Tuesday, February 28, 2023


We lost a Hollywood legend this week. Ricou Browning was best known for his underwater stunt work in motion-pictures and television, especially in the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon, in which he portrayed the titular Gill-man during the film's underwater scenes (actor Ben Chapman played the Creature on land). Browning reprised the role for the underwater scenes in the film's sequels Revenge of the Creature(1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Browning also co-created Flipper with Jack Cowden and directed a number of episodes of the 1960s television series. A Florida native, Browning was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2019, he was inducted into the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards' Monster Kid Hall of Fame.

Browning started a career in water shows, moving on to produce shows. Browning worked at Wakulla Springs in the 1940s and learned to perform in underwater newsreels conceived by Newt Perry, who later took Browning along when he opened Weeki Wachee Springs. While working at Wakulla Springs in 1953, Browning was asked to show around a film crew scouting for shooting locations. 


According to Browning, "Their cameraman asked if I could swim in front of the cameras so they could get the perspective of the size of a human being against the fish and the grass. So I did." Days later, the crew offered Browning the role of the titular Gill-man in the film Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Browning accepted and played the Gill-man in the film's underwater scenes, while actor Ben Chapman played the monster on land. During filming, Browning reportedly held his breath underwater for up to four minutes at a time. Browning reprised his role as the underwater Gill-man in two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).


He continued in movie production and joined Ivan Tors' studios in Florida, where he co-wrote and co-produced the 1963 film Flipper (about an intelligent bottlenose dolphin); Browning also directed the second unit underwater scenes for the film. Browning continued writing for the subsequent Flipper television series that debuted in 1964. He directed the underwater sequences in Hello Down There (1969), and directed the family film Salty (1973) and the cult film Mr. No Legs (1978). He also worked as second unit director, stunt coordinator and underwater sequence director on a number of features, including Thunderball (1965), Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Island of the Lost (1967), Caddyshack (1980), and Never Say Never Again (1983).


Ricou was among the celebrity guests at the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. His daughter attended alongside him and together they had a grand time hearing how his work inspired others into their crafts and careers. Not only did we lose the last of the Universal Monsters, but a kind soul. 

Those who know me personally know I am never star struck or longing to have my photo taken with celebrities. But picking him and his daughter up at the airport to take to the hotel, and having my photo taken with Ricou Browning, was the highlight of that year. R.I.P., Ricou.

Thursday, February 23, 2023


Fans of The Lone Ranger know of the time when actor Clayton Moore, in late 1970s, was served an official cease and desist letter -- restricted from wearing the black domino mask that was part and parcel of The Lone Ranger character. The court of public opinion rode on the ride of Moore, some so far as to boycott The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981 motion-picture). But the history of campaigns siding with the television actor could be a book in itself. As if a disco record entitled “Keep the Mask on The Lone Ranger” issued in late 1979, from Meridian Records, was not enough to warrant curiosity, there was an independent "adult comic book" published in 1980 titled Mondo Montana, by artist Frank Ponikvar and his friends.

Ponikvar wrote and published a 68-page comic book hot off Missoula’s own Acme Press and was meant to help gain support for Clayton Moore. Die-hard fans of The Lone Ranger have been seeking this particular comic solely for the contents -- and the scarcity.

“It is a mixture of art and literature from Missoula,” Ponikar explained to a local newspaper in Montana. “It is a magazine that entertains and enlightens. It is for anyone who is adult and intelligent.” 

The publication was meant to resemble the underground comic books of the 1960s, although Ponikvar maintained it was not underground because it could be obtained “over the counter” and was “acceptable to anyone.” Mondo Montana, like its predecessors, Missoula Scandals (published the winter prior) and Missoula Comix (published in the summer of 1978) featured the zany art and gutsy literature of more than 25 artists and writers. Contributors included a U.S. Forest Service employee, a high school student, several University of Montana students, a waitress for the Mammyth Bakery, a local musician, an art professor from Eastern Montana College in Billings, a private investigator from Los Angeles, and a science-fiction illustrator from Olympia, Washington. 

Ponikvar admitted that he was expecting to break even and not make a profit, especially because only a total of 1,000 issues were printed. The limited printing did not stop fan letters from pouring in from all over the globe. From Kalmar, Sweden; Madison, Wisconsin; Southfield, Michigan, and San Jose, California. The publication did elicit letters of praise, such as one from Robert Crumb, creator of the cartoon character, Fritz the Cat, who wrote “It’s so interesting to me that I wanna go there and check out the place.” An employee of Kovacs Comic Book Shop in Cleveland, Ohio, however, did not offer a word of praise. “Here’s your comic back,” their letter read. “This has to be the worst piece of garbage anyone ever dared to call a comic.”

The cover of Mondo Montana featured an exclusive photograph of Clayton Moore, taken by Sue Geston Bridges, wife of actor Jeff Bridges, set photographer for the movie Heaven’s Gate, and staff photographer for The Los Angeles Times. The photograph was the last taken of the actor before his black face mask was taken away through legal action by the producers of The Lone Ranger. The comic book beseeched its readers to “protest corporate dominance” and boycott any new Lone Ranger enterprises. The issue also included a large black mask which readers were urged to cut out and wear to preserve “Clayton Moore’s livelihood.”

The content varied from short stories to a satirical jab at the telephone company. There was poetry, such as “Historical Eggs at the Oxford CafĂ©,” to a comic strip that captured the life of the Harley Davidson motorcycle cult that hung out at Luke’s Tavern. There was a page dedicated to “Pet Astrology,” a horoscope column that discussed the star signs of Fido and Boots, among others. 

Ponikvar devoted not just the front cover but also page 66 of Mondo Montana to the “save the mask” campaign. The magazine featured a black mask that readers were urged to cut out and wear in protest of “corporate dominance.”

“The producers of The Lone Ranger have stripped Clayton Moore of his mask,” Ponikvar wrote. “Boycott any new Lone Ranger enterprises. Support individual freedoms… Clayton Moore’s livelihood depends on his mask. His image (an original art piece) was cultivated only by his talent. Artists deserve more than this while they’re alive. Support the artist while he is alive. Let us devote the practice of milking one’s image after death.” In addition, Ponikvar initiated a letter-writing campaign, urging readers to write to Moore through the Missoula Comix office. “All they have to say is, ‘We want to save the mask,” Ponikvar said.

“What is happening is this,” Ponikvar explained. “By popular demand, a corporation is going to have to turn over the right to the mask to Moore or they’re going to lose money through the boycott. His fans respect the fact that he (Moore) should have the mask. We don’t want someone like him to die unnoticed in a hotel room somewhere.”

I have never seen this available on eBay in the last decade. None of the comic book vendors were even aware of it when I told them about the long-rumored comic. Curiosities like this, not listed in price guides, are often sold for low prices because even the vendor is uncertain of the value.

If you are able to find a copy of this comic book, or come across it in your travels, there is a good chance the vendor selling it won't know of the scarcity -- grab it while you can.


Friday, February 17, 2023

The Audio Adventures of THE PRISONER

Fans of the 1960s TV spy series, The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan, will be pleased to know that the series continued multiple times beyond the 17 hour-long television episodes. When The Prisoner premiered on U.S. television, it brought forth from viewers more debate and enthusiasm than any other TV show within memory. Many became cult fanatics for the clever plots and controversial ending. Not precisely science-fiction, but more of a spy caper, the series gained popularity over the years following the initial telecasts. One fan licensed action figures and pre-sold them through Kickstarter. Others wrote fan fiction and posted such stories on the Internet. AMC produced a three-part remake (which was terrible, sad to say). Comic book artists have created their own rendition with new stories. But none could be better suited than the 2016 - 2018 series of audio adventures produced by Big Finish. 

A talented cast and crew went into the studios to record brand new audio dramas, reviving the series that took place in 1967, in which a secret agent resigned without giving a reason. In his attempt to leave the country, he is knocked out and wakes to find himself incarcerated in "The Village," a seaside community located who-knows-where. Everyone is designated with a number, not a name, and our secret agent is labeled "Number Six." The top head is Number One, but all commands are given out by Number Two. In every episode, the evil organization attempts to extract information out of Number Six -- including the answer to the big question: "Why did you resign?" And, in every episode, Number Six attempts to use their schemes against them to escape and flee "The Village."

In three separate volumes, with a total of 12 hour-long adventures, The Prisoner returns with brand new stories and concepts with updated technology to advance the science-fiction aspect of the premise. At first I found Mark Elstob to mimic Patrick McGoohan's voice and mannerisms admirably but half way through the first episode I found he nailed the impersonation perfectly.

Big Finish, located in Berkshire, England, has been producing Doctor Who audio dramas for more than a decade, with the original television cast, with new adventures for fans of the television program. Like The Prisoner, I find these dramas a fantastic way to pass the time during long drives. But if you are a fan of The Prisoner, do not overlook these twelve audio dramas. The ending, incidentally, is different from the one featured on the television series!   

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Buster Keaton's MAROONED IN MOJAVE (1937)

In 1937, after Educational Pictures went bankrupt and Buster Keaton stopped producing films with the studio, the comedian had not yet been offered the role of gagman at MGM. He was in between movie projects and worked alongside Lew Lipton (of MGM) to produce a three-act stage play titled Marooned in Mojave. The stage play never went into production that year, never made into a motion-picture, either. But it appears the play was staged in April of 1946 under a different title, Lambs will Gamble. The play then was announced as written by Lew Lipton (he worked with Buster on Cameraman) and Ralph Murphy, based on Keaton's idea about a flood that hits a Palm Springs joint. 

Eleanor Keaton told about this in an interview with Alan Hoffman: “The Dunes must have been three or four hundred feet, at least, back in a grove of trees off a two-lane blacktop highway, fifteen miles from anything,” said Eleanor. “And it probably had a blacktop driveway going in, but that’s about as close as you’d get to civilization. They had their own wells, they had electric wires coming in from heaven knows where, and Buster was there in a heavy rain one time where they had trouble getting in or out of the club. And he said, ‘What would happen if it got a little worse?’ And he just went from there.”

Buster, according to Eleanor, did not participate in the production, and his original play was significantly rewritten: “The whole play took place within the dance floor, tables around the dance floor, the kitchen, the gambling room and the bar. They were marooned with flash floods, and they slept on the crap tables with sheets and napkins for blankets and pillows and all. It was written as a comedy, and a very good, funny comedy. Buster wasn’t involved with it until they were within three or four days of opening and knew they had a total bomb on their hands.” 

The play really wasn't a success, as you can get from the review. It started on April 29 and closed on May 11, and the participants suffered huge losses. 

Special thanks to historian Olga Egorova, an authority on Buster Keaton, for helping provide information regarding this recently-found archival discovery.

For fans and historians of Buster Keaton, here is a copy of that stage play in PDF.

Link for download: