Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Coming later this year is bidding on one of the more unusual objects d' art to land on the auction block of late -- this "life-sized" foam cast of the Gill Man from REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (Universal International 1955). Granted, the auctioneer is still in the process of verifying and vetting information, but for now, the hand-(re)painted lot is described (without knowledge of what exactly its purpose was) as a possible pre-production character prototype.

Since the foam figure was formed over an articulated mannequin, I thought it might have been fabricated for use during camera set ups without having the live actors suited up as the Gill Man for lighting, exposure, etc. But, after doing a little digging, I believe I may have the answer to the figure's actual purpose -- or at least one of its uses. But first, a little more of the background on the provenance of this intriguing piece.

The 72" x 27" x 8", 40 lb. figure is from the personal collection of Earl Jernigan, Jernigan is claimed to have been hired as a grip during the Florida shooting of REVENGE OF THE CREATURE. I do not find his name listed in the IMDB  cast and crew for the film or in the extensive credits listed in Tom Weaver's monumental The Creature Chronicles (McFarland 2014), but that doesn't exactly mean he didn't work on the film. With a crew that immense, there might me a number of individuals still unaccounted for and have yet to be acknowledged. The auction description goes on to state that Jernigan kept it after the film was completed. The now-deceased Jernigan (1998) lived in Florida and was known as a local filmmaker who owned a film processing lab by the name of "Jernigan's Motion Picture & Video Service". An online feature of The Gainesville Sun (see complete article below) elaborates by stating that Jernigan spent nearly half a century filming local events and historical sites. He was a prop man and assistant set director (which might explain him having the Creature figure) on the movie FOLLOW THAT DREAM, a 1961 film starring Elvis Presley. The tale is told of Jernigan taking his young nephew to the set to meet Elvis. The 10-year old later became famous as a musician in his own right -- his name is Tom Petty!

Now we come to the point where the rubber flippers meet the road. On page 204 of Weaver's aforementioned The Creature Chronicles, are two photos of publicity events for the movie ... using the very likeness of the figure up for auction! Whether it is the same figure or if multiple figures were cast for use around the country, it is quite clear to me that the "prototype" is indeed, a publicity prop (or at least was used as one after its original, yet unknown purpose)!

To add veracity to this assertion, I located in the Monsterology archives here at the Mysterious Mansion a page from the April 18, 1955 issue of FILM BULLETIN, entitled, "What the Showmen Are Doing: Merchandising & Exploitation Department." Pictured are two of the same shots that are in Weaver's book, one of them of the Gill Man foam figure as he appeared in the Detroit area (hence the "mostly black crowd" comment noted on Weaver's caption).

In conclusion, until another, more convincing theory is proposed, I maintain that the figure shown here for auction was used as a publicity prop.

From The Gainesville Sun (2004):

by Diane Chun
What E.H. Bone did chronicling Gainesville people and life in still photography, filmmaker Earl Jernigan did with motion pictures.

Starting in 1938 and continuing for 49 years, Jernigan shot film of local events - Gator football games, Homecoming parades, three-alarm fires and much more - for movie-house newsreels that were shown at the old Florida Theater.

When Jacksonville television stations began reporting on Gainesville events, they got their footage from Earl Jernigan.

The owner of Jernigan's Motion Picture & Video Service ran the underwater camera for three seasons of television's "Sea Hunt," filmed at Silver Springs in the late 1950s. In 1961, Jernigan was on the set as prop man and assistant set director when Elvis Presley's movie "Follow That Dream" was filmed in Inglis, Yankeetown and Ocala.

Jernigan's last project before his death in 1998 was "The Gainesville Movie Album," a series of videos spanning more than 60 years of local history. The videos, available through the Alachua County regional library, offer a glimpse into our not-too-distant past.

BONUS: REVENGE OF THE CREATURE was released in the US on March 25 1955. Below is a pre-release review from the March 15, 1955 issue of MOTION PICTURE DAILY, along with a full-page ad from the same magazine on April 8.

[NOTE: Excerpts from other sources besides the author are intended to lend a historical and educational perspective to this blog post.]


Doug in Karloffornia said...

Great investigative work on the Creature figure for auction!

The Gill-Man said...

Well done sluething! Oh, to own such a cool piece of film history


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...