Updated: March 25, 2006
CREATURE ORIGINAL PROP MASK
Original Ricou Browning "Gill Man" mask from The Creature
from the Black Lagoon. (UIP, 1954) The Gill Man, perhaps the
most recognizable film monster of 1950s-era science-fiction
and certainly the genre's most iconic figure, had its origins
in a tall tale told by a South American director at a dinner
party hosted by Orson Welles in the early 1950s. In attendance
at the dinner was William Alland, who would become the
producer of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Alland, a
member of Orson Welles famous Mercury Theater Stage Company,
had ventured out to Hollywood with the venerable Welles to
pursue a filmmaking career.
The story, as told by the South American director, was
gripping. According to legend, deep in the jungles of the
Amazon there existed a race of beings who lived underwater,
and prowled the banks of the Amazon River. Human in shape,
they had gills instead of ears, webbed hands and feet, and
scaly, fishlike skin. A friend of the director had organized a
small expedition to search the Amazon for these creatures - an
expedition which never returned. Months passed before natives
discovered and brought back to civilization a camera which had
belonged to the explorers. The developed film revealed a
seven-foot creature with all the fishlike characteristics
described by the legend.
Alland was haunted by the story, and over the course of the
next several months the idea took hold of him as the seed of a
new horror film, perfect for the silver screen. He presented a
rudimentary synopsis to the studio heads at
Universal-International, and the film was born.
The star of the film, the Gill Man, required an elaborate
costume that would be fabricated by the talented make-up
effects department at Universal. Director Jack Arnold came up
with the basic look for the Creature. He later recalled his
struggle in conjuring up the basic design: "...what the hell
was this guy going to look like? I had this little plaque from
when I was nominated for the Academy Award - it had this
little Oscar on it. I began to imagine what he would look like
with a fish head and fins..." So, based on the Academy's
revered statuette and Arnold's creative vision, the costume
was sketched out on paper by Millicent Patrick, and fabricated
by Jack Kevan under the direction of Bud Westmore. Reportedly,
the head was sculpted over a bust of actress Ann Sheridan,
because it was one of the few life masks in the Universal
make-up department that had a neck, and it was especially
important to producer William Alland that the Creature have
gills on the throat that could be manipulated. According to
Universal's publicity, the costume took about 8 1/2 months to
research and develop, and was valued at $18,000.
Two versions of the costume were made - one for the
out-of-water scenes, and another for the underwater sequences.
The underwater costume and mask was designed for Ricou
Browning, the actor assigned to portray the character in the
underwater scenes and the first person to be cast in the Gill
Man role. Browning was chosen because, according to Arnold, he
could stay underwater for almost five minutes without taking a
breath. (Later, actor Ben Chapman would be hired to play the
Creature out of water, presumably because of his greater
physical size). The underwater scenes - for which the film is
most famous - were shot in Florida, primarily at Wakulla
Springs. It was the Florida unit that would shoot the film's
most memorable scene - the suspenseful yet beautiful sequence
when, as the heroine takes a swim, the Creature lurks beneath
her in the water, following her every movement in an eerie
The latex head and mask appliance offered here was made
specifically for the underwater scenes. A full latex two-piece
casting, it was painted in a greenish/yellow hue so that it
would show up well on film. The paint was applied with a
stippling action using a paint brush and/or sponge, and slight
imperfections from the original casting can still be located
on the mask. Although the mask is now slightly distorted from
age and exhibits a few minor tears along the lower edges and
on the bridge of the nose, it is in remarkable shape and can
be easily stabilized and preserved.
The Gill Man costume was a triumph of the
Universal-International makeup department, and the lasting
impression it made on audiences forever changed the way people
perceived the water, and the creatures that may (or may not!)
reside in it. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was not only
a major success at the box office, earning by the end of 1954
some $3 million, but has influenced countless other films and
filmmakers in the 50+ years since its release. This vintage
mask, made for Ricou Browning's use in the thrilling
underwater scenes of the film, is the only Gill Man mask we've
ever encountered, and is most likely the only original mask to
It is, without question, one of the most important
science-fiction/horror artifacts ever made available to
collectors, from perhaps the most recognizable creature in
Note: This mask comes with signed letters of authenticity from
both Ricou Browning, who played the "underwater" Gill Man, and
Ben Chapman, who played the "walking" Gill Man in the film.
This piece as also been authenticated as an original Gill Man
mask by noted Hollywood prop authority Bob Burns.
Provenance: Ricou Browning, Millicent Patrick, Glen Loates,
and Sotheby's Collectors Carousel, December 1989.
Reference: Famous Monsters of Filmland
Value: $30,000 - $50,000
(*) Photos and info courtsey of Profiles in History!
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