Monday, May 9, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Aquarama Aquamaid Claudia Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of our interview with former Aquarama Aquamaid Claudia. In Part 2 we'll learn how to put on a mermaid tail, what it was like to be one of the Aquarama "Alley Cats", and even an Aquarama theme song.

Vintage Roadside: Did the second season offer any new roles for you?

Claudia: After the first year I got to do the opening mermaid routine. We would position ourselves in the large clam shells (sometimes with those pesky fish as shell mates) and then use our air hoses to help us open our shells as the bubble curtain ended and the lights came up. We would do "dolphins," a smooth circle movement, and then go from window to window to smile and wave to the audience. We didn't have to wear a swim mask and I loved the leisurely free swim time just moving to the music.

Vintage Roadside: We've seen photos of the mermaid tails and they looked pretty incredible.

Claudia: The mermaid tail was my favorite because it was made of shimmering silver lame and was decorated with green sequins.

Vintage Roadside: Was the tail hard to put on?

Claudia: It was difficult to put on because you had to place your feet in flippers that were in the bottom of the tail and make sure the flippers were aligned correctly, and then you had to zip the tail up the side. It fit perfectly to your body when it was done. You moved freely and easily in the water, but it was heavy and difficult to get out of the water when the number was over.

Vintage Roadside: Did the routines become more complex over the years you performed?

Claudia: Yes they did. The first year we worked on controlling our breathing, learning the routines, maneuvering in our costumes, and finding our way in the darkened pool between acts. After we mastered those basics, we worked on embellishing the routines and increasing the pace. The later routines were more involved and athletic. In the first year we wore masks for most of the numbers, but as time went on we challenged ourselves to see how many routines we could do without the masks.

Claudia at far left (photo provided by Marc)

Vintage Roadside: We've got a great photo of the cast in their "Alley Cat" costumes. Do you remember that routine?

Claudia: Oh yes! "Alley Cat" was a popular song, and it had a great rhythm with which to swim. Our costumes involved a black and white swim suit with a yarn tail attached. We also wore lovely black gloves with teardrop shaped rhinestones for fingernails. We would hold the tails and wave them to the music and scratch the water with our claws. That was such fun!

Vintage Roadside: Did you battle the dreaded "green" hair that affected much of the cast?

Claudia: I was the only redhead in the cast so my hair didn't turn green, but the daily contact with the water really dried my hair. I remember doing hot oil treatments each week to try (not too successfully) to minimize the frizz.

Vintage Roadside: Do you have any photos or souvenirs from your Aquarama days?

Claudia: I do have some of those tucked away. In hindsight I wish I had taken some casual snapshots of the cast. We became good friends, as well as co-workers. We went boating, skiing, shopping, dancing, and would you believe, even swimming together. We had slumber parties and held various gatherings in our homes. At one time we even made up a song about ourselves. It went like this:

We are the Aquamaids!
We wear our hair in braids.

We wear our dungarees,
Way up above our knees.

But when our show is here,
Then you will give a cheer.

For we are really great,
We start our show at eight!

Vintage Roadside: Have you kept in touch with any of your former cast-mates?

Claudia: I exchanged Christmas cards with Marc, but had lost contact with the others. Thanks to the connections you have provided, I have started a wonderful email correspondence with Dian. Dian and I were in the same graduating class at School of the Osage and we also attended Drury College in Springfield, Missouri. We have enjoyed reminiscing about our shared memories of growing up at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Vintage Roadside: Not many people can say they worked as a mermaid. What's the reaction from people like when they learn you once did?

Claudia: At conferences or meetings they often ask you to tell the group something about yourself that might surprise them. I always say that I was a mermaid in a former life. They usually laugh until I explain, and then they become fascinated when they learn I swam underwater and had a mermaid tail.

We'd like to say thanks again to Claudia for sharing some of her history with us!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Come see Vintage Roadside at The Hukilau!

We're thrilled to be making our first-ever Hukilau appearance next month! We'd like to invite all Hukilau attendees to our Aquarama symposium that we'll be presenting at the Bahia Mar on Saturday, June 11th at 12:30 pm.

Some of the highlights of our presentation include:
  • Original 1964 home movies of Aquarama performers
  • Original cast photographs
  • Original audio clips from Aquarama performances
  • History and memories from dozens of former cast members
  • Original costumes not seen in over 40 years
  • Q&A session with the one-and-only Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid
  • And several more surprises
You can read more on our Facebook page here.

Get your tickets for our presentation at the Hukilau website here.

See you in Fort Lauderdale!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Aquarama Aquamaid Claudia Part 1

Aquarama trivia: The Aquarama began the 1964 season with eight female performers. 

We're thrilled to be able to share our latest interview with one of the original Aquarama Aquamaids. Please give a warm welcome to Claudia!

Vintage Roadside: Prior to 1964 there had been nothing quite like The Aquarama at the Lake of the Ozarks - we're curious what your thoughts were about becoming a part of a show like this?

Claudia: The concept of an underwater show was new at the Lake of the Ozarks, and I was fascinated about how it would all happen. I would look at the pictures of Weeki Wachee and it seemed beautiful and unreal. There had been a Ski Show in the area for a long time, so the idea of another aquatic performance was interesting and people were curious about it.

Vintage Roadside: Were there any early thoughts of whether or not you'd be able to pull the show off?

Claudia: Yes, that was a topic of conversation in the Lake area. My Dad, Curley, became friends with Wally Johl. They were both mechanically minded and liked to create projects and build things. Dad had been a lifeguard and pool manager at a large aquatics center in Kansas City, and he was fascinated with the plans for building the Aquarama. I remember him and Mr. Johl discussing those plans at length. I also remember that some folks in town didn't believe Mr. Johl's plans would work and that the tremendous amount of water needed to fill the pool could not be held back by the glass windows. I remember dad saying that the plan was well engineered and that he thought it would work. It did, and Mr. Johl was proven right!

 Claudia pictured standing 2nd from left against wall

Vintage Roadside: Was the Aquarama your first summer job?

Claudia: I worked as a waitress at the Pizza House on "The Strip" in Lake Ozark. I worked there the summer before the Aquarama opened, and I had promised to come back the next summer. I remember feeling so conflicted when I told them I wanted to swim at the Aquarama and not return to my waitress job. I felt sad about not returning, but the opportunity to be an Aquamaid was too exciting to turn down.

Vintage Roadside: We were lucky enough to recently meet Barbara who was also part of the original cast, but left the show after that first season. Do you remember Barbara?

Claudia: Yes, I have very fond memories of Barbara. We were all in awe of her because she was older (in her twenties!), glamorous, and had worked at Weeki Wachee in Florida. She wanted us to be physically trained and mentally prepared for our roles, so she made us practice hard, but she also realized that we were teenagers and allowed us to have some fun. I idolized her and listened carefully to her advice. She lived in a little cabin at a nearby resort, and I remember visiting there and thinking that one day I would be away from home and out on my own like she was.

Vintage Roadside: Do you remember those early practices?

Claudia: Oh yes! We had to practice in an outdoor pool until the pool at the Aquarama was filled. It was a chilly spring and I remember how hard we worked to synchronize our movements and learn how to control our breathing (no air hoses in that pool!) while trying to stay warm.

Vintage Roadside: Do you remember some of the acts you were a part of that first season?

Claudia: The theme was a trip around the world, and I remember the Hawaiian number where we did the hula in long Hawaiian skirts, the one in Tasmania* where we wore pink floral sarongs and formed the long dolphin chain, and the finale with Marc as the Statue of Liberty and the Aquamaids swimming with swim flippers to a John Phillip Sousa march. 

* The girls are wearing the Tasmanian costumes in the postcard above

Vintage Roadside: Did you have a favorite routine that first season?

Claudia: My favorite that first season had to be the number from England when we did a Beatles song, I think it was "She Loves You." We wore black tee shirts and fluffy black bathing caps to resemble their trademark haircuts. I got to be Ringo, and I loved beating the drums, throwing my drumsticks up in the water, and trying to catch them before they floated to the top.

Vintage Roadside: Any memories of things not going quite as planned that first season?

Claudia: The costumes were all weighted, but often we would jump in the pool at practice only to have them "malfunction." Then it would be back to the drawing board, and Mrs. Johl would have to add more weights, etc. I remember the first time I tried on my Beatle costume as being pretty funny. I pulled on the black bathing cap and put the black tee shirt on over my suit. I then jumped in the water and puffed up like a marshmallow! I didn't make sure the cap was pulled down well, so it puffed up with air, and then the tee shirt didn't have enough weights and it ballooned up with the shirt tail floating up under my arms.

To be continued!

Jeff & Kelly