Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Creature No Longer Walks Among Us - Ben Chapman (1928 - 2008)

From: The-reelgillman.com

Ben Chapman passed away at 12:15 am Hawaii time on Thursday, February 21 at the VA hospital in Honolulu. His health began to deteriorate February 12 and he was admitted to the hospital on February 20. His life support was turned off Wednesday evening and his pacemaker was turned off shortly before he died. He died peacefully with his wife, Merrilee, and son, Ben Chapman III, by his side.

His body will be cremated and a memorial service will be held at St. Augustine By-The-Sea Church Waikiki in Honolulu. It will be held on Saturday, March 29 at 9:00 am. The scattering of the ashes willl follow off Waikiki Beach from Hawaiian outrigger canoes.

Anyone who wishes to send flowers or cards may send them to:

The Ben Chapman Family
300 Wainani Way, #1612
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815

You can find a more detailed obituary in the Honolulu Advertiser.

Fans are being encouraged to submit their thoughts and memories of Ben Chapman to kenroar@yahoo.com for a special memorial page on Ben's website.

I talked to Ben last May, when he was hospitalized for shortness of breath and dizziness. 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. I regret now that I didn't get to talk to him more, we had planned to conduct an interview, but we always seemed to have conficting schedules. I feel honored that I did get a chance to speak with him. 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.

All the monster fans the world over are going to miss you, Ben. You brought us a lot of joy by putting on that Creature suite.

5 comments:

  1. Given that I interviewed Ben for both Rue Morgue and Scarlet Street, if the mods allow it, I have posted an extended remembrance of Ben in my blog, available at this link: http://www.theglobalcollector.com/index.php/in-memory-of-original-creature-from-black-lagoon

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  2. Great article Mike! I share your feelings. Ben was indeed the real deal! I was truly touched by how genuine and down-to-earth Ben was. He was a joy to talk to. He truly loved and respected everyone. I feel honored that I got a chnce to converse with the man. I grew up loving "The Creature", and getting a chance to talk to the man who put on the costume ment a lot to me. I'm sure many people echo our thoughts about the great person Ben Chapman was.

    I wanted to say that my prayers go out to Ben's family in this time of loss. I hope that they know that there are many of us out there that share in their pain.

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  3. I want to Thank you All for the Awesome things you said about my DAD, Ben. He loved everyone and it showed...
    He was the Reel Gillman... Aloha - Grant Chapman

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  4. I was my honor Grant. Your dad was quite a man, and the fact that he honestly enjoyed people really showed.

    I want to personally express my sadness, that Ben has passed. I think that I speak for everyone here at Robo Japan, when I say that your dad ment a lot to all of us.

    My prayers go out to you and your entire family. I hope God can grant you all peace in this time of great loss.

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  5. Ben Chapman, a Honolulu resident best known for playing the title character in the 1954 horror film "Creature From the Black Lagoon," died yesterday at Tripler Medical Center. He was 79.

    Chapman was a retired real estate executive. But his role as the Gill Man — the quintessential 1950s monster in Universal Pictures' black-and-white film in 3-D — became his worldwide calling card and made him a darling on the collectibles and sci-fi circuit throughout the world. The gig brought him enduring pleasure, said his son, Ben Chapman III, of Honolulu.

    "His 'Creature' fans kept him going and he looked forward to trips to the Mainland. But over the past year, he was slowing down because of heart problems; he had breathing problems," his son said.

    "He had created a 'Creature' Web site (www.the-reelgillman.com) where his fans would reach him," said Chapman, who was among family members at his father's bedside when he died shortly after midnight yesterday.

    Chapman also appeared in "Wake of the Red Witch," a 1949 sea saga starring John Wayne and which also featured Duke Kahanamoku.

    "Creature" was released in 1954, when Chapman was a contract player at Universal. In a 1993 Advertiser interview he said: "I never knew, when I did the movie at age 25, that it would be such a monster film," — pun intended.

    A Tahiti native, Chapman got the Gill Man part because of his size, 6 feet 5. He wore a foam rubber suit that defined his character: part-amphibian, part-man.

    Ilene Wong, who, with Wayne Maeda, produces the summertime Hawai'i All-Collectors Show at Blaisdell Center, said Chapman took part in the show every year since 1999.

    "He was always very happy and so giving. People would ask him about the movie, or Hollywood, and he would always provide the answers, help out," Wong said. "Ben would bring his briefcase and inside he had his memorabilia —posters, 8-by-10 glossies — and a good pen for autographs. He was just wonderful. In fact, we expected him this year. I think we will make a shrine for him."

    As Chapman explained in a 1993 interview, there were actually two actors who played the Gill Man. He was the creature on land; Ricou Browning was the actor in water sequences.

    In publicity photos, Chapman was the one beneath the foam-rubber body suit and the large-lipped headpiece, posing with Julia Adams, the object of the Gill Man's affection in what he once likened to a beauty-and-the-beast tale: a soul with a ghastly exterior falling in love with the woman of his dreams.

    The Gill Man is shot and stabbed in the final moments and he sinks into the depths of the water, only to return in a pair of sequels — neither with Chapman — that never replicated the success of the original.

    The Gill Man's place in the Universal monster lineage was a priority for Chapman, since he was the longtime lone survivor in a parade of horror monster flicks that dated to the 1920s. He cited predecessors Lon Chaney Sr. in "Phantom of the Opera" and "Hunchback of Notre Dame" in the 1920s, Bela Lugosi in "Dracula" and Boris Karloff in "Frankenstein" in the 1930s, and Lon Chaney Jr. in "The Wolf Man" and "The Mummy" in the 1940s.

    Will Hoover, a friend and Advertiser reporter, said, "Ben — even at 79 — was nothing but an overgrown kid, always laughing, always joking, never serious. He was a shinning example of the adage 'You're only young once — but you can be immature forever.' "

    Island actor Branscombe Richmond, now based in Los Angeles, is a distant cousin of Chapman's. "I can reflect about so many memories about Ben," Richmond said. "Ben and my Dad, Leo C. Richmond, were among the first Polynesians to appear in films in the 1940s."

    Richmond added: "As a child, we were all in 'Mutiny on the Bounty' with Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Hugh Griffith. It took two years to make, and the movie filmed in Tahiti and in Hollywood, but everyone spent a good year in Tahiti and by the time the film was done, so many of the crew had Tahitian wives."

    Chapman was born Oct. 29, 1928, in Oakland, but was reared in Tahiti till age 12 or 13, then relocated to San Francisco.

    He was a Korean War veteran, earning both a Silver Star and Bronze Star. He also earned two Purple Hearts for battle injuries to his legs. Chapman's son said doctors wanted to amputate his legs. Instead, Chapman nursed himself back to health.

    Survivors also include his companion of 25 years, Merrilee Kazarian, who describes herself as "Mrs. Creature"; another son, Grant Chapman of Las Vegas; step-daughter Elyse Maree Raljevich of Coto De Gaza, Calif.; sister Moea (Harry) Baty of Los Angeles; and several nieces and nephews.

    Chapman's ashes will be scattered off Waikiki. Services are pending.

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