Carl Denham is a character who appears in every incarnation of the King Kong story. He is an American movie director and huckster with a flair for the dramatic.
King Kong & The Son of Kong
Denham's claim to fame was making nature documentaries. Unlike most other film directors, Denham never bothered with a cameraman because at some point in the past his cameraman chickened out on him while filming a charging rhinoceros, and he regularly went into dangerous territories to get up-close and personal footage of wild animals. However, Denham longed to direct a real movie with an actual human cast and a plot, and after Nils Helstrom sold him a map of Skull Island, he decided to merge his two ideas and make a picture on the Beauty and the Beast theme, especially after hearing the legends of King Kong.
He found his female lead in Ann Darrow. Along with his old associates Captain Englehorn and Jack Driscoll, Denham journeyed to Skull Island aboard the S.S. Venture hoping to film his picture there. The hostile natives of the island had other ideas, abducting Ann Darrow and giving her to Kong as a "gift." Denham, along with Jack and several of the Venture's crew, took off into the jungles of Skull Island to try and rescue her. Along they way they encountered a variety of man-eating dinosaurs and other prehistoric monsters, which Denham enthused he wished he could bring back alive.
These and Kong killed every member of the search party except for Jack and Denham himself, and thanks to Kong the two men found themselves on opposite sides of a deep ravine. Denham returned to the native village and Captain Englehorn while Jack scouted ahead after Kong, and the original plan was for Denham to get more men and guns, but for unexplained reasons he instead decided to simply wait in the village for Jack to return with Ann.
Return Jack did, with Ann in tow, and Kong followed. After Kong destroyed much of the native village Denham brought the giant gorilla down with a thrown has bomb. He then took the beast-god back to New York with him and put him on display, billing him as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Kong soon escaped, however, and after abducting Ann again ran amok through the city and eventually climbed the Empire State Building before being brought down by a squadron of military biplanes. The city officials (rightly) blamed Denham for all the trouble, and soon all of New York was jumping on the bandwagon to sue him. Rather than go to court, Denham left town along with the equally-incriminated Captain Englehorn.
He eventually encountered Nils Helstrom again, and Helstrom told him and Englehorn of a fabled long-lost treasure back on Skull Island. With nothing better to do, Denham decided to return to the island and try to find the treasure. En route he met and fell in love with a woman named Hilda Peterson, whose circus owner father had died in an accident caused by Helstrom. Thanks to Helstrom's further treachery, the crew of the Venture turned mutineer, casting Denham ashore on Skull Island with Hilda, Captain Englehorn and the ship's cook Charlie as well as Helstrom himself in an ironic twist. While Englehorn, Charlie and Helstrom went in one direction to search for the treasure, Denham and Hilda explored the rest of the island and eventually encountered King Kong's son, Kiko (or, as Denham called him, Little Kong).
With Kiko's help, Denham and Hilda were able to survive against the island's dinosaurs and eventually locate the treasure. Unfortunately an earthquake destroyed the island causing it to sink into the sea, and although Hilda, Englehorn and Charlie made it safely to the boat they had come ashore in (Helstrom himself fell victim to a dinosaur), Denham almost drowned but was saved by Kiko who gave his life to hold Denham out of the water long enough for the others to reach him and save him. Afterwards, Denham and Hilda agreed to split the treasure equally among themselves, Englehorn and Charlie.
King Kong (Novelization & Monster Comics)
Mostly identical to the movie version, except that in the comics he is given a cameraman named Wally, which rather goes against the previous version's "no-camerman" rule.
The Mighty Kong
King Kong (2005)
Denham is the head of Carl Denham Pictures, (apparently) an independent production company. He was hired by Zelman and Associates to do a movie starring Bruce Baxter and Maureen McKenzie, shot entirely on the studio backlot. During this time however Denham came into possession of a map to Skull Island, and attempted to persuade Zelman to bankroll a moviemaking expedition to the fabled island.
However, because all Denham had shown them for their forty grand was a bunch of nature footage, Zelman and his two bean counters Farragher and Poehler refused to fund what they considered a wild goose chase. Worse, the three conspired to scrap Denham's film and sell the existing reels as stock footage. Listening in on them, Denham then left the studio with their money, instructing his assistant Preston to have the entire cast and crew aboard the S.S. Venture immediately, as he planned to set sail for Skull Island at nightfall. However a number of complications arose en route, including Preston's revelation that Maureen McKenzie had bailed out of the picture. This forced Denham to go looking for a last-minute replacement, and he found one in vaudeville actress Ann Darrow.
Once everyone was aboard the ship, including Bruce Baxter, camerman Herb, and sound recordist Mike, Denham discovered that screenwriter Jack Driscoll had not yet finished the script, forcing the director to stall Driscoll long enough for him to be unable to get off the ship once it set sail. En route to the island, Denham and his crew filmed several scenes together between Ann and Bruce, and Denham's efforts to keep their destination a secret from anyone except Captain Englehorn were undone when deckhand Jimmy overheard Driscoll spelling out Skull Island's name. Frightening stories about the legend of the island from first mate Ben Hayes and cook Lumpy did little to dissaude Denham (but certainly spooked Preston)and also scared his producer Megan C. Bailey.
Eventually, Zelman and his bean counters got the police to put a warrant out for Denham's arrest. When word came through on the Venture's wireless, Captain Englehorn initially made to turn around and head to Rangoon, only to have the ship literally stumble across Skull Island in the dark, the island wreathed in fog. As soon as day broke, Denham went ashore with Ann, Driscoll, Bruce, Preston, Herb and Mike to start filming, stumbling across a seemingly desserted native village with a massive wall. A lone native child appeared, and Denham's efforts to be friendly and give the girl a candy bar turned disastrous as the entire tribe attacked the group, killing Mike. Denham and the others only survived thanks to the timely arrival of a rescue party led by Englehorn.
Although that night they prepared to leave Skull Island, a native snuck aboard the Venture and kidnapped Ann, taking her back to the village as a sacrifice to King Kong. By the time everyone got to the village it was too late and Kong had already absconded with Ann. At the behest of Driscoll, a search party was thrown together, led by himself and Hayes. Denham opted to tag along with Bruce, Preston and Herb, and throughout the ensuing trek through the dinosaur-filled jungle he and his film crew proved more of a hinderance than anything, as Denham's number-one priority wasn't rescuing Ann but rather filming the dinosaurs and Kong.
Denham was among those who survived the fall down into the log chasm, and upon realizing his camera had been destroyed along with all his footage, Denham went momentarily insane and used the broken tripod to fend off the giant insects that attacked the group. After they were rescued a second time by Englehorn and Driscoll continued on after Kong and Ann alone, Denham convined Englehorn to use chloroform to capture Kong and take him back to New York, certain that the mammoth ape would follow Driscoll and Ann back to the coast. Denham's instincts proved correct, and despite the loss of a few of Englehorn's crew Kong was successfully captured.
With Kong in hand, Denham returned to New York a hero, and now suddenly best friends with Zelman, Farragher and Poehler. Letting success get the better of him, Denham twisted the facts of the story around and was willing to stoop to subterfuge to make things more entertaining. A Hollywood glitz-n-glamor version of the native ritual was performed in front of the chained Kong onstage, "Ann" was portrayed by a nearly-talentess actress (as the real Ann had chosen not to participate in the show), and Bruce Baxter got the credit for saving the day instead of Jack Driscoll.
Inevitably, Kong broke free, killing the actress playing the faux Ann and destroying the theater as he chased Driscoll out. Denham was ignored by the huge ape, left a broken and ruined man standing on the deserted stage. He managed to arrive at the Empire State Building shortly after Kong's climactic fall, and overhearing a pair of reporters discussing the event was able to piece together what had happened. When one of the reporters commented, "What's it matter. The airplanes got him," Denham said, "It was Beauty killed the Beast," and walked away.