Ricou Browning is an icon of Florida films and a Florida Artists Hall of Famer. He is a pioneer in underwater filming. He is tied to the area through Weeki Wachee Springs.
In the 1950s, Ricou Browning was a student at Florida State University and a lifeguard at Wakulla Springs. A friend of his, Newton Perry, convinced him to show around a group of location scouts from Universal Studios who were looking at locations to film Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Universal Studios group not only chose to film the movie at Wakulla Springs, but Ricou was chosen to play the underwater version of the Gill-man in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ricou continued to play the underwater version of the Gill-man in the sequels Revenge of the Creature and the Creature Walks Among Us.
Newton (Newt) Perry had an idea to start an attraction at a spring a little north of Tampa. Ricou and Newt headed to Weeki Wachee Springs. The springs were littered with abandoned cars, old bathtubs and other discarded items. They used a compressor hose to supply air to allow them to remove the items from the springs.
Newt had seen the Florida State College for Women Tarpon Club perform their synchronized swimming and water ballet at Wakulla Springs. This inspired him to create something similar at Weeki Wachee. Newt was able to find the Aquabelles, a group from St. Petersburg that performed underwater ballet.
One of the original ideas for the show was people performing normal tasks underwater. Newt and Ricou filmed underwater newsreels in the clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs. A little while later tails were added and the underwater performers became mermaids.
Ricou wound up working at Silver Springs in Ocala. An encounter with Ivan Tors led to a career at Ivan Tors’ Studio (the only major studio to have originated in Florida). Ricou rose to become President of Ivan Tors’ Florida Studio.
The iconic film Flipper was Ricou Browning’s original story idea. He co-wrote and co-produced the original 1963 Flipper film. He also worked on the following television series from 1964 to 1967.
Browning directed underwater action in the James Bond film Thunderball in 1965. Thunderball featured massive underwater fight scenes with multiple participants. Ricou continued to work on underwater action scenes in several other Bond films.
Browning’s work in the 1980’s included the candy bar in the pool scene from Caddyshack. The scene has since been turned into a meme (a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users). This showcased Ricou’s lighter side.
Sometimes people ask where these histories come from. It is chance. My in-laws had a garage sale in Plantation, Florida and Ricou stopped by and bought their Flipper VHS tape. They wound up having a conversation with him and his daughter. He mentioned his time at Weeki Wachee and that chance meeting led to a story about Ricou Browning.
Correction 3/10/23: Date when Ricou Browning attended FSU/ lifeguard at Wakulla Springs