Star of cult classic turned 90 Monday.
How much mileage could a studio expect from a 1954 film starring a biologist with a fascination for a secluded fishpond? Quite a bit, when the scientist is beautiful Julie Adams wrapped in a skin-tight white latex bathing suit and the fish turns out to be an angry piscine amphibious humanoid – aka a “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
The success of the now cult film continues to astound Adams, who turned 90 on Oct. 17 and celebrated her birthday with her children and grandchildren.
She remains a popular guest at fan conventions and film festivals across the country and 2 days before her birthday will be signing books and photos at Frights Feast Film in the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Eagle Rock preceding an outdoor screening of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (see www.frightsfeastfilm.com).
“It’s a classic beauty and the beast story, with stunning underwater photography filmed at Wakulla Springs, Florida, because of its clear waters,” said Ms. Adams who portrayed scientist Kay Lawrence, abducted by the infatuated Gill Man towards the end of the creature feature.
“The lagoon scenes were shot at the Universal Studios backlot where ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was filmed,” said Adams. While her scenes were filmed in California, she enjoyed watching the dailies come in from the second film unit in Florida.
“Ginger Stanley doubled for me in the Wakulla Springs underwater shots, and Ricou Browning worn the rubber creature suit for swimming scenes,” she said. “Ginger and Ricou essentially did an amazing underwater ballet routine and it was amazing to see how their scenes seamlessly blended with mine. Ricou could hold his breath underwater for 3 or 4 minutes but in the longer takes he and Ginger would have to swim to air hoses secretly placed in the water.”
On land, the creature was played by Ben Chapman.
“Ben began going to fan conventions in the 1990s and convinced me to attend my first one in 2003,” said Adams. “It’s wonderful to meet so many people who still enjoy your work. Ben was quite the showman at these events and kids loved him. He would tell them how during filming, he couldn’t just take the suit off because it was in parts and made of rubber which had to be glued together on him. So he had to be watered down between takes to cool off.”
Fans have also shared some interesting admissions with Adams. “Some told me they became zoologists or paleontologists because of the film. And I met a little girl who was named after my character.”
Born in Waterloo, Iowa, Adams was raised in Blytheville, Arkansas, later moving to Little Rock for high school. In 2011, she self-published her autobiography, “The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon,” co-authored with her son, Mitch Danton (see www.julieadams.biz).
The book contains some 200 photographs, many unpublished from her personal collection, with a chapter devoted to the Black Lagoon. And from 2013 to 2015, her home state honored her film career with the Lights! Camera! Arkansas! exhibit at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock.
Of course, the Creature wasn’t the only biped Adams co-starred with during her career. She shared top billing with less scaly characters such as William Powell, Glenn Ford, Charlton Heston, Elvis Presley, Van Heflin, Rock Hudson, and many others.
“Rock and I were about the same age, and worked on several movies together,” said Adams. “So we became close friends and often played bridge. Growing up in Arkansas, everyone in my family played bridge and I was a pretty good player. So Rock was lucky to have me as a partner!”
Julie was also lucky to have survived some close calls during her film days.
“Dressed as the creature and with little vision inside the suit, Ben (Chapman) knocked my head on the (papier-mâché) rocks when he carried me through the cave during one scene.” she recalled. “I actually had a small bump on my head but it wasn’t serious. However, in ‘The Stand at Apache River’ (1954), I was wearing a heavy woolen dress during a water scene which pulled me under the water and was half drowned.”
In “Wings of the Hawk” (1953), Adams could have easily been trampled by horses when she was bucked out of the saddle during a riding scene.
“Fortunately the stunt guys riding with me galloped over me and the kind horses missed me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today!”
One of her favorite costars was Jimmy Stewart, with whom she appeared in “Bend of the River,” two years before the Black Lagoon. Two decades later, she reunited with Stewart in 1971 for “The Jimmy Stewart Show.”
“After I read for the part of Jimmy’s wife, he gave me a little nod as if to say ‘you’ve got the job’ – and I did. Jimmy was wonderfully informal but professional.”
And despite their age difference – she was 45 and Stewart was 63 – she says “it wasn’t hard to pretend to be in love with such a lovely man and talented actor.”
Critics and audiences, however, were not so enamored with the show, which was canceled after the first season aired.
“It was quite a charming show, but came out the same time as more edgy sitcoms like ‘All in the Family,’” said Adams, who still remembers it fondly. “My idea of heaven was going to work with Jimmy Stewart every day for six months!”
Unlike the little-remembered TV show, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” continues to gain fans from new generations.
“Some projects just take on a life of their own,” says Adams. “The Creature still walks among us.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. See www.tinseltowntalks.com