Universal Monsters Universe is in the midst of “Creature Week,” which has seen us cover topics such as the looks of Gill-Man, Revenge of the Creature and everything in between. There is no bigger culmination to “Creature Week” than being with the man under the gills, Mr. Ricou Browning himself at CT HorrorFest.
This past weekend we attended CT HorrorFest, and among the several great aspects of the show was getting to meet, speak with, and listen to Mr. Ricou Browning – the performer who brought the Gill-Man to life under water. The soon to be 86 year old is a true living legend and was one of the main draws at the horror show taking place at the Danbury Convention Center in Danbury, CT. In speaking with Mr. Browning and hearing him speak to fans during his panel, the Gill-Man proved to be just as lovable as he is on screen.
Ricou Browning is a man who knew his monsters prior to being cast as Gill-Man, who he would go on to play in all three Creature films. He is also the last living Universal Monsters actor “For now!” He said his favorite Universal Monsters film was The Wolf Man. He told the story of how he was recruited to play Gill-Man. Browning was attending Florida State University when he was approached by a lifeguard he worked for, Newton Perry, who said a movie was being filmed in Wakulla Springs, Florida. Browning swam for the scouts and crew. They liked what they saw and director Jack Arnold gave him the part of Gill-Man. He elaborated on the costume saying it was easy to get into. He would put on the body which was essentially a wetsuit. He would then put on the feet, head and hands. However, being made of sponge, latex, foam and weighted with lead was what made the costume difficult. The lead depended on the type of water they were filming in whether it was fresh water or salt water. The problem was the material would soak up water making it extremely heavy and very cold. Browning jokingly recalled a story of how the different members of the crew began to give him brandy to warm him up, but “after five or six shots, the Creature couldn’t swim straight anymore so that stopped.”
There were some good anecdotes about filming scenes for the films amongst live animals. In The Creature From The Black Lagoon, alligators would enter the water and wind up swimming into the middle of a shoot. Browning said one shot was kept in the movie. During the sequel, which was filmed in Marineland of Florida among live fish and other animals on exhibit, a turtle bit off a piece of Gill-Man’s heel while Browning waited for the scene to start. “I was sitting on an anchor in the water when I felt a tugging at my foot. I kept feeling it and when I picked my foot up, a turtle was biting me on the heel.” Being it was the last foot and costume on set divers had to chase the turtle, get the piece back, wait for the suit to dry then repair it to film the next scene. Browning spoke of Ginger Stanley, whom he not only worked with in the Creature films, but also worked with in underwater shows before the movies came calling. Stanley was the stunt double for the underwater and swimming scenes of the film.
When you’re favorite monster is The Wolf Man but you played Gill-Man, it’s natural to wonder who would win in a fight between the two. Browning enthusiatically said Gill-Man because he lives in the water. Which of the three films was his favorite? He said the first one and jokingly mentioned that “no one likes the third one.” We learn the nature of the Creature in the movies and how he behaves but we never get to see what the Creature eats. In what started to become true Ricou Browning comedic fashion, he replied, “Everything!” As our time with Browning began to wind down, he fondly recalled his work on Flipper and Sea Hunt as well as his involvement with underwater scenes in Thunderball and Never Say Never Again. He wrote a film called Salty about three children who form a bond with a sea lion. “I loved working on that film.”
It was quite an honor to be in the presence of a living legend and the last living monster. Ricou Browning was an absolute gentleman and made us feel welcome. His daughter Renee was by his side and could not have been nicer to us. It was a real pleasure to talk to the both of them and we here at Universal Monsters Universe thank them for their time and courtesy.
With The Mummy being released in 2017, starting the new era of the Universal Monsters, Ricou shared his thoughts on whether or not he would like to be involved in a future Creature From The Black Lagoon film saying,
“I’ll do anything!”
Universal Monsters Universe would like to extend our thanks to Rob and the crew at Horror News Network for delivering a great show, along with Mr. Ricou Browning and his daughter, Renee, for their graciousness and generosity.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)