Lieutenant Sam Kelley is a fictional diver and U.S. Navy veteran who appears as a main character in the 2005 novel King Kong: The Island of the Skull, a prequel to that year's film King Kong. He was born and raised in the Flatbush Irish ghetto in Brooklyn, New York, and rose to the level of lieutenant in the United States Navy as a diving trainer until he was let go in 1932. He signed on as a pearl diver on the Portuguese vessel Mia Susana, which eventually found its way to Skull Island. Kelley was able to escape, but only for long enough to pass the map he drew to a Norwegian skipper before passing away.
Son of Irish immigrants, Sam was enlisted in the Navy at a shipping yard in San Francisco that was due to close in three days time when a young diver got lost in the Navy's diving training wreck that had been planted there five years before. After navigating the wreck, he followed the air hose to the stranded diver who was pinned in the old radio room by a fallen shelf, that had also pierced his suit. Once he lifted the metal out of the diver's body, the diver was able help lift the shelf the rest of the way. They then began their ascent. After getting to safety, Sam was summoned to his Commanding Officer's office to receive word that the whole Navy diving program had been cancelled, which left Sam unemployed days before he expected. Later that day, Sam was located by the diver he had rescued, whose name was Tommy, who told him that he had found work for the two of them as pearl divers. After going to the small pear ship and meeting its captain, Sam did a bit of haggling in order to secure them both a position on the crew, and they set sail for a secret pearl diving spot in the Indian Ocean. After sailing into seldom traveled waters, they came across a ghost ship whose crew lay dead by some form of disease. On board they discovered golf ball sized pearls on the ship, and against Sam's advice, they took the charts and set sail for the place the ghost crew got the pearls from. On the way there, they stopped for a dive, on which Sam and Tommy encountered enormous, table-sized oysters. While attempting to search them for pearls, Sam was approached by a giant crab, that attacked him. while trying to back up, Sam's leg became caught in an oyster, but Tommy was able to stab the crab from behind enough times for it to leave them. The blood in the water quickly attracted the attention of a prehistoric carnivorous fish, which quickly ate Tommy's legs. Sam was able to free his leg from the oyster and signal the boat to bring him up. When he finally surfaced, he called for the captain to move the ship away from the spot, but most of the crew only spoke Portuguese, and did not pass on the message. After the creature surfaced and attacked the boat, the crew made for a wall of fog that they believed hid an island. After navigating the fog and reaching a rocky cliff, Captain Rosa chose Sam and two other sailors to carry guns into the jungle while the rest of the party brought saws and rope to cut down a tree for timber. In the jungle, Sam noticed a pair of eyes watching them. their owner, a native girl, quickly ran away from them, right into a monster that Sam dubbed V. rex. He grabbed the girl and ran with the party to a cave he had spotted in order to hide from the beast. They soon discovered that the walls were covered with drawings. Sam determined one of them to be a map of the island, and copied it down onto Captain Rosa's charts. On seeing this, the girl scrawled a gorilla's face in the corner. They stayed there for hours, and eventually two of the party went deeper into the cave, but were killed by giant insects. The bugs quickly made their way to the rest of the party, that fled the cave. On the run to the shore, Captain Rosa, and all of the party but Sam, the girl, and the first mate, Bakali survived. At the cliff, Bakali was killed by a Vultursaurus. Sam killed the beast and clamored with the girl down the rocks to the boat. On the way out, the boat hit something underwater that sent the girl tumbling out of the cabin and on to the deck. Sam let go of the wheel to save her from the swooping Vulturesaurus, and shot it three times, but it was too late to save her. She said a few words in her language before dying with the Vulturesaurus' claw stuck in her torso. Sam retrieved it before setting himself adrift in the dinghy. He was eventually found extremely sunburnt and dehydrated by a Norwegian trade ship. He died shortly after, but gave his rescuers a final warning with the word "Kong".
While Kelley does not appear directly, and is not mentioned by name, the junior novelization of the film features Carl Denham's recalling the stories told to him by a Norwegian skipper who first heard them from a castaway who had a map to an island in a perpetual storm, populated by horrible creatures and a civilization that knew nothing of the outside world. Apparently, Kelley was also aware that the island was slowly sinking into the ocean, and would soon disappear, a fact that made Denham even more desperate to film the island.
- Although he lived in a time where cigarette smoking was thought to be beneficial to breathing, Sam's extensive use of his lungs as a diver taught him otherwise.
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