WAMG Interview: Julie Adams – Star of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
She’ll always be best known as Kay Lawrence, the beauty that the Gillman falls in love with the moment he spies her swimming above him in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Mimicking her movements in the water, the Creature performs a lustful underwater mating dance – he’s directly beneath her but she’s unaware of his amorous overtures in the murky depths of the river. It’s a desire most men (and monster kids) could relate to and Julie Adams is the actress who will always be fondly remembered as the ‘girl in the white one-piece’.
Born Betty May Adams and raised near Little Rock Arkansas, Julie was bit by the acting bug early and moved to California to become an actress. She worked as a secretary to support herself and spent her free time taking speech lessons and making the rounds at the various movie studio casting departments. She began her film career in a series of low-budget westerns starring James Ellison and Russell Hayden. She billed herself under her real name until she was signed by Universal in 1949 where she changed it to Julia, and eventually the less-formal sounding Julie. Her breakthrough role was as the wealthy fiancee of newly blinded GI Arthur Kennedy in BRIGHT VICTORY in 1951. She followed this up with major roles opposite James Stewart in BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), Robert Ryan in HORIZONS WEST (1952), Rock Hudson in THE LAWLESS BREED (1953) and Glenn Ford in MAN FROM THE ALAMO (1953). The role that would garner her cult movie immortality was of course as the imperiled–and fetchingly underclad—heroine in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Julie Adams followed this up with more starring roles; FRANCIS JOINS THE WACS (1954), SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS with Tony Curtis (1956), and ONE DESIRE (1956). She cut down on her film appearances in the early 1960s to focus on television, a medium that permitted her to hold out for meatier acting assignments. She acted in hundreds of TV shows over the next several decades, including regular parts in The Jimmy Stewart Show (as Stewart’s wife), a recurring role on Murder She Wrote, and all the way up to CSI, Cold Case, and Lost. She still acted in the occasional theatrical film including TICKLE ME with Elvis Presley (1965), and THE LAST MOVIE, director Dennis Hopper’s 1971 follow-up to EASY RIDER.
Julie Adams was married to actor/director Ray Danton from 1955 to 1978 and they worked together a number of times in film and on television. Their sons Steve and Mitch Danton have both worked behind the scenes in the film business for many years.
This past October, after numerous requests from fans, Julie Adams, with help from her son Mitch, wrote her autobiography. The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon covers her entire career and is packed with rare photographs of the actress from the movies and television shows she acted in. The book is available from Julie Adam’s website HERE and sells for $29.95, plus $3.00 for postage in the U.S., or $15 for International postage.
Julie Adams was kind enough to take the time to speak to We Are Movie Geeks about her life, her career, and that scaly green monster.
Julie in publicity photos from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman March 8th, 2012
We Are Movie Geeks: Greetings from St. Louis. Have you ever been to our city before?
Julie Adams: Yes, many years ago I performed at the Barn Dinner Theater there.
WAMG: Oh, that place is long gone.
JA: It was some time ago. We had fun there.
WAMG: I’d like to start out asking some questions about THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and then discuss other films from your career. You didn’t do horror movie conventions until 2002, what was it like attending your first con?
JA: I found it amazing that people were still enjoying that movie. It’s pretty old. It was lovely. It was really fun.
WAMG: Horror fans are a special breed. We become a little obsessive.
JA: I never mind obsessive. It’s very nice when people have enjoyed the movies. That’s what we made them for
WAMG: Why do you think THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON has endured and has attracted such rabid fans and does it surprise you?
JA: I am surprised really, but I think so much of the credit has to go to Jack Arnold our director and to the good script. It was just well done, but I am surprised really that has survived and that people still enjoy it so much. I’m delighted.
WAMG: Does it bother you that CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is what you’ll always be best known for.
JA: I’ve been in show business a long time and I figure whatever people love, then more power to it. Even though so many focus on THE CREATURE, they’ve also seen BEND OF THE RIVER and other things as well so no, I think we have to take it all with a grain of salt and a good sense of humor.
WAMG: Do you wish you had acted in more monster movies?
JA: No. I think it’s wonderful that I did one that everybody loves so much but that’s enough. I really didn’t want to make that my whole career.
WAMG: They’ve made Creature toys, but more recently, they’ve made Julie Adams toys to go with them, Do you own these?
JA: I don’t think I have those but I’ve signed some of them.
WAMG: That white one piece swimming suit is as iconic a piece of movie wardrobe as Dorothy’s slippers or Travolta’s disco suit – what happened to that?
JA: People ask me that often, but I say it has gone the way of all latex. Long since disintegrated on its own.
WAMG: I guess they weren’t very visionary in those days in terms of keeping that kind of stuff.
JA: Well, who would have thought we’d even be talking about this movie all these years later. We didn’t know these things would become iconic many years later. We just made a movie.
WAMG: The Eel costume (an early version of the Creature costume featured in photos in Julie’s book) was interesting – it looks like an unfinished version of the Creature.
JA: I think they experimented for a while until they came up with something everyone liked. That one sort of looked like an eel, very smooth and so on. They tested them for different looks and then they chose the right one.
WAMG: You write that they shut down production for a couple of weeks to redesign the Creature. What was it like when they unveiled the final Creature costume?
JA: Oh, it was a real shock when we saw the Creature. And you can see from the pictures in the book that I look a little awestruck, kind of taken aback when I saw it at first. I thought it was quite wonderful, extraordinary, and a little scary which of course is exactly what is was supposed to be.
WAMG: Where were the underwater scenes filmed?
JA: That was all filmed in Florida at Wakulla Springs. I never got to be there during the shooting but I went there later to promote the movie.
WAMG: Why did they use a body double for some of the swimming shots? Was that a professional swimmer?
JA: Yes, that was Ginger Stanley. She was just wonderful. She and Ricou Browning (who wore the Creature suit in the underwater sequences) were both part of water shows in southern California and Florida and they were both just incredible swimmers of course.
WAMG: You mention you were friends with Lori Nelson, who starred in REVENGE OF THE CREATURE. Have you appeared at conventions with her?
JA: Yes, at one. Lori was a good friend and we worked together on BEND OF THE RIVER and we were always friends. Lovely person.
WAMG: Do you know if you were ever considered by Universal to star in any of the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON sequels?
JA: Not that I know of, no. And I think it’s just as well. It makes our movie stand out more. It was the original.
WAMG: What about Ben Chapman (who wore the Creature suit in the out-of-water scenes) ? What kind of guy was he?
JA: Ben was such a great guy. He was a great friend, warm and funny. I really treasured him as a friend.
WAMG: Did you ever work with director Jack Arnold again?
JA: No, that was the only time I worked with Jack but I enjoyed it very much. He was very professional and very skilled. There was never any nonsense going on and he worked very hard. You always felt that you were doing good work with him.
WAMG: If they remade CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON would you like to have a cameo?
JA: Oh, I don’t know if I want to appear all these years later to the fans. Let’s see the original and see me as I was all those years ago.
WAMG: I think those fans would love to see you in it though, perhaps in a walk-on or small part.
JA: Well, if they ever did it and they asked me, of course I would say yes.
WAMG: Good. Enough about the Creature. Let’s talk a bit about journey from Little Rock Arkansas to Hollywood.
JA: I had my ‘Aunt Ruth’, she was really my father’s first wife who had always loved him. She owned a bathing suit shop in Long Beach and she outfitted girls for bathing beauty contests and the like. She got in touch with me in Arkansas and she knew that I had been in drama classes and she said that if I ever wanted a go at something in the movies, I could go out to her and she’d help me out. So I took her up on it. When I came to California, I came first to Long Beach. A young woman who worked with her in her shop had an appointment in Hollywood. Her name was Valerie Sorelle and so I shared an apartment with her. So that was the connection.
WAMG: So many of your early films were westerns. Why do you think that was? Could you ride a horse?
JA: Yes, I’ve always loved horses and back in Arkansas they had horse shows at certain times of the year at a park near where I lived and I was friends with some of the people at the stables and I would ride the horses and was crazy about them, so I was already a fairly good rider and I loved doing westerns.
WAMG: So it was a good match
JA: Yes, it was kind of a natural.
Julie with Kerwin Mathews is TARAWA BEACHEAD (1958) and with Van Heflin in WINGS OF THE HAWK (1953)
WAMG: Was it difficult for an actress to get a contract with a studio like Universal in those days. What was it like being under contract with Universal.
JA: I guess it wasn’t terribly easy but I had been out to read for Sophie Rosenstein who was the head of casting at Universal for young players. She liked me and she brought me out to assist in a screen test. It wasn’t my screen test, it was somebody else. Then she turned the camera around and shot my part of the test and from that, they brought me out to read for BRIGHT VICTORY with Arthur Kennedy. It was the story of a blinded veteran back from the war and I got the part of his previous girlfriend. It didn’t really work out, but I got that part and it was a very nice part in BRIGHT VICTORY from that. They had an option on the contract and Universal picked up the option and I was under contract which was lovely.
WAMG: Who were some of your favorite leading men to work with?
JA: I think I have to put James Stewart at the top of the list. BEND OF THE RIVER was one of my first assignments and it was great to work with such a wonderful screen actor. I remember watching him do a close-up, I was off-camera, I though how wonderful, he was not doing anything but everything was there in his face. Great lessons for a screen actor. And of course I got to work with Arthur Kennedy and Rock Hudson and I were great friends and we did a couple of movies together. I was very fortunate.
Julie with Richard Conte in HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951) and in PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)
WAMG: You costarred with Jimmy Stewart in a TV show a couple of decades later. Didn’t you play his wife in that show?
JA: I did, I played his wife on The Jimmy Stewart Show.
WAMG: But he was at least twenty years older than you.
JA: That’s right but I didn’t care and the audience didn’t seem to care. I always said my idea of heaven was going to work with Jimmy Stewart every day for six months.
WAMG: Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson were both tall men.
JA: Oh yes, Jimmy Stewart was about 6 foot 3.
WAMG: Were you tall? Did that play a part in why you were cast with them?
JA: I was about 5′ 7″ which was about average so I don’t think so.
Julie with Rock Hudson in ONE DESIRE (1953) and with John Wayne in McQ (1974)
WAMG: What about Tony Curtis? What was he like?
JA: Oh, Tony was great fun. We were always good friends. I remember a couple of years later in I was in the commissary at Universal and Tony came in after we’d worked on the movie (SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS), he came rushing in and gave me a hug. Always a very charming fellow Tony, I liked him very much.
WAMG: Can you describe meeting Elvis for the first time when you worked with him in TICKLE ME?
JA: It was not that difficult because I was not really and Elvis Presley fan. I wasn’t in awe of him or anything. I’m from the South so I felt very at home with Elvis because he was a really charming young Southern gentleman. I kind of knew his type and I like him very much.
WAMG: What was it like to work with him as an actor?
JA: Completely professional. Always very prepared. As I said, such a charming fellow. There was one scene where I was in the nightclub and we did a singing number. And I was in awe because I watched him and he did it in one take, walking all around and he was really working to a playback but he he was perfect. That was amazing. I enjoyed working with him very very much. I was the “older” woman in the picture. I think I was about 35 then, and there were as lot of young ladies there and he sent all of us flowers on the first day of shooting. A lovely experience.
WAMG: You married actor Ray Danton in 1955. What Hollywood couples did you and Ray Danton hang out with?
JA: I don’t know if we really hung out with other couples. I stayed friends with Rock Hudson, and Sally Kellerman was a friend and Bob Rafelson. I even knew Robert Blake and his family. Neville Brand was a friend.
WAMG: Did you ever work with or meet Charles Bronson?
JA: No. I never worked with him. I thought he was very good, but I never got a chance to work with him.
Julie with Elvis in TICKLE ME (1965) and with Dennis Hopper in THE LAST MOVIE (1971)
WAMG: You did a ton of TV work in the 60′s 70′s and 80′s. What were some of your favorite shows to work on?
JA: I worked with Chuck Conners on The Rifleman. It was one episode but it was going to be a recurring role but it didn’t work out because of my pregnancy. I loved working on Big Valley. I got to work with Barbara Stanwyck which was just fantastic. I was so thrilled to be working with a big movie star I had seen on the screen back in Arkansas and she was such a great person as well as being such a fantastic actress. I played a villainess and got to push her around. There was a lot of good television work around in those days.
WAMG: What was it like on The Andy Griffith Show with Don Knotts.
JA: Well that was great fun. A lot of laughs. Andy Griffith was from the south so I felt right at home with him and Don Knotts was just a really funny delightful guy so I had a great time working on that show.
WAMG: I recently read a biography of Dennis Hopper and your recollection of working on the LAST MOVIE is very different from what’s described in that book. The book paints the making of that film as a drug-addled bacchanalia but you describe it much differently.
JA: I remember arriving in Peru to film that and visiting the set to see what everyone was doing and they were improvising a lot. I thought that was okay and I could do that. I had a fun time. It was very loose and I had a really fun character to play. She was very sexy and I usually didn’t get to play that kind of part. I liked Dennis. He worked very hard. There was all that stuff about all sorts of crazy things going on in Peru but I never saw Dennis being crazy or high on something. What he did after work, I have no idea.
WAMG: What inspired you to write your memoirs?
JA: I had been at a screening at the Egyptian Theater of SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS and my son Mitch and I came out of the theater and there was a fan there who asked if I had a book. Mitch and I looked at each other and an idea was born.
WAMG: What’s next for Julie Adams?
JA: I don’t really know. I’m at the stage where if I’m working, that’s fine, but if I’m not, it’s nice not to have to be somewhere at 6:30 am. I’ve got 4 or 5 conventions lined up that I’ll be attending. There’s a huge interest in the book and people are inviting me everywhere.
WAMG: The book is terrific and the photos in it are wonderful. Good luck with the book and thanks for taking the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks.
JA: You’re so welcome.
Julie Adams, still beautiful today