On March 23, sixty-eight years ago in 1955, Revenge of the Creature was released. This film, along with its predecessor, Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and sequel The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), are instantly recognizable for their villainous monster, the “Gill-man.” Also called “The Creature,” this aquatic monster became part of Universal Studios monster movie lore, along with the titular beasts from The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941).
Few may know that the man behind the Creature mask was a Florida native. Ricou Browning was born February 16, 1930, and is best known for his underwater stunt work in The Creature films. He began his career performing in underwater newsreels at Wakulla Springs in the 1940s and 1950s. He also worked at Weeki Wachee Springs, known for its “live mermaids,” and swam for the U. S. Air Force Swim Team.
In 1953, Browning’s manager asked him to give a tour of Wakulla Springs to some visitors from Hollywood, including director Jack Arnold. They had an underwater camera and asked Browning to swim around to gain perspective of the environment. Arnold decided he liked the location in Florida. He also liked how Ricou Browning swam and that he could hold his breath for four minutes. He offered Browning the role of the Creature for the underwater scenes, while another actor, Ben Chapman, played the Creature on land at the studio in California.
One of the challenges that the crew came across while filming was the costume being made of foam rubber. This made Browning float in the water. To correct this, he wore a lead chest plate and ankle weights to keep him submerged. Additionally, Chapman was much taller than Browning. To compensate for the difference, they hired shorter actors for scenes shot with Browning, which made him look taller in comparison.
The Creature series, however, was not Browning’s only notable involvement with the film industry. He also co-wrote, co-produced, and directed underwater scenes for the 1963 movie, Flipper. This film, about an intelligent dolphin who befriends a boy, was co-created with script-writer Jack Cowden. Browning continued writing and directing for the Flipper television show that followed. First airing in 1964, the show ran for three seasons. He also directed two films in the 1970s, Salty and Mr. No Legs.
According to Wikipedia: “[Browning] worked as second unit director, stunt coordinator and underwater sequence director on a number of features, including the James Bond films Thunderball (1965) and Never Say Never Again (1983), Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Island of the Lost (1967), Hello Down There (1969), and Caddyshack (1980).” This information comes from the Florida Artists Hall of Fame webpage.
In 2012, Browning was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards’ Monster Kid Hall of Fame in 2019.
Ricou Browning was considered the last remaining original Universal Classic Movie Monster actor until his passing at age 93 on February 27, 2023.
To see more of The Creature, be sure to visit the Marineland exhibit located on the second floor of the Tovar House at the Oldest House Museum Complex.
Written by Nicole Diehm
Images from Marineland Archival Collections.
Genzlinger, Neil. Ricou Browning, Who Made the Black Lagoon Scary, Dies at 93, March 5, 2023 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/05/movies/ricou-browning-dead.html. Accessed 3/16/23.
The Associated Press. Ricou Browning, the actor who played the ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ dies at 93, March 6, 2023 https://www.npr.org/2023/03/06/1161244052/ricou-browning-the-actor-who-played-the-creature-from-the-black-lagoon-dies-at-9. Accessed 3/16/2023.
Wikipedia, Ricou Browning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricou_Browning. Accessed 3/16/23.
Ricou Browning, Florida Artists Hall of Fame, MyFlorida.com https://dos.myflorida.com/cultural/programs/florida-artists-hall-of-fame/ricou-browning/