Mike Nelson (alias LLoyd Bridges)
Hero Among Divers, Defender of Good
Nelson was the idol of every child in the US and Canada in the early
60’s. Every kid wanted to be like Mike, don diving gear, and explore
the undersea world depicted on the beloved series Sea Hunt. Played
Bridges, Mike was bigger than life. He was an ex-Frogman
and military man with connections throughout the world. His friends
called him Bud. The series opened with that eerie music and Mike
putting on that familiar Johnny Mac Browne surface air mask at Marineland.
Mike was amazing. He could rescue a pilot in a sunken plane in 28
minutes. That’s how long the episodes were. He fought off villains
and salvaged everything from bicycles to children trapped in a cave.
He went after treasure and performed rescues whenever danger and
excitement lurked below. He always wore a Voit green label double
hose regulator while he cut the hoses on the villains, who wore
single hose regulators most of the time. We can see who had the
At the end of each episode he made a plea to protect the oceans. He
fed the animals at the now defunct Marineland in PaloVerdes,
California. Mike Nelson could do anything. He was a freelance diver
that was on call by anyone, any time…even the US NAVY.
Lloyd Bridges had stunt doubles that helped him do the underwater
work, one of which was the late Courtney Brown. Another was a famous
videographer of that time, Rico Browning, alias the “Monster from
the Black Lagoon.” In fact, several Navy Frogmen doubled for Mike on
the deeper dives. One such deep diver and technical advisor was Jon
Lindberg, son of a General. At first all scenes were filmed in
studio tanks and outdoor locations at Marineland. Some of the
filming was done in exotic places as the series progressed including
the front side of Catalina Island, Paradise Cove West of Malibu,
Silver Springs, Cypress Gardens, Tarpon Springs, and the Florida
Keys, as well as Nassau and Grand Bahamas Island.
LLOYD (BRIDGES) LIVES. Courtney Brown (from left) was
a stunt double and did all
the water work for Bridges in the beginning of Sea
Hunt. Big John McLaughlin was a stunt double
for James Bond movies (Thunderball) and Flipper. He also helped on Sea
Hunt and is an ex-Navy Deep Diver. Ricou Browning is a very
famous videographer and did all the water work for Creature from the
Black Lagoon. Commander Doug (Red Dog) Fane started the UDT and underwater frogmen in the US NAVY
Ivan Tors met Commander Francis Douglas Fane when doing the
Frogman movie Underwater Warrior and Fane was Ivan’s
inspiration for the Sea Hunt series. Lamar Boren had the
underwater camera that he developed and the experience from
Ivan’s earlier movies.
One interesting note when filming Sea Hunt underwater:
Producer Ivan Tors, associate producer John Floren, the
director, cameraman, and the lighting men were all
Ivan’s secretary also was there taking notes underwater. Her
name was Zale Parry. Zale was an experienced Instructor and
diver at the time, she got her start on Sea Hunt as Ivan
Bridges was given an introduction to diving by his co-star Parry, an instructor from L.A. County, but was not certified as a
diver until after the
series ended. Al Tillman was also technical advisor and
involved in the production of the show. Parry was joined
in 1960 by underwater stunt double Wendy Wagner. Pioneering
underwater cinematographer, Lamar Boren, shot all the underwater
scenes. Boren went on to work on Flipper and James Bond movies. Some
of the stars featured in Sea Hunt that went on to become famous were
Lloyd’s sons, Beau and Jeff, Jack Nicholson, Leonard Nimoy, Larry
Hagman, and Robert Conrad to name just a few.
MGM owns the rights to those episodes today. Tors had tried to sell
it to NBC, CBS, and ABC who all turned it down, stating that no one
would watch an ex-Navy Frogman.
the end these network executives were embarrassed by the popularity
of this beloved series, filmed from 1958 to 1961.
Most divers have added an episode or two of Sea Hunt to their diving
collectibles over the years. All episodes were filmed in black and
white, except one which was filmed in color. At the time, filming in
color was considered too expensive and not that popular with the
Ivan went to the Dive N’ Surf shop, owned by Bob and Bill Meistrell,
at Redondo Beach where equipment was purchased for the show. After
the series ended, Bob went on to certify Lloyd Bridges at the Dive
N’ Surf , which is the home of Body Glove. Bob served as one of the
technical advisors for the show. Meistrall has the distinction of
being the first certified L.A. County Instructor, so it’s no
surprise that diver safety was always promoted by Mike Nelson
throughout the series.
The now famous suit that Mike wore was painted light gray on black
neoprene by Bob and Bill Meistrall. It was quite a production,
according to Bob. It was actually gray cement produced by Grayco,
which had to be applied while someone was wearing it. The director
was upset that the Meistrall brothers charged $100 to apply this
special cement to the
suit. The brothers handed him the cement and
corn starch and said “You’re on your own.” After one failed attempt,
where Bridges sat down and got stuck to the chair, Tors was more
than happy to rehire the brothers and pay their fee.
Sea Hunt was the most merchandised show of the time. You
could buy a Mike Nelson Mask, the fins, weight belt and
books, books and LP records in Mike’s voice teaching you how to dive. In
that day, any merchandise associated with water or diving was sure
to be accompanied by an image of Mike Nelson. People trusted Mike
There are so many stories revolving around the series, but one of
the most humorous was told by Lloyd’s son, Beau. His father was at a
Navy Seal get-together and they had a question for Bridges.
The Seals have a certain maneuver called “the Mike Nelson,” where a
diver picks up the double tanks and throws them over his head and
onto his back, as demonstrated so effortlessly by Mike Nelson in so
many episodes. The divers wanted to know Bridge’s trick because the
tanks are so heavy and they just couldn’t maneuver them like Mike.
Lloyd looked at them and laughed. He said “My tanks were made out of
A nice feel good story Bob Meistrell likes to tell about Gary Cooper
and Lloyd Bridges. Bob & Patty were at a party at Hugh O’Brien’s
they knew no one accept Hugh at the party. When Gary
Cooper and his wife and daughter walked in, Bob invites them to sit
with them at their table because they didn’t know anyone at the
party either. In walks Lloyd Bridges and his wife, and Bob says to
Gary, “Go and invite Lloyd to our table.” Gary refuses saying, “He
probably wouldn’t remember me. (The two actors were both in the
movie ‘High Noon’ together.) So,
went over to invite Lloyd and his wife to sit with them and Lloyd
says, “I don’t think Mr. Cooper would remember me.” Demonstrating
how down to earth these two guys were.
Ivan Tors, director and producer of the show, could not know how
those 155 episodes would influence the dive community and what a
lasting effect this series would have on the public, over 50 years
later. Sea Hunt remains a cult classic to this day.
In 2007 we had a party at Portage Quarry celebrating the 50th
Anniversary of Mike Nelson. The world’s foremost collector of Sea
Hunt Memorabilia was there…Alec Peirce from Toronto. It was well
attended and replete with cake and refreshments. Mike was not there,
unfortunately, as he was called away on a rescue mission. Duty
calls! However, the Argonaut, Too boat stood in for him, docked at
Skin Diving is fun and adventurous for young and old, and
can be dangerous. Know the sport well and don't take any
chances. I'll be with you next week for another exciting SEA
Author: Legends of Diving Writer's Guild
We want to thank Bob Meistrell, Dive Training Magazine, Kent
Rockwell, Historical Dive Society, and Alec Peirce for their help.
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