Atomic monsters and flying saucers had dominated the horror and sci\fi genre during the late 1940’s and early 50’s when Universal decided to get back to the basics with an old fashion creature feature. It was producer William Alland that came up with the new Universal monster. Alland found the inspiration from a conversation he had at a dinner party while filming Citizen Kane in which he played the reporter Thompson in 1941. Cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told Alland about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures that lived in the Amazon River. Alland wrote a treatment entitled "The Sea Monster" in 1951 and in December 1952, Maurice Zimm expanded the treatment. Harry Essex and Arthur Ross wrote a screenplay on the treatments introducing a new monster to the Universal gallery. The result was The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
After his success with the 3-D film House of Wax (1953), Jack Arnold was hired to direct this film in the same format. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was filmed in 3-D and originally projected by the polarized light method. The audience wore viewers with gray polarizing filters. But the 3-D movie fad was fading fast in 1954 and many audiences actually saw the film in 2-D.
The film starred Richard Carlson, known for appearing in a number of science fiction and horror B films of the 1950s; Julia Adams known for her roles in several westerns. Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno and Whit Bissell also starred in the film.
Ben Chapman portrayed the Gill-man on land for the majority of the film which was shot at Universal City. The costume made it impossible for Chapman to sit for the 14 hours of each day that he wore it, and it overheated easily, so he spent most of his time in the back lot’s lake and was often hosed down to keep cool. He was not able to see clearly out of the creatures mask and as a result he bumped Julie Adams' head against the wall of a cave knocking her unconscious.
Ricou Browning played the Gill-Man for the underwater shots, which were filmed by the second unit in Wakulla Springs, Florida. The director reasoned that air would have to travel through the monster's gills and not reveal air bubbles from his mouth or nose. Browning was required to hold his breath for up to 4 minutes at a time for his scenes.
The Creature's costume was inspired by a seventeenth-century woodcuts of two creatures called the Sea Monk and the Sea Bishop. Disney animator Millicent Patrick was the actual designer for the Gill-man. The physical appearance was reportedly modeled after an appearance of the Oscar figurine by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
But Patrick’s contribution was deliberately downplayed by Bud Westmore, who was the head of Universal's makeup department at the time and he would take the credit for the Gill-man’s design. Jack Kevan, who worked on The Wizard of Oz (1939) and made prosthetics for amputees during World War II, created the bodysuit, while Chris Mueller, Jr. sculpted the head.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) premiered in Detroit on February 12 and was then released on a regional basis, opening on various dates. The film is now considered a classic and inspired two sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955), which was also released in 3-D and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), filmed in 2-D.