Ricou Browning: last Universal Monster star

Ricou Browning as the Creature From The Black Lagoon
Ricou Browning as the Creature From The Black Lagoon
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US underwater movie all-rounder Ricou Browning, who died on 27 February after contracting pneumonia at the age of 93, made his name as the monster known as Gill-Man in the 1954 horror classic Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Also read: Rise & fall of the Loch Ness Monster eel

He went on to become an underwater cinematographer in his own right, as well as a film and TV director, producer and screenwriter.

Browning was born in Fort Pierce, Florida on 16 February, 1930 and, after studying PE at Florida State University, embarked on a career as a stunt diver in, and then producer of, public water-shows.

While working in the Wakulla Springs park in 1953 he was spotted by the makers of Black Lagoon and offered the chance to play Gill-Man under water (another actor was playing the monster topside).

Ricou Browning with director Jack Arnold  on set (Bruce Mozert)
Browning with director Jack Arnold on set (Bruce Mozert)
Shooting Creature From The Black Lagoon, Rico Browning’s big break
Shooting Creature From The Black Lagoon

Browning was reportedly breath-holding routinely for four minutes at a time in playing the role. It was his scenes depicting the hovering creature ready to pounce on the heroine swimming above that were said to have most affected cinema audiences.

Browning went on to reprise the role in sequels Revenge Of The Creature in 1955 and The Creature Walks Among Us the following year. “As far as I see it, Creature From The Black Lagoon was just another movie and it was just another job,” he said later.

“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!” 

He would have been proud of directing the many underwater sequences that made the James Bond movie Thunderball so inspirational for wannabe scuba divers in 1965 – and he did the same for the remake Never Say Never Again in 1983.

Marine connection

Much of Browning’s work had a marine connection. His feature film debut Salty concerned a friendly sea-lion, and he was co-creator, producer and writer of Flipper, a 1963 film about the adventures of a boy and an equally friendly bottlenose dolphin, going on to write for the popular spin-off TV series.

Browning at a movie convention in 2019
Browning at a movie convention in 2019 (Super Festivals)

He also directed the underwater scenes in the movies Around The World Under The Sea in 1966, Island Of The Lost the following year, the 1969 movie about underwater living Hello Down There and a Jaws-parody pool scene in the hit 1980 comedy Caddyshack.

Browning is remembered as the last remaining actor to have played a classic “Universal Monster” in the series of Universal Pictures horror movies that were so successful between the 1920s and 1950s. His son Ricou Browning Jr is also a marine co-ordinator, actor and stuntman.

Also on Divernet: 20 Titles Streaming For Divers On Netflix, Avatar 2: How To Risk-Manage 200,000 Dives!, How We Made Last Breath, Flying High Under Water: Rob Franklin


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