He portrayed one of filmdom's best-loved monsters, cloaked in the anonymity of one of the most memorable and terrifying costumes in horror film history. Ben Chapman, though only glimpsed outside his Gill Man regalia in publicity shots made during shooting, is the man most closely identified with the role of Creature From The Black Lagoon. He continues to bear the mantle of the Creature's fame with great pride and unbridled enthusiasm. But, as the Gill Man role he originated was taken up in sequels by other actors, a bit of confusion among fans is understandable.

According to the original contract that Chapman proudly displays at personal appearances, he was the only "actor" cast as the Gill Man in the original 1954 film. "I've had fans come up to me and say, 'We're very confused.' They pull out a picture of me and Julie Adams that's been signed by Ricou Browning." Browning was the skilled stuntman who portrayed the Creature in underwater scenes, Chapman was the Gill Man in all scenes above the surface. "They ask, 'Is this you or Ricou Browning?' I say, 'It's me.' They ask, 'Why did he sign it?' I say, 'Go back and ask him.'" So it seems that even the stuntman who swam as the Gill Man may be a little confused as to which Creature is which. "If a guy is a true collector," says Chapman, "the picture he has of me that's signed by Ricou is bogus. It has no value."

At a Fort Lauderdale memorabilia show staged by promoter Ray Courts, who organizes some of the largest celebrity autograph shows in the country, press attention was being organized in an effort to put things right. "He's going to arrange television and newspaper coverage," says Ben, who is anxious to clarify the matter as the confusion has given rise to rumors of a fued between Chapman and Browning, For the record, both Creatures are affable guys who are unfailingly courteous to fans.

Ben is glad to explain to anyone unfamiliar with his contribution to the Creature legend. "It's very simple," he says quietly."Anything below the surface was Ricou, anything above the surface was me. When they cast the movie, they cast four actors. Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Julie Adams and myself playing the principal characters. Then there were four swimmers that did the underwater stuff." Chapman draws upon a classic scene to make a comparison. "You know the underwater scene where Ricou is swimming under Dr. Kay Lawrence? I thought it was a beautiful scene. That swimmer's name is Ginger Stanley, Julie Adams' stunt double." Chapman is quick to cite Browning's invaluable contribution to the film, but Browning, Ben explains, was HIS stunt double.

Chapman relishes the opportunity to meet with fans at numerous convention appearances. "The money is allright but you don't get rich off of it," he chuckles, making it clear that an abiding love for Creature fans is his real motivation. "I love meeting the people," he says, modestly crediting the Creature for his popularity. "Have you ever been to a Hollywood Collectibles Show? There are 100 celebrities there. I have no problem standing out, because I'm not Ben Chapman, I'm the Gill Man. I just happened to have been lucky enough to have portrayed him. It's been 45 years since we made the Creature,and it's the fans that keep him alive today. The fans know more about the Creature than I know. And I love to meet the people who still breathe life into him. I feel my duty is to go meet the people and have pictures taken with them."

Chapman, now 70, turned 25 while filming Creature, never suspecting that the picture would maintain its hold on fandom for nearly half a century."If they'd have told us then, '45 years from now, you're going to be more famous than you are now,' we'd have said, 'not in a million years!' Julie Adams said she spoke at a film festival in France and the people were all shouting 'Creature From the Black Lagoon.' Julie made a hundred good movies, but they don't remember them. They remember Creature From the Black Lagoon."

The Creature's place in the Universal monster lineage is important to Chapman, and has been since he first assayed the role. "Being at Universal Studios, I had to sit down and reflect back to the 1920s, to Phantomof the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney Sr. And in the '30s, Bela Lugosi with Dracula and Boris Karloff with Frankenstein. Then came the '40s with The Wolf Man and The Mummy with Lon Chaney Jr. Now, we're into the '50s, and I have to follow these guys." Forty-five years later he's still mindful of this responsibility. "Of all the famous monsters at Universal, I'm the one that's still alive."

Nothing summarizes Chapman's attitude better than his description of a recent convention encounter with a young fan. "A little eight-year-old walks up with his mom and dad, and I'm a sucker for kids," he laughs."The dad says, 'Now son, this is Ben Chapman. He's the man who played the Creature From the Black Lagoon.' The kid stands there and he stares at me. I put my hand out and say, 'My name is Ben Chapman. What's your name?' He says, 'My name is Danny.' I say, 'Danny, tell me the truth. Have you ever seen Creature From the Black Lagoon?' He says, 'Oh, yes, my daddy has it at home. I watch it and I like it very much.' I ask him, 'When is your birthday?' He says, 'It's in November.' I say, 'That's close enough.' I give him a picture and say, 'You've got to make me a promise.When you get home, put the movie on and watch it again.' And when he becomes a man of 40, he'll tell his kids, 'I met the Creature From the Black Lagoon.'"


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