Over the past couple weeks, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to covering the World 3-D Film Expo, which took place at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and knocked my socks off. One of the headlining films, the most exciting one for us certainly, was CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, the legendary monster flick from Jack Arnold that starred Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Nestor Paiva, and one Julie Adams, who may very well be the most famous scream queen of all-time thanks to her iconic role as Kay.
Julie and her son, Mitchell Danton, were in attendance for the Expo (for two screenings, WINGS OF THE HAWK also played) for a book signing and Q&A after the screening. I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk with the delightful pair, catching them after a late breakfast (as Mitch says, “a day can never start too late,” an adage shared by writers everywhere) on the eve of the screening. In the following exclusive interview with FAMOUS MONSTERS, Julie talked about her experiences on the set with Jack Arnold and company while shooting CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, her Western films and high opinion of Jimmy Stewart, and about her memoir, THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR: REFLECTIONS FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.
THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR is a self-published memoir written by Julie Addams and her son, Mitchell Danton. The book was designed as a companion to her career, but has received a lot of interest due to her experiences working in the studio system. The memoir, in a way, is like an over-sized magazine, with chapters devoted to various different film and TV roles from her career, including everything she did in the sci-fi realm, obviously including CREATURE and even discussing her episode on THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
After the interview, you’ll find a handful of gorgeous stills from Adams’ book. There are plenty more where they came from.
Famous Monsters: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me and Famous Monsters, we really appreciate it.
Julie Adams: Well thank you. The Famous Monsters and I appreciate you for having interest!
FM: It’s amazing and wonderful and commendable that you’re still out there, promoting the film and working!
Adams: I try! Stay in the game.
FM: In 2011, you guys released the memoir THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR: REFLECTIONS FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, what can you tell us about the book? What does it cover? Maybe you could give us a tease of what’s inside, perhaps a story from it?
Adams: Well, it’s really me talking, and also, it comes from things I wrote down over the years. I’d write down what happened during the day and so on, so really it’s authentically my memories.
FM: And does the book mostly concern CREATURE or your entire career?
Adams: No, it’s not mostly on Creature. It talks about everything. There is an entire chapter about CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, so it probably gets more of the spotlight than any other film.
Mitch Danton: The Creature always gets its due. There are also about 200 pictures, so it’s kind of a souvenir too, for people who meet her, there are a lot of glamorous pictures, behind the scenes photos from CREATURE and some of the other 50 films she worked on over the years, including all TV and covers her stage career.
FM: Awesome. I have to say, your IMDB page and resume is overwhelming, with how many shows and movies you’ve been in. The Westerns early on, it’s really incredible.
Adams: The Quickie Westerns. They were fun, and I learned a lot too while I was doing them.
FM: Before I veer into CREATURE territory, I was going to ask you…you’ve done all these shows, PERRY MASON, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW, BIG VALLEY, the list goes on. What show or movie do you wish you could talk more about or got more questions on? I’m assuming CREATURE dominates the conversation.
Adams: [laughs] Well, I suppose, oddly enough, the thing I would like to talk most about is something I did on the stage, which is THE LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, by Eugene O’Neill (SP?) , but I don’t talk too much about that in the book, because it’s a book for movies fans really. That was thrilling for me, because when I was about 15.5, I checked out all of Eugene O’Neill’s plays from the public library and read them all, for me, so it was a great thrill to do that. But that’s beside the point, so you go ahead!
FM: No, not at all! I was curious. It’s fascinating. When you were cast in CREATURE, you probably get this question all the time, did you have any idea of the film’s importance, or how successful it would become, did you have any inkling of what it would become, based on the set, or who you were working with (Jack Arnold)?
Adams: Not at all. I thought that this would be a movie that would go out and have kind of a flair with the fans of that kind of movie, and disappear. I really could never have imagined that we’d still be talking about this movie all these years later. But I’m delighted that we are!
FM: It’s amazing. 60 years, and still kids are inspired and people that grew up on are still talking about it. How does it feel to be a part of that?
Adams: It feels very good, because it means, for everybody on the picture, the screenwriters, the directors, the people who costumed us all, the people who designed the creature itself, it’s an honor to everybody on the picture, really, that it has this kind of life.
FM: You’ve truly been immortalized, all of you guys, in that film. We’ve come to the point, and I think I’m contractually obligated to ask this question, where I have to ask you about the iconic white swimsuit.
FM [cont.]: Did you have any reservations about wearing it? You said you didn’t know this would be a big movie, did you know that swimsuit or those scenes would be a big deal?
Adams: Well, I never knew it would be a big deal. Working at Universal, I was used to posing in swimsuits or so on, for publicity shots for this and that, and they all seemed to think I looked good in a bathing suit, so they would do that. So I thought, oh well, it’s a nice bathing suit, and very nicely done, and I never had a custom made bathing suit before, and I thought that was very impressive, and it fitted nicely. The designer in wardrobe who did it, did a beautiful job. So it was all a pleasure, really. It was all towards making a good movie, and making something that would interest the fans and so on, and the bathing suit was part of it, I guess.
FM: Well, clearly it worked! Do you have any stories from the set? Any memorable experiences with director Jack Arnold?
Adams: It was a very well-cast movie, and a very well-directed movie, and well written movie. All in all, it went forward with very little trouble or snags, or anything, because everybody did their job very well, including wardrobe of course. All the actors were excellent, so I enjoyed working on the picture very much.
Mitch: One story that fans like is the story when she bumped her head in the cave when they forgot to heat the tank. Known as the infamous cave incident. [everybody laughs] So basically, that story, go ahead and tell it.
Adams: It’s in the cave scene, and I’m unconscious, I had fainted I believe, and the creature is carrying me. And of course, dear Ben Chapman, who was inside the creature suit, they didn’t give him too much leeway with the eyes, so he couldn’t see very well. So he’s carrying me and the set designers have made a very realistic caves with points coming out in the cave, little dagger like things, like caves are wont to have. And so, poor Ben was carrying me along, and I’m pretending to be out. And suddenly, this thing hits my head, this point of the cave, and I jumped, you know, and of course, everything stops. I thought, “Goodness what happened?” Ben was so sorry. “Oh how could you tell in that outfit of yours, you can’t see anything.” And then the publicity department got into it, and then they all came down and took some pictures and they wrote it all up and made it a real drama. That’s the story.
Mitch: There’s sort of a famous picture of her with a nurse attending to her forehead, and Ben looking over her, with worry in his goggles or eyes.
Adams: Ben looking very solicitous, you know, looking over me.
Mitch: It’s a fun one, because Ben is leaning over her and the nurse is tending to her, and you’d think she was on death’s door with all the attention, but it was really just a scrape on the forehead. Another thing about that incident was that they had forgotten to heat the tank, so they were both freezing cold at that moment. It was on a November morning. So she was shivering…
Adams: It was cold.
Mitch: It all added to the drama and the kind of timeless tale that it’s become.
FM: Good thing he didn’t hit your head too hard, or you might not remember making the movie!
Adams: That’s right! Thank goodness for that.
FM: Another film I wanted to mention was one of the Westerns you did, WINGS OF THE HAWK, which also screens at the 3-D World Expo, airing Saturday. Are you excited to revisit that movie?
Adams: Yeah, I had a great time working on that movie. I played a Mexican bandit girl. Typecasting, right?
[I laughed, a lot]
Adams: But it was wonderful, because I always loved to ride horseback, and for 2 or 3 weeks before the picture started, I got to ride on Pie, the horse I rode on in the picture, which was really James Stewart’s horse in every film he rode in. He was a great horse; he went from a walk into a gentle canter. He never trotted and made you look like a jerk, bouncing up and down, you know. He was wonderful, and very responsive to anything you did with the reins, for the turns or anything, to slow him down. Just a little nudge in the ribs and he’d go into a gentle canter, so he was a great movie horse. It was really a pleasure to do the scenes.
FM: That’s amazing, Jimmy Stewart’s horse. You’ve mentioned in the past that he was your favorite leading man to work with, and you’ve worked with Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Elvis Presley, John Wayne… so why is Jimmy your favorite?
Adams: Welll, I think there was something about Jimmy that was so real. Something that I always felt…there was a reality to it. Maybe we just had a kind of communication that I felt very comfortable in. So I loved working with him, but I enjoyed working with all the men I’ve worked with. But Jimmy was special.
Mitch: One other reason I think was that she did a TV show with him 20 years later, so she worked with him kind of when she was very young and when she was probably in her 40’s, the JIMMY STEWART SHOW that aired in the 70’s, a comedy, it was short-lived, but she got a chance to work with him many years later. So I think that also added to their friendship.
Adams: Mmm-hmm. Oh yes, it was a great friendship. He was a wonderful, wonderful person in addition to being one of our best film actors.
FM: I wanted to ask if you have any mementos or if you had anything from CREATURE; I know our fans would love to know if you had taken anything from the set of CREATURE or if they even allowed you to do that. Or anything you have throughout your career that you treasure.
Adams: Well, I have mostly memories.
Mitch: Yeah, it’s not like today. Today I think actors in their deals get to keep their costumes and props and things like that. There is an exhibit near her hometown in Little Rock, Arkansas called Lights, Camera, Arkansas that has a few mementos in it. An original poster and things they’ve gathered. For ourselves, the main thing we have is a lot of still photographs, some lobby cards, we have posters (not originals), of course we’d love that white bathing suit. [laughs]
FM: Yeah, I was going to say, that’s just what you wear all the time right?
Mitch: A few more zeroes in the bank account and maybe.
Adams: Everybody asks what happened to the white bathing suit, and I say I think it went the way of all latex.
FM: I wouldn’t be surprised if it was hanging up somewhere in Universal, or otherwise. Who knows.
Mitch: I think the main thing is the astonishing after life of CREATURE that has allowed her to connect with fans. Ben Chapman was a big part of that. Long before Mom ever went out to do movie conventions and things like that, he was out there chatting up the next generation, getting kids interested in the movie. If anybody embodied the spirit of the Creature, it was Ben, because he just LOVED it, and he really helped. I mean it’s bigger today than it was 20 years ago, and that’s in part due to Ben; he would go to almost every convention all over the country. He stoked this incredible interest in the film that I think pushed it into the 21st century, and it’s even bigger now than it was then. It’s astonishing.
Adams: And then when I started going, because he kind of talked me into it, I had a great time with him, because we were great friends anyway, so we had a really good time on these little adventures.
FM: We’re definitely thankful for you, for Ben, for keeping the movie alive. I think it’s going to last another 20, 100 years, who knows.
Adams: Oh goodness gracious. [laughs]
Mitch: We know it’s going to last another 24 hours. [laughs]
FM: Thank you guys so much for your time, and I can’t wait to meet you guys tomorrow!
Mitch: Thank you for helping the Creature legend rolling along!
Adams: We’ll see you tomorrow!
FM: Enjoy the rest of your breakfast! [celebrities eat breakfast too]
For more information on THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR, please go to their website.
The book is sold almost exclusively online, so if you want a copy of Julie Adams’ memoir, co-written by son Mitch Danton, you gotta go here!