There was a time — between the mid-1920s to roughly 1960 — when Universal Studios cranked out some of the most distinctive and memorable monster movies in filmmaking history. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man” were among Universal’s most recognizable releases, each with their own Gothic charm and iconic anti-heroes. But 1954’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon” remains the crown jewel of the “Universal Monsters” dynasty.
Part sci-fi adventure, part campy horror flick, “Creature” centers on a geologist expedition that runs into a Gill Man, who dwells in the dark waters of the titular lagoon. Shot in part in Wakulla Springs and near Palatka, “Creature” was originally filmed in 3-D, which led to substandard 2-D reproductions over the years. Sun-Ray Cinema is bringing the 3-D version back for a single screening this week. Special guest Julie Adams, who played bathing beauty/scientist Kay Lawrence, will introduce the film and answer questions after the screening. Adams recently took the time to answer a few of our questions before making the trek back to the swampy terrain where she shot her most famous feature.
Folio Weekly: You’ve worked with Elvis, Jimmy Stewart and a guy in a sea monster suit. Who did you like best?
Julie Adams: It’s a tough choice, but I’d have to say Jimmy Stewart. I loved working with him in “Bend of the River” back in the ’50s at Universal. I had another opportunity to work with him again nearly 20 years later, playing his wife on “The Jimmy Stewart Show.” He was one of the greatest stars who ever lived, and he was also a lovely human being.
F.W.: After “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” did you feel like you’d be typecast as a “scream queen”? And are you happy with the course your career took following that film?
J.A.: I didn’t worry about being typecast, and I enjoyed working on “Creature.” I never worked in the sequels and never played another part like Kay Lawrence. I’ve played lots of other roles on film and television that I’m quite proud of, but for some reason, Kay resonates with fans. I like to think that’s because Kay is not just pretty, she’s also intelligent and strong-willed. I’ve even met little girls who have told me that they want to grow up to be a scientist because of my role in that movie. That makes me feel good.
F.W.: What attracted you to “Creature”?
J.A.: I was under contract at Universal Studios back then. Therefore, I didn’t audition for the role; I was assigned to the movie by the studio to play Kay Lawrence. I thought it was a good script by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross. Jack Arnold was also a magnificent director who made every shot interesting, helping the cast led by Richard Carlson make a fantastic story believable. Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning were also amazing in their portrayals of the Gill Man.
F.W.: What was the most challenging aspect of filming “Creature”?
J.A.: When production got delayed while the studio tried to come up with the best look for the Creature, the production schedule moved from the end of summer to the fall. It got pretty cold for some of us who had to be in a bathing suit for half of the picture. One morning on the cave set, someone forgot to heat the tank that Ben Chapman and I were supposed to emerge from in the Creature’s underwater lair. I was unconscious in his arms, trying hard not to shiver. Ben’s goggles fogged up, and he accidentally bumped my head on the papier-mâché cave set. I opened my eyes with a start and the director yelled, “Cut!”
I only had a small scrape on my forehead but, of course, the studio called a nurse in and the publicity department was not far behind taking pictures. One photo with Ben in his Creature suit and other cast members looking over me solicitously has become one of the more indelible behind-the-scenes moments from the film.
F.W.: What was most fun about the film?
J.A.: I loved my scientific dialogue about the mysterious claw, near the beginning of the movie in the scene at the aquarium. It was fun to play a character that was smart and knew her stuff about ichthyology.
F.W.: “Creature” is annually on critics’ best films of all-time lists (Rolling Stone magazine, Empire magazine, etc.). What is it about the film that holds up over time?
J.A.: I think it’s a really good movie that has captured fans’ imagination. It delves into science, evolution and also delivers plenty of suspense and scary moments. I like it particularly because there is an element of sympathy for the Creature. He has human qualities that we can relate to. He didn't go looking for people — they invaded his territory.
F.W.: Who should play you in the film adaptation of your autobiography "The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From The Black Lagoon"?
J.A.: I don’t know — a talented newcomer might be nice. Nothing would be more fun right now than seeing my memoir come to life on the big or small screen. Re-enacted scenes from “Creature” would certainly be a delight to see for enthusiasts of that film.