HE WAS THE LAST beastie to arrive in the legendary Universal Monsters canon, but has remained first in the hearts of many fans ever since. He made his debut in the early ’50s, just in time for America’s burgeoning drive-in movie craze, when sci-fi and horror were frequent companions. He was part man, part amphibian, and all monster—the Gill-man, also known as the Creature, but known best the world over as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Creature appeared in three films between 1954 and 1956, and has been referenced in every conceivable aspect of pop culture ever since. He’s even set to return for Universal’s new Dark Universe films.
Like Frankenstein, Godzilla, King Kong, Dracula, the Wolf Man and other such enduring characters, the Creature proves that, long ago, movie monsters were built to last.
Here are the 6 Funtastic Facts I discovered about him.
As the story goes, in 1941 Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa attended a dinner party during the filming of Citizen Kane, where he met actor William Alland and shared with him the myth of a race of half-human, half-fish creatures who some believed lived in the Amazon River. Reportedly, Figueroa also shared that a friend of his had disappeared while filming a documentary about the creatures! Obviously, Alland never forgot the story, because ten years later, once he’d become a producer, he took what Figueroa had told him, added some inspiration from Beauty and the Beast, and came up with a proposal for a film to be titled “The Sea Monster.”
Several drafts and writers later Alland had a script that blended Figueroa’s harrowing tale with the idea of a fearsome but lonely creature who becomes infatuated with a young woman. Jack Arnold (It Came from Outer Space) was brought in to direct, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Glenn Strange had played Frankenstein’s Monster a number of times for Universal by the time The Creature from the Black Lagoon rolled around, so it’s no surprise that he was the studio’s first choice to play the Gill-man. And at a burly 6′ 5″ he must have seemed the perfect choice. But according to the late Ben Chapman, one of the actors who did play the Creature, Strange turned the role down because he wanted nothing to do with water. “He was a cowboy,” Chapman once said on his website, “Cowboys and water don’t mix!”.
In point of fact, Strange did grow up as a real-life cowboy.
Chapman played the monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon‘s land-based scenes, while aquatic performer Ricou Browning handled the underwater stuff. Between the two of them, they gave us a Creature who made it very easy to forget that we were looking at a man in a costume. Browning’s swimming, in particular, makes the Creature seem native to its environment. It’s just mesmerizing to watch, and probably the reason Browning is the only performer to appear in all three of the Creature’s films, including Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).
Albeit, it was a small screen. On February 21, 1954, shortly after The Creature from the Black Lagoon had premiered in Detroit and was generating lots of buzz in advance of its wider release in March, and then April, when the film would hit New York City, the Creature made a promotional appearance on live TV during The Colgate Comedy Hour.
Six years earlier the comedy team of Abbott and Costello had enjoyed great success resurrecting the Universal Monsters with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, so pairing them with the new kid on Universal’s monster block was an obvious fit. Ben Chapman wore the suit for this appearance, and Glenn Strange once again wore the makeup of Frankenstein.
Here’s the segment in its entirety.
Ricou Browning was watching his kids watch Lassie on TV when he realized that he could create a similar scenario substituting a dolphin for the dog. He took the idea to a friend, producer Ivan Tors (Sea Hunt), and the beloved Flipper franchise was born.
Two feature films and a pretty cool TV series followed, and Browning was involved all the way through.
Well, that’s not completely true. The song is actually the humorous lament of a man contemplating plastic surgery because people say he looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon!
The late singer’s name is Lord Melody. He was a calypso legend in his time, and the story about people teasing him over his looks is apparently true. He released the song in 1957, when the world was still very much abuzz over all things Creature-related. As for the ribbing Melody took, who knows. People are mean. Or maybe it had something to do with the wide set of his eyes. Either way, he had a sense of humor about it, and got the last laugh with a hit record.
Here’s the song. It’s a lot of fun.
In 1992, Midway, under the Bally name, released a fabulous Creature pinball machine featuring a ’50s drive-in theme and the pinball industry’s very first 3-D hologram. Appropriate, considering the first two Creature films were released in 3-D. There were only 7,841 of these machines produced, and today they go for about six thousand bucks used. But you can see the hologram below, and watch it in action on YouTube.