Tahitian entertainer Ben Chapman
was 25 years old when he donned
the foam rubber suit as The
Gillman and took the plunge in a
role that would give him film
immortality in the Universal
Studios 1954 3-D monster classic
‘The Creature from the Black
Hello Ben, thanks for talking
How did you go about being cast
as The Gillman in ‘The
Creature from the Black Lagoon’?
All my life I’ve always been
at the right place at the right
time. I was under contact to
Universal Studios at the
time. So I came in one day
and I was going to casting and a
woman named Jonnie Rennick called
me into her office and asked me
if the studio had approached me
about a new movie called ‘The
Black Lagoon’. I told her
no. So she made a few phone calls
and asked me to come back the
next day. When I came back she
took me up to an office and I met
these gentlemen one of which was
Jack Arnold, the director. He
looked me over and then went back
to talking. We left and Jonnie
asked me to come back the next
day and when I returned she said,
“You’ve got the part”.
It was as simple as that.
‘The Creature from
the Black Lagoon’
was filmed in black and white,
what did The Gillman look like in
The costume was a mossy green and
the scales you see were
highlighted in a gold and copper
to give The Gillman a fish sheen.
What was the most uncomfortable
part of the foam rubber costume?
Basically it was very comfortable
because it was made of foam
rubber and so very pliable. When
we would work on a stage it was
very hot. I was enclosed in the
foam rubber and because the body
breathes through the pores I
would get so hot I would have to
be hosed down. But if we were
filming at the lake I’d just
stay in the water all day.
The costume was created
by the geniuses Bud Westmore,
Jack Kevan, and Chris Mueller,
who sculpted the head…
The man who was really
responsible for putting the
costume together was Jack Kevan.
Bud Westmore got credit because
he was the head of make-up at
Universal and his name was on
everything that came out of the
studio. Kevan supervised the
making of the costume and Chris
Mueller did the head. Of course,
if you notice he was a two-armed
and two-legged amphibian. If you’ll
notice since then how often that
has been copied – that idea
of a two-armed and two-legged
scaly bodied monster.
Was it tough to see with head on?
No, there were three sets of eyes
and they popped out of the helmet
or mask. One had holes drilled
where the iris is, one had holes
drilled the size of the pupil,
and one didn’t have holes.
For long shots I could wear the
ones with the larger holes where
I could see. With closer shots I
had to use the smaller holes and
with very close I had to wear the
set where I couldn’t see at
all. To help me then there was
someone with a flashlight and I
would watch the light as he
moved. Also I would rehearse my
movements in a scene and try to
duplicate the steps exactly.
There has been some confusion
among Gillman/Creature fans as to
what scenes feature you and which
feature Ricou Browning. Is there
an easy way to tell?
Ricou and I are friends. The best
way I can describe this is the
way the movie was cast. At
Universal Studios in Hollywood
there were Julia Adams, Richard
Denning, Richard Carlson, and
myself. In Florida for the
underwater scenes, which were
shit at Wakulla Springs about 40
miles from Tallahassee, there
were four doubles. Ricou Browning
doubled me, Ginger Stanley
doubled Julia Adams underwater,
Jack Betz did Richard Denning,
and Stanley Crew was Richard
Carlson. So when you see the
movie anything below the surface
of the water it is the doubles in
Florida, and anything above the
surface is us at Universal in
Hollywood. That’s the best
way to explain who did what.
Despite your dominant role and
presence in the film Universal
didn’t bill you as The
Gillman. Was that upsetting at
Yeah, but the idea was
that when they showed the credits
if they put Gillman/Ben Chapman
then people would simply think
“Oh that’s a guy in a
costume.” So they wanted to
give the illusion, with no
credit, that The Gillman wasn’t
an actor. If you go back to when
came out in 1931 with Boris
Karloff, he didn’t get
credit either. It simply said
and then they put a question
mark. So Boris Karloff started
out the same way.
And both movies are a part of
that Universal Studios monster
heritage. It must be a kick to be
a part of that.
Oh definitely, are you kidding?
‘The Creature from
the Black Lagoon’
is now a classic and in the same
Universal class as ‘Dracula’,
‘The Wolf Man’,
Speaking of that, the
movie is over 50 years old and
remains a favorite. Do you have a
theory regarding its popularity?
The movie never gets old
because if you look at the story
it’s basically man looking
for where man came from. In other
words their theory in the movie
was man came from the sea. In
real life many people believe
that. That’s why in the
movie they talk about the
lungfish. At the very beginning
Richard Carlson is doing the
voice over and talking about the
evolution of man from the sea.
There’s a picture of the sea
and the camera pans to the beach
and there are footprints dragging
on the sand. So that’s to me
why it’s interesting. That
theory never gets old.
You are also a favorite at
conventions around the country.
What are the best and the worst
parts about that?
I love meeting fans. It gives me
a chance to thank them. They
are so important to me because
without them The Gillman would
have been gone a long time ago.
Do you recall the first
time you saw the film?
I saw it at a premiere in West
Los Angeles and I thought, “Wow,
is that really me up there?”
It was a full theater that night
and it got a very positive
reaction. Nobody knew who I was.
I didn’t say anything. Here’s
a bit of trivia for you – at
the time of the movie’s
release Universal Studios was on
the verge of bankruptcy and the
movie was so successful it saved
The film was also shot in 3D.
What extra considerations were
made to film the movie with that
When they shoot 3D it’s with
two cameras. It’s the same
idea as a human being having two
eyes – with that you can
judge depth, you have depth
perception – but if you
close one eye you cannot.
You were a Universal contract
player and weren’t cast in
‘Revenge of the
Creature’ or ‘The
Creature Walks Among Us’
because you were no longer under
contract. What was your time with
the studio like?
Primarily I was an entertainer. I
did nightclub work. I’m
originally from Tahiti and I used
to do Tahitian dancing and music.
I got my contract after some
studio executives saw me at a
nightclub in Hollywood. We were
asked to be in a musical short
with 10 girls from the Miss
Universe contest. The stars of
the short were Pinky Lee, Mamie
Van Doren, and Lisa Gaye, who was
Debra Paget’s sister. So
after we finished it some
executives asked who the guy was
playing the Tahitian chief…and
it was Ben Chapman. Actually my
cousin had been a star at the
studio in the 40s – Jon
Hall. They were thinking of
bringing back the South Seas
pictures like he starred in and
they were thinking of grooming me
to be another Jon Hall, so they
put me under contract -- but it
didn’t work out so I left
With the recent flux of horror
movies, any plans for a
Black Lagoon remake?
No. The last one I heard of was
Gary Ross, the producer of ‘Seabiscuit’,
was interested but that fell
through. Ironically his father is
Arthur Ross, who wrote the
Creature from the Black Lagoon’
What scares you in real life?
Nothing scares me, certainly not
death. I’ve had a very good
his fans so visit or write him at
www.the-reelgillman.com or email@example.com .