By John Penzer
John Penzer is the author of The Curse of the Golden Scorpion: A Tale of Pirates, Sea Monsters and Buried Treasure, Perish Island: One man’s story of the Vietnam Era brutal training that almost destroyed the Marine Corps, and Annie: A Haunting Tale of Ill-Fated Love set in Saratoga Springs, New York, Vermont and sunny Lake George, New York – all available in Kindle format at Amazon.com. With more than 2,500 logged dives, the former literature and poetry professor once shared the lecture podium with adventure novelist Clive Cussler.
He has been published in national magazines including Skin Diver and Plastic Figure and Playset Collector.
Sea Hunt’s Mike Nelson took us where we only dreamed: sea monsters, Mermaids, Blackbeard’s treasure, and a sub with Hitler’s body. We saw mysterious Mayan pools, a sacred alligator and a mystical drug that could cure men’s minds. There is a tale of survival at sea in the tradition of In the Heart of the Sea and references to Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Sea Hunt illustrates mythology in the tradition of serious works of literature. Cousteau taught us the lore of the ocean. Mike Nelson gave us myth and imagination. Lloyd Bridges’ acting brought his character to life.
Mike Nelson’s boat is The Argonaut, from the boat, The Argo, from Greek Mythology. The Argonauts were a band of heroes in Greek mythology, who in the years before the Trojan War, accompanied Jason in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. “Argonauts” literally means “Argo sailors.”
I began watching the show as a boy of ten. My mother and I watched Sea Hunt every week at 10:30 PM on local Channel 13. Sometimes, my first cat, Cugat, would join us and I would pet him during the show. Every episode was viewed in a reverential silence. Of all the original 155 episodes, I missed only one. I fell asleep. I was short with my mother the next day for not waking me up. The unforgettable theme music often lulled her to sleep.
Today, I have the series on DVD and can watch them any hour of the day or night. I watch them usually at night with the wave – like theme music and Lloyd’s voice- overs. I have Sea Hunt calendars made and also t- shirts and sweatshirts with the covers of the comic book on the front and wear them frequently. In 2016, I had a pullover made that is an exact replica of the one Lloyd Bridges wore in nearly every episode of Sea Hunt. As a little boy watching the show, 56 years ago I admired the pullover.
The best friend I never met, Danny Midgett and I talked on the phone nearly every day, emailed one another and sent Sea Hunt material to one another in the mail, including scripts from the shows, newspaper advertisements and Skin Diver Magazine covers with Lloyd Bridges.
Danny and I frequently talked about the pullover. Our mutual late friend Kent “Rocky” Rockwell once went into the Bridges’ Malibu home, and “Bud” Bridges let him try it on.
With Danny and Rocky in mind, I had a local woman fashion the pullover that is correct in every detail to Bud’s pullover. In the knit shop, I had a photo taken of me wearing the pullover in a Captain’s hat and had the photo of Lloyd wearing it and me wearing it put together to show us both.
Because of Sea Hunt, I was able to do things I never otherwise would have been inspired to do: I dove Belize’s Blue Hole (a pilgrimage for some devoted divers.) I dove Grand Cayman’s North Wall, fed the sharks and dove the “James Bond” Shipwrecks in the Bahamas.
Years ago, I dove the U – 853 – the last German U Boat sunk in WWII, believed to carry the Nazi art treasures, a shipment of gold and, possibly Hitler’s remains. The U Boat is off Block Island, Rhode Island. The German submariners remain there, undisturbed in the dignity of a war grave. Is Hitler’s body among them? We may never know.
Becoming entangled in monofilament fishing line in the deep and dark wreck of the USS Bass Submarine, I slowly cut myself free and vowed never to dive with less than three dive knives. If I had dropped mine that day, I very well might not have made it. The USS Bass lies at 155 feet off Montauk point and Block Island.
I dove the wreck of the San Diego off Fire Island, NY. It is inverted and in 110 feet of sea water. More divers have died on the wreck than crew were killed during its sinking, usually due to disorientation and panic. My friend Scott held my fins as I gathered ammunition from an interior compartment.
My artifact collection includes brass from mostly WWI and WWII shipwrecks, including running lights, junction boxes, very old Lake George, NY Steamship Company plates and dishes, old bottles, inkwells, antique anchors, a clay pipe from the 18th Century, blue electrical conductors and old coins.
My watch is a Rolex Submariner, like one of the watches worn by Mike Nelson and the one Bud Bridges wore in real life, bequeathed to his son Jeff. In a photo of the mature Lloyd Bridges, the watch’s bezel is set at 30 and that is where mine is set – for luck. And I have indeed been lucky in life. It was my birthday watch 19 years ago and the luminous Tritium still glows. That model Rolex is sometimes referred to as the James Bond Submariner.
One of the reasons for Sea Hunt’s enduring success is the great similarity between Lloyd Bridges and Mike Nelson’s character. Both were genuinely good and kind men who always seemed down-to-earth. They both did the next right thing. Lloyd wasn’t simply portraying a television character; he was that character. Sea Hunt is the most successful first run syndicated show in television history, according to MGM Studios.
The closest any other actor came to being identical to the character was The Fugitive’s David Jaansen. The actor seemed naturally nervous and fearful. Each week, we rooted for him to escape the unrelenting Gerard. For one hour, each week in the world of 1960’s television, David Jaansen became Dr. Richard Kimble.
Mike Nelson and Dr. Richard Kimble were television icons, each unforgettable in their own way.
Using a line from a fine article: “Sea Hunt – On Location,” from a 1961 issue of Skin Diver Magazine, Sea Hunt is a success because Mike Nelson did see the water.
Lloyd Vernet Bridges and his wife Dorothy (nicknamed “The General”) were married for 59 years. Daughter Lucinda Bridges acted briefly and then devoted her life to raising a family. Older brother Beau began acting in Sea Hunt, then went on to star in films like The Fabulous Baker Boys and won a Golden Globe Award.
Jeff also began his acting career in Sea Hunt and continued his patriarch father’s tradition by winning an Academy Award for his role as Otis “Bad Blake” in Crazy Heart. He did an outstanding job in the recent Hell or High Water.
Garrett Bridges died soon after birth of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.) His parents went on to campaign for SIDS and also oceanic causes, including the American Oceans Campaign and Heal the Bay until Lloyd’s death.
Last Father’s Day, my daughter Beth gave me a blue blown glass figure of a scuba diver. She understands.
This article is dedicated to Bill Eddy, my best friend for 55 years, Reva Cousino my dear friend for 46 years and Dr. Bick Wanck, whom I have known, worked with and remained friends with for 30 years.
Friendship is precious.
Below, I offer a few connections between Sea Hunt and famous literary works.
In the “Revolutionary Spoils” episode, two divers chase Mike through a shipwreck. He disarms a booby trap the divers had set but the divers do not know this. He gestures for them to stay away and as they leave, Mike in his voice-over says, “They preferred discretion to valor.”
This is from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II.
In the “Legend of the Mermaid,” Mike lies on the deck of the sponge diver’s ship after his second attempt to enter the Mermaid’s cave. He is battered and has bruised ribs.
But, he is determined to enter the cave again to learn the Mermaid’s secret.
He says: “Now I know how Captain Ahab felt when he went searching for the white whale.”
The writer has used a reference from Moby Dick.
In the episode “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Mike is a consultant on the film remake of The Count of Monte Cristo. Mike finds that the emotions of the star and his stand – in may lead to disaster in the execution of a stunt. The star nearly drowns in the burial sack because the stand-in had dulled the knives used to free him.
Mike states that he was just a kid when he first discovered the classic The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.
Sea Hunt not only entertained but informed me. As a former professor of literature, I find its message honors literary greats in a most captivating way.