The Man Who Spear-Gunned Flipper: A Dialogue with Ricou Browning

To spare (spear?) you the trouble of paging back, I’m going to reproduce my first letter to Mr. Browning here. He has not responded to my last letter, and I do not anticipate hearing any more from him.

Did he spear gun “Flipper”? You read the mail, consider the state of movie special effects in 1963 and be the judge.


Mr. Ricou Browning
Browning, Ricou & Fran
5221 SW 196th Ln
Southwest Ranches, FL 33332-1111

Feb. 20, 2019

Dear Mr. Browning,

I briefly met you once in 1971, I think, at the Miami Seaquarium. You were very busy fixing something that had sprung a leak, as I remember, and didn’t have much time to talk. I did remark upon your having played The Creature from the Black Lagoon,of course, which makes you immortal in the eyes of monster-lovers everywhere.

Another issue has cropped up, repeatedly, over the years regarding statements by Dr. John C. Lilly about how a dolphin named Pam was treated during the filming of “Flipper!”, the original 1963 movie. According to Lilly, the scenes where the dolphin is shot with a spear gun, and beaches itself, were actually filmed that way, with the dolphin impaled by a spear.

Lilly told me (not hearsay) that Pam was shot a total of 3 times in the peduncle to get the take. The first time, she swam back and allowed the spear to be removed. The second time, she couldn’t make up her mind what to do. The third time she headed for the high seas, had to be netted with the spear in her and returned to the beach to do the scenes with Luke Halpin and Katherine Maguire. Then, apparently, the spear was removed and the wound(s) treated.

Reportedly Pam was so traumatized by this she would not approach humans again. She was sold to Dr. Lilly who reportedly used her for LSD experiments, but that’s another story.

Lilly said “you” did this, but did it actually happen, and if so, what were the circumstances? Why couldn’t the effect have been done by an optical, or some other process? Were you directing the scene, or was somebody else? What really went on? And why was the dolphin left screaming on the beach during Halpin and Maguire’s scene? I just want to know the truth, and would like to get it from your lips. Lilly also told this story to David J. Brown, who included it in an interview with Lilly in his book Mavericks of the Mind,so the story is getting around.

I would like to know the truth, not only because I’m dedicated to it in my profession as a writer, but I would hate to see your reputation sullied because of it. It’s a nasty story, and I’m sure there must be some explanation for it; the film footage is there, unfortunately, to show that it happened, and I don’t think you had any animatronics that could do a scene like that in 1963.

Sincerely, Malcolm J. Brenner

RicouBrowning0002

Mr. Ricou Browning
Browning, Ricou & Fran
5221 SW 196th Ln
Southwest Ranches, FL 33332-1111

March 6, 2019

Dear Mr. Browning,

Thank you for responding to my letter of Feb. 20 with your information. Since the story has already been made public by David Jay Brown’s interview with Lilly in his book Mavericks of the Mind, do you mind if publish it, together with my letter inquiring about the incident? Putting them both together will allow me to rebut Lilly’s story.

However, I do mean to question you a little further, if you will indulge me. Please assume I am somewhat familiar with professional movie special effects. How exactly were the shots done of the beached dolphin with the spear sticking out of its side done? It’s thrashing around a lot, as I remember. Was this an early animatronic, a dummy, something like that? Do you remember who made it? I would appreciate knowing.

Finally, I think “a writer of any integrity” would check out the sources of all stories he/she heard and verify them before going public with them. Very often, he will have to explain things to an editor. Although I met Dr. Lilly and his wife Antoinette, attended a couple of his workshops (they mistook me for staff at one!) and interviewed him regarding his work with dolphins, I have no knowledge of where he got the story. However, in the spirit of open inquiry, I thought I’d ask as you are the last person who was there. I hope my boldness hasn’t offended you.

Sincerely yours, Malcolm J. Brenner

RicouBrowning0003

Dear Mr. Browning,

Thank you for your letter of March 20. Nothing you could tell me about Dr. Lilly (and very little about Ivan Tors) would surprise me. Lilly was widely known for both his abuse of dolphins and drugs.

What surprises me more is that you did not answer my question. You have responded satisfactorily about the scene where the dolphin was shot with a spear gun, but as to my question about the dolphin on the beach thrashing around with a spear in it while Luke Halpin and Kathleen Maguire are delivering their lines, no answer. You said, rather vaguely, that the scene was rendered by “special effects,” an all-inclusive term so vague as to be meaningless.

The IMDb data base does not list a special effects person in the crew of “Flipper,” and there is no credit given for special effects. (However, Dr. Lilly is listed as a consultant; TCM lists him as a “scientific advisor.”) It would be uncommon not to list such a credit, wouldn’t it?

Mr. Browning, it’s really a very simple question: If, as you say, a dummy, model or animatronic dolphin was used in the beach scenes, who built it? What person or shop in Hollywood? There were only so many people at the time who could do this and pull it off. The dolphin on the beach looks amazingly realistic to me, so whoever it was must have been good!

Over the years, you’ve made a lot of money off dolphins. I don’t begrudge you that, but I’d like to know the truth of what happened during the making of “Flipper.” I think you owe it to the dolphins. We now know they are creatures who name themselves, who recognize themselves in a mirror, who are arguably non-human persons. The truth is very simple to recognize, there’s no hiding it. You are being evasive and trying to divert me by bringing up Lilly. Please answer the question, and truthfully. Thank you.

Malcolm J. Brenner

 

August 8, 2019

Mr. Browning,

I apologize for not concluding this business sooner, but I have had an illness and also moved. Please note the new address, above, if you choose to reply.

This will be my last letter to you on the making of “Flipper” and whether the stunt dolphin was shot with a spear gun or not. Since you did not respond to my previous letter questioning the veracity of your claim that the shots on the rocks were done with undefined “special effects,” I presume you refuse to speak any further on the subject. Am I right?

Just let me finish by telling you that I bought “Flipper” from Amazon and watched it. And I thought that, at the time, it was very sympathetic to Florida families, what with the red tide, the hurricane and all. I guess it made Ivan Tors, or somebody, a lot of money.

However, regarding the subject of this letter: In the scene where the dolphin is spear gunned, the dolphin is hit on the left side of the peduncle with the spear, and immediately flexes sideways in that direction reflexively, it appears. Then, in the next scene, it changes direction, heading back where it came from and dragging the spear gun behind it. The spear gun lodges in some rocks.

(I regret I can’t capture some frames here for you to view, but I’ve had difficulty with Amazon letting me find the right frames.)

If, as you say, the spear’s pronged head had been replaced with a hypodermic needle, it seems to me it would have bent, broken off or been dislodged from the force of that flexion, not to mention the spear gun getting stuck in the rocks.

I will give you that you probably used a model for the distant scenes of the dolphin on the rocks. They were taken from such a distance I couldn’t tell.

However, when we come to the closeups of Luke Halpin with the dolphin on the rocks, with only apparently seaweed for padding, what I see looks like a very drugged dolphin. It isn’t flopping around, it isn’t trying to get off the rocks, and it sure as hell isn’t a motorized model or the primitive sort animatronics they had in 1963. It breathes most convincingly, just like a real dolphin.

As you know, drugging dolphins is very dangerous, because they have no breathing reflex, something our friend Dr. Lilly discovered at Marineland in the mid-50’s, much to the disgust of veterinarian Forrest Wood.

The titles for the movie, both opening and closing, bear no mention of who might have done the “special effects” you claim were used, or who might have built the prop dolphin.

I can only conclude that not only did you shoot a real dolphin with a spear gun (you have admitted as much yourself, except you say you used a hypodermic needle instead of the pronged head) but that you drugged that dolphin afterward to enable it to withstand the pain while you filmed on the rocks with Halpin. I’d contact Halpin, but I hear he has Alzheimer’s.

As I said, Mr. Browning, this is my last letter. I intend to post all our correspondence to my blog, malcolmbrenner.com/news, to make it available to anybody who wants to read it. I will, of course, include whatever answer you decide to make to this letter.

Not only have you admitted to spear-gunning the dolphin (and I doubt your explanation), but I now also accuse you of drugging that dolphin and failing to remove the spear from it in a timely manner. In short, you knowingly abused and tortured it to get the shots you wanted because you didn’t have the budget to do anything else (hire a special effects man, build a dummy).

Kind of subverts the whole premise of “Flipper,” doesn’t it? When you torture an animal to make a movie about a kid who has fun with animals, what does that say about you as a person? I think it’s hypocritical and debased and sadistic. You objectified a creature that is much like a human being, pretending it didn’t have feelings so you could get your shot and make your movie. And if you did it to them, you can do it to me, or anyone.

Care to convince me otherwise? – Malcolm J. Brenner



(Addendum: I can find no mention in Google’s database of “Eva Rinseya,” the French actress mentioned in Browning’s second letter.  If anybody knows anything about her, please contact me.)

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Why I wrote “Wet Goddess”

Prologue

(Above: Dolly, my dolphin lover. © 2010, Malcolm J. Brenner)

Let me make something abundantly clear: Wet Goddess was not written to promote bestiality or zoophilia, although I knew if I told my story it would probably come down to that.

I wrote Wet Goddess to share my experience with a creature that I found to be remarkably sophisticated, intelligent, aware, loving and worthy in every way of the designation, “non-human person.”

And she didn’t come out of some alien spacecraft. Her kind exist here on Earth, as they have for millions of years before we appeared, surviving ages of fire and ice in the arms of Mother Ocean.

In the decades since my experience with Dolly, science has, in many ways, caught up with my impressions and anecdotal experience. Now cognitive psychologists and others have explored the mind of the dolphin and arrived at the same conclusions I did in 1971: dolphins are self-aware individuals, able to recognize themselves in a mirror, experiencing a vast range of emotions and behaviors, language users and capable of employing “theory of mind,” the ability to calculate or imagine what another creature is thinking.

We should be devoting a large chunk of our resources as a species to understanding these creatures who have survived so much longer on this planet than we have. What are we doing instead? Some nations still slaughter them en masse in tuna nets, while others conduct murderous drive hunts and butcher them with glee. Some nations take the prettiest ones and commoditize them and sell them into enslavement, where they are forced to perform stupid tricks for our amusement. And we are polluting their environment at such a rate that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. I despair for their future.

My zoosexual love story with Dolly the dolphin is what has attracted most attention, but if I’d had sex with a barnyard animal or a household pet, do you seriously think I’d have spoken up, exposing a practice that most people find viscerally revolting?

Of course not. Zoophiles may still have to keep their sexuality a secret in most situations, but they are humans and accorded certain rights by law. Dolphins are considered chattel, or property, by the same system. I am advocating for changing that and giving dolphins rights under a framework that recognizes their status, as acknowledged by science.

And that, folks, is what I mean when I say “I didn’t write Wet Goddess for zoophiles, I wrote it for dolphins.”

Sorry I had to spell it out for those of you who so perceptively pointed out that dolphins can’t read.

 

Review: The Shape of Water

A few days ago, I was contacted by writer Ashley Feinberg, with the Huffington Post, who asked my opinion of the movie “The Shape of Water.” I hadn’t seen it yet (I’d been wanting to, on the recommendation of friends), but I was glad to go the next day (one of the pleasures of being retired).  Rather than mess it up with any kind of introduction, I’ll just link to the story: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-shape-of-water-malcolm-brenner-dolphin-sex_us_5aa17482e4b0e9381c169b7a

And I’ll tell you I’m very happy with the way the interview went and the resulting story. Many thanks, Ms. Feinberg!

 

“Dolphin Lover” now on YouTube

Dolphin-Lover-This-Man-PosterThe award-winning 2015 short documentary film “Dolphin Lover,” chronicling Malcolm J. Brenner’s 1971 love affair with a dolphin named Dolly, is now available on YouTube, the film’s producer said Thursday.

Joey Daoud announced the distribution arrangement on Facebook.  In honor of National Dolphin Day, interested viewers can see the film for free Thursday, April 14 at Coffee and Celluloid’s web site.

“April 14th is recognized around the country as National Dolphin Day, a time to celebrate the beloved and brilliant marine mammals,” Daoud said.  “In honor of this occasion, ‘Dolphin Lover,’ the controversial award-winning short documentary on the incredible true story of Malcolm J. Brenner and his summer-long love affair with Dolly the dolphin will be released free to audiences everywhere via YouTube.”

Co-Directed by Daoud and Kareem Tabsch, “Dolphin Lover” premiered at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, where it won Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Short Film.  It went on to play a multitude of festivals around the world, garnering critical acclaim and awards, including the top prize for Documentary Short Film at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film’s controversial subject entered the popular zeitgeist and led to significant media attention, from Howard Stern to Rush Limbaugh, @midnight with Chris Hardwick on Comedy Central, Watch What Happens Live on Bravo, and on media outlets like Vice, New York Post, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and countless others.

Set in 1971 on the Southwest coast of Florida, “Dolphin Lover” tells the incredible true story of Malcolm J. Brenner, a college student who lands his first professional gig as a freelancer photographing the marine animals at Floridaland, a tourist trap disguised as a roadside amusement park. The experience would launch Malcolm’s career as a photographer and introduce him to his one true love while changing his life forever. The assignment sent Brenner on a year-long romantic and sexual love affair with Dolly, a captive bottlenose dolphin. Brenner chronicled his relationship in a novel, Wet Goddess, which served as inspiration for the short film. The film features an in-depth interview with Brenner as well as archival footage and animation to tell of Brenner’s unique experience.

“Since we made the film we’ve been getting countless requests asking us where to see it, we thought there was no better way to share the film with the world than to release it on National Dolphin Day as a gift to dolphin lovers everywhere” Daoud said. The film is currently available for purchase or rental via iTunes but will be released free online via YouTube.

“Audiences at film festivals have really championed the film at every screening we’ve had, so we’re really eager for the film to be seen by a wider audience and hear what they think. One thing’s for certain, you won’t be able to stop talking about this story,” added Tabsch.

Viewers can watch the film starting on April 14th for free at dolphinlovermovie.com.

 

 

“Dolphin Lover” premieres on iTunes, Hulu to follow

Dolphin-Lover-This-Man-Poster

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – The controversial and award-winning short documentary film “Dolphin Lover” will be available for purchase on iTunes, Vimeo, Xbox and other video on demand sites starting Tuesday, Oct. 27, the film’s producer said Monday.

Joey Daoud added that the 15-minute film, which was selling in pre-order for $2.99, would be available on Hulu on Dec. 27.

“Dolphin Lover” recounts the true story of writer Malcolm J. Brenner’s intimate relationship with Dolly, a female bottlenose dolphin kept at Floridaland, a 1960’s amusement park located in Nokomis, south of Sarasota.  That relationship became the basis for “Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover,” Brenner’s 2010 novelization of those events.  The book has sold more than 1,250 copies in 18 countries world-wide, including China, and is currently being translated into Russian for release there.

“Dolphin Lover” took Honorable Mentions at Slamdance 2015 and Indie Grits 2015.  It was awarded Best Short Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was runner-up for Best Documentary Short at the Sidewalk Film Festival.

“Dolphin Lover” takes best short documentary award

It has just been announced by the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival that Dolphin Lover took the Best Short Documentary award.  The 15-minute film, directed by Kareem Tabsch and produced by Joey Daoud, recounts the true story of writer Malcolm J. Brenner’s romantic and sexual love affair with a bottlenose dolphin at Floridaland, a low-rent amusement park, in the early 1970’s.  Brenner’s experience became the basis for his 2010 novel Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover.