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
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
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.'"
WITH BEN CHAPMAN