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Throughout the 1930s, Hollywood studios made multiple acclaimed films about American and British colonists trekking into the wilds of faraway countries in order to hunt the land’s game, steal the country’s resources, and abuse the locals for their own gain. Films like W.S. Van Dyke’s 1931 film “Trader Horn” and Henry Hathaway’s 1935 opus “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” were even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The prevailing attitude in Hollywood appeared to be that distant “exotic” countries were there to be conquered. Even “King Kong” was about attempted mastery over the wild world.
By 1954, however, attitudes had changed, as reflected in Jack Arnold’s excellent monster movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” By then, the jungles of the Amazon had become a forbidding place, a place that was beyond mastery. When trekking deep up the river to the titular Black Lagoon, a team of explorers find a humanoid animal that they hadn’t the imagination to consider. Universal may have simply been idly whipping out a fun 3-D creature feature to fill in their calendar, but in so doing, they defined the genre for generations.
Actress Julie Adams played the character of Kay, a college colleague and girlfriend of Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), the leader of the expedition. It is Kay who first encounters the creature (Ben Chapman on land, Ricou Browning underwater), and it is Kay who is eventually be kidnapped by it.
Back in 2013, Adams was interviewed by Horror Society, and told an amusing anecdote about how Chapman, unable to see through his Creature mask, accidentally bumped her head into a cave wall while carrying her. It wasn’t a big deal, but Adams saw the headlines forming around the incident even as it happened.
It seemed that Universal was looking for any way they could to bolster publicity for “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” because they were a little too eager to publish a story from the set. “Creature” filmed its on-land scenes at the Universal backlot in southern California. The cave scenes took place at the film’s climax when the creature, moved to some sort of mad monster lust, carries Kay away. Adams screamed with the best of them. When interviewer Michael Juvinall asked Adams about the head-boking incident — a story well-known to monster movie fans — the actress laughed it off, saying:
“I don’t know if it’s such an interesting story. I was of course being carried with my eyes closed and all of a sudden, I had this bump on my head. It was presumably a cave that he was carrying me through and the cave had these prongs that stuck out from the side — as caves do sometimes — and that’s what he hit my head on. And I jumped. Then the publicity department got all excited and they brought some cameramen down and they had somebody from the set hospital and bandaged my head and they made a big deal out of it, publicity wise. I always thought it wasn’t that much of a deal, but there we are.”
Adams was being asked about a non-incident that occurred on the set of one of her movies made 59 years before. Adams herself was 87 at the time of the interview. She didn’t remember the injury, it seems, as well as she did the hoopla surrounding it. To this day, one can find carefully-staged publicity photos from the set of “Creature” depicting Adams getting a bandage on her head.
‘Good morning, beastie!’
In 2022, it’s odd to think that a studio would want to publicize that one of their stars had been injured while making one of their movies, but — to repeat Adams’ remark — there we are. Danger on set, at the time, was little more than an interesting story to add an element of risk and edge to an upcoming movie. To modern readers, a dangerous set is a problem to be corrected, not a matter to celebrate.
As it so happens, “Creature” did not have a terribly dangerous set. The biggest risk element was to Browning during the swimming sequences, filmed in a tank in Florida. Legend has it that Browning had to hold his breath for minutes at a time while wearing the creature costume. Adams confirms that everything was quite pleasant during her time on the set, saying:
“It was really a very congenial set. I enjoyed working with everybody. In the morning I would come in and there would be Ben Chapman all done up in his outfit and I would pat him on the rubberized cheek that he had and say ‘Good morning beastie!’ So we all sort of teased each other and joked around and we had a good time. It was a wonderful atmosphere on our set, thank goodness.”
“Creature” may be one of Adams’ more popular movies, but it came in a career that was stuffed with impressive credits (“Go Ask Alice” and “The Last Movie” among them). Before 1960, Adams would appear in 25 more TV shows and movies. Overall, she had about 150 credits to her name. Adams passed away in 2019 at the age of 92. She’s buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Malvern, AK. Hollywood lost one of its most reliable and hard-working actresses. Rest in peace.