never say never again. - fort lauderdale · pdf filemale bonding: stuntman john mclaughlin...

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  • Less than an hour before, a crane operator dropped the mock-up bomber into the sea too soon. Stunt diver Courtney Brown, playing the pilot, was caught off guard and didn't get his hand on his bail-out bottle in time to prevent water from pouring into his lungs.

    In true show bi z tradition, filming resumed minutes after Brown left in an ambulance. McLaughlin doesn't recall how many takes were required, just that they were numerous, because the director wasn't getting what he wanted.

    " It had to be done perfect," he said. "I was playing a real bad guy and they kept saying [ wasn't doing it violent enough. But with a patch on your eye, you can't judge di stances. [didn' t want to cut the guy 's throat instead of the hose. Cutting that guy 's air hose was one of the most nerve-w rac king thin gs I have eve r don e underwater. I was a nervous wreck."

    Looking at McLaughlin , a strapping 6-foot-I inches tall , it's hard to fathom hi s being ner-vous about anything. When it comes to diving, McLaughlin's career reads like is a long list of underwater profession s: commercial deep sea diver, underwater cinematographer, dive master, treasure hunter, weapons expert and veteran movie and television stunt double.

    If the sce ne involves water and ri sk, McLaughl in has probably done it. Several times.

    "Diving is just a means of transportation," said McLaughlin, 72, a longtime Fort Lauderdale resi-dent whose bcachfront condo overlooks the Atlantic. "Getting underwater is not a profession. You hJ ve to know what to do when you get there."

    MALE BONDING: Stuntman John McLaughlin and Sean Connery [with towel] on the set of Never Say Never Again. The Scottish actor didn't care much for scuba diving.

    From Sea Hunt to movies now in production, McLaughlin is possibly his generation's most sought after dive expert. Put him underwater in any situation - but particularly under less than ideal circumstances - and he will always deliver.

    Known to almost everyone as Big John , a moniker he adopted when the Screen Actors Guild told him there was already another John

    diver possesses the se lF-confidence of someone who knows he has triumphed in haz.ardous situations many others found far too daunting.

    "I must have bit that shark a dozen times. My lips were all chapped."

    McLaughlin registered, this striking and rugged "If you want something done, call Big John," said Ray McAllister, a diver and retired ocean engineering professo r who has known McLaughlin for 15 years. "The odds are, if he says he couldn ' t do it , it probably can ' t be done. But if it can be done, he' ll find a way to do it."

    In April, McLaughlin was in Abaco working as a marine advisor on an as-yet untitled Al Pacino movie. Ask him about the film 's plot and McLaughlin, a dive consultant on dozens of good and some not-so-good Hollywood films, almost seems indi fferent.

    "It 's a true story about a scam where a company is puttin g too much ni cotin e in cigarettes," McLaughlin said. "I guess you 'd call it an investigative drama."

    Another current project, a movie based on Florida author Carl Hiassen 's novel , Skin Tight. is on hold. "The funding was there and then it disappeared. Who knows why. That kind of thing happens all the lime in thi s business. I've had as many as four or fi ve film projects goi ng at

    . one time and only one will come out. It's crazy."

    CERTIFIED STAR: Big John with Brooke Shields in Wet Gold, a 1984 film. McLaughlin said Shields was very athletic and one of the few movie stars who became a scuba diver.

    There is a tinge of restlessness in Big John 's voice today. He's not used to prolonged stretches of inactivity. But try to make an appointment with

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    TIGER BY THE TAIL: Big John poses with a tiger shark, one of Hollywood's non-union extras. Notice John's blond hair [right]. In left photo, his hair is shorter and dyed black to look like James Bond. Also notice the rope [tied to the shark's tail] trailing off to a reef. John's flippers also are partially covered by sand. "The shark's kicking my ass," he said. " I'm stirring the bottom up trying to hang on to him."

    him more than 24 hours in advance and you' ll fail. He likes to keep hi s calendar open, because he never knows when he' ll be summoned by a movie company or called to assist a Federal Disaster Squad to help ascertain the cause of a plane crash or deactivate bombs inside a sunken aircraft.

    ''I'm always on call ." McLaughlin said. "Hardly a day goes by that I don' t get a call to go to a set locat ion or fo r consultation or advice. The most fun is when someone says 'we can't do thi s,' and I show them a way that they can."

    He has even proved the U.S. Navy wrong . Twenty years ago off Key West, McLaughlin made a 300-foot free a,ccntjust to prove a crew could escape from a dis-abled sub at that depth. He also photographed a submari ne as it cruised back and fo rth after a Navy diver before him got sucked into the vessel's props and killed. That happened about 15 years it ago, while the Navy was seeking better way s to imp rove sub designs to keep them quieter.

    He also is one of several divers

    cases, such as a 8 -52 that disappeared into Lake Michigan 10 years ago, and a 747 that authorit ies suspected was shot down a few years back.

    "I'm not allowed to talk about that one." McLaughlin does like to talk abom kids.

    Gett ing youngsters interested in the ocean and the underwater world is one of his

    top concerns at thi s stage in his li fe. "So they' ll grow up and protect what's down there," he said.

    His role as a grandfather also is importane His voice softens "5 he recounts a recent Keys trip with his grandchildren, Candicc, 8, and Shane, 4. It was Candice's firs t dive and Big John chose Alligator Light as the background setting.

    "The weather was clear, the seas were perfect and we saw more fi sh than anyone person wi ll see in a lifetime," he said. "There were so many different variet ies. It was just a perfect dive. And Candice looked like a pro. It gave me so much pleasure. I was very, very proud of her."

    in the coun try who has top secret clearance to investigate sensitive

    ODD MAN OUT: Big John with actor Harold Sakata, best known as "Odd Job," a popular James Bond villain. The photo was taken while John and Mr. Sakata were filming the Mako: Jaws of Death, a 1975 film.

    McLaughlin, however, is the div-ing pro Hollywood has turned to for 37 years. Name a James Bond flick in the '60s or '70s and Big John was the main reason why most of the spectacular underwater stunts and special effects were so impressive. His first fi lm was Dr. No. In the Bahamas worki ng on a treasure salvage job, McLaughlin signed on as a safety diver for the 1962 movie as a lark. He enjoyed the work so much, he turned it into a career.

    In the fil m, McLaughlin was ass igned the task of teaching Sean

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  • known Hollywood actor a regular guy who was easy enough to work with, but said Connery "couldn't care Jess" about anything underwater.

    ''I'd show him how to do something," McLaughlin said. "I'd take him down and they'd get all their close-ups in one day and then he'd be gone and it would all go out of his head. I'd have to teach him all over aga in [he next time."

    In Tlwl1derball, where Largo plans to nuke Miami [had it worked, he might have stopped the political corruption problem, if only tempo-rari !y], there 's a memorable scene where skydiving scuba divers battle the diabolically-evil criminal's wetsuit-clad henchmen.

    The close-up shots of Bond 's men landing in the water were accomplished with Big John and other parachute-clad divers jumping 30 feet into the water off a house on stilts perched atop a barge. Their spearguns were supposed to be dummies, but the diver right behind McLaughlin had somehow picked up a loaded pneumatic. The weapon accidentally fired as they were leaping.

    "There was no way to avoid it because I was already jumping when I saw it go over my head," McLaughlin recalled. "It was so close it blew the air up around my head. But it wasn't a big deal. It was just an accident that missed,"

    "I've gone through 16 tanks in one day."

    He said Thlillderball probably couldn ' t be filmed today, because [he production e lements were so huge. fn one scene, there were a total of 60 divers underwater. "And some of them didn't know how to dive," McLaughlin acknowledged.

    Big John doubled for 18 characters in the movie, killing people and getting killed. Only eight of his cameos made it on screen. One was as a stand-in for actor Richard ](jel, who played Tluillderball's dentally-overachieving villain, Jaws. The scene required McLaughlin to bite a tiger shark - as he gripped the predator by the pectoral fin s - and then spit blood from a capsule in his mouth.

    "I must have bit that shark a dozen times," McLaughlin said. "My lips were all chapped."

    Director Ricou Browning a lso as ked McLaughlin to place a 14-foottiger shark inside the bay of a mockup Vulcan bomber.

    " It was the biggest shark I had ever worked with and it didn't fit ," McLaughlin said. Alleast not until he managed to curl the shark 's tail and stuff it, like a huge sardine, into the plane. Even still , its huge head still hung out the bomb doors.

    To keep the shark under control , a rope is kept ti ed to its tail, even during filming. That's why the shark's tail is rarely seen in most scenes.

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    HARD HAT AREA: Big John gears up in an old diving suit and helmet, which he used to shoot several television spots. "A lot of commercials like to use it for advertising," he said.

    That was just fine