The Octopus in Cinema

By Richard Ellis

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The following is excerpted from Monsters of the Sea, by Richard Ellis. Reproduced with permission of the author.

The killer octopus made its first cinema appearance in 1916.

Three years earlier, Charles Williamson had designed and built a "salvage machine" that consisted of a flexible tube hung from the keel of a barge with an observation ball fitted with glass viewing ports and mechanical arms. His son, John Ernest Williamson, envisioned other possibilities, descended in the "photoscope" with a press camera, and took the first underwater photographs ever recorded in America. (The first underwater camera was built in France by Louis Boutan in 1899, and one of his first pictures was of himself.) After making some still shots, John Williamson decided to become an underwater movie-maker. In the Bahamas, he shot all sorts of fishes, then filmed a battle between a man and a shark. The film - in which Williamson himself fought and killed a shark - was the centerpiece of The Williamson Submarine Expedition, which kept people coming to a Broadway movie house for almost a year. His next project was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

In the Bahamas (where forty years later Walt Disney would film the same story), Williamson obtained a ship to use for the USS Abraham Lincoln (which he blew up for the film), but because the navy's submarines were otherwise engaged, he had to build his own out of wood. He filmed Verne's "undersea gardens" - inhabited by several threatening tiger sharks - and outfitted the divers in hard-hat diving suits that adhered to Verne's description by using equipment that required no air hoses. Although the Nautilus is...
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Tony converted TONMO.com into an octopus and cephalopod interest site in May 2000. (Find out more about how TONMO started by reading this blog entry.) He began his career in the online services industry in 1992, working for companies such as Prodigy, iVillage.com, Reuters and Comcast. Tony and his wife Tania are the owners of Deep Intuition, LLC, which is an entity they created to support their entrepreneurial hobbies and pursuits. He graduated from St. Bonaventure University with a B.A. in Mass Communication and lives in Pennsylvania.

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