In her life as an actor, Julie Adams has shared star billing with John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford, Charlton Heston and Elvis Presley. When it comes to television she has appeared on over one hundred different shows and is still working today.
Here is just a partial list of her work on TV. The actual number of shows that she has had significant roles on is mind-boggling. Lost, C.S.I. N.Y., Kolchak The Night Stalker, Andy Griffith, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., 77 Sunset Strip, Quincy, Beverly Hills 90210, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Sliders, Perry Mason, The Rifleman and Maverick.
Ms. Adams’ career in films and on television stretches back over 50 years and she is still in demand by directors to this day. Despite her stunningly impressive résumé and her additional accomplishments as an author, for many there is only one role for which she will be remembered:
Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Ms. Adams recently spoke with Scoop’s Mark Squirek about her memories of that classic film as well as other aspects of her long career and her new book, The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon (among other places, it is available on her site, along with movie posters and photographs from her long career, all of which she will be glad to sign upon request).
Julia Adams may have shared the screen with the King of Rock and Roll (Elvis Presley in Tickle Me, 1965) but the first thing everyone wants to know is what was it like working on The Creature from the Black Lagoon?
“At first it was just another job, but Jack Arnold was such a magnificent director and everyone in the ensemble cast members so good, that I thought that we might be making something extraordinary,” she said.
At the core of the film was a monster who would go on to be regarded in the same ranks as other classic Universal Monsters. Today The Creature is right up there with the Frankenstein monster, Dracula and Wolfman.
Ms. Adams understands why.
“Of course this happened. The design of the Creature and its realization on film was something to behold!” she said.
The film itself was made in 3-D but many in the audience only saw the feature in its flat, two dimensional format. As the legend of the film grew, so did the notoriety of the creative team who brought the story to life. It took a while for the popularity of The Creature to come to her attention.
“After filming The Creature from the Black Lagoon, I moved on with my life several times. But [the movie] kept cropping up again and again. It was a hit in the theaters, and then another generation of fans discovered it on television,” she said.
Still, it took time for the popularity of the film to really hit home.
“I think it has been during the last 10 years, when I started attending movie conventions and met so many folks who love the movie that I fully understood how popular Creature still is. As well as the enormity of the fan base,” she said. “If somebody had told me people would even still be talking about this movie 60 years later, I would have said, ‘Are you nuts?’ I am amazed that the film turned out to be a classic. I'm also very pleased that so many people have enjoyed the Creature for so many years.”
Starting Out: Rock, Jimmy, Andy & Elvis
Her first steps to becoming a Hollywood legend took place as she was growing up in Arkansas.
“I did a lot of plays at Little High School and Little Rock Junior College (which is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock),” she said.
Like many who start acting early, she knew there was only one place to move if she wanted a career. She was also aware that her natural, Southern accent may hinder her ability to get work.
“When I came to Los Angeles, I had a wonderful acting coach named Florence Enright, who trained a lot of the actors at MGM. She helped me lose my southern accent and really got me ready to act in movies,” she said.
Starting in 1949 Ms. Adams did several small films using her real name of Betty Adams. These westerns led to Universal Studios, the same studio that went on to make The Creature, signing her to a contract under the name Julia Adams. Committed to the profession, she hasn’t stopped acting since 1949.
“Every role I played helped me prepare for the next one. I considered every acting assignment to be an opportunity to keep honing my craft and grow as an actress,” she said.
That professional approach, coupled with natural talent and a strong work ethic led her to parts with some of the best in the business. Her early exposure to film in those low budget westerns paid off when, in 1952, she was cast with Robert Ryan and Rock Hudson in Horizon’s West. That same year she also appeared in another western, Bend in the River with Jimmy Stewart and once again, Rock Hudson.
She and Rock had such a strong chemistry that the studio put them together in a film that saw them share equal billing. The Lawless Breed (1953) was directed by Raoul Welsh, one of the greats of the genre. The film is notable for being one of the few times that Rock Hudson played a villain, the notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin.
“Rock Hudson and I were both two of the younger actors at Universal in the 1950s. I'll never forget what great friends we were. On The Lawless Breed, we played a young couple that were kind of on the run, and I think we had very nice chemistry together.”
Those years at Universal doing westerns were important to the longevity of her career. In addition to her appearances on the big screen she also appeared in many of the TV Westerns. Besides the shows mentioned at the start of this article she also had major roles on Bonanza, The Big Valley, Wrangler, The Virginian, Cheyenne and Zane Gray Theater, among others.
Her years on the range led to her receiving the Golden Boot Award for her work in film and television westerns in 1999. Ms. Adams received the award alongside Kirk Douglas and James Garner (that same year the organization also recognized DeForest Kelly in Memoriam). As an actor she is every inch the equal of those noted cowboys.
Westerns also afforded her another honor, her lifelong friendship with Jimmy Stewart.
“Of course Jimmy Stewart is one of my all-time favorite movie stars. I had the good fortune to work with him in Bend of the River in the 1950s and then again in the 1970s on The Jimmy Stewart Show. The show only lasted one season, but as I've often said, ‘My idea of heaven is going to work with Jimmy Stewart every day for six months.’”
When television started appearing in homes across America she had no problem pulling double duty in movies and the small screen. In the early days several series cast her in multiple roles in the series run.
Between 1963 and 1965 she appeared on Perry Mason four times. In fact she played the client on the only case that ever resulted in a loss for the esteemed attorney.
Her most famous TV appearance has to be on The Andy Griffith Show. To this day fans of Mayberry still warm to her portrayal of Mary Simpson and speak highly of the obvious spark between her and Andy.
As many shows as she has done, the episode still echoes for her as well.
“I greatly enjoyed the episode titled ‘The County Nurse’ on The Andy Griffith Show, Andy was a great actor and I still treasure my days in Mayberry working with him and the very funny Don Knotts,” she said.
During the 1960s, Ms. Adams was one of the few actors who could move easily between television and major films. In 1965 she co-starred with Elvis Presley in his rodeo musical, Tickle Me.
“I'm from the south and Elvis was a perfect southern gentleman. On Tickle Me, the film I co-starred in with him, he sent flowers to all of the actresses on the first day of production. That's the kind of guy he was, very cordial to the ladies,” she said.
Never Stopped Working
Over the last few decades she has never stopped working. As recently as 2011 Ms. Adams was heard in the feature film Carnage starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly.
While she still enjoys the occasional job, these days it is her family and her new book that occupy her time.
Meeting her fans face to face also has brought her some of the most touching and funny responses she could have imagined.
“The conventions are a lot of fun for me. It's nice to be around people who love the Golden Age of Hollywood as much as I do. It's been very rewarding that I've gotten such a great response to my new book, The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon. I've received mail from all over the world regarding the stories and photos in the book,” she said.
Naturally it is her work on Creature that attracts the most attention.
“Most of my favorite fan interactions are in regard to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. One of the best was meeting an eight-year-old girl, who was toting a stuffed Creature under her arm. Her parents told me that they had named the girl ‘Kay’ after my character in the film. The young lady had a stuffed Creature doll under her arm that had been in her crib and now she takes the cuddly little monster everywhere with her!” she said.
In addition to Andy Griffith, The Creature and her western work, another role fans love was her reoccurring role on Murder She Wrote. She said it usually comes up in the oddest of places. Thinking of a convention that she recently attended she tells a story about taking questions from the audience: “Another woman shouted, ‘Murder, She Wrote’ to me. At a horror convention of all places! So we sparked up a conversation about the show's setting, Cabot Cove, and the star of the series, Angela Lansbury. All this while the woman's son took in the other sights at the convention. The stories go on and on. Suffice it to say, you never know what delightful people you're going to meet out there at the shows!”
Family and Continuing to Work
As her work ethic and continued success prove, Ms. Adams has never let her feet leave the ground when it comes to what is really important in life.
“Family is a very important part of my life. I have two sons, Steven and Mitchell, and they have two kids each so I have four grandchildren, who are a constant source of pleasure,” she said.
Like their mother, her sons have also found success in the entertainment industry. Each one works non-stop behind the camera. Her son Mitchell also helps his mother manage her continuing career.
“Steve is a first assistant director in movies and television and Mitch is an award-winning film editor. Mitch also helped me write my book, so he travels to a lot of conventions with me and helps organize all of the reservations and so forth,” she said.
Few actors have ever put together such an exceptional career as Julie Adams. Since 1949 she has worked non-stop and is still in demand to this day. Beloved by fans and sought after by directors, her honesty comes through in every role she plays.
If you ever see one of her performances she is honestly gifted. She understands her craft, her art and her job. Other actors pay lip service to the idea that you always want to make the other person look good when you are on stage with them.
In the roles Julie Adams has played she lived that ideal. That’s why Jimmy Stewart, Rock Hudson, John Wayne and so many other legends wanted to work with her. She understands that when it comes to being a great actor, the story is bigger than any one part. As a result everyone who has ever stood next to her on a stage or screen looks better because she is there.
Another one of the secrets to her success is the grace, beauty and humility that she carries with her no matter where she goes.
“I consider myself a very fortunate woman to have had so many good times through the years and to this day,” said Julie Adams.