The Creature From The Black Lagoon and its sequels would be the last of the original Universal Monsters movies. The Gill-Man, played jointly by Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning, would also be one of the most complex costumes of those monster movies.
Gill-Man’s look and physical costume were the combined work of Millicent Patrick, Bud Westmore, and his team, who succeeded Jack Pierce as Universal’s make-up artist. The original Creature was designed to be streamlined like an eel and have feminine qualities. Even though Westmore got sole credit, Patrick would approve the design we know and love today. The costume had to be made for both Chapman and Browning and had to be adaptable to either land or water. The total cost to make the suit was $15,000.
Ben Chapman would put on a body stocking and the scales, made of rubber, were glued on to the body stocking. The process of application and removal would take up to three hours a turn. Because it was a solid suit, except for the head, hands and feet, Chapman could not sit or bend so he would have to lay down in the backlot to rest and keep cool between takes. The masks had to be made to size for each actor so molds of their heads were made. The eyes of the mask were narrow and did not provide much peripheral vision which resulted in Julie Adams taking a bump during one of the cave scenes after Chapman inadvertently carried her too close to some rock wall scenery. He did not know it happened until Adams screamed, started to move in his arms and the crew yelled cut and rushed in to treat her. In order to get the proper effect of Gill-Man “gliding” on land, attached to Chapman’s feet so he dragged himself as he walked.
Ricou Browning’s suit was more flexible than Chapman’s as he needed to be able to swim in it. The crew recommended that Browning wear goggles but he refused saying if water got into the suit, there would not be a way to get it out. Therefore, the eyes were left open and Browning swam without goggles. He was provided a hose so he could breathe air as needed during his underwater scenes. While Chapman’s costume was a moss green, Browning’s was a yellowish color to help with lighting and shadows underwater. He would be the only actor to play Gill-Man in all three movies.
In Revenge of the Creature, the head is rounder and wider. The eyes were wider and the lips were fuller. For the film’s final installment, The Creature Walks Among Us, Gill-Man is more of a pseudo-human than an amphibious creature with scales. He is smoother and even wears human clothes. Gill-Man on land in Revenge and The Creature Walks Among Us is played by Tom Hennesy and Don Megowan, respectively.
Gill-Man has scared us, thrilled us and even made us ecologically aware for over sixty years through film, games and merchandise. His looks may have changed, but his impact will remain the same forever.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)