Introduction to subseries “Sea World superheroes show” (including list of interviewees).
Skiers, part 6 of 10—the audience; the fame.
SWSH = Sea World superheroes
How much time did your group of SWSH show skiers spend together both professionally and socially?
Al Kelley: During the summers in Ohio we all worked 6 days a week and 12-hour days so we didn’t have much time off. Late dinners and a drink after the 9 p.m. show.
Andy Hansen: We became very good friends. Many permanent relationships were established. I ended up meeting my wife in the ski show at Sea World.
Bill Peterson: I was married and had a young baby so I did not spend much time except for the show work and a few parties. We did try to help each other out with temporary housing when a new person came in. I practiced some outside the show with Margie Bates since she was a competitive skier, too. I always kept up competitive skiing even while I worked at Sea World. Most show skiers didn’t do both; I think me and Margie and a few others were the exception.
Bill Schwartz: All day and all night. Many of us lived together or in the same areas. We socialized almost every night and had many parties. We all became very tight like one big family. Our friendships were and are very deep and I have the warmest place in my heart for everyone.
Roger Hansen, Bob “Bullet” Borth, Sharkey Schwartz, Sheri McNary,
Annette Botti (Hoffman), Steve Fontaine, Rene/Renee (squatting)
Annette Botti (Hoffman), Steve Fontaine, Rene/Renee (squatting)
Carl Lipsit: On the professional side—quite a bit of time at work and practice. On the person side, quite a bit less. The occasional party. The guys got together to go to a lake (undisclosed location) and drank some beers that someone who wasn’t working that day had to go out and buy.
Christina Ashley: We actually spent quite a bit of time together. In a way we were a big family and most of us were very close. We did stunts that required a lot of teamwork, a lot of practicing. If you did not know what you were doing, it could be very dangerous, plus the girls were literally climbing on the guys in doubles, trio, and pyramid, you had to have a lot of trust in the person below you.
Cindy Barhoff (Clasen): Lots. There was sometimes four hours between shows.
Dave Madeline: The skiers would have parties and everyone would bring Kodak carousels and everyone would be howling at the photos. Parties never lasted very long because everyone was tired at 9 p.m. In Ohio it was five or six shows a day.
Diane Smith: We ate together and did Nautilus. When a holiday occurred, those of us who worked that day would celebrate the holiday after the park closed, at the home of a skier. I hosted some memorable parties—one on Halloween (what creative costumes there were) and another fun one was a ‘50s party where we dressed the era and danced to 45s which were played in my original “Happy Days-esque” jukebox. We drank out of superhero glasses.
[Diane’s superhero collectibles went beyond drinking glasses. She still has all of it.]
Two Wonder Women I interviewed for this feature—voice actor Shannon Farnon and
Sea World water skier Diane Smith—have this sign!
Sea World water skier Diane Smith—have this sign!
Greg Galloway: It was a pretty close group of people. I think, though, everybody had a life outside of work.
Janalee Zimmerman (Addleman): We worked eight hour days at times and as I recall there were days when we did up to seven shows, especially in July when the crowds were larger.
John Gillette: I shared an apartment with another skier. We also did quite a bit together as friends. Had a regular Bible study that several skiers attended.
Kerry Lloyd: A lot. It was pretty clique-y. I was with the hardcores. About seven or eight of us. The drinkers. Me, Jeff Parnell, Greg Galloway, Steve Fontaine, Billy Davies, Bubby Snow (he’s a way hardcore), Doby Buesse, Lor Radant (definitely). If I told you some stories of what we did after work…ridiculous. At Rosie O’Grady’s, Bubby almost jumped off the top balcony to swing on a chandelier. We got thrown out of everywhere we went. Gary Thompson, our show director, knew and tried to keep us tame. Within the first two weeks we got to Florida the park had a Halloween party. The green people [took care of the trees and shrubs of the park] threw it. Because we were so ornery, Bob Borth and Steve Fontaine set up this big diversion act and during it Bubby walked in right behind them and picked up a keg and walked out. Of course we got in trouble. Gary would have you scrubbing the stadium. He was about 6-7 years older than myself.
Nancy Radant Combes: We were inseparable. Since most of us lived away from our families, skiers were our family. Even today, we all have a special bond and love for each other. My husband, not a skier, is so amazed at the connection we all have.
Sherry Wickstrom: A lot. There was nothing to do up in Ohio. We partied at a place that was a restaurant and bar. We moved their tables and chairs so we had a dance floor. Lots of fun.
Suzanne Schwartz: The skiers were an extremely tight-knit group partly due to the amount of time spent together at work, partly due to the physical intimacy required for the job and the teamwork required, but we were all fairly close in age, had common interests, and personality traits and we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company at work or at play. I remember the first holiday we were there was Thanksgiving. Karen and Tommy Weber (married ski couple) hosted a “Thanksgiving Dinner for Orphans” for those skiers who had no family nearby.
How much behind-the-scenes romance among performers was there? How did it affect the show?
Al Kelley: There was a little. I think anytime you work with people as intimately as we did, you’re going to have some relations. I don’t remember it being a problem.
Andy Hansen: Lots! LOL. Talk to Gary and Sharkey. They were my mentors.
Bill Peterson: Never will tell.
Bill Schwartz: We could make a prime-time sitcom on this subject. Everyone was professional about it. A few got married and are still married.
Carl Lipsit: There was some of that went on from the top on down (no pun intended). Overall, it didn’t seem to affect the show.
Diane Smith: The performers were professionals at work. Some were great friends; others were in love and then got married. The show, however, was never affected during my time there. These relationships seemed to make certain acts even stronger.
Doby Buesse: There was a fair amount. Young, single, spending all day in bathing suits. It happens.
Gary Thompson: I’m an example. My wife was one of our many Wonder Women. She was hired into the show and that is when we first met.
Greg Galloway: It was the late 1970s and most skiers were in their late teens or early twenties. What do you think?
Jacque Cook (Kuntarich): It was unrelated to Sea World and never affected the show, but some of the skiers became Born Again and others were the partiers. Some didn’t want to go dirt biking around the back after work. It’s the Shamu Stadium now but it was woods then.
Janalee Zimmerman (Addleman): There was a girl named Cindy Clasen who dated the guy whose shoulder I dislocated.
Jody Spence: Several or so. I think at times there might have been some problems, but as a whole it was more fun to be with people that love the same thing.
Kerry Lloyd: Tiger’s [as in Tiger Woods] nothing. (laughs) Romance with the hardcores was pretty much one-night stands. That’s how Orlando worked—people fly in Monday and fly out Sunday. We’d meet all these girls in the stadium, 5,000 people. We’d break character and say “Stick around, I’ll be here when this is over.” Eventually I married a girl that I had children with.
Paula Nelson (Bloemer): Quite a bit! Hey, the show must go on and it did!
Randy Messer: Skier dating non-skier almost never lasted. The guys were, for the most part, having a great time; a majority every work day was spent interacting with beautiful, athletic girls in swimsuits. The girls had more time on their hands and were much more volatile.
Wow, seeing the girls dressed (or undressed) as superheroines was a real treat for the guys. Before the show everyone was grabbing costumes. The guys had to put on chest padding for fake muscles and the girls put padded bras over bikini tops (mostly) to meet the superhero standards. Pre-show was always a madhouse and then there were costume changes throughout the show. Performers running through the hall stripping off [some] costume pieces—think Maxim, not Playboy. (Girls were always covered.) Most skiers I talk to still have dreams where they can’t find their costume and fear missing the next act.
The girls’ costume consisted of spandex tights (somewhere in heaven there is a spot reserved for the inventor of spandex) pulled over a very padded bra, topped off with a large, luxurious wig and show makeup. The bras were not exactly Victoria’s Secret and I think the girls probably viewed them as not sexy at all—something their grandmother might wear. But to a young man, a bra is a bra. It evokes a certain reaction when an attractive young woman strides down the hallway wearing a bra, the bottom half of a Supergirl outfit, a blonde wig, and bright red lipstick. Some ski shows girls were absolute knockouts but even the Plain Janes transformed into objects of desire with the right costume and makeup.
Just like in junior high, the guys would steal glances down the tops of these poorly fitted bras whenever possible. In later shows there was a pig costume worn by girls. It had a big head piece that someone could look out of but no one could see in. Kerry Lloyd, one of the smaller male skiers, slipped the costume on and walked into the girls locker room and hung out for a bit until the girls realized they were all accounted for and there was one left over, being the pig. Exit Kerry Lloyd.
[Another time Kerry Lloyd dressed in an outfit made for the girls, but this time it was a cat(woman) instead of a pig.]
I have often wondered how the girls felt about wearing these outfits and if they were aware of the super powers they truly possessed.
Reyna Blasko: Some. The age was right. I met and married during the show. He was Tarzan.
Suzanne Schwartz: There was lots and lots of romance amongst skiers. Put a bunch of athletic, outgoing, attractive guys and gals together…running around in bathing suits…and being required to be physical with each other…you get the drift. During off season there was a lot of time between shows…that time could be filled doing whatever people wanted to do…practicing, tanning, working out, or just hanging out with each other. In all honesty, I don’t believe romance affected the show whatsoever. Offhand I know of 11 skier couples from our era alone who married and eight of the 11 are still married (and most are becoming grandparents now).
Was there a rivalry between the skiers of the Florida and Ohio SWSH shows?
Andy Hansen: Oh, yeah. It was stupid that there was. In my opinion this did not have to exist. I think management created it. I am probably going to get called out on that one…grins.
Bubby Snow: No, many were the same skiers.
Diane Smith: I would be more intimidated by eight Cypress Gardens skiers in the audience than a full audience of thousands.
Doby Buesse: No. It was always nice to have the Ohio skiers back in Orlando at the end of the summer.
Greg Galloway: Maybe, but everybody knew that the skiers from Florida were the best.
Sherry Wickstrom: No. Florida was more professional.
Shirley Duke: I think the first Ohio skiers were tight as a group, and then getting relocation pay to move to Florida, wow, how cool is that? So maybe there was a little attitude there, but we all came together. I had heard of Randi Tetrick and Mike Botti who were well known barefooters and Bill Peterson who was a champion trick skier. Both had appeared in Water Skier magazine. So it was great to have such a caliber of skiers added to the team. I believe there was a little rivalry between the Cypress Gardens skiers and the Florida skiers. We’d visit their show on our days off.
If there were any rivalries among skiers, how did they play out?
Bill Peterson: Not really. We always skied as a team and [a goal was] to do a no-fall show every time. For each fall in the show, the fallen skiers would put a quarter in the kitty and after so much time, the funds would go towards a party for the skiers.
Christina Ashley: You would always have the few who were jealous of others’ abilities, but for the most part there was not much of that going on.
Jeff Parnell: There just wasn’t much of that. The only real rivalry was between the whale and dolphin trainers and skiers. They were top dog until we showed up.
Linda Knapp (Moffett): Not really. We all helped one another improve. Our goal was to be the best we could be in each act. We practiced a lot between shows. There was some competition between skiers at Sea World and Cypress Gardens. Each group boasted of their talents (which were pretty much equal). Also, Mercury Motors sponsored Sea World and Johnson sponsored the Gardens.
Randy Messer: There were a few rifts. The show director Gary and assistant show director Tommy were different personalities and skiers sided with one or the other. Within the first few months after being hired a group of skiers headed by the lead skier wanted to strike. The motivation behind the strike was not just for pay increase. They put together a list of things they wanted and one of the items was a request to have an old guy around that the skiers could talk to when they were upset. The strike required full participation and I said no and slowly made a few others realize they were putting their jobs in jeopardy and other skiers from Cypress of other places would love to fill the positions. Later on there was rift between a group of Born Again Christian skiers and those that weren’t.
Steve Fontaine: Once during a show, one of the girls smeared cold cream all over one of the boy’s faces. To get even, the guys filled the girls’ ski binders with elephant dookie!
Next: skiers, part 8 of 10—after the show closed.