Robert Armstrong
Armstrong in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)
Born(1890-11-20)November 20, 1890
DiedApril 20, 1973(1973-04-20) (aged 82)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California
Years active1919–1966
(m. 1920; div. 1925)

Ethel Virah Smith
(m. 1926; div. 1931)

Gladys Dubois
(m. 1936; div. 1939)

Claire Louise Frisbie Armstrong
(m. 1940; his death 1973)

Robert William Armstrong[note 1][2][3][4][5] (November 20, 1890 – April 20, 1973) was an American film and television actor remembered for his role as Carl Denham in the 1933 version of King Kong by RKO Pictures. He uttered the famous exit quote, "'it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."[6] at the film's end.

Early years

Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Armstrong lived in Bay City, Michigan until about 1902 and moved to Seattle, Washington. He attended the University of Washington, where he studied law,[5] and became a member of Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity.[7] Armstrong gave up his studies to manage his uncle's touring companies.[citation needed]


In his spare time, Armstrong wrote plays, which eventually led to him appearing in one of them when it was produced. Armstrong served in the United States Army in World War I, and upon his return home after the war, Armstrong discovered his uncle had died while he was away. In 1926, he went to London and appeared for a season on the British stage.[citation needed]

In Public Enemy's Wife (1936)

Armstrong's silver screen career began in 1927 when he appeared in Pathé's silent drama The Main Event.[8] He appeared in 127 films between 1927 and 1964; very prolific in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he made nine movies in 1928 alone. He is best known for his role as director Carl Denham in King Kong. Months later, he starred as Carl Denham again in the sequel, Son of Kong, released the same year. He resembled King Kong producer and adventurer Merian C. Cooper, and Cooper used him in several films as more or less a version of himself. The Most Dangerous Game was filmed at night on the same jungle sets as King Kong, which was shot during the day, with Armstrong and Fay Wray simultaneously starring in both pictures. In 1937, Armstrong starred in With Words and Music (also referred to as The Girl Said No), released by Grand National Films Inc. He also worked throughout the 1930s and 1940s for many film studios. Prior to World War II, in 1940, Universal Pictures released Enemy Agent, about countering a Nazi spy ring. In the film, Armstrong co-starred with Helen Vinson, Richard Cromwell and Jack La Rue. In 1942, he was reteamed with Cromwell in Baby Face Morgan, a notable B movie for PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Later in that decade, Armstrong played another Carl Denham-like leading character role as "Max O'Hara" in 1949's Mighty Joe Young. This film was another stop-motion animation giant gorilla fantasy, made by the same King Kong team of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.

In the 1950s, he appeared as Sheriff Andy Anderson on Rod Cameron's syndicated western-themed television series, State Trooper. Armstrong made four guest appearances on Perry Mason during its nine-year run on CBS: in 1961 he played the title character and murder victim Captain Bancroft in "The Case of the Malicious Mariner"; in 1962 he played defendant Jimmy West in "The Case of the Playboy Pugilist"; and in 1964 he played murderer Phil Jenks in "The Case of the Accosted Accountant," thus becoming one of only eleven actors to hit the Perry Mason trifecta, playing victim, defendant and murderer.



Armstrong died of cancer in Santa Monica, California. He and King Kong's co-producer, Merian C. Cooper, died within sixteen hours of each other.[10]



  1. ^ The reference book Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965 gives Armstrong's birth name as Donald Robert Smith, as do the Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins, 5th ed. and Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931–1939. Clarke in his 1977 Pseudonyms gave "Donald R. Smith".


  1. ^ "Robert Armstrong, Actor, Dies; Played Director in 'King Kong' (Published 1973)". April 22, 1973 – via
  2. ^ Joseph Francis Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 11.
  3. ^ Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 21. ISBN 9781557835512. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  4. ^ Room, Adrian (2010). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins, 5th ed. McFarland. p. 33. ISBN 9780786457632. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Senn, Bryan (2006). Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931–1939. McFarland. p. 232. ISBN 9781476610894. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  6. ^ Raw, Laurence (2012). Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films, 1930–1960. McFarland. pp. 18–20. ISBN 9780786490493. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  7. ^ Retrieved 2012-02-19 Archived February 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Mayer, Geoff (2017). Encyclopedia of American Film Serials. McFarland. p. 41. ISBN 9781476627199. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Robert Armstrong, Actor, Divorces Mate to Remarry". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 31, 1939. p. 5. Retrieved April 22, 2015 – via open access
  10. ^ "Merian C. Cooper Dies; Creator of 'King Kong'". The Bridgeport Post. April 23, 1973. p. 26. Retrieved April 22, 2015 – via open access