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Tallahassee Democrat (FL)
November 3, 2002

Return to the Black Lagoon
Mark Hinson
Tallahassee Democrat

Who knew the Creature would still be walking among us in the 21st century?

Julie Adams, the star of the 1954 classic "Creature From the Black Lagoon," is as surprised as anyone by The Gill Man's lasting legacy.

"I certainly never thought we'd be talking about it five years later, much less 40-some-odd years later," Adams said from her home in Los Angeles. "I still get letters. So many young people love it."

Later this week, Adams will add a footnote to monster-movie history when she visits Wakulla Springs, where much of "Creature From the Black Lagoon" was filmed.

It's her first visit to the real Black Lagoon.

Adams shot all her scenes on a Universal Studios back lot in Hollywood. All the "Creature's" jungle backgrounds and underwater photography were filmed at Wakulla Springs. It was all blended together in the editing room.

Ginger Stanley was Adams' swimming and underwater double in Florida. They've never met - until now.

Stanley and Adams will have a chance to compare notes during The Tallahassee Film Society's second annual Creaturefest at the Wakulla Springs State Park and Lodge starting Friday.

"I wasn't sure about the movie. I had no concept of how popular it was going to be," Stanley said from her home in Orlando. "I just thought it would be fun to do. I was young."

Ben Chapman, who played the famous Gill Man on the Hollywood back lot, also is attending. This counts as his maiden voyage to the shores of the Black Lagoon.

"Never in our youth would we ever think that the movie would be as popular today as it is," Chapman said via e-mail from his home in Hawaii. "I see it at conventions I visit across the USA. It may even be more popular today. I would like to thank the loyal fans of The Gill Man because without such fans The Gill Man would have been dead, buried and forgotten a long time ago."

Ricou Browning, the swimmer who performed the spectacular underwater stunts wearing the Creature suit, was invited but declined to take part in Creaturefest.

"I'm really looking forward to visiting (the springs)," Adams said. "After all, it's the place where I was abducted."

Dressed for distress

The only reason Adams starred in "Creature" is because the studio brass told her to.

"I was under contract at the time - the last gasp of the contract - and was assigned to the picture," Adams said. "I had my doubts about it when I read it. But I was not the kind of person to go on strike. I thought to myself, 'This will be fun. What the hey.'"

The filming in Hollywood and at Wakulla Springs took place simultaneously in the fall of 1953. Adams and Chapman, who've remained friends, watched the dailies as they were shipped in from North Florida.

"It was amazing to watch," she said. "We were really impressed (by the unedited film). They would breath off air hoses hidden behind rocks."

In the film, Adams plays Kay Lawrence, a scientist who embarks on a trip down the Amazon River with her fiance and a team of fellow archaeologists aboard The Rita. They are looking for The Gill Man - a half-man, half-fish who is an evolutionary aberration.

"I think the movie has endured because the story still holds up today," Chapman said. "Man is still trying to figure out if man came from the sea."

In an aquatic twist on "Beauty and the Beast," The Gill Man is smitten by the female scientist. It may be in part because Kay Lawrence wears a series of bathing suits and smart shorts ensembles.

"She was going down the river with a fiance so she didn't want to look like a droop," Adams said and laughed as she defended the numerous costume changes.

Water world

Stanley was hired for $500 a week to perform all Adams' swimming and underwater scenes.

She had plenty of experience after a stint as mermaid at Weeki Wachee and making promotional films (all underwater) for Silver Springs in Ocala. To boot, Stanley was briefly "The Underwater Weather Girl" for Dick Van Dyke on a CBS morning news show in New York.

"I was in a tank of water with a map drawn on the glass and would draw in snowflakes if it was snowing in the Rockies. Stuff like that," Stanley said. "It wasn't rocket science, but it was novel and drew a lot of attention."

In the movie's most famous scene, known as "the water ballet," Stanley swims across the surface of the water while Browning's Creature mirrors her movements from several feet below. Browning swam upside down and backward while a camera shot the action from the floor of the spring.

"That's the part that got the most attention, and it was the easiest to do, at least for me," Stanley said.

"Ricou had to do all the work on that one. He's the one who came up with the Creature's special way of swimming. It appeared so real you didn't think of him as being artificial. It made him real for many people."

Although Stanley said she has fond memories of making the movie and staying at the Wakulla Springs Lodge, the weather was not ideal.

"We filmed it in November, and it was very cold. The air was cold," she said. "There was a lot of standing around wet and dripping and shivering."

Her most challenging stunt came when The Creature snatched her from the surface and hauled her into the cave near the bottom of Wakulla Springs. Prop people with air tanks were hiding in the mouth of the cave, but they were more than 60 feet straight down.

"I had to appear unconscious, but I also had to clear my ears to equalize the pressure," she said. "That's hard to do if you're supposed to be unconscious. ... I found a way to press my nose against Ricou's shoulder and clear my ears before the pain got worse. ... I trusted Ricou, we had been swimming partners before (at Weeki Wachee)."

For the "dangerous stuff," Stanley and Browning got hazard pay.

"I think I got $500 per try, and we did it three times. But, hey, that was a lot of money in those days. We didn't feel like we were being taken advantage of."

The original film was shot for 3-D, thus the need for three takes.

Creature habits

Stanley said she owns a video copy of the movie and enjoys showing it to her grandchildren.

"My 11-year-old grandson just wrote an essay about how I was not your ordinary grandmother," Stanley said.

"I just don't watch old movies that much. I try to live in today," Adams said when asked if she ever stayed up late to watch "The Creature From the Black Lagoon."

She made an exception in 1994 when she accepted an invitation to a film festival in Spain where "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" was on the program. She watched her movie for the first time in decades.

"I was really impressed with his (director Jack Arnold's) direction," she said. "He truly created an atmosphere, and it worked."

Arnold, who also made such memorable movies as "Tarantula" and "It Came From Outer Space," died in 1992.

Two sequels - "Revenge of the Creature" and "The Creature Walks Among Us" - followed the original "Creature" feature.

Universal recently announced that Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro ("Blade 2," "The Devil's Backbone") is "re-imaging" the "Creature" film for a remake. This time around, the action will take place in Australia instead of South America.

Wakulla Springs will not be used, even though it's the true home of The Creature.


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