In this third and final piece we'll hear more about her favorite performances, what led to the end of her mermaid career, and an epic road trip...
Wally Johl, 1964. Photo courtesy of Marc Johl
Vintage Roadside: What were some of your favorite routines?
Dian: I think my favorite group act was the Circus routine. I believe Marc was the ringleader and the girls would swim in sync together forming different lines and doing stunts. I believe there were swings in one part of the Circus act. It was difficult to maintain your balance and regulate the air flow while maintaining your position in the middle of the glass tank. We had to remain together and at the same height, "swing" together and perform tricks together - something easier said than done, but we seemed to pull it off more times than not!
Vintage Roadside: Did you also perform any solo routines?
Dian: I always enjoyed the scenes where we had "free reign" and could just swim, glide, wave, turn, smile and relax as only a true mermaid can. I loved swimming free-form to the music.
Vintage Roadside: Could you see the audience while you were performing?
Dian: It was difficult to see the audience if we weren't wearing our masks. We could sort of see them but they were blurry forms. When we wore the swim masks it was a different story and could make "eye contact" with individual audience members. The masks let us connect to them eyeball to eyeball - from our underwater world out to their "people" world!
Vintage Roadside: Any fun memories of things maybe going not quite as smoothly as hoped for?
Dian: There is one that comes to mind. We would form a "human circle". One girl's neck would be between my ankles and my neck would be between another girl's ankles and so on, I think we would have 6 or 7 of us forming this circle underwater, and yet, wait, there was more - we would then use our arms together and actually spin the circle around and around! All this while remembering to maintain the circle height to the center of the windows and keep in time with the music! Well one time the girl that had her ankles around my neck kicked my air hose out of my mouth! I tried to maintain my position in the circle as long as I could (without an air hose) but finally had to break rank, and the circle (oops), and swim to the top of the tank. Unfortunately when this would happen all the audience could see was a pair of tangling legs kicking and twirling at the top of the glass tank. Not a professional moment - but one necessary to sustain one's life!
Vintage Roadside: We've heard stories of Aquamaids having their hair turn green. Did you also end up with green hair?
Dian: A downside of the mermaid job was definitely the hair issues! For the most part we were blondes that first year (Barbara was a brunette) and we were asked to let our hair grow as it would "wave" more underwater if it was longer. The chemicals needed for the pool were a bit harsh and we spent hours on end underwater, thus creating a green shiny cast to our blonde locks! When our hair dried it was stiff and broke easily - as I mentioned a bit of a downside! You could pretty much spot an Aquarama mermaid on land by the looks of her hair!
Vintage Roadside: Except for the green hair it sounds like the perfect summer job. Unfortunately you had to leave early that first year. What happened?
Dian: I swam in the original show through July that summer but I developed a huge ear infection. The tank was fairly deep, and for the beginning of some of the scenes we needed to swim and rest on the bottom of the tank before the lights and music would start. With an ear infection the pressure from the depth of the tank really hurt. I would try to swim in from the side, or only rest on the bottom for a few seconds but in the end I just couldn't stand the pressure. The doctor told me I would have to stop going underwater for at least 3-4 weeks, thus ending my mermaid career.
Vintage Roadside: So you still had a month of summer vacation left. Did you end up stuck at home the next month?
Dian: A highlight of this misfortune was an unexpected trip! It was the summer that the World's Fair was in New York City and my parents arranged for me and my two younger cousins to fly to New York and meet up with my other cousins that had been touring Europe in a VW bus. We waited for the bus to arrive via ship and attended the fair for a week, then all piled in the bus and drove cross country...Quite an adventure!
Vintage Roadside: Looking back how does it feel to have been one of the Aquamaids?
Dian: At the time it all seemed fairly normal. All of my friends had jobs around the lake - some sold tickets to the country shows, some worked in gift shops, some were guides at the attractions and others pumped gas for the marinas...
Looking back I think maybe part of the attraction was that it was a glamorous job. I felt pride in being asked to swim in the original season. There was a lot of responsibility given to us to pull this whole crazy idea off - remember, for the most part the cast was from Missouri, and had never seen or heard of a mermaid show let alone perform in one! We pretty much went on blind faith that the show could actually happen. Being young helped, what fifteen year old doesn't think they can do anything? Ha!
Vintage Roadside: Before we go we wanted to ask about your memories of the Johl family.
Dian: I have only fond memories of the Johls, like the Johls my family were transplants. Mrs. Johl reminded me in part of my own mother. I always believed she was a "show girl" at heart. She designed all of our costumes to be figure flattering, colorful and flashy - "when in doubt add a sparkle!!" must have been her theme. Mr. Johl was the perfect compliment to the "sparkly" Mrs. Johl. He was daring to build and undertake such an idea - imagine mermaids in Missouri! He had a vision and with the help of his family was able to see it come true. All in all a great team!
Vintage Roadside: Thank you so much Dian for sharing some of your history with us. It's always an honor to talk with an Aquamaid!
Dian: You're welcome!
Jeff & Kelly