Aug 28, 2013

Richard Denning: The Hunk from the Black Lagoon

I stumbled across this photo on the internet -- a blond hunk in a leopard skin loincloth, carrying a phallic knife.  I thought I knew all of the Tarzans and Tarzan clones who swung from the trees during the 1930s and 1940s.  But it appears that the 28-year old Richard Denning was playing a Tarzan parody, Jackra the Magnificent, in Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942).  It was really an excuse to get current it-girl Dorothy Lamour into a leopard skin of her own.

According to the indispensable Brian's Drive-in Theater, the hunky actor took his shirt off several times during his long career, notably to fight with Buster Crabbe in Caged Fury  (1948) and a web-foot monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), #2 on my list of the Top Horror Movies of the 1950s.  He starred with the equally hunky Richard Carlson, and even got a few bulge shots.

I've only seen him in Black Lagoon, which has a strong gay subtext, in spite of the ubiquitous posters showing  swimsuit-clad girl being carried off by the monster. Ichythologists David (Richard Carlson) and Mark (Richard Denning), The Girl, Kay (Julie Adams), and some scientists head up the Amazon in search of a strange living fossil from the Devonian period.

While David and Mark alone together, The Girl goes off swimming by herself and encounters the Creature, who is so entranced by her beauty that it follows her.

It is captured but escapes and kills half of the crew, including Mark.  Then it captures the Girl.  David is overcome with grief, but rallies enough for a last-minute rescue and a heterosexist ending.

Richard Denning had 114 movie and tv appearances, including both actioners and comedies, from 1937 to 1980.  Boomers may recognize him as the governor of Hawaii on 71 episodes of Hawaii Five-0, or as the star of the radio series My Favorite Husband, with Lucille Ball.  No word on any gay connection in real life.