By John Skipper and Michael Swanger
Waterloo native Julie Adams can point to many unique and memorable acting moments in a career of more than 60 years of appearing in more than 50 films and hundreds of television episodes.
She was in the only episode of television’s “Perry Mason” in which the clever defense lawyer, played by Raymond Burr, ever lost a case.
She was the only woman on “The Rifleman” television program 50 years ago to fire the Winchester rifle of Lucas McCain, played by Chuck Connors in the show’s title role.
She appeared in the movie “Tickle Me” with Elvis Presley in which the script called for her to kiss Elvis … and she dutifully and willingly followed the script.
She co-starred with James Stewart in a short-lived evening television series and was a regular for several years on “Capitol,” a daytime soap opera.
But she may be best known to movie buffs for her role as Kay Lawrence in the 1954 science fiction thriller, “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Today, at age 88, she still enjoys going to film festivals, greeting fans and keeping up with what’s going on in the show business industry. She also has made the rounds promoting her autobiography, “The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon,” co-authored with her son, Mitchell Danton.
She is the first to admit that life has been good to Julie Adams, who was Betty Adams when she was born in Waterloo on Oct. 17, 1926. Though her childhood was somewhat shrouded in mystery.
“Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Mine began in Waterloo, Iowa, three years before the stock market crashed,” wrote Adams in “The Lucky Southern Star.” “My father Ralph did not accompany my mother Esther on this particular visit to her sister in Waterloo. He had stayed behind in Malvern, Arkansas. The purpose of my mother’s trip was to fudge my birth date forward a few weeks, and the reason she went to Waterloo to do it was to be far away from the alert counters among the Malvern matrons.”
In an interview with Iowa History Journal, Adams said that her mother was a seamstress who had a drinking problem and that they briefly lived in Waterloo.
“My mother was pregnant with me when she went to Waterloo. I was about three years old when I went to Arkansas where my father was a cotton buyer,” she said. “I think I remember coming back to Iowa to visit my aunt, but my father didn’t visit us in Iowa.”
Her family moved frequently when she was a child during the Great Depression, noting in her autobiography that her “mismatched parents deadened the pain of an unhappy marriage with alcohol.” She spent most of her formative years in Blytheville, Ark., and in adulthood has referred to herself as “a southern girl.”
Adams blossomed into a beautiful young woman. In high school, she got involved in school plays and developed a love of acting and dreamed of one day becoming a movie star.
At age 16, her mother went to live with her aunt in Waterloo. It was the last time that Adams lived with her mother as she moved to Arkansas to live with a relative.
In 1946, she entered the Miss Little Rock beauty pageant and won it. The contest was the forerunner to the Miss Arkansas and Miss America pageants. Adams didn’t advance any further than Miss Little Rock, but she gained enough confidence to go to Hollywood to follow her childhood dream.