Producer William Alland was attending a dinner party during the filming of Citizen Kane (in which he played the reporter Thompson) in 1941 when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures in the Amazon river.
Alland wrote story notes entitled "The Sea Monster" ten years later. His inspiration was Beauty and the Beast. In December 1952, Maurice Zimm expanded this into a treatment, which Harry Essex and Arthur Ross rewrote as The Black Lagoon. Following the success of the 3-D film House of Wax in 1953, Jack Arnold was hired to direct the film in the same format.
The designer of the approved Gill-man was Disney animator Millicent Patrick, though her role was deliberately downplayed by makeup artist Bud Westmore, who for half a century would receive sole credit for the creature's conception.
Jack Kevan, who worked on The Wizard of Oz and made prosthetics for amputees during World War II, created the bodysuit, while Chris Mueller, Jr. sculpted the head.
Ben Chapman portrayed the Gill-man for the majority of the film shot at Universal City, California. 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 stayed in the backlot's lake, often requesting to be hosed down.
He also could not see very well while wearing the headpiece, which caused him to scrape Julie Adams' head against the wall when carrying her in the grotto scenes.
Ricou Browning played the Gill-Man in the underwater shots, which were filmed by the second unit in Wakulla Springs, Florida. Many of the on-top of the water scenes were filmed at Rice Creek near Palatka, Florida.
The film was novelized in 1954 by John Russell Fearn under the pseudonym of "Vargo Statten"; and then later, in 1977, in paperback under the pseudonym of "Carl Dreadstone", as part of a short-lived series of books based on the classic Universal horror films.
The book was introduced by Ramsey Campbell, but was written by Walter Harris. The novel offers a completely different Gill-man, who in this version of the story is gigantic, almost as big as the Rita herself, weighing in at 30 tons.
It is both coldblooded and warmblooded, is a hermaphrodite, and also possesses a long whip-like tail. The gigantic creature is dubbed "AA", for "Advanced Amphibian", by the expedition team members.
After slaying most of the team members, destroying a Sikorsky helicopter, and kidnapping Kay more than once, the creature is killed by the crew of a US Navy torpedo boat.
The novel also differs greatly with respect to the human characters. Only David Reed and Kay Lawrence remain the same. Mark Williams is a German named "Bruno Gebhardt", and dies not as a result from drowning but by the monster falling on him.
Lucas is named "Jose Goncalves Fonseca de Souza" and is a mostly sympathetic character until his suggestion of throwing the wounded and unconscious Reed to the monster makes an enraged Gebhardt/Williams throw him to the beast instead.
Dr. Thompson and Dr. Maia both die grisly deaths, whereas in the movie they survive; Maia is eaten by the monster, and Thompson is impaled on a long tree branch flung at him by the creature like a spear (in an apparent nod to a deleted scene from Revenge of the Creature wherein the Gill-man killed a guard in this fashion).
The Creature's extensive and persistent impact on media and popular culture began even before it was seen in theaters. To publicize the release of the film in 1954, Ben Chapman, in costume, introduced the Creature to the public on live television in The Colgate Comedy Hour with Abbott and Costello.
In the 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell come out of a theater showing Creature from the Black Lagoon. Monroe expresses some sympathy for the Creature, saying that it was not really bad and "just wanted to be loved".
Trinidadian calypso singer Lord Melody released a song called "Creature From The Black Lagoon" in 1957. In this song, he is compared to the creature by his son's friends, which his son protests. This song became one of his signature songs and also endured as a nickname for Melody for many years.
In an episode of the classic TV series The Munsters, the Munster family receives a visit from "Uncle Gilbert" who proudly refers to himself as the "Creature from the Black Lagoon".
Dave Edmunds, with his band Rockpile, also performed a song called "Creature from the Black Lagoon". Edmunds' song, included in his 1979 album Repeat When Necessary, was written by Rockpile's lead guitarist Billy Bremner.
A musical based on the film opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in late June 2009. Many films featuring monsters put a Gill-man likeness in the background as homage. More directly, the Gill-man appeared in the Robot Chicken episode "Shoe", voiced by Seth Green. He tells a man that he prefers the lagoon to be called the "African-American Lagoon".
The Gill-man also appears in "We Are a Humble Factory", now voiced by Breckin Meyer, where Count Chocula, FrankenBerry, and BooBerry are angrily mentioned by him, as well as Fruity Yummy Mummy and Fruit Brute.
The creature decides to make his own cereal called "Creature with the Black Macaroons" because macaroon sounds like lagoon; however, the cereal wasn't successful and when all the cereals were dumped into his lagoon, he says "I should've gone with legumes", as legume also sounds like lagoon.
Its likeness was also used for the film The Monster Squad. However, due to licensing issues with Universal, the creature is referred to as "Gill-Man". There is a very famous poster made in the early 1970s of the character, with him saying "Alright, who peed in the pool?"
The creature has a brief cameo emerging from Lake Springfield on The Simpsons. Creature from the Black Lagoon was made into a pinball game, designed by John Trudeau (aka "Dr. Flash") and released in 1992 by Midway under the Bally brand name. It has a retro 1950s drive-in theme.
Completing side missions causes the screen to display "Universal Presents... Creature from the Black Lagoon", and then requires the player to chase after the monster just like in the film. The game sold 7,841 units.
The Marvel Comics character Triton of the Inhumans is a green water breathing character resembling the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In the Stephen King novel It (novel), the shape-shifting Pennywise the Clown pursues and kills a victim whilst in the form of the Gill-Man.
The DC Comics character Aquaman donned a suit of armor resembling the creature in the 2005–2007 miniseries Justice.
In The Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a character in Halloween Town who is clearly meant to be a version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In one song, it ponders the contents of Jack's present: "Perhaps it's the head that I found in the lake".
When paleontologist Jenny Clack of the University of Cambridge discovered a fossil amphibian in what was once a fetid swamp, she named it Eucritta melanolimnetes, which is Greek for "the true creature from the black lagoon."
Abe Sapien of Hellboy fame was originally inspired by the film and its titular creature. The half-man half-fish character known as The Missing Link (often referred to as "Link") in the film Monsters vs. Aliens is an homage to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
In Hotel Transylvania, there are multiple Gill-men in the crowd scenes with other famous monsters. The Monster High character, Lagoona Blue, is the daughter of the Gill-man. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Go Fish" featured aquatic creatures very similar to the Gill-man.
Director William Winckler was inspired by the film when producing his 2005 black and white horror film Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove.
In the 90-minute retro monster movie, a biogenetically engineered half-man, half-fish creature battles Frankenstein's monster on a beach and beneath the waves, with underwater photography reminiscent of the underwater shots in Creature from the Black Lagoon.
A stuntman/diver wearing a full body latex rubber costume was used to portray the Blood Cove creature on camera, not unlike Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning in costume in Creature from the Black Lagoon.