Kool Kat of the Week: The Legendary Ricou Browning and the Man Beneath the Suit, a.k.a. “The Gill-Man” Dives into the History of the Black Lagoon and Terrifies Monster Kids of All Ages at Monsterama 2015

Posted on: Sep 29th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew9.2
Managing Editor  

Ricou Browning, “The Creature”/ “The Gill-Man” extraordinaire and legendary underwater stuntman, director, actor and screenwriter will be lurking amongst the monsters at the second annual Monsterama Convention, founded by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and ATLRetro contributing writer, Anthony Taylor! Monsterama creeps into town at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center this weekend, Oct. 2-4! Browning will be joined by a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with classic horror connoisseurs like independent filmmaker Larry Blamire (THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA); horror history aficionado and documentarian, Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures [July 2014; See ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Daniel here]; Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte [June 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Shane, here]; Victoria Price (daughter of the legendary Vincent Price); spooktacular actresses, Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES; SHIVERS) and Candy Clark (AMERICAN GRAFFITI; THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH); glamour ghoul Madeline Brumby [October 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Madeline, here] and so much more! So, haunt on down to Monsterama this weekend and prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulishly maniacal mayhem!

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Browning, the last of the original Universal Monsters is best known for his portrayal of “The Gill-Man” (underwater scenes) in Jack Arnold’s monster classics, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954); REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955); and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956). He began his cinematic career at Wakulla Springs performing in underwater sports newsreels (alligator wrestling and more!) with Grantland Rice Films, and even played a role in bringing to life, with his “hose breathing technique,” the famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids, whose shows he later produced. Browning’s cinematic career spans many decades and genres, including underwater sequence work for Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954); Terence Young’s THUNDERBALL (1965); Harold RamisCADDYSHACK (1980); and an episode of BOARDWALK EMPIRE (2010). He is also co-creator, with Jack Cowden, of the beloved ‘60s television series (and films) FLIPPER, and so much more! In 2006, Browning was awarded Film Florida’s first Florida Legends Award, followed by his induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2012 for his wide range of cinematic accomplishments.

ATLRetro caught up with Ricou Browning for a quick interview about the birth of and morphing into “The Gill-Man”; about his expansive experience in the land of film; and his take on special effects and monster kids of all ages! And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Browning, catch “The Creature” in action here!

ATLRetro: As the only actor to portray “The Creature” more than once, you will forever be known as “The Gill-Man” to monster kids worldwide. And of course, we at ATLRetro are “Creature” fanatics! Can you tell our readers a little about how Jack Arnold discovered you for the role of “The Gill-Man,” and what kept you swimming back for more?

Ricou Browning: I was attending Florida State University when I got a phone call from the general manager of the hotel at Wakulla Springs and a friend of mine, Newt Perry. He said that he had some people from California coming to the Springs to look at it as a location to make a movie. He asked me if I would pick them up at the airport and take them to the Springs and show them around since he would be out of town. I said sure. So I did. After they arrived at the Springs, they loved it: the beautiful river and the wildlife; the clear water of the spring. The cameramen Scotty

Ricou Browning and Ginger Stanley

Ricou Browning and Ginger Stanley

Welbourne asked me if I would swim in front of the camera so he could get some perspective of the size of a human being compared to the fish, the grass, the logs, etc. So I did. They enjoyed the Springs and they enjoyed the river. Afterwards I took them back to the airport and they left.

About a week later I got a call from Newt Perry again, and he said that they were trying to get a hold of me from California and that he gave them my phone number. That same day I got a call from Jack Arnold, who turned out to be the director of the film. He said, “We saw the photo footage that Scotty shot. We like the way you swim. How’d you like to play the part of an underwater monster?” I said, “sure, why not?” So I went to California and spent a number of weeks building the costume, and it turned out to be a bad one. So they remade the suit, and I came back to Florida and we started shooting the underwater sequences for the film.

Any special behind the scenes experiences you’ like to share with our readers?

One experience that I had is that while filming we shot in the wintertime and even though the water temperature was 71 degrees while the air temperature was around 49 degrees, we worked from a barge down in the middle of the spring and I was in and out of the water all day. After coming out of the water, they would take the head off my suit and my hands and my feet and I would be sitting there waiting to go over the next scene. I was shivering and the crew felt sorry for me. So every now and then somebody would come back to give me a little shot of brandy. After a few shots of brandy The Creature couldn’t swim very well, so they had stop that.

18s3mkqkk4g3mjpgYou got the joy of terrifying generations of unsuspecting audiences as a classic Universal monster, which of course spawned fan-driven conventions, such as Monsterama Con. What do you think it is that keeps generation after generation returning to classic monster movies? Tell us a little about your fans over the years.

I didn’t start getting requests for photographs until about 20 years after the film was made. I only had a few at that time, so I would mail them to the fans and then I’d get more requests. I gradually built up a large number of pictures and started attending shows signing autographs.

What do you think about the advent of computerized special effects and the more hands-off approach to filmmaking?

They talk about making a remake of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Whether they will or not, I don’t know. But I hope they make it very similar to the way we did it, with human beings and not just computer special effects, because they overdo that. I think if it were done sparingly, it would be okay.

When you were growing up, did you dream of working on films? Or did the chance just happen upon you? Can you tell our readers a little about your introduction to the industry?MPW-10605

The first time that I worked underwater on films, it was for Grantland Rice Sports Films. They did crazy things at the Wakulla Springs like underwater picnics, underwater prize fights, etc.  They made a bunch of different crazy things that were used as short subjects at the end of movies in a theater.

Who were your favorite monsters as a kid?

My favorite monster was “The WolfmanLon Chaney Junior.

You have proven over many decades to be a well-sought after jack of all trades (underwater cinematographer, stuntman, actor, producer, director, screenwriter, etc.), and you’re still at it! What project would you say is your favorite?

I think one of my favorite movies that I worked on was FLIPPER. Jack Cowden and I created the television show FLIPPER, on air for four years (’64-’67), and then we made the two features (1963; 1996).

We read that you and your team were chosen over Jacques Cousteau to provide your services for several James Bond films, including THUNDERBALL (1966). Did you enjoy working on the Bond films?

I really enjoyed working on the James Bond films, THUNDERBALL and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.

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Fire-Eating Mermaids, Cocktails and Guitars, Oh, My! Getting Revved & Ready for the Second Annual Rockabilly Luau

Posted on: Jul 30th, 2012 By:

Atlanta will say aloha to the Second Annual Rockabilly Luau this Sat. Aug. 4 from noon to 10 p.m. by the pool at the Holiday Inn Northlake, which has been undergoing renovations for a tiki cabana look. The first Rockabilly Luau last summer at Masquerade Music Park featured a great line-up of bands, burlesque and Polynesian performers and vendors. But after this long hot summer and before the Mayan calendar ends, this year’s event is themed The End of Summer, End of the World Luau! And ATLRetro is excited that cofounder Chris Mattox decided to relocate it to a more watery location, allowing us to pretend we have escaped to the paradise of the Hawaiian Islands and some added entertainment opportunities including aquatic dance by Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (also known as MeduSirena) from Fort Lauderdale, FL. Plus the incomparable Calu Cordeiro, mixologist for Mai Tai Tahitian Tuesdays at Dark Horse Tavern, will be supervising the cocktails – a must for any Retro-Polynesian-themed event. Again all proceeds go to two animal rescue charities, Friends to the Forlorn and Shelter Angels

True to its name, Rockabilly Luau combines two Retro styles – tiki and rockabilly, with a healthy dose of surf. Back again are ATLRetro favorites The Rebel Surfers from Nashville (12:30-1:30), Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho Devilles (4:15-5:15) and Daikaiju (1:45-2:45), who unfortunately got rained out last year. El Capitan & Thee Scallywags (5:30-6:30) also are on the bill, as well as a Polynesian Show (3-4 and 7:15-8:15), a tropical bathing suit fashion show by Waterbabies (6:45-7), Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (8:30-9), and culminating in a Volcano Sacrifice Burlesque Show starting at 9:15. Co-hosts are Marina and the Right Rev. Andy, DJ of Psychobilly Freakout on Garage 71, Atlanta’s top rockabilly music radio source and the main stage sponsor.

More features include a fire knife performance, a vintage car cruise-in, live tiki carving, real kalua pork and other Polynesian fare, hula hoop performances by Hoop Essence, Poi performances by Sinder and Incendia and tons of vendors located on Tiki Row (including ATLRetro! We’ll be bringing plenty of T-shirts featuring our exclusive logo by DerekArt, hair flower art, Hula girl tote bags and more Hawaiiana and Retro items).

Marina, the Fire-Eating Mermaid. Photo courtesy of Marina.

ATLRetro caught up with Marina, a self-described “zany Uncanny Exoticat-Aquaticat,” to find out a little more about what it’s like to be a mermaid, why she was drawn to recreating vintage aquatic dance for today’s audiences, her Retro dance influences ranging from Esther Williams to Bruce Lee, and what she has planned for the Rockabilly Luau.

ATLRetro: How did you become a mermaid?

Marina: Well, there was never a time I “became” a “mermaid,” to tell you the truth. I can say that I learned how to free dive at a very early age – 3 – in the West Indies and have always maintained a strong connection with aquatic movement art. That, together with training in Polynesian and Eastern dances, it was a natural fit. I was inspired by marine animal movement and performers and showpeople ranging from Esther Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ricou Browning, Annette Kellerman, Iris Chacón and even Freddie Mercury, with a touch of Bruce Lee. My goal is to not only to return aquatic performances to people’s consciousness, but to help educate and encourage the art form for future generations. Retro-tainment if you will.

What attracts you to mermaids and do you have a favorite mermaid of screen or fiction?

The mermaid [is a] combination of two enviornments – the aquatic & the terrestrial – [and] everyone sees it in a different and personal manner. I perform often without fins, and love it just as much. It pays homage to those first aquatic performers.

The “mermaid” is what most people connect with, and as seems to have become quite popular recently, it’s what most people expect. I make it a point, however, not to appear “realistic,” instead opting for the image of a woman in a “fishtail cocktail dress.” I feel it best addresses the genre I wish to represent.

Marina recreates the aquatic dance made famous by the incomparable Esther Williams. Photo courtesy of Marina.

As for my favorite “mermaid” in film, it has to be the great Esther Williams. If you are referring to the “tailed” variety, it’s got to be SHE CREATURE (2001 remake). She was dangerous, and that really was great – she should make you nervous! The original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is also a fave. Love him to chummy bits.No single time we Phentermine suffered any “fake drugs” or delay.

Can you give readers a quick taste of what you have planned for Rockabilly Luau?

As for what I’ve got planned, all I’ll say is that it will be a loving nod to the golden age of tourism entertainment – a bit of swimming, a bit of fire, a lot of humor. I sincerely hope everyone enjoys it. It is a terrific honor to be a part of such a terrific event and for such a noble cause.

Tickets for the Rockabilly Luau are $15 in advance (available here) and $20 at the gate.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 18: The Secret Behind the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Sex Appeal

Posted on: Jun 29th, 2012 By:

 

Millicent Patrick poses with the head she designed of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Photo credit: Universal Pictures, 1954.

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in 3D (1954); Dir: Jack Arnold; Starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning and Ricou Browning; Sat. June 30;  kids matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12); All proceeds of today’s shows benefit Atlanta’s oldest running independent cinema, the nonprofit Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

All the ladies know that the Creature from the Black Lagoon is the sexiest of the Universal monsters, but do you know why? We asked Professor Morte, the horror host with the most, and he didn’t hesitate to reveal the terrifying truth. His look was designed by a woman – Millicent Patrick.
        For years, make-up artist Bud Westmore hoarded the credit and downplayed Millicent’s role, which went uncredited. Sadly when Universal considered sending the attractive Patrick out on a CREATURE promo tour as “The Beauty Who Created the Beast”  in 1954, Westmore intervened and refused to hire her again, putting a stop to an effects career which also included the mutants in THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955), the masks in ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953), THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956) and the Xenomorph from IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953).
       That Millicent was not one to toot her own horn and led a private life did not help in getting the word out about her talented achievements in SFX make-up. What we do know is that she was a strikingly attractive woman and a Disney-employed animator, that she appeared in more than 20 movies and 12 TV series, and she was married and divorced twice to actor George Tobias. She was born Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi and may or may not have been an Italian baroness. The Screen Actors Guild has no date for her death and no address since the early 1980s.
Fun facts about The Gill-man suit:
It was made from airtight molded sponge rubber.
It cost $15,000.
The underwater suit was painted yellow to make it easier to see in dark water.
A rubber hose was used to feed air into the suit.
Editor’s note: There aren’t many articles about Millicent Patrick and her work on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Thanks to Horror Icon: Millicent Patrick by Mary Parker which appeared in the St. Louis Horror Movies Examiners for much of the material used in this piece. For more information, we’ve been told to dig up Filmfax, issue 100, or Famous Monsters of Filmland, #145.

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