RICOU BROWNING

The Stunt Diver from the Black Lagoon

"RICOU BROWNING is widely recognized for his underwater work as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  What's not as well known is he is also one of the Disney Stunt Divers who portrayed Captain Nemo's Crew in the underwater scenes for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  And that's only part of this man's amazing life story.  We here at Vulcania Submarine are honored to have Mr. Browning's support in producing this page saluting him as one of the original Disney Divers, and documenting his numerous accomplishments in motion pictures and television for the enjoyment of Leaguers, Divers, and Sci Fi fans everywhere.  Thank you, Ricou.  In a World where the term 'living legend' has become a shopworn cliché; you are the real thing.  Happy to have you aboard, Sir."

Pat Regan, Vulcania Submarine, Hawaii

 

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American Cinematographer Ricou Browning.

 

Born November 23, 1930 in Fort Pierce, Florida; RICOU BROWNING is an accomplished motion picture and television Producer, Director, Actor, Screenwriter, Underwater Cinematographer, and Stuntman.  His career began when, as a teen, he became a springboard diver in Jensen Beach water shows.  By his early 20's he was producing aquatic shows at the famous Weekiwachee Springs and Rainbow Springs, among others. 

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One of the World-famous Weekiwachee mermaids.

 

~CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON~

In 1953, Ricou was chosen to be the stunt diver portraying the monster in the underwater scenes for Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).  He went on to reprise the role in both sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). 

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Production photo of Ricou as the Creature, 1953.

 

FROM WIKIPEDIA: "Creature from the Black Lagoon is a 1954 American black and white 3D monster horror film from Universal International, Produced by William Alland, Directed by Jack Arnold, that stars Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, and Whit Bissel.  The Creature was played by Ben Chapman on land and by Ricou Browning underwater.  The film premiered in Detroit on February 12, and was released on a regional basis, opening on various dates."

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Movie poster for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, 1954.

 

The approved design for the Creature was conceived by former Disney illustrator Millicent Patrick; though for many years Bud Westmore was given sole credit.

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Millicent Patrick putting finishing touches on the Creature mask, 1953.

 

The Creaturesuit had to be visually convincing and fully submersible; it was made from airtight foam rubber, molded to fit plaster facsimiles cast from the actor himself.  Here, Ricou discusses that process with makeup artist Bud Westmore.  (The white bust is of Ricou.)

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Ricou Browning and Bud Westmore, 1953.

 

Ultimately, the suit cost approximately $15,000.00 to produce.  Here, Director Jack Arnold observes as Ricou becomes the Creature with the aid of (uncredited) makeup artists Jack Kevan and Bud Westmore.

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Jack Arnold, Ricou Browning, Jack Kevan, and Bud Westmore

 

But let me put this into context for you:  UC San Diego physicist Hugh Bradner didn't even document the wetsuit concept until 1952 and it was only shortly afterwards that Willard Bascom (Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla) suggested he use closed cell neoprene rubber.  Only a few months after Jack O'Neill started making the first neoprene wetsuits in his California garage, the Moviemakers from the Black Lagoon came up with something a quantum leap ahead: THE CREATURESUIT.

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There was no room in the suit for any type of breathing apparatus.  Browning received compressed air from an umbilical between takes; but when the cameras were rolling he was holding his breath the entire time until the Director signaled "Cut!" and the safety divers could get to him.

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Onscreen, Ricou performs some pretty impressive freedives; like this scene where he drags Richard Denning's stunt double into the depths.  I'd always wondered how he compensated for the buoyancy of the rubber suit; and if he wore swimmer's goggles inside the headpiece.  Ricou explains:

"I had weights; chest plate of lead; lead around my ankles; lead-like thigh pads.  I did not wear any goggles because when they filled with water I had no way to get rid of it.  Vision was the hardest thing for me; blurred vision. The suit was like swimming in a wet suit."

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Here's a BTS look at Ricou in Wakulla Springs with the CFTBL film crew.  "Look Ma!  No Aqualung!"  J

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The Creature mirrors Kay from below.  Model Ginger Stanley performed the aquatic stunt work for actress Julia Adams.  

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Divers have also wondered why we see Ricou making significant changes in depth, but never does the Creature do a Valsalva technique to clear his ears.  Ricou explains:  "I have never had a problem clearing my ears.  I moved my jaws, or pushed on the suit."

 

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Ricou Browning in REVENGE OF THE CREATURE

 

Here's a whimsical photo of Ricou and Safety Diver Patsy Boyette; clowning around for the camera behind the scenes.  J  Vintage SCUBA enthusiasts will note Jack Arnold's first 72 cubic foot AQUA LUNG INC. "winebottle" tanks, soft harness, and Rene Bussoz' U. S. DIVERS Aqualung DA regulator.  (This is extremely rare early SCUBA gear.)

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Here's another great "portrait" view of Ricou Browning underwater as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The detail and workmanship  that went into handcrafting the Creaturesuit is nothing less than amazing; thus, a big part of its visual appeal and continuing popularity with fans of all ages Worldwide.

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Ricou provides the underwater action as the Creature is shot with a pneumatic spear gun and slams into the bottom during his escape.  If you think this was easy, you're not a diver.  J

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Here's one of the more iconic images of Ricou Browning as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, reproduced countless times in movie posters, lobby cards, and related artwork over the past 63 years.  When something remains popular in the public consciousness that long, you know it's a work of genius.

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Ricou dived again in REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956).  He is the only actor to appear in all three movies, and today remains the sole-surviving original UNIVERSAL STUDIOS MONSTER.

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An action scene from REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, 1955.

 

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Onscreen, the Creature meets his fate when (his gills surgically removed to save his life after being horribly burned by fire) he escapes and returns to the sea; only to drown in what has now become a hostile environment.

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Ricou Browning in THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US.

 

 

~20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA~

In the latter months of 1953, Ricou Browning was one of a select group of SCUBA-qualified stuntmen chosen by Divemaster Fred Zendar to operate Disney's experimental diving apparatus in filming the underwater scenes for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

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The Underwater Burial Ceremony sequence was one of the first Director Richard Fleischer filmed upon arrival in the Bahamas and Ricou was one of the eleven Stunt Divers who made it possible.  All the helmets were handmade, are slightly dissimilar, and after many years of study I'm sometimes able to determine who is in which suit based on those unique characteristics. There was one Nemo, seven Crowntops, and three Baldies onscreen at the same time.  That's Dave Rochlen as Captain Nemo; Ricou is in the Baldy helmet alongside the bubble trail, approximately center in this photograph. 

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Photo by Peter Stackpole for LIFE Magazine; published February 22, 1954.

 

Here we see Ricou suited-up in the #9 outfitting station aboard the converted Navy LCT that served as the primary dive vessel during Operation Undersea: the filming of underwater scenes for 20,000 Leagues in the Bahamas, January through February 1954.  Browning is wearing the standard Crew Diver apparatus.  His "Baldy" helmet rests at his feet; laying on its side to avoid damaging the airtight mating surfaces of the helmet's standard "interrupted-thread" locking collar.

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Another camera angle on that same day, Ricou Browning and Len Mott.

 

 

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Ricou Browning aboard the Disney Dive Vessel.  Leonard Mott in the foreground.

 

Here's a great pic of Ricou diving the Baldy rig for the cameras.  This image was later reproduced for use in lobby cards and movie posters in countries around the World.

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Lyford Cay, the Bahamas, January 1954.

 

And here's one of the better color slides taken during Operation Undersea.  Suited up and waiting to dive, Ricou peruses some literature to pass the time.

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Ricou Browning in the "Baldy" rig; the Bahamas, February 1954.

 

I'll close this section of Ricou's page with a fun photo I made in the shop today.  Enjoy!  J

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Jake D. Mannequin in costume as the Crew Diver from the Black Lagoon.

 

NEW!  I received this in the mail today; a latex Creature headpiece that was pulled directly from the mold made by Chris Meuller for the first movie.  Where the commercial mask (above) is nice; this is the real thing, as seen on screen.  Now all I have to do is paint it!  J

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~CAREER~

Ivan Tors was a Hungarian-born playwright who produced TV programs in the 1950's and 60's including Daktari, Gentle Ben, Men Into Space, Ripcord, Man and the Challenge, Science Fiction Theater, and more.  Ricou went to work for Tors and rose to become President of his Florida-based operations.

 

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Ivan Tors, circa 1960.

 

           

Among those programs Ricou Browning is credited with is Sea Hunt: the immensely popular TV series about frogman Mike Nelson and his underwater adventures; starring Lloyd Bridges.  The show ran four seasons from 1958 through 1961 and helped popularize the growing sport of SCUBA diving for a generation of Baby Boomers like myself. 

 

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In 1960, Browning followed up with a second underwater TV series based on the adventures of two California SCUBA divers and entitled The Aquanauts; which starred Jeremy Slate, Keith Larsen, and Ron Ely.

 

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From 1964 to 1967, Browning gave us the popular series Flipper; based on his own original story idea about the adventures of a family in Florida and their pet bottlenose dolphin.  Flipper also made it to the silver screen as a full-length feature film.

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Ricou working with a dolphin while filming FLIPPER.

 

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Ricou with seal at Seaquarium.

 

In 1966, Ricou Browning was chosen to direct the underwater scenes for Thunderball. The movie won an Academy Award for what viewers came to recognize as some of the most complex and amazing underwater action sequences ever filmed for a motion picture.  As a teenager, I was a big fan and had the movie soundtrack on a 33 rpm disk which I played endlessly while working on paintings of scenes from James Bond flicks; one of which netted me the Blue Ribbon in a regional High School art competition.  

 

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In the image below we see some of the complex choreography that went into filming the underwater battle scenes for Thunderball.  That's a LOT of stunt divers to have working before the cameras all at the same time; perhaps the most ever documented on film.

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In Thunderball, arch SPECTRE villain Emilio Largo leads his criminal crew on a clandestine mission using a bevy of submersible vehicles unlike anything seen before or since.

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And in 1980, Ricou directed the underwater scenes for Caddyshack.  Remember that hilarious swimming pool scene?  Yep.  Ricou Browning was the man behind the cameras.  J

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It would exceed my abilities in this humble honorarium to list all of Mr. Browning's many achievements.  But I hope it will summarize his career by saying that, in 2006, he was awarded Film Florida's first Florida Legends Award; and he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2012.   Recognition hard-earned and well-deserved.

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Today, Ricou Browning is still going strong in his native Florida where he maintains contact with fans who love and remember him as the original Creature from the Black Lagoon.  We here at Vulcania Submarine are honored by this opportunity to present the highlights of his unparalleled career, and wish him continued success in the future.  Thank you for all you've given us, Ricou.  You're one of a kind. 

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I will close my portion of this page by including this awesome painting from Mr. Browning's personal collection; courtesy of The Creature himself. 

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Image © Ricou Browning, 2017, "All Rights Reserved."

 

Below, we have tried our best to document Ricou's amazing success in the TV and motion picture industries for the enlightenment and enjoyment of his fans the World over.  "ROLL CREDITS!"  J

 

~RICOU BROWNING~

 

Films: 1st Unit

              Created FLIPPER: received two PATSY Awards

              Created and Directed SALTY,  a full-length feature and television series.

              Directed MR. NO LEGS for Cinema Artists Production

              Co-Produced and Co-Directed ISLAND OF THE LOST, a full-length feature film.

 

TV:     1st Unit

              Associate Producer:

                                           THE WILDS OF 10,000 ISLANDS

              Director & Associate Producer:

                                           34 episodes FLIPPER

                                           10 episodes PRIMUS

              Director:                12 episodes GENTLE BEN

                                           3 episodes SALTY

                                           6 episodes JAMBO

              Director Underwater Sequences:

                                           NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

 

FILMS: 2nd Unit Director

                 

                                           NOBODY'S PERFECKT

                                           POLICE ACADEMY 5

                                           RAISE THE TITANIC!

                                           LUCKY LADY

                                           JOE PANTHER

                                           CADDIE SHACK

                                           SAMRAAT

                                    

                                          

FILMS:          2nd Unit (cont)

                                           THUNDERBALL - which involved some of the most daring

                                 underwater work ever filmed.  Browning's unusual abilities in

                                 directing the underwater segments helped win for THUNDERBALL the

                                 Academy Award for Special Visual Effects.

                                           HOT STUFF

                                           HAREM

                                           LADY IN CEMENT

                                           AROUND THE WORLD UNDER THE SEA

                                           FLIPPER

                                           FLIPPER'S NEW ADVENTURE

                                           NAMU, THE KILLER WHALE

                                           HELLO DOWN THERE

                                           THE DARING GAME

 

TV:     2nd Unit DIRECTOR

             

                                           60 episodes SEA HUNT

                                           30 episodes AQUANAUTS (MALIBU RUN)

                                           1 episode LOCK UP

                                           10 episodes PRIMUS

                                           120 episodes FLIPPER

                                           10 episodes SALTY

                                           1 episode WILDS OF 10,000 ISLANDS

                                          

                                           Pilot Film:  DANNY AND THE MERMAID

                                           Pilot Film:  SPANNER'S KEY

 

SPECIALS:  DIRECTOR

             

                       MAN AGAINST THE SEA - a Lloyd Bridges underwater

                       special filmed in the Bahamas

 

TECHNICAL ADVISOR:    Mike Nichol's DAY OF THE DOLPHIN

 

COMMERCIALS:   

              Director:                OSCAR MEYER

                                           HARVEY'S BRISTOL DRY

                                           UNITED WAY

                                           FILMHOUSE MUNCHEN -  Fa Cosmetics dolphin commercial

 

DOCUMENTARIES:                                               INDUSTRIAL FILMS:

              GOOD YEAR                                                             WOMAN'S DAY MAGAZINE

              RETURN TO THE WEST                                            SHIP 'N SHORE

              GOOD OLD DAYS (TRAVEL LOG)

              SKIWAYS TO SAFETY

 

 

 

WRITER:

                                           Original FLIPPER story - MGM

                                           39 FLIPPER TV episodes

                                           SALTY - Theatrical film and MOW

                                           6 SALTY TV episodes - 20th Century Fox

                                           ISLAND CLAWS - Indep. release shown on CBS - MOW

 

STUNTMAN:                   CLAY PIDGEON

                                           THE HURRICANE

                                           THUNDERBALL

                                           ISLAND OF THE LOST

                                           LADY IN CEMENT

                                           AROUND THE WORLD UNDER THE SEA

                                           FLIPPER

                                           FLIPPER'S NEW ADVENTURE

                                           THE DARING GAME

                                           HELLO DOWN THERE

                                           BLACK SUNDAY

                                           REVENGE OF THE CREATURE

                                           GIRL IN THE RED BIKINI

                                           BIONIC WOMAN (TV)

                                           6  MILLION DOLLAR MAN (TV)

                                           CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

                                           THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US

                                           SEA HUNT

                                           20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA

                                           CROSS WINDS

                                           SEPTEMBER STORM

                                           JUPITER'S DARLING

                                           BIRDS DO IT

                                           DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP

                                           GRANTLIN RICE SPORTS FILMS

                                           LOCK UP (TV)

                                           ARLENE FRANCIS SHOW  (TV)

 

STUNT

COORDINATOR:

                                           HEAVENLY KID

                                                                                     

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Ricou Browning shark-wrangling a 14-foot Tiger during the filming of THUNDERBALL, 1966.

 

 

Disney Images © Copyright 1954,  Disney, "All Rights Reserved."

Browning Family Images © Copyright 2017, Browning, "All Rights Reserved."

Web page, et al, © Copyright 2017, Pat Regan, "All Rights Reserved."

No part of this Website or Page may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the Webmaster.

 

 

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