Fifty years ago, Ben Chapman went to Hollywood to hitch his wagon to a star and ended up as just another guy in a rubber suit. The rubber suit, on the other hand, found fame, fortune, and romance. It got the girl--and its picture on the Wall of Stars at Universal Studios.
The rubber suit is gone now, disintegrated into foam and plaster of paris crumbs that have either scattered into the wind or been swept up by studio lackeys. But Chapman, who wore it in the 1954 film The Creature From the Black Lagoon, is still flutter-kicking. Six or seven times a year, he leaves his home in Hawaii for the fluorescent wilds of monster movie conventions to answer the questions that ripple in the monster's dark wake.
"People ask me all the time, 'How did you go to the bathroom?'" says Chapman, 70, who'll be in Akron Saturday to introduce a 3-D showing of the film at the Highland Theatre. "If I had to go number one, I'd just swim into the lagoon and do it . . . But if I had to do number two, heeey!, I couldn't do it."
Though he didn't get a screen credit for the film, Chapman portrayed The Creature "above the surface"--lurching around on land or rising from the deep, black water beaded on his terrible gills. Ricou Browning, an Olympic swimmer who also remained nameless in the credits, did the underwater scenes.
Ever since Browning started signing terrestrial photographs of The Creature, cold blood has turned to bad blood between the reptilian twins. Chapman talks about the feud at length, but says he's not bitter that the man he calls his "stunt double" has tried to stir up trouble: "I really don't care, because a theory of my life is I know who I am, and I know what I've accomplished.
"A lot of people know who I am," continues Chapman, now a realtor. "Here in Hawaii, I'm kind of the Don Ho of horror movies. [Ho] does his thing, I do my thing."
Chapman hasn't seen the film on the big screen in more than forty years, but he has taken time to contemplate its success. "People could relate to [The Creature], because he's basically a nice guy," he says. "He wasn't a bad guy. But the black lagoon was his home--and they invaded his private domain.
"It's the same thing as if you went home after work, and there were people sitting in your living room having a high old time," adds Chapman. "You'd say, 'Hey, get the hell out of here.' But he couldn't do it."
Ben Chapman will appear at a 3-D screening of The Creature From the Black Lagoon Saturday at 7:30 p.m at the Highland Theatre, 826 West Market Street in Akron, 330-375-1823.