Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”
Introduction to subseries “Sea World superheroes show” (including list of interviewees).
SWSH = Sea World superheroes
How did you get the job with the SWSH show?
Andy Hansen: I was already working at Sea World of Ohio during the previous summers. We did a different themed show the previous year. Sea World changed themes about every two years. The previous show was the “Roaring Twenties Water Frolics.” When we went to the superheroes, I was transformed from Charlie Chaplin to Superman overnight. That involved some real superhero kind of power.
Betsy Maher (Hawkins): My cousin Jeff Parnell told me they needed girls who could ski. I was working a summer job at Disney at the time with friends from college.
Bill Peterson: Tom Weber said I had to learn back barefoot to be able to get the job. [NOTE: Back barefooting is skiing backwards (facing away from the boat) without skis.] For two weeks I took the hardest falls trying to learn to step off a free board. I would call him on the phone for tips. We would discuss how I was falling and he would coach me over the phone since he was at the Sea World in Ohio. Tom was very patient and helped very much in my getting the job for the superhero show in Orlando. My family and I drove to Ohio to audition but not in costume. I got the job. This was before Sea World Orlando opened.
Cindy Barhoff (Clasen): At the end of my senior year in high school, I took a group of girls up to our cottage on Lake Chautauqua in New York and taught them how to ski. The next summer, one of them dated Sharkey Schwartz at Sea World. They were short one skier and called me to try out.
Dave Madeline: I watched the show and everything that they were doing on the water I was able to do. I auditioned same day I went there and went to work two days later.
Diane Smith: Since it was necessary to pay back the loan I had taken out in order to attend graduate school, I arrived at the employment office inquiring about a position as a tour guide, but no job was then available. I was aware that Sea World had a water ski show, though I had never seen it. I was told that the ski department might be hiring and that I should fill out an application. I was immediately called in for an audition. Although I had not water skied for many years (I had been in college and then I taught school prior to enrolling and completing graduate school), my audition went well and to my delighted surprise, I was hired.
Doby Buesse: Had an interview with Gary Thompson and Tom Weber. Gary wore a barrister wig. I think they were just clowning around. The wig was a prop from a previous show just laying around the office. This being my first ever job interview, it really broke the ice and made me feel less nervous. I got the job. No audition. Woo-hoo, $3.25 an hour! I was rich!
Jacque Cook (Kuntarich): I was dating a skier. I got up the first time I tried. The 13th time I skied, Sea World called me.
Janalee Zimmerman (Addleman): I went to see the show and decided to apply for a job. I was called by Tommy Weber and made plans to audition. He hired me after that audition. I was thrilled! I was only 18 and was just graduating from Shanksville Stonycreek High School. As a matter of fact, I had to leave high school a week and a half early to begin working in Ohio. I came back for graduation in June of 1977. This was also the year of the Johnstown (PA) Flood.
Jeff Parnell: My mom saw an ad for skiers for Sea World. I showed up with no appointment. I told them what I could do they gave me an audition and I was hired.
Kaci Whittenton (Hedstrum): Via Sharkey Schwartz encouragement.
Kerry Lloyd: Me and Steve Fontaine went to Florida to Cypress Gardens in 1975, snooping around for a job. We talked to Lynn Novakofski and he told us about Gary Thompson. Gary sent us applications and we filled them out and sent them. In May 1976, Fontaine got hired and went to Ohio. Three weeks later they called me because Andy Hansen broke his arm. So I went to Ohio. That was the first year of the superheroes show. I was 20 when I got the job. Saved my life. I was just some young punk kid doing nothing. Next thing I know I’m in a huge production and did that for next 25 years. Everything I’ve done my whole life’s been dangerous.
Mark Gutleben: Sea World built a stadium in Orlando. I left Sea World Ohio. Sea World paid you to move. I lived in a van in a parking lot in Sea World until I had enough money to share rent on a house. I lived with Dave Madeline, Sharkey.
Mary McMurtrie: My cousin Dave Madeline groomed me for the show. We used to summer ski some tournaments together while I was in high school. I was 18 and very naïve when I started and 30 when I finally called it quits. BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE.
Nancy Radant Combes: I applied for the show the summer before working there. I would have just graduated from high school. The day I visited the show it was very busy and there was no time to audition. I was hired based on my amateur experience and because I was the right size. The smaller the better for girls in a ski show.
What was your training/water skiing background before taking the job?
Betsy Maher (Hawkins): Grew up in Florida on a lake. Learned to ski when I was five years old. My first skis had my tennis shoes nailed to them (small feet).
Bill Schwartz: I began skiing at age five in upstate New York. When I was 10 we moved to Candlewood Lake in Connecticut where my older brothers and I meet Pete Knapp [who skied for Cypress Gardens and] who introduced us to advanced skiing tricks like trick skiing, barefooting, and jumping. There also was a water ski show club on Candlewood which we joined. This introduced us to show skiing. Being the youngest in the group, I was the guinea pig and was forced to learn everything they did and more. For example: they took me to the middle of the lake, threw me out of the boat, and told me I either had to learn to barefoot or swim home. Being two miles from home, I learned to barefoot. [In] my teens I became a solid skier with a strong foundation in all areas of water skiing.
Kaci Whittenton (Hedstrum): I did not know how to ski! They taught me how and that was the start of the training program.
Mary McMurtrie: Summer skiing…in other words, not much.
Randy Messer: Most skiers were around college age and came from show ski clubs, which are very popular some Midwestern, Northeastern, and a few Southern states, but Wisconsin is the mecca of show ski clubs. I learned to ski in Iowa on a muddy water lake off the Mississippi.
Suzanne Schwartz: [My husband] Sharkey was an experienced skier, as he grew up spending his summers at Lake Berryessa in Napa County (CA). He was hired as a professional skier at MarineWorld right out of high school. A motorcycle accident in January 1976 shattered his right ankle and ended his professional skiing career, but he continued to be a part of the show as a driver and all-around equipment maintenance guy. I, on the other hand, had no skiing experience whatsoever. I did have dancing experience.
How long was the training for the SWSH show?
Betsy Maher (Hawkins): For me, just a week. During my two-week notice period for leaving the Disney job, I would train during the day and work nights at Disney.
Jeff Parnell: It depended on how good you were—two weeks to a month.
John Gillette: On one hand, I had no training, but jumped right into the show. On the other hand, the training was continuous through the seven years I worked for Sea World.
Steve Fontaine: In Ohio, we started the first of May and it snowed about five inches that first day of practice! We began the show over Memorial Day weekend.
How would you describe the training?
Andy Hansen: I was already trained from previous shows. I just had to train my posture from dancing the Charleston to standing with my hands on my hips while flashing my newly installed “girdle” muscle garment. Because it was a water ski show, training was more fun than anything else. I was at a stage of life where I would go into Sea World on my day off just to hang out and watch the others perform in the show because I loved it so much.
Bill Peterson: Fun and very group-oriented. Always with safety in mind so that the skiers would not get run over [or otherwise hurt]. Such as when you fell, you were to swim a direction to avoid getting run over by the boat as it made its pattern around the show circle. The drivers were incredible.
Bill Schwartz: I loved skiing so much that I couldn’t get enough. It was tough in the beginning. I was only 125 pounds—skinny kid—and had to learn to pick up girls my own size to do doubles, pyramids, and group acts. When I first got there, the hardest thing for me to learn was to land on the beach with a girl on my skis. I would crash every time. There was only one female skier that would work with me. Her name was Reyna. She stuck it out with me and one day it clicked and I never missed another beach landing ever.
Bubby Snow: We were expected to perform just like the superheroes. We did as much superhero training as water ski training.
Janalee Zimmerman (Addleman): I remember being very impressed that everything was planned out and timed perfectly, even down to the ropes and how they were wrapped and laid! I remember that I had to learn to slalom ski with my right foot first because the majority of the other girls put their right foot first. I also remember the comedy act—Lois Lane—was difficult for me to learn. I had to jump on Clark Kent as he skied by and I had trouble with the timing. Timing has always been an issue for me! LOL.
Randy Messer: Started early morning before the first show and the skiers were constantly wet, sore, and cold. The conditions bonded the friendship among these trainees that lasts to this day. One trainee was hired and later became my wife. Back barefoot was one of the premiere ski acts and only a few skiers at that time could end their run with a back to front turn. [One was Mark Gutleben.] We all marveled at Gute. If you asked him how he did it, he couldn’t tell you. When he was working something out in his mind, his body would twitch as he mimicked the moves in his head.
Sherry Wickstrom: First time I saw them build a pyramid, I was dumbfounded—it was a free-for-all. To build it for the first time, we were on land. When they started to do it, I just stood there. The show director asked me what was wrong. So I explained and I believe Reyna backed me up.
Shirley Duke: It was on-the-job, usually three weeks, 8-9 hours/day. I can’t remember if we had weekends off. Intensive, especially for the guys. It wasn’t just the skiing; we had beach work, we even had “waving” practice to learn the proper way to wave. We had to memorize songs (I still know the words to the intro song).
OMG—I knew it last week, but when I was trying to write it down, nada. Here’s what I got so far:
“We’re the heroes that you all adore
We fight bad guys to even the score
Crime and justice is all just the same
We fight bad guys and ruin their game”
Next: skiers, part 2 of 10—the characters.