rules. The files are in the Berlin Docu-. ment Center, a U.S.-run facility in a leafy corner of the city's upper-middle-class Zehlendorf district. Until the end of World War II, the building that houses it was a telephone-tapping center of the Nazi secret service, the Gestapo. Director David Marwell, 38, calls the center "one of the most important research centers in the world for the study of the Third Reich." Its records also have been used in every important Nazi war crimes trial from the early postwar Nuremberg trials to the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel and the Klaus Barbie proceedings in France. The end of Allied occupation rights in Berlin has focused attention on the center, for several members of parliament with government backing have demanded that it be transferred immediately to German control. One member plans to introduce legislation to that effect The U.S. Embassy office, in Berlin says a U.S.-German agreement provides that the center be handed over only after it has completed microfilming all of the 30 million documents in its files. The target date is Dec. 31, 1994, and Marwell says the microfilming, probably the largest operation of its type in the world, is ahead of schedule. Foreign Ministry officials in Bonn said that, despite the agreement, they have been trying for a long time to get the U.S. to relinquish control of the center. They said they were confident that Germany would regain possession early next year, on terms that would allow the Americans to continue with the microfilming operation. - Marwell said the files in the center number SO million pages. Most of the documents are personnel files on members of the Nazi Party, the S.A. (storm troopers) and the elite S.S., the black-shirted paramilitary force that ran concentration camps and became a symbol of organized terror. The documents were seized by U.S. troops or military government personnel after the war in See Nazis, pg. 5 E 0' Si JS il S v,deo releases give a new look to some classic jazz , artists, such as Joe Williams and many more. Page 3. am ?

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