Legends of Diving Articles

 

Mike Nelson (alias LLoyd Bridges)
TV Hero Among Divers, Defender of Good

Mike 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 by Lloyd

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 upper hand.

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 during WWII.

 

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 underwater too.

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 Tors' secretary.

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.

In 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 public.

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 weights…comic

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 Nelson.

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 Balsa wood!”

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 house and

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,

Bob 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 the Quarry.

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 HUNT


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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