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!
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 Ramis’ CADDYSHACK (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
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.
You 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?
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?
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.