THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON Has Died

Fans have begun flooding the Internet with fond memories of Universal's The Creature from the Black Lagoon and of actor Ben Chapman, who died on February 21.
Ben "The Gillman" Chapman, the last of the original Universal Monsters, passed away at 12:15 am Hawaiian Time on Thursday, February 21, at the VA hospital in Honolulu. He was 79 years old.

Chapman was born on October 29, 1928, in Oakland, California, while his Tahitian parents were on a trip to the U.S. (Ben's cousin was the exotic-looking Jon Hall, the star of John Ford's The Hurricane.) Chapman was raised in Tahiti, relocated to the U.S. at age 15 in 1940 and went to school in San Francisco's Bay Area. Working as a Tahitian dancer in nightclubs led to his first movie job, in MGM’s 1950 flick Pagan Love Song. Other small parts were followed by a tour of duty in Korea.

Talent scouts from Universal-International put Chapman under contract upon his return from the war. A meeting with Jonny Rennig, who worked with cowboys and stuntmen, led to the 6'5" actor's casting as the title character in Jack Arnold’s 1954 Universal classic, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. For $300 a week, Chapman played the rubber-suited "Gillman" on land, while 5'8" Olympic swimmer Ricou Browning covered the underwater scenes. Neither actor received screen credit.

Chapman continued to bartend between movie roles, thus enabling him to meet and befriend the likes of Rat Packer Peter Lawford and Senator John Kennedy. And, though he never really "broke out" as a movie actor, he always maintained a fondness for The Creature.

"He was a kind and gentle man who was proud of his horror heritage and would gladly sit and recollect with his fans, young and old, about his involvement in the film and more," explained JOVANKA at Rue-Morgue.com.

In fact, memorial sites and blogs have begun sprouting up, such as this one, featuring pictures, artwork and remembrances from fans.

"I talked to Ben last May, when he was hospitalized for shortness of breath and dizziness," recalled KEN HULSEY at Robo Japan. "He had thought he was a goner then, and he laughed about feeling 'out of water.' He seemed to be more concerned that he had missed a convention appearance in New Jersey, than he did for his own well being. That just goes to show how much he loved his fans. He was a great guy, a real down to earth guy, someone who when you talked to him, you felt like you knew him all your life."

Chapman's health began deteriorating February 12, and he was hospitalized on February 20. Per his living will, life support was discontinued around noon that same day. He died peacefully with wife Merrilee and son Ben III at his side. His body will be cremated and a memorial service will be held at a Catholic church near the beach in Honolulu.

Fans are encouraged to submit their thoughts and memories to kenroar@yahoo.com for a special memorial page on Ben's website. As mentioned above, many already have posted their remembrances.

"One of my favorite monsters," RED-PILL-JUNKIE at Cryptomundo wrote of The Creature. "When I first saw the movie on TV it gave me quite the scare; great music too. Rest in Peace Mr. Chapman. Thank you for helping several generations of horny adolescents make out at the Auto Cinema. I mean, at the Drive-In. Lousy translation, I’m sorry."



[Thanks to MRDISGUSTING for the news, and to LOREN COLEMAN at Cryptomundo for the background on Chapman.]
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PAnthony
2/22/2008
The Reel Gillman

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