Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Meeting a Monster Legend by Scott M. Baker

This past weekend at Crypticon I spent most of my time glued to the Permuted Press table pimping Rotter World and getting to know my fellow authors.  Don't get me wrong.  I had a great time and am not complaining.  But on Sunday morning I took a few minutes to sneak away and say hello to Ricou Browning (pictured above). 

All you Monster Kids and Sci-Fi afficionados know that name without having to look at the poster behind us.  Ricou Browning played the Gill Man in the water sequences in the 1954 classic Creature from the Black Lagoon and its two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).  [NOTE: Ben Chapman played the part of the Gill Man for all the scenes shot on land.]  A whole generation sat on the edge of our seats while the Gill Man would swim underneath some buxomy blonde in a bathing suit (Julie Adams in Creature and Lori Nelson in Revenge), enthralled by her beauty, and all the while accompanied by Henry Mancini's unforgettable theme (da da daaaaaahhh, da da daaaaaahhh).  We all knew this aquatic version of beauty and the beast would not end well, but we couldn't turn away. 

Meeting Mr. Browning was an honor and a thrill for me, and not just because the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature were among my favorite movies growing up.  He literally represents the last vestige of a rapidly fading era.  Mr. Browning is the sole surviving actor to play one of Universal's iconic monsters.

All the others who portrayed those classic monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Invisible Man) are no longer with us.  Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Cheney Jr., John Carradine, Glenn Strange, Claude Rains.  These names are as familiar to us Monster Kids as are those of our relatives.  In many cases, they passed away before we even became enthralled by the monstrous characters they played.  Most of us only got to know them through late night television.

The Gill Man was different from the other Universal monsters.  There was no supernatural element about him.  No essence of evil.  No innate warning about the hideous results of dabbling in things we have no business with.  The Gill Man was much more sympathetic.  In a way, he wasn't even a monster.  He was an ecological anomaly, a throwback from a prehistoric era that survived into modern times only ti be killed by man.  When man invaded his habitat, the Gill Man defended himself and was killed.  When man took him from his habitat to put him on display in a Florida aquarium like a goldfish in a bowl, he escaped and was killed.  When man experimented on him and changed him into an air-breathing creature, he let instinct prevail and returned to the sea where he finally met a dignified end.  (The Gill Man was also the only Universal monster whose film career ended without first having to match wits with Abbott and Costello.)

I introduced myself to Mr. Browning before the convention opened.  He was a charming gentleman.  We chatted for a few minutes, mostly with me rambling on about how it was a pleasure to meet him and how much I loved the Creature movies.  He thanked me, autographed a photo of himself in the Gill Man outfit while holding the head piece, posed for a few pictures, and then I headed back to my table.  And for me it was a thrill.  I had met a part of the history that had helped shape my childhood and led me into horror writing. 

1 comment:

  1. What a rare and special treat. Like Cheney's WOLFMAN, the BLACK LAGOON movies are Shakespearian tragedy, disguised as high cheese. Love 'em to death.