Tag Archives: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Vale, Ricou Browning, Daddy Frogman

One of Florida’s greats, and the last of the classic 1950s Universal horror film actors, Ricou Browning, has passed this last week, aged 93, at his home in Southwest Ranches, Florida.

Raised on Jensen Beach as a member of a family of fishermen, Ricou could swim before he could walk, or at least that’s what has always been said. In his teens, he worked in the underwater shows at Wakulla Springs, then, after a stint in the Air Force, went to FSU and was a standout on the swim team.

In 1953, after returning to his old job at Wakulla Springs, he did some test dives for Universal, and the rest was history.

As noted by the Marin County News in 2012:

There was a deep cave at Wakulla, where Ricou took them and with a movie camera which had been brought along, they filmed Browning swimming in the spring waters. A few weeks later Ricou was contacted by Arnold, who had been greatly impressed by the youth’s swimming style and offered him a sizable sum of money to play the role of the “gill-man” in Universal-International’s movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Young 23-year-old Ricou replied, “Fine. Let’s have at it.”

Ricou went to California where a special $18,000 outfit was constructed; the “creature” would have gills and a fish-like face. Browning would do all the underwater scenes for the movie, many times holding his breath up to four minutes at a time, not releasing any air bubbles from his mouth or nose! The underwater action was filmed at Wakulla Springs while some of the “above water” segments were done at Rice Creek near Palatka in Florida.

Another heavier gill-man costume was made for all the scenes filmed out of the water and were shot in California. Ben Chapman, a cousin of actor Jon Hall, played the role for these scenes. Other actors included Julie Adams, Richard Denning, and Richard Carlson and the filming was completed in late 1953.

Ricou Browning finishes getting into costume as the Gill-man in “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (with a little help). Filming of underwater scenes took place in Wakulla Springs, Florida, ca. 1953. General Photographic Collection, 1845-2016. State Archives of Florida, Collection M82-5, Image PR10705.

Besides portraying the Creature in the underwater scenes for the film’s two sequels, “Revenge of the Creature” and “The Creature Walks Among Us,” he also was the director for the extremely complicated underwater scenes in “Thunderball” (1965) and “Never Say Never Again” (1983), as well as Flipper.

Who as a kid hasn’t thought they would be involved in more underwater spear gun fights as an adult?

Of course, anyone who has ever attempted BUD/S training with the Navy for the past 60 years has seen the enduring Creature statue, a gift to the Naval Special Warfare Center at Coronado, from BUD/S Class 63. Around his neck is a sign, often replaced, asking, “So, you want to be a frogman?”

The statue is often referred to as Gillman, Swampman, or just “Gilly.” A repro of this statue is on display at the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum on Long Island.