The 'Creature' Lives!
By Wayne Harada, Advertiser Entertainment Editor
Ben Chapman, a Honolulu real estate
executive, has a conversation-stopping answer to the trivia question, "Who
played "The Creature from the Black Lagoon?"
His answer? "Me!"
The Universal feature, the quintessential
'50s monster movie in black-and-white and 3-D, will mark its 45th
anniversary this October. A paperback, "Creature From the Black
Lagoon," which includes the original shooting script as well
as an interview with Chapman, recently was published to herald
"I never knew, when I did the movie at age
25, that it would be such a monster film," Chapman said, pun intended.
"But I've met Harrison Ford, who also never
knew when he did the first 'Star Wars', that he would become
a star and that the movie would become one of the biggest-ever
In the movie business, then as now, you
just never know, said Chapman.
A Tahiti native, who claims he was the original
police detective on the "Hawaiian Eye" pilot,
Chapman is a retired senior executive president with International
He's a big guy- 6'5"- which is one of the
reasons he landed the role of the Gillman- the Creature's real
name in the film, he said.
The other part was sheer luck- right place,
As he recalled: "In those days, we were
contract players with the studio. I went to work one day and was
talking to Jonny Rennick, who was casting director of wranglers,
cowboys and Indians. I did stunts, too, and she told me, 'Benny,
did they ever call you about the picture- about some creature from
They hadn't, so he checked out the prospects
with director Jack Arnold.
"He asked me if I could swim, and I said,
'Like a fish,' because I was from Tahiti, so he sent me to his
office. I got the part," said Chapman.
Chapman was one of two actors portraying
the Gillman. Ricou Browning, a Florida swimmer, played the underwater
Gillman in footage shots in the Wakulla Springs area of Florida;
and Chapman played the Gillman on land, in shooting on the Universal
Chapman likens the story to the "Beauty
and the Beast" legend, in which a soul with a ghastly exterior
falls in love with the girl of his dreams.
The tale involved a scientific expedition
up the Amazon, where a crew is trying to locate the fossils of
a newly discovered amphibian. The party is attacked by a man with
creature gills, supposedly 3,000 years old.
"The creature suit was a one-piece outfit
that zipped down the back with dorsal fins, hands that were gloves,
feet that were like boots," Chapman said of his costume. "They
had to lay me on a table, take a complete Plaster of Paris mold
of my body, then design this costume. I couldn't lose or gain weight,
or I wouldn't fit right. The whole experience was like climbing
into a large body stocking with creases where you needed 'em."
The mask was a helmet "with those big wonderful
lips," said Chapman.
The Gillman had no dialogue, so Chapman
had to use body language to communicate.
Though there were two sequels after the
original "Creature" film, neither was successful. Chapman appeared
only in the first one.
"Clint Eastwood had a very small role in
the first sequel," said Chapman, offering a bit of movie trivia.
"Like I said, you never know how things
will turn out in the movies."