In the Wake of Rejection (Encouragement for Creators)

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New York book publishers in the early 1960s thought the idea stank — like old fish and seaweed — and that as a writer, Ricou Browning was wet behind the ears. And he actually was, both figuratively and literally. Browning was an underwater cinematographer and stuntman in his early thirties, who had no previous writing experience. But in a splash of sheer inspiration, Browning got a great idea for a novel. At least, he thought it was great. Book editors at practically every publishing company, however, thought he was “all wet.”

Browning was born in Fort Pierce, Florida on November 23, 1930. As a child he spent most of his time playing on the beach, and grew up to be an accomplished swimmer and diver. By the time he was 20, Browning was producing elaborate underwater shows for various theme parks. By the time he was 24, Hollywood had discovered him.

Hollywood had a history of making bankable stars out of excellent swimmers. In the early 1930s, two Olympic Gold-medalists dived into film roles that made them box office attractions. Buster Crabbe surfaced in cliffhanger movie serials, playing the seminal space heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Johnny Weissmuller swung into action as Tarzan of the Apes, making 12 crowd-pleasing motion pictures before his expanding waistline forced him to hang up his loin cloth. (Not to worry, though, because savvy film producers simply clothed Weissmuller in a safari outfit, and started making a slew of Jungle Jim movies.)

And throughout the 1940s and 50s, champion swimmer Esther Williams starred in flood of “aquamusicals,” which featured elaborate sequences of diving and synchronized swimming.

Following in the wake of these three great swimmers-turned-actors, Ricou Browning landed his own starring role … well, sort of … portraying the title character in Universal Studio’s classic horror movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Hey, it was good money, and the film spawned two sequels which kept Browning swimming in the dough — as well as the large fish tank used to film all the creepy underwater sequences. Unfortunately for Browning, no one could recognize him under the green latex gills and fins.

By 1960, Browning was directing and/or filming the underwater sequences for television shows such as Sea Hunt (with Lloyd Bridges) and The Aquanauts. But the young man had even greater creative aspirations. One day, while watching an episode of the ever-popular series Lassie with his kids, Browning started sloshing around a highly original concept in his waterlogged brain, for an adventure tale about an “aquatic Lassie.” He took his ideas to a good friend, and together the two men wrote a novel … which nobody wanted to publish. Period.

That might have been the end of the story, had Browning not bumped into his old boss, movie and television producer Ivan Tors. Browning had worked with Tors on Sea Hunt, and figured he’d found a fellow with whom he could drown his sorrows; but after Browning explained his “novel idea” to Tors, the Hollywood producer immediately suggested they turn the unpublished book into a movie.

Tors was an innovator, as evidenced by such successful television series as Science Fiction Theatre, in 1955, and a 1961 show called Ripcord, which ultimately popularized skydiving as an extreme leisure sport. Then, too, Tors was a huge animal-lover. He’d eventually create and produce two long-running TV shows, one about a vet in Africa, Daktari, and one about a boy and his bear, Gentle Ben. So the producer was eager to sink some time and money into the heartwarming story of … a boy and his dolphin.

Flipper, the novel nobody wanted to publish, soon became Flipper, the motion picture. The movie was a box-office hit, and earned a sequel less than a year later, quickly followed (in 1964) by a television show that lasted 3 seasons and 88 episodes. In fact, Tors ended the show while it was still a ratings hit, only because he wanted to pursue other projects. But not before Flipper (played by a bottlenose dolphin named Mitzi) helped its creators to soak up lots of cash, through licensing deals that included lunch boxes, coloring books, toys, and games.

Got a novel idea? Have faith and stick with it.

Browning (left) and Mitzi’s trainer, Ric O’Feldman, with “Flipper.”

Has someone tried to convince you, regarding your dreams, that you’re all wet? If their resistance to your work smells a little fishy, well, perhaps it is. Think of all the people who initially faced rejection, only to make a big splash later, in writing, illustrating, singing, acting, inventing, innovating and, in general, creating. So keep on treading the often turbulent waters of life and success. Swim with the “dolphins,” gentle and intelligent; and look out for the sharks.

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up—the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 TLB)

It’s okay. I’m really just a dolphin, ma’am.
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Big Dreams; Little People

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The Munsters: Just your typical American family.

Have you ever sat through one of those Hollywood awards shows in which some aspiring young actress finally receives the recognition she deserves? She excitedly hugs the trophy to her heart, giggles uncontrollably for a few awkward moments, and then recites a long laundry list of the people “who made this all possible”? You know: “I’d like to thank my producer, my agent, my mother, my little brother, the dude who delivered lunch to my dressing room, the…. Blah, blah, blah!” Most of us simply yawn as we lounge in front of our TVs, and perhaps, we even use the time to raid the kitchen for a snack.

We respond this way for a couple of good reasons. Our main excuse is that we don’t personally know any of the people she’s thanking. We’re on the outside, looking in. And we may not be able to to understand the sheer magnitude of her thankfulness, because we never shared in her personal struggles to reach the top. But it’s also possible that we’re missing out on a basic principle of life, which we plan to discuss here.

Ham on Rye.
Ham on Rye.

At the other end of the gratitude spectrum, is the prima donna, who struts to the podium, grabs his award and hoists it skyward in a triumphant gesture that screams “I am the greatest!” He acknowledges no one, and gives no credit where credit is due, because his ego has blinded him to a few vital truths. Sad but true.

Writing this, we’re reminded of an episode of the 1960s TV comedy, The Munsters. During the show, the lead character, Herman — a bumbling but well-meaning parody of Frankenstein’s monster — stumbles into a situation that has the potential to catapult him to “stardom.” In no time at all, Herman has alienated his friends and family, by continuously flaunting his celebrity status. His wife, Lily, starts to worry about what will happen should Herman really make it big in show biz.

“I’d like to thank all the little people…but I can’t.”

In a memorable scene, Lily imagines her husband accepting one of those little gold statuettes at an awards ceremony. He lumbers to the podium, stoops low to speak into the microphone, and says with a smirk on his monstrous mug: “I’d like to thank all the little people who made this award possible. …But I can’t — because I did it all myself!”

No one, since the beginning of time, has ever accomplished anything TOTALLY by themselves. Most of us (whether we realize it or not) benefit from the contributions of countless people: those who came before us, and who accomplished great things; and those who live with us and all around us. The so-called “little people”!

We may not be aware of their contributions to our daily lives, and when we finally fulfill our dreams, achieve a goal or succeed in a venture, we may not realize just how much we owe the world at large for helping us to make it to the top of the heap.

We don’t operate in a vacuum. Sometimes, however, it does seem as though friends and family have abandoned us as we doggedly pursue our dreams; as though time, circumstances, and the whole world is working against us. But there is a grand principle of cause and effect at work on this spinning blue marble of ours; and every person we meet — good, bad, helpful or obstinate — is a piece of this bigger reality. And every one of them, either directly or indirectly, touches the lives of us all. This is how the God of the Universe effects change in our society.

Land of the Giants: an idea that only works in science fiction!

It’s one of the simple truths we need to know in order to maintain a positive, loving and hopeful perspective on life, and in order to get things done. Another, related truth: there are NO “little people” — only oversized egos. Everyone counts. Every effort, every opinion, every link in the chain of life matters. And adopting this attitude can actually help you to succeed. Humility and gratitude are traits that foster cooperation — and as we stated, no one really gets anywhere without a helping hand.

Let us all remember: to respect and appreciate even the smallest contributions from — seemingly — the most insignificant sources; to stay humble with every achievement, understanding that we had countless unseen helping hands; to constantly encourage and facilitate the work of others, knowing that we, too, whether directly or indirectly, are benefitting from the actions of millions of interconnected lives. Help us, Lord, to realize, whether we’ve arrived or we’re still struggling to get there, that no one ever makes it alone.

“…The King will say … ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40 NLT)

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