Remembering Julie Adams, beloved Creature star

Julie Adams with Gil-man actor Ben Chapman in a promotional picture for Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

We were reached by the sad news today that one of the elder stateswomen of science fiction films, Julie Adams, has passed away at 92 years old. Adams (sometimes billed as Julia Adams), of course, is fondly remembered by fans of creature features as the female lead in Universal’s 1954 horror/sci-fi film Creature from the Black Lagoon (review). She made movie history in her famous white swimming suit, especially immortalised in the sexually suggestive scene of her swimming in the lagoon, with the Gil-man mirroring her movements in the depths below (even if the underwater shots actually showed her body double, Ginger Stanley).

Adams was a contract player at Universal at the time the script of Creature came her way, and in an interview with Los Angeles Times she reveals that she nearly passed the role on, because she had no interest in doing a sci-fi horror film. The only reason she said yes was that as a contract player, she would have been put in quarantine without pay for the duration of the movie if she had refused to do it. She has stated that she is extremely happy that she did take the role, as she had a wonderful time making the film, and today it is the film that people still remember her for, even though she is also fondly remembered in the western movie circles, especially for her role in Bend of the River (1952) opposite James Stewart.

Adams in her famous swim-suit.

Of course one of the things that made Adams so memorable in the movie, especially for a large audience of boys, was her bathing suit, especially created for the movie by Rosemary Odell: the skin-tight latex suit accentuated her bust and was pulled up at the thighs, making it fairly racy for the time.

There’s a famous press image (see below) of Julie Adams slumped against a fake rock at Universal studios, with co-stars Richards Carlson and Denning, director Jack Arnold and stuntman/actor Ben Chapman in the creature suit leaning in over her, as a nurse patches up her forehead with a small bandage. The legend surrounding the photo was that while carrying her through the rock sets, Chapman had accidentally banged her head into the rocks, knocking her unconscious. She has laughed about the incident in later interviews, saying it really wasn’t anything more than a scratch, and she certainly wasn’t knocked out. But there happened to be a photographer on set, so the studio thought it would make a great photo for the press kit to have the lead actress patched up by a nurse, so they made a whole PR thing out of it. She tells Media Mikes: ”Someone at the studio had forgotten to heat the [water] tank that day. It was a chilly autumn morning, and the water was quite cold. So when Ben emerged with me in his arms I was trying desperately not to shiver. The goggles on Ben’s Creature mask fogged up and he couldn’t see very well. The cave set was made up of papier maché rocks that had a few jagged edges. While carrying me unconscious in his arms, Ben accidentally bumped my head against one of the rocks and my eyes suddenly opened and I raised my head. The director yelled ‘Cut’, and production was delayed momentarily while a small scrape on my forehead was tended to by a nurse. Of course, the studio made a publicity stunt out of it and pictures were taken of the mishap. I still love seeing the photo of Ben in his Creature suit looking over me solicitously as the nurse tends to my forehead. In the end, it was a very minor incident and production resumed about fifteen minutes later.”

Adams in the well-remembered press image.

Ben Chapman had been doing convention tours since the nineties, and convinced Adams to tag along in 2002, and since that she was a regular on science fiction, horror and western conventions – spending most of her time talking about Creature from the Black Lagoon. Unlike so many B movie actresses that had their prime in the forties and fifties, Adams never once dropped out of Hollywood, but kept working steadily until 2011, although from the mid-fifties onward, most of her work was guest spots on TV series. When TV work was sparse, she worked on stage. In interviews she said that she was very happy with her career, and the fact that she always loved working as an actress – not for the fame but for the work and the art.

Adams came across as such a sweet and lovely person and never had a single bad thing to say about anyone or any project she had been involved in. She did jokingly tell film historian and author Tom Weaver that she found it funny that of all the work she had done, it was that science fiction role that she almost turned down that she was always remembered for: ”Once I was working in a Chicago play, Father’s Day by Oliver Hailey, and I was peeved when I got this review that said ‘Julie Adams shows more depth than one would have suspected from the star of Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ You can act your heart out, but people will always say ‘Oh, Julie Adams – Creature from the Black Lagoon.” But she then insists that she is perfectly happy to be remembered for a film that is so loved by fans across generations, and that still entertains people to this very day.

Julie Adams in 2011.

Adams released her autobiography in 2011, and since the passing of Ben Chapman in 2008 she toured conventions with her son, film editor and co-author Mitch Dalton, who was happy to fill in details and and refresh his mother’s memory when her own recollections were a bit hazy, which was only natural, as she still did conventions into her nineties. Adams actually just did one other sci-fi film: Underwater City in 1962. Still, in the iconography of the creature features, few women are as prominent as Adams, rivalled perhaps only by the images of Fay Wray in the giant hands of King Kong (1933) and Elsa Lanchester as The Bride of Frankenstein (interestingly enough two other actresses who did a lot less genre work than their legacy would imply).

While the world has lost a warm and generous human being, Julie Adams will live on in the hearts and memories of all horror and science fiction fans, and the passionate fan community that keep screening and screaming to The Creature of the Black Lagoon. The family has asked for memorial donations to charities The Nature Conservancy or the World Wildlife Fund.

Janne Wass

Julie Adams’ sci-fi films:

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