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HomeArtWeeki Wachee Connection to Ricou Browning Underwater Film Legend

Weeki Wachee Connection to Ricou Browning Underwater Film Legend

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Ricou Browning died on February 27, 2023. He is an icon of Florida films and a Florida Artists Hall of Famer as well as a pioneer in underwater filming. He worked with Newton (Newt) Perry to create Weeki Wachee Springs Park.

In the 1950s, Ricou Browning was a student at Florida State University and a lifeguard at Wakulla Springs. A friend, Newton Perry, convinced him to show around a group of location scouts from Universal Studios 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.”

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, allowing them to swim underwater to attach ropes to the cars, appliances, and other items that had been discarded into Weeki Wachee Springs. They were able to drag these items out of the Springs. Once the Springs were clear, they could set about creating an attraction.

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 found the Aquabelles, a group from St. Petersburg that performed underwater ballet.

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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 1980s 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.

Ricou was known to frequent garage sales purchasing Flipper and other movies that he had a hand in. He would autograph them and hand them out at events.

Ricou was an important pioneer of underwater filmmaking. His fingerprints are on many classic films. He was also a key contributor to the creation of the attraction at Weeki Wachee.

Ricou Browning reassuring flipper /Florida Memory.

Rocco Maglio
Rocco Magliohttps://www.roccomaglio.com
Rocco Maglio is a co-founder of the Hernando Sun. He grew up in Brooksville and graduated from Hernando High. He then worked in technology for starting in the early 1990s. He was fascinated by the potential of the Internet even though at the time there were not graphical browsers. He recently earned a Master of Science in Information Technology with a specialization in Cybersecurity.
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