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Ben Chapman: Monster


Actors are notoriously sensitive about their professional reputations. They want to be remembered not only for their triumphs, but also as masters of versatile roles. Fine actors sometimes turn down lucrative parts for fear they'll be type-cast as mobsters or comic sidekicks or beautiful femme fatales.

Marilyn Monroe hated, to the point of depression, being America's sex symbol. Dennis Weaver quit television's most popular series, fearing he would forever be Chester, the crippled deputy sheriff with a dimwitted twangy accent. George Reeves loathed it when people would point and shout, Hey, Superman! to the man who played the world's most famous superhero. "Here I am, wasting my life," he told a friend.

Which brings us to Ben Chapman, who did not seem to mind being type-cast.

Few people remember him as a heroic U.S. Marine – winner of a Bronze Star and two Purple Heart medals in the Korean War – or as a bit actor in B-movies like Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki.

But Ben Chapman, who died a month or so ago, will forever be associated with his role as Gill-Man, the creature in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. When he'd go to Creature conventions – and there were some – he'd pose for pictures with the fellow who played the creature underwater, and recall that on land, the fake scales and helmetlike fish head got so hot during shooting that a crew member had to constantly hose him down.

At least Marilyn Monroe died a sex symbol. George Reeves as the Man of Steel. For all time, Ben Chapman was, quite literally, a monster.

Still, the headline over his obituary in the Chicago Tribune said of Chapman: "Cult classic gave him immortality. Immortality as a half-man, half-fish."