(WHTM) — Over the weekend the news was announced that Ricou Browning, who portrayed the Creature of the Black Lagoon in three 1950s horror films, died on February 27 at the age of 93.
Every obituary I’ve seen about Mr. Browning leads with the fact that he played The Creature including, reluctantly, myself. But he did so much more. He was one of the pioneers of underwater cinematography, as well as a writer, producer, and director.
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Born in Florida in 1930, Ricou Browning got his start diving for and later producing local water shows. His swimming talent (and his ability to hold his breath underwater for up to four minutes) won him the role of The Creature for the underwater scenes in Creature of the Black Lagoon and its sequels Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us. (He was the only person to play “Gill Man”, as he was called, in all three movies. The movies had three different actors playing the Creature during the land scenes.)
Okay, that’s out of the way…
Browning also served as one of the stunt divers for the Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Then he met up with TV and movie producer Ivan Tors and went to work with him on the first TV series built around Scuba Diving, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges. Browning served as both Second Unit stunt double and as a director.
In 1963 he was the second unit director and co-writer of a movie about a boy who developed a friendship with a bottlenose dolphin. The film, Flipper, and its sequel, Flipper’s New Adventure, later became a TV series, for which he directed many episodes. He would ultimately become president of Tors’ Florida Studio.
Were it not for the Gill Man, what Browning probably be remembered for is the film he worked on in 1965-Thunderball, the fourth movie in the James Bond series. As second unit director, he was in charge of shooting the underwater scenes, including the climactic underwater battle, which had a lot to do with the film winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. (He also directed the underwater scenes for the “remake” of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again.)
In all, he worked on seventeen movies, and dozens of TV episodes. As for his perpetual tie to the Gill Man, he was philosophical about it, summing it up on one occasion like this:
“As far as I see it Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was just another movie and it was just another job. I’ve done many things since then that I am much more proud of. But I’ve gotten more reaction out of the Creature thing than anything else. Well, I guess that’s life!”
To view a documentary about filming the Creature, click here.