"I have a theory about life I call the zig-zag theory," says Ben Chapman, the actor who sported the most famous rubber suit in cinema history. "For instance, if you'da zigged, you wouldn't have gotten killed. But you zagged and you died. In other words, success is being in the right place at the right time."

But the entertainer who originally portrayed the Creature From the Black Lagoon had traveled some distance to arrive at that right place.' "I'm from Tahiti originally," Chapman states. "I did dancing and singing in Polynesian shows. The first movie I ever did was Pagan Love Song with Esther Williams and Howard Keel back in 1949. It was through stage work that I got the part. I was signed to a contract with Universal Studios making $125 a week. I did a musical short with the Miss Universe girls in 1952. It featured Pinky Lee, Mamie Van Doren and Lisa Gaye, who was Debra Paget's sister. I played a young chieftain at a luau."

True to his affable nature, the actor modestly credits happenstance for landing him the role of a lifetime. "I just happened to be on the lot one day," he laughs. "I used to go visit the casting office, and I just happened to walk in on Jonny Rennick. She was the casting director for wranglers, cowboys and stunts. She asked, 'Did the studio approach you about this new movie they're casting?' 'What movie?' She said, 'It's something about a Creature.' I said, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.' She said, 'Ben, you'd be perfect for it.' I did a lot of diving in those days. I lived in Malibu and I used to dive every day. The ocean was my front yard. Well, I met with [director] Jack Arnold and [producer] Bill Alland -- and Jack Arnold says, 'All right, we'll use him.' So I was in the right place at the right time. It could have been anybody."

Following producer William Alland's initial guidelines, makeup maestros Jack Kevan and Bud Westmore fashioned the Creature costume to suit Chapman's physique. "I do feel that I brought life to the Creature," he asserts. Chapman lauds Arnold for contributing one element vital to his portrayal. "Jack Arnold was known as a very tough director," Ben declares. "Good, but tough. I said to him, 'Just tell me how you want me to portray him.' He said, 'I don't want him to be like a cartoon. I don't want him going clump, clump, clump, like some kind of cartoon monster. Don't walk. Don't pick up your feet. I want you to glide.' They put ten pounds of lead under each foot, stuck to the soles. When I went to walk, ten pounds would remind me, 'Don't pick up your feet.'"

One important touch of humanity was Chapman's own contribution. "In the death scene, where they shoot the Creature, I recoiled. I'd fall backwards. I'd come towards them again, they'd shoot me and I'd recoil again. I'd just come back from Korea in the Marine Corps. I saw a lot of guys get killed and a lot of guys get shot. When you get hit with a bullet, you don't keep walking. It'll knock you back. So, I put that in and they said, 'This is great. God damn, what a death scene!' There are quite a few things we did that, we hope, brought life to him, rather than making him a cartoon."

Though identified as one of the world's most famous and influential monsters, Chapman's ties to the film industry extend far beyond the horror genre. "I've been around the business for 50 years. I go back to Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. The chief in that film, Chief Hiti Hiti, was my uncle. My cousin was Jon Hall. My nephew is Branscomb Richmond who did the Renegade show with Lorenzo Lamas. And I used to tend bar up in Malibu. There'd be movie stars in there getting drunk and falling down all over the place. I used to hang out with Rod Taylor who was one of my closest friends. I mean, he was a wild man."

Likewise, it may be difficult for many fans to imagine the Gill Man palling around with the likes of Ol' Blue Eyes. "I knew Frank very well," Chapman declares. "I used to go to Peter Lawford's house on the beach at Santa Monica. I've known Peter since 1948. A lot of people don't know that Sinatra is the most generous guy in the world. He donates money all the time. Millions of dollars. But you'll never read about it because that's his condition, that they don't tell where the money came from."

Wild nights on the town notwithstanding, Chapman is quick to point out that Hollywood was a far different place in those days, when the inhabitants were 'classier' and more protective of their own. "When I was at Universal, the biggest star on the lot was Rock Hudson who was the nicest guy in the world. We always knew about Rock. Thirty years later they came to find out he was living a double life. It sure took them a long time to find out. We knew about Rock back then." Quietly lamenting the passing of that era, Chapman draws comparisons between the actors of his day and the modern variety. "Gary Cooper or Robert Taylor -- now that's a movie star. When you look at Robert Taylor, what else could he be? They were classy people. But this Leonardo DiCaprio -- how dare he snub the Academy Awards because he wasn't nominated? The kid was lucky to get the job. He didn't make Titanic. Cameron made it through special effects. Anybody could have played those roles. How dare he insult the Academy like that? When Brando turned them down, that was a different story. Brando is a great talent."

These days, Ben Chapman is clearly a comfortable creature. He lives to meet and mingle with the throng of Creature fans that seems to expand with every appearance. Their fond memories of the film, as well as his, keep both the Gill Man, and the man who portrayed him, going strong. "I've no interest in Hollywood these days," says Ben. "I've been there and done it and I'm happy with memories now."


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