A CONTINUED LOOK AT THE ACTION BACK IN 1954
Here, in Part Two of our tribute to the Disney Divers, we’ll start off with a series of images that were taken by Peter Stackpole for the February 1954 issue of LIFE Magazine, but didn’t make it into publication in that issue. I’d like to thank Robert Earl Day and Larry Brooks for bringing these to my attention so I could share them with you. These images (and more) are now available online, in their unaltered state, at:
According to Disney Diver Bill Stropahl (featured on the cover) the LIFE photographers showed up when the crew was filming parts for the Undersea Burial scene. Presumably, all the diving shots featured here were taken at that time. But as Larry Brooks pointed out to me, the LIFE image site also includes what are obviously Behind The Scenes shots taken at some other time. So, what I’ll focus on are the underwater shots, and I might add the BTS shots to our page reserved for that. All in good time… J
What you’ll see here are the best of the B&W images, and those color shots from the LIFE files that I’ve been able to improve with my computer graphics programs.
Correction, March 02, 2011: Below is a photo I first described as “Director Richard Fleischer wearing one of the Crowntop Crew Diver rigs.” WRONG!!
Below is a picture of the same gentleman with his helmet off, so you can see what he looks like. According to Disney Diver Bill Stropahl, this fellow was a professional model who accompanied Peter Stackpole and the LIFE Magazine crew to the Bahamas for the photoshoot. It’s not Richard Fleischer; and in fact, it’s not even one of the Disney Divers! J
And here he is in the “Fleischer” pose, but from a slightly different angle.
Anyway, after that, here’s one of the man himself: a candid view of Leagues Director Richard Fleischer enjoying his lunch between dives. J
I really like how the next one turned out. The original is rather poor quality. With my graphics programs, I was able to improve it somewhat. The result is, IMOHO, a rather impressive shot of a “Baldy” Diver striding along the seabed.
Okay, while we’re doing B&W pics that are taller than they are wide, here’s one of Captain Nemo shouldering his underwater rifle. This is a perfect example of why I never bothered to put sights on any of my replica guns: there’s no way to align the sights while wearing a Leagues rig! J
Let’s try some improved color shots for a while. Here are two images I thought were pretty good: one of Captain Nemo, and another of a Crew Diver truckin’ along the bottom of the sea.
And here’s one of Captain Nemo and Professor Aronnax exploring “the mystic garden of the deep” as one of the film crew personnel stands by on a coral outcropping.
And here’s a look at three divers who (based on what looks like a rope trailing from the Avon “taxi” dinghy overhead, and the cloud of silt rising from the bottom) have possibly just arrived in the area.
Next is an improved color shot of Fred Zendar supervising divers during the filming of the Underwater Farming scene. Fred is easily distinguished by his yellow shirt, white shoes, and those gold Walter Kidde tanks on his back. They were originally made in large numbers for use as an air supply aboard amphibious vehicles during WWII; were available as surplus after the war; and became popular with SCUBA divers in the late 40’s and early 1950’s.
While we’re on the subject of SCUBA tanks used in the filming of Leagues, below is a fairly well-known picture of a Disney Diver hopping up off the bottom as Fred Zendar positions the hemp mat on the seabed. (The diver image was used as the model for the cover of a famous Dell comic book.)
As you can see, the bottom of the Diver’s dual tanks are concave, as opposed to conventional tanks which are convex. This distinguishing characteristic identifies the tanks worn by the Disney Divers as part of a consignment that Rene Bussoz (founder of the U. S. Divers Company) had made by the Pressed Steel Tank Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early 1950’s; and after that they were discontinued. Today, these tanks are exceedingly rare, and are identifiable by dated markings showing they were made by PST, for Rene, and sold at the Broxton Avenue shop in California: through which Disney purchased most of the SCUBA gear used in 20,000 Leagues.
Below is an old, rare, Rene tank from my collection. This is the type used by the Disney Leagues Divers and, as you can see, it has the Broxton Avenue label stamped into it.
Here’s a look at the reverse side of the tank, showing (1) the RENE stamp identifying it as produced by Rene Bussoz; and (2) the date of manufacture, 11-53 (by) PST (the Pressed Steel Tank company). It was painted yellow in subsequent years; but clearly, this tank is of the type and from the same batch as those Disney bought for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The 11-53 date indicates this tank could be one of those actually used in filming Leagues, but there’s no way to know for sure.
And here’s a look at the concave bottom of the tank. The idea was to make a tank that would stand upright, but Bussoz followed up with convex bottoms to dissuade divers from leaving them standing up unattended, so as to avoid liability if a tank fell over and broke the valve: a dangerous situation when dealing with compressed air.
Revisiting a previous topic: below is another look at the work boat Edvina, which was used to transport and position the full-scale prop used in the “rudder repair” scene.
As nearly as I can tell, the Edvina is a fairly common 40-foot salvage / cargo boat of the type designed by William H. Dunn of the Miller & Dunn Diving & Salvage Company back in 1917, and used in hardhat diving operations for many decades thereafter. Here’s a look at the blueprints for that type of vessel:
And here’s a last look at the Edvina: this time from astern. Apparently, the crane was repositioned amidships, possibly to accommodate the load imposed by the Disney prop. These boats were designed to do that.
Below are a few more enhanced versions of Peter Stackpole’s color photos taken during the making of Leagues. I believe this first one is Al Hansen descending from the “diver taxi” (an inflatable boat) into the filming area.
A color-enhanced view of a Nautilus Crew Diver getting ready for the Underwater Burial scene.
Here’s one more shot to which I was able to make improvements to the color and overall clarity.
And here’s a B&W shot I wanted to include, because earlier I was discussing the diver’s tanks. Most people associate Nemo with the “black scalloped” tanks, and the crew with unadorned “silver-colored” cylinders. Well, here’s a candid photo taken during the filming of the Underwater Burial Scene where you can see that two or three of the crewmen (with their backs to the camera) are wearing the black scalloped tanks, same as Nemo. Draw your own conclusions as to why this was. J
That’s it for now. I have many more improved pictures from the LIFE Magazine files; and also more pics and information from my own files, and from Bill Stropahl, that we’ll be posting here in the near future. Stand by! There’s more to come! J