Julie Adams obituary
Julie Adams, who has died aged 92, starred opposite some of the screen’s most handsome actors, including Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Glenn Ford and Elvis Presley. Yet her enduring fame rests on the role of the inamorata of the title character of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
The prehistoric amphibious creature, dubbed the Gill Man, with webbed hands, fish head and a scaly skin, first sees Adams, then billed as Julia, while she is swimming under water. The monster stalks and abducts her, taking her to his lair.
As Kay Lawrence, the only woman in a group of geologists in the Amazon, Adams convincingly conveys her terror of the creature. The trailer for Jack Arnold’s classic horror movie, which was first shown in 3D, describes Adams’s “beauty [as] a lure even to the man-beast from the dawn of time”.
Adams worked for Universal Pictures throughout the 1950s, mostly playing steadfast women, though generally seen only in terms of her relationships with men. Among her best films were distinguished westerns by masters of the genre – Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh and Budd Boetticher.
In Mann’s superb Bend of the River (1952), Adams is a seductive settler falling in love with the wagon train guide (an embittered James Stewart). For Walsh’s The Lawless Breed (1953), she is a former saloon gal who finds redemption in her marriage to an ex-con (Hudson, a fellow Universal contractee). When soldier Ford is branded a coward in Boetticher’s The Man from the Alamo (1953), Adams is one of the few people who believes in him.
Born Betty May Adams in Waterloo, Iowa, she was the daughter of Esther (nee Beckett) and Ralph Adams, a travelling cotton buyer. Her family moved a great deal; the longest she lived in one place was eight years in Blytheville, Arkansas. After winning a beauty contest there, Adams left home, where her heavy drinking father was becoming abusive, to stay with an aunt in California.
There, she decided to pursue an acting career. It was not long before she was appearing in half-a-dozen shoestring westerns for Lippert Pictures. In 1951, she gained a Universal contract and a change of name, to Julia, and lost her southern accent. At the same time, the studio had her legs insured for $125,000, with the intention of exposing them as much as possible.
Her first leads for the studio were in Bright Victory, as a rich girl trying to adjust to her fiance (Arthur Kennedy) returning blinded from the war; and in a double role of a daughter and her silent movie star mother in the whodunnit Hollywood Story (both 1951). In The Mississippi Gambler (1953), she loses out to Piper Laurie in wooing Tyrone Power.
She more than ably fulfilled her decorative function in a string of solid dramas including Horizons West (1952) and One Desire (1955), both opposite Hudson, and Six Bridges to Cross with Curtis in 1955, where she was first billed as Julie.
Although Adams was much in demand in feature films, she lacked the je ne sais quoi that makes a great film star. In fact, it was her male co-stars who were the box-office attractions. So when her Universal contract was up in 1957, she was able to transition into a rewarding television career lasting over five decades.
One noteworthy appearance in television history was as the only client of the defence lawyer Perry Mason ever to be convicted in the 60s series. More recently, Adams had a role in Murder, She Wrote, as an estate agent, Eve Simpson, and sometime-helper of amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury (1987-93).
Among the roles in the few feature films she made following the end of her Universal contract was the “older” woman who makes a play for rodeo star Presley in Tickle Me (1965), and she was effective as cop John Wayne’s ex-wife in McQ (1974).
Her autobiography, The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon, which she co-wrote with her son Mitchell, was published in 2011.
Adams was first briefly married to the screenwriter Leonard Stern. They divorced in 1953, and in 1955 she married the director and actor Ray Danton, with whom she appeared in The Looters (1955) and Tarawa Beachhead (1958). He died in 1992.
She is survived by their two sons, Steven and Mitchell.
• Julie (Julia, Betty May) Adams, actor, born 17 October 1926; died 3 February 2019