Wet, Wild & Wonderful
Bruce Mozert could not have known... By Laura Byrnes - Thursday, February 28, 2008
Bruce Mozert could not have known when he showed up at Silver Springs 70 years ago, eager to make good on a freelance assignment to photograph Tarzan Finds a Son, that he would find a lifelong avocation. He also found a home.
Photo by Bruce Mozert
Bruce Mozert, though just 21, was anything but wet behind the ears when starting out at Silver Springs.
His sister, the famous female pinup artist Zoë Mozert, had launched him on his way by introducing him to Victor DePalma, then a top photographer for Life magazine before striking out on his own. Constantly on the move, Mozert used his trusty “Rollie” to photograph everything from football games and beauty pageants to the ill-fated Hindenburg moments before it burst into flames. His work was published in daily newspapers, like the New York Mirror, as well as Pic, Look, and Life magazines. At his peak, Mozert’s photographs appeared on an average
of two magazine covers a month.
Photo by Bruce Mozert
As Mozert puts it, he “took to photography like a duck takes to water.” For the man generally considered the “grandfather of underwater photography,” that may be something of an understatement. On the scene at Silver Springs in 1938 to capture the third in the Tarzan series starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, Mozert was vexed to discover that the one shot he truly needed, Weissmuller swimming with “porpoise-like grace” in the springs’ crystal clear waters, was the one shot he couldn’t get. That’s because the only way to capture underwater sequences was in a submerged drum outfitted for the movie’s cameraman, and there wasn’t room enough in the rig for Mozert.
But, in what would become Mozert’s lifelong mantra, necessity proved to be the mother of invention. He got permission to nose around the park’s maintenance shop and cobbled together the world’s first underwater camera casing out of galvanized metal sheeting, an old inner tube, and rubber cement.
“When I showed up at the set the next morning, they all laughed at me,” he says. “But I just walked into the water and took my pictures.”
He ended up with black-and-white images so good that MGM snagged them for publicity stills, paying Mozert the princely sum of $12.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Photo by Bruce Mozert IN THE PRIMORDIAL
days before Disney, Silver Springs became Florida’s premier tourist attraction thanks in large part to a public relations juggernaut that targeted snowbirds through release of thousands of publicity stills on the national wire services.
Mozert was part of an aggressive marketing machine that by the 1950s saw annual visitation of 800,000. During the park’s heyday, from the 1940s through the early 1970s, Mozert’s pioneering efforts resulted in the first underwater movie camera and the first underwater lighting system that is still used today.
“We developed a lot of things at Silver Springs,” Mozert says, “mostly out of necessity.”
At his peak, Mozert’s photographs appeared on an average of two magazine covers a month—including a Popular Science he spotted in Paris when then-Florida Gov. Ferris Bryant sent him to Europe on assignment. He worked on myriad films, including all three of the Creature from the Black Lagoon movies and The Yearling, and handled underwater camera work for ABC Sports, NBC’s Mike and the Mermaid, Fox News, CBS’ Sea Hunt, and Mercury Outboard Motors. Jayne Mansfield
Photo by Bruce Mozert
Along the way, he also took the bathing beauty “shot” seen round the world, helping catapult Jayne Mansfield to stardom. And he was the only photographer Esther Williams would allow to take her picture while filming Jupiter’s Darling at Silver Springs. MORE THAN 50
of Mozert’s 8x10-inch glossies, as well as much of his equipment and other Silver Springs memorabilia, are on display through May 11 at the Appleton Museum of Art.
Dr. Leslie Hammond, the museum’s chief curator, said that Silver Springs: The Underwater World of Bruce Mozert is more than a collection of Florida kitsch.
“When seen in the context of history and art, not only is this group of images a contribution to the history of photography,” she says, “but also, weighing the technical difficulty of staging the scenes as well as the actors and their props, increases the level of appreciation of the works beyond their value as fun, old-time Florida scenes.”
That Mozert’s work would be seen as art, let alone fine art, came as a bit of a surprise to the shutterbug. Mozert said he is humbled by the exhibition, which has been in the works for about a year. It was brought to the museum’s attention by Gary Monroe, author of Silver Springs: The Underwater Photography of Bruce Mozert, a University Press of Florida publication due for release next month. Gary Monroe
Photo Courtesy of The Appleton Museum of Art