Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—Dan Poor, high diver (Green Arrow)

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?

I auditioned at the Dade County Youth Fair for Maxwell Associates at one of their high dive tank shows (26’ diameter and 9½’ deep). A good friend of mine was going to defend his title as Acapulco Cliff Diving Champion and he gave me an opportunity to fill in for him at the fair in Miami. The producer of the show, Norma Maxwell, liked how I dove and thought I’d fit in well at Sea World where she had a contract to provide high divers to the ski show. At the time they were at the end of a two year run of doing the superheroes show. I got there in April, just in time to learn the Green Arrow part before we redid the show [to a] new [non-superhero] show called “Almost Anything Goes.”

What was your training/water skiing background before taking the job?

I was a gymnast in high school and on the diving team at Rutgers University.

How long was the training for the SWSH show?

My part was pretty simple so it only took a day. I already knew how to high dive from 80’!

How would you describe the training?

I learned how to be a showman and play to the crowd with large gestures.

How did you feel dressing like a superhero?

Loved it. It was the biggest stadium I’d ever performed in up until that time. The superhero costume allowed me to express my alter ego.

What exactly did you do in the show?

Triple somersault from 80’ into a flaming pool of water.

What, if any, mistakes or accidents happened during a show?

If there was no wind, I’d be in the flames longer and sometimes my eyelashes and eyebrows would get singed.

How much time did your group of SWSH performers spend together both professionally and personally?

Putting our lives on the line every day brought us together. We ate together, huddled together when it got cold, rained, or lightning threatened us. We shared apartments, lifted weights, trained, partied, dated, and generally looked out for each other. Nineteen seventy-nine was my first summer away from home and it was one of the most memorable summers of my life. I felt so blessed to be getting paid to do something I loved. I fell in love that summer, too, and we’re still friends to this day.

How many SWSH performers have you been in touch with continuously since the show ended?

Only a few, but via Facebook I’ve reconnected with at least 18 of the SWSH performers and probably another 60+ who performed at the same theater after SWSH ended.

Did you feel like celebrities at the time? If so, only at Sea World or also around town? Were you ever recognized on the street or in line at the store?

Are you kidding?

If a comic book/pop culture convention paid your way, would you attend and sign autographs for fans?


Did you portray any other characters besides superheroes at Sea World or elsewhere?

Recently I performed as Spider-Man, in Cirque Du Chimelong, in Guangzhou, China, although they didn’t refer to my character as Spider-Man. The Chinese are famous for imitations, as you know! I dropped into the stadium from an 80’ perch in the ceiling, upside down, then did a flip into a flaming moat that surrounded the stage. I then disappeared under water, swimming the length of the moat under water until I was behind stage.

Have you had anything to do with superheroes since (read comics, see superhero movies, superhero Halloween costumes)?

I’ve seen most of the blockbusters.

What do you do for a living?

Health and fitness consultant, personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach, and high diver! I graduated from UCF in Orlando, married, had two children, and had my own business until 1994.

Where do you live?

Portland, OR.

How old are your children?

I have two children who live in Florida. Danny is 18 and Tori is 20. Tori’s married and gave birth to my first grandson, Lux, [in 2009].

Do your children water ski/perform?

My daughter was an Olympic-bound gymnast for ten years until injury derailed her in 2003.

Do you think you guys could get back in the water and do any of it again now?

I sure could! Name the place!

How do you look back at your time with SWSH show?

One of the most exciting times of my life. Fortunate to have participated for the short time I did.

Do you have a favorite memory about the SWSH show?

Meeting Sarah Christina Ashley in the hall. I caught her checking me out the first day, and I was smitten. She played Catwoman and Wonder Woman and looked really hot in her costumes!

Gay Schwartz (Peteet)

Next: the skiers (almost 40 of them!), part 1 of 10—the training.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—Curt Rector and Ken McCabe, announcers

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Sea World superheroes show” (including list of interviewees).

SWSH = Sea World superheroes

[NOTE: I did not interview them at the same time; I combined their answers since they had the same job.]

How did you get the job with the SWSH show?

Curt: I had been performing in local dinner theater and when the audition was announced for the Sea World position I went to the general call. I was called back once I think and then ultimately was told that because I didn’t have a degree in Theater Arts, a prerequisite they’d asked for, I had come in second to another young man, Eric Cornfeld, who had the degree. At the time I thought, “Well, they’re just being nice and blowing a little smoke to make me feel better.” I was woefully ignorant of the entertainment business and didn’t realize how unusual it was for them to have told me such a thing. I continued working at the theater and when not cast in the next show, I went to work in the theater, first as a busboy and then got taken into the kitchen as assistant chef.

A year later Sea World called to say that Eric had developed nodules on his vocal cords and was going to have to leave the show. I re-auditioned and was immediately offered the job. My employer at the theater was kind enough to order me to leave his employ and take the job at Sea World.
Ken: I had announced the ski show at the end of the season the year prior.

How old were you when you started with the SWSH show?

Curt: I was 21 and married with a child on the way.
en: Started at 22.

What was your background before taking the job?

Curt: I was raised in a military family. My father retired from the military and took a position as head bodyguard and chief of security for a big company in Orlando, FL. I followed him into the security profession and worked as a security guard, then as a commanding officer in the company I worked for and ultimately as an undercover investigator for the same company. I left that security company after seeing a play and then attending a workshop course offered by the theater—incidentally the same theater that I cooked for later.
: I was a theater major and a comic collector although the latter wasn’t a prerequisite.

Which characters did you portray?

Curt: I played Jimmy Olsen (host) and the Joker (comedy relief), and on one notable occasion, the Riddler.
: I alternately played the host, Jimmy Olsen, and the Joker.

Was there one that you preferred? If so, why?

Curt: Jimmy Olsen was a much more challenging role, technically, because in essence the entire show cued off your monologue. Olsen was responsible for controlling the audience reactions, making sure that the audience was looking the right way at the right time, managing the timing of the show through pace, ad-libbing in the event of a fall by one (or more) of the skiers, even to the extent of reassuring the audience as to the health of the fallen skier, not to mention being the “seller” of the show.

The Joker, on the other hand, was a blast to play. Olsen was a role that was locked in—ad-libbing was not possible. But the Joker was an ad-libber’s dream. We would often improv and generally indulge ourselves in all sorts of shenanigans. We would play jokes on each other from time to time, also on the skiers we worked with; it was a dream role. Lots of fun and all about making the audience laugh and taking up time; the Joker’s gags were used to allow time for the water to calm between ski acts.

I always regarded Olsen as “the job” and the Joker as “the reward for doing the job.”

Ken: I liked the host role because it was my own face in front of the crowd but the Joker was easier (shorter in the summer heat).

Did you portray any characters that you hadn’t heard of before?

Curt: Not in the ski show. I was well-versed in superheroes and their lore. At the time I went to work at Sea World I could have easily told you that Green Lantern was really Hal Jordan, test-pilot, that his ring was provided by the Guardians of Oa, little greenish-blue guys with big heads. Clark Kent’s real name was Kal-El, his father Jor-El, and so on and so on. [Somehow] I retained all of that knowledge from reading comic books in my misspent youth. I even knew that Aquaman’s wife was named Mera.

How did you feel dressing like a superhero?

Ken: Never did. [Except] I once took someone’s place at a PR appearance as Batman. For some reason, they forgot to bring my cape so I made up a story about how it had gotten really wrinkled in a fight and Alfred wouldn’t let me go to a public appearance with an unkempt cape.

What was the show’s story?

Curt: The storyline was pretty straightforward: “The First Annual Gotham-Metropolis Water Games.” The superheroes were “competing” and the super villains—the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin—were trying to break up the show by kidnapping Batgirl and later Robin and putting them in peril, from which they performed magical escapes. In later iterations of the show, several of the super villains actually performed a competing ski act called “The Triple Jump-Out” in which they would leap out of their skis and barefoot away, the last villain still upright being declared the winner.

Ken: It was more of an event than a story—the first Gotham-Metropolis Water Games. A friendly contest of skills performed by the superheroes. Of course it was always being broken up by the super villains (Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Captain Cold). Of those, only the Joker had a live microphone and performed magic illusions that always gave the appearance of disposing the heroes in some way.

Part of the show took place on a stage and a beach. If you had lines during those portions, how did the audience hear you?

Ken: Only Olsen and the Joker had microphones. The others were lip syncing recorded dialogue: “Nice try, double dopes, but your act is over!”

Did the characters have different personalities, or were they all simply “good,” as was common in superhero cartoons of the period?

Ken: Oh come on. Good guys were good and bad guys were bad. Only the Joker developed into a character with a little more depth. As he performed his magic acts, he would tell awful jokes to punctuate the trick. When sawing Batgirl in half, he would say “It’s just a slice of life! Get it? A slice of life! A slice…. aw, never mind!” He became this character who enjoyed telling the jokes more than what he was doing with the heroes. This pathetic vaudeville comedian with terrible material. It was fun.

What, if any, mistakes or accidents happened during a show?

Ken: I remember announcing the show in Ohio when Batman took the little kid for a ride in the Batboat and ran out of gas. I said that he was towed in with the Batrope. Another time an announcer named David Huang was playing the Joker and during the fight scene, his mask flew completely off his head. [Who knew] the Joker is Asian!

Which celebrities attended a show?

Curt: The Atlantis Stadium was also a concert performance venue. Wayne Newton, Crystal Gayle, Seals & Croft, and various other performers watched the show. I believe either Rosalyn Carter or some other First Lady watched the show. I did a night show with Joe Garagiola. Along the way I stepped on Crystal Gayle’s toes in the hall, beat on the then-governor of Florida’s kidneys with the butt of my microphone, and demanded—and got—an apology from Wayne Newton when his “people” stole my bathrobe and then he fell into the mud while wearing it.

Any funny/unusual show anecdotes that you didn’t address already?

Curt: Which would you like to hear about? The time I broke my ankle jumping over the curb with Robin in my arms, the time a little girl came out of the audience and punched the Joker in the boy parts during an act (gasps of pain not only from the Joker but every man in the audience), the woman who hiked up her skirt and squatted down to get a picture of me (as Olsen) with the superheroes in pyramid in the background and forgot she wasn’t wearing any underwear, the time the emus who lived on a hillside near our stadium escaped during a show and ran amok while being chased by their handlers, the lies we told the skiers about the otters escaping from their stadium and infesting the lake, or one of the other myriad stories from those halcyon days?
: In Ohio, they wanted Sunja, the world’s only water skiing elephant, in the show, so they decided that Tarzan was close enough to superhero to include him. One night during the last show, I had to run around the back of the stadium to make an entrance on the other end of the beach and that was the only way. It was kind of late so no guests were back there as I ran to make my cue. Suddenly, who do I see coming around the corner heading my way? None other than Sunja. So I figure I have to stop this elephant before he runs into any guests.

You have not been drinking. That is a water skiing elephant.

I bravely move toward him trying to persuade him to go back towards his pen when he lifts on leg up and gently puts it onto one of the nearby restaurants tables. With a creaking sound, I watch as the table is bent down to the ground like you might crush a paper cup. That was plenty for me. I took off running in the other direction and was going to make my cue from the other side of the beach.

As I round the corner to the stage at the center of the beach, here comes Sunja from the other side. She is now walking slowly into the stands. Luckily it was a small crowd and they were sitting up much higher. The ski show manager, Gary Thompson, was playing Captain Marvel that night and he ran across the beach and grabbed Sunja by the ear and led her off the beach and back to her cage. I’ll never forget the sight of Captain Marvel coming to the rescue, saving us all from the rampaging elephant.

What was your salary/compensation for performing in the SWSH show?

Ken: My first summer I made $1,000/month. I went up from there.

How much behind-the-scenes romance was there among skiers?

Curt: Quite a lot, I think. Susie and Sharkey Schwartz were always an item and are a long-married couple now, as are Gary Thompson and his wife Connie [skier Jacque Cook: “She looked like Suzanne Somers. A beautiful girl”], who was a skier in the show. I didn’t really keep track because I didn’t really want to know, but you can’t have that many extremely healthy young people wandering around in very little clothing (bathing suits), practicing lifts, etc. without a certain amount of grab-ass taking place and ultimately leading to romances behind the scenes.
Ken: I met my first wife at Sea World.

Riddler—John Shoemaker, Wonder WomanMargie LaPoint (Bates),
between Wonder Woman and Batgirl—John Gaffey, Batgirl—Sheri McNary,
man behind Batgirl
—John Gillette, Black Canary—Randi Tetrick,
Green Lantern
—Bill Peterson, man in hat—John Macqueen, Supergirl—Betsy Maher (Hawkins),
—Shirley Duke, Aquaman—Randy Jones

Did you feel like celebrities at the time?

Curt: Not remotely. For a brief period we did personal appearances at the stadium after the show. No one gave a rip for Jimmy Olsen, and the reaction of children in particular to the Joker seemed to depend entirely on the performer behind the mask. Children would talk to me, but never touch me. They’d stay so far away from Ken as the Joker that they could hardly be said to be communicating at all. [Fellow announcer] Dick Monday, on the other hand, they climbed all over.

Can you share any funny/creepy/flattering fan stories? Did you get any fan letters?

Ken: No, although there were some weird summer pass holders in Ohio that kept scrapbooks of photos of all the performers in the show. They came almost every other day.

If a comic book/pop culture convention paid your way, would you attend and sign autographs for fans?

Ken: I don’t think they would want me.

Have you had anything to do with superheroes since (read comics, see superhero movies, superhero Halloween costumes)?

: I collected Silver Age comics for a long time but unfortunately had to sell my collection at one time years back. I regret doing so.

Where do you live now?

Curt: Winter Park, FL.

Ken: Still in Orlando, FL.

What do you do for a living?

: I’m a video technician. I do conferences and conventions all over the country.

Ken: I am now the corporate entertainment director for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede.

If you have children, how old are they?

Curt: I have a daughter who is 33.
: 28 and 26.

What do they think of your time in a superhero show?

Ken: They were too young when we had that show. But they are both into comics as well.

Do you have a favorite memory about the SWSH show?

Curt: One of my clearest memories is of the first time that I performed the Olsen role. I had been in rehearsal only for about two weeks or a bit more. Generally Olsen took about four or more weeks to fully rehearse before a first performance. However, I was already doing the Joker and Dick Monday and Ken McCabe had been without a vacation for quite some time, so Ken took a vacation while Dick and I continued doing shows two times a day, seven days a week. During Ken’s absence Dick was involved in a bad car accident which hospitalized him. We found out about his accident some three hours before show time when the hospital called the announcer office and told me Mr. Monday had been hurt and was under anesthetic. The hospital staff was forcibly restraining him to prevent him from getting up and leaving the hospital.

A hectic conference call ensued between me, the head of entertainment, the head of our staff, Chuck Jordan, and a VP of the park or something like that. The big question was would we do the show or not. I finally said that I knew the script and that I could get through it. Chuck felt he could bulldoze his way through the Joker magic, so we went for it.

As I was waiting in the tunnel for my first entrance as Jimmy Olsen I could hear an incredible amount of noise in the stadium, which held a max audience of 4,500. I called over an ops guy and asked what the hell all the noise was about. He said, and I quote, “Damn, man, this is the biggest audience I’ve ever seen for a ski show!” The audience had spilled out of the stadium and were sitting all over the berms on either side of the stadium. We later estimated the audience at around 9,000—double capacity. When my intro music played and I ran out onto the stage and turned to face the audience, they spread across a full 180% of my sight-line. I stood there staring at them dumbfounded. I remember looking up into the sound booth and seeing the sound op’s eyes getting bigger and bigger as I stood there without speaking. I took a deep breath and…

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the first annual Gotham-Metropolis Water Games! My name is Jimmy Olsen and I’ll be your host and commentator. And now (dramatic pause) let’s meet the superheroes!” Music swell, grand sweeping gesture to water as superheroes in formation ski into sight from behind the set. And we were off.

It was a breathtaking moment for me. Later I watched as Chuck performed as the Joker. I was the largest of the announcers but Chuck made me look tiny; nevertheless my Joker costume came closest to fitting him, which is to say, not at all. I remember thinking, “Well, that’ll never fit right again.” But we got through the show and although Dick returned to us within a day or two, he still couldn’t perform so Chuck and I did the show for another four or five days until Ken came back. So I have the distinction of being the only announcer to have performed in a show with Chuck as the Joker.

What other memorabilia, if any, did you save from the SWSH show (posters, programs/souvenir booklets, etc.)?

Curt: For quite some time I had the last Joker mask. It was made from Ken’s original mold but over the year and a half that we were making them we’d added some modifications, like embedding base colors in the latex, etc. It [began to smell and] finally rotted and collapsed to the point that it looked like a mummy’s head and I got rid of it.

Do you still have the script?

Curt: Somewhere in a box I probably still have one. I ran across a couple different Sea World scripts in a box while cleaning the garage last year but I’m not sure what I did with them.

What was your reaction when you first heard why I was contacting you?

Curt: Bemusement. I can’t imagine why anyone would care about the superhero show except for those of us who were involved. It wasn’t exactly a pandemic phenomenon. [But] it was an interesting time and a show that seemed to entertain a lot of people and I was sad to see it go.

How do you look back at your time with the SWSH show?

Curt: With great fondness. As I say, it was the greatest summer job I ever had [and it] lasted 2.5 years. It’s also where I met my beloved. It’s where I was working when my first wife and I divorced. It’s where I became close to my best friends in the world. Were it not for circumstantial issues I might well have pursued a much longer career at Sea World.

I learned a great deal about performing and appeared live before over 6.5 million people during my time there. Since then I’ve never encountered a crowd of people before whom I had to speak that unnerved me. My career as an actor blossomed from that point and I appeared in several independent movies and a large number of plays post-Sea World.

Dan Poor, high diver (Green Arrow).

Monday, August 29, 2011

School and library market books, part 2 of 2

Please come back tomorrow for the continuation of the massive "Super '70s and '80s" series, running most days between now and 10/12/11! And for today, a post of "regularly scheduled content":

In part 1 of School and library market books, I cliffhangered that my name is on nearly all of my books. Twice in my career, I have asked a publisher to take my name off a school/library book before production.

The first time was because the publisher and I disagreed about the validity of my primary source. However, I was bummed to rediscover that my contract prevented me from requesting a pseudonym. I did the best I could to deliver a final draft that felt true to my research but also worked for the publisher.

The second time, I did not feel the editing was competent. I’d started the book with one editor but for some reason, partway through, a second editor replaced the first. When the second editor asked me to rewrite material that the first editor had already approved, I said I would but only for additional payment. The second editor probably didn’t have that option so, to her credit, she said she would write that material herself rather than push me to do extra work for no compensation.

But she turned out not to be as versed in the subject as I feel she should’ve been to take on that task, and I found a lot of her changes alarmingly flawed. I told her, pointing out specifics, but for a reason I still don’t understand, she didn’t make most of my suggested fixes. However, she did agree to remove my name. I am glad for that, of course, but disappointed that I could not stop a book from going to print with mistakes, generalizations, and redundancies.

In truth, when I started my writing career, I didn’t yet know that some authors use pen names till they break into trade publishing. But if I had, I still would’ve used my real name on my school and library market books. I typically don’t spend time promoting them, but I gave each one my all. Without them as training, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to write my passions, such as Boys of Steel.

Speaking of which, in the author bio I proposed for Boys of Steel, I included that I’d published 70 books to date. My editor Janet Schulman suggested I take that out because it would make it seem like I’m “not serious.”

I was miffed. As you have just read, I admit that many of my books are not timeless literature, but I remain proud of all my work. I didn’t see how indicating that I have a history with publishing could be a bad thing.

But like various other points Janet had made that at first seemed harsh, this point soon made sense, so I cut the number. It wasn’t about discounting my previous books; it was about shining the full spotlight on my current book. Boys of Steel was special to me, and Janet knew that. It wasn’t just book #71. In some ways, it was actually book #1.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

School and library market books, part 1 of 2

Please come back 8/30/11 for the continuation of the massive "Super '70s and '80s" series, running most days between now and 10/12/11! And for today, a post of "regularly scheduled content":

My first published book (The Felix Activity Book) came out in 1996 (8/27/96, to be precise; anniversary greetings still being accepted). It was a trade book, meaning it was sold in bookstores. (Perhaps it’s more accurate to say it was put in bookstores.)

My second published book (and first “sequel”—Felix Explores Our World) came out in 1999, and it was also for the trade.

In 2000, I wrote two more books for the retail market, both for Dutton. (When one of them went out of print by 2005, I resold it to another publisher.)

Apologies for the disparate sizes of these images; some are old and I was too lazy to reformat.

Then over the next five years, I wrote about 35 more books…for the school and library market, also called the institutional market.

Institutional books are commonly published as a series and different titles in that series are commonly written by different people; each book in any given series must adhere to guidelines the publisher established specifically for it. Series I wrote for include We the People (American history), Endangered! (threatened animals), Atomic! (high interest topics from gladiators to vampires), and Countries of the World (countries of the world).

In between, I also continued to write trade books including What’s the Difference?, How to Do a Belly Flop!, and Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. (Hey, at least one of those three titles does not end with a punctuation mark.)

I would’ve preferred to focus only on trade books from the onset, but for most of us, it takes time and luck to get to that stage. In the meantime, I considered writing school and library books my day job (without the insurance or Secret Santa parties). Even when it’s been a struggle, I always preferred sticking it out (after all, it was still writing) rather than going back to a salaried 9-5 office job.

When writing for the institutional market, some authors use a pseudonym. One explanation I’ve read: they reserve their real name for when they write a “real” book.

Put another way, writing for an institutional series usually precludes creative experimentation. To cover the basics for a wide audience, these books take a straightforward approach. An author of an institutional book most likely didn’t choose the subject from the ether; a publisher probably asked him if he would write on that particular topic. Sometimes editors say they want an institutional book to be written stylishly; while great in principle, it’s frequently difficult in practice because such books have inflexible parameters (i.e. fixed word count and limited vocabulary, and despite that, a relatively vast amount of information to be conveyed).

Some authors withhold their name from a work-for-hire book because the book doesn’t reflect the author’s voice. I understand this. But I didn’t do it. My name is on nearly all of my books. Just because a book can’t be written with personal flair doesn’t mean anybody can write it.

9/12/13 addendum: Message from an educator whose school hired me to speak: 

I had no idea how many of your bread and butter books we hadgladiators, Green Berets, endangered tigers, Pledge of Allegiancethe list goes on and on! It lead to a great discussion with some of the older kids about things you do for passion vs. things you do to eat! 

In part 2: why I used my real name on all but one of my books

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Boys of Steel" at Six Flags: proof at last

Please come back 8/30/11 for the continuation of the massive "Super '70s and '80s" series, running most days between now and 10/12/11! And for today, a post of "regularly scheduled content":

In June, I "reported" that a friend discovered my book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman in a Six Flags gift shop. That it was there was not a surprise, since I'd worked hard in 2008 to pitch them. That it is
still there is something of a surpriseand a pleasant one, even if these are the same still-unsold copies brought in three years ago!

The friend who told me of this in June went back in August (presumably for attractions other than my book) and kindly snapped and sent these photos:

I suspect (but will never attempt to prove) that this is the first hardcover nonfiction book to be sold in an amusement park gift shop. Not exactly a distinction worthy of Guiness, I know.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—Dan Kibbie, co-writer

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?

John Campbell was the VP in San Diego and I had worked for him at ABC in Chicago, Detroit, and New York. He subsequently retired and went to Sea World and he introduced me to George Millay, the owner of the parks and the founder of the parks. Millay had a black notebook with how to build Sea World. He sold the idea to San Diego. He based it on the idea that 80% of the park would be gardens. Once [a show] was up and running we pretty much left it to Sea World staff to operate on sound principles. They’re very good at that kind of thing.

What was your background before taking the job?

I was in television. I did talk shows for 13 years. Then I did some episodic TV and some specials. I did some of these Sea World things on the side.

Before you wrote the show, how much familiarity did you have with the DC characters?

None, really. Sea World got the rights to whatever it was, DC Comics. There were some caveats—you couldn’t have Superman do things that damaged his reputation as a superhero.

Bugs Batty

How were the characters to be used chosen? Did you have anything to do with that?

I don’t think so. I’m sure they purchased the rights to certain characters that would be good for a water ski show.

Do you remember having to do research about the characters?

I don’t recall it being all that troublesome. We all kind of grew up with those characters so we had a general idea of what they could possibly do in terms of the athletics involved in water skiing.

But there were some in the cast who were fairly obscure, like Mera. I’m sure you got some debriefing.

Maybe so. Or maybe that character was added in Florida. I don’t recall that character. With the water ski show, it started in Ohio and went to the other parks after a couple years, I think.

Where did you write the SWSH show?

That’s a good question. I think we wrote it in Ohio but may have done some of the preliminary work in LA.

Did you see the show?

Of course we saw it. We were there for months. I think that was at the time of the Kent State shootings, and that was close. I remember that Ken and I traveled by the university, but not sure if it was before or after. It must’ve been before.

Kent State was in 1970 and this show began in 1976.

I’m sure it was on our minds when we passed the place.

Did you spend time socially with the SWSH performers?

All the time. We were the line producers.


I’m sure we did.

What was the age split?

They were all about college-aged kids.

Where do you live now?

I live full-time in Arizona. I’m retired.

What do you like to do these days?

Right now I’m writing a letter to the governor of Arizona because they passed a law here that they can stop you if you’re suspicious looking and make you produce documentation to show you’re legal. Obviously they’re not going to stop too many white Euro-Americans and mostly tan Mexican-Americans. It’s waiting the governor’s signature. I think a lot of people are upset with the idea that Arizona would be a state where this kind of harassment is legal.

What was your reaction when you first heard why I was contacting you?

I thought it could be very fun.

Curt Rector and Ken McCabe, announcers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—Clark Gault, composer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Sea World superheroes show” (including list of interviewees).

SWSH = Sea World superheroes

What was your role with the SWSH show?

I was the music composer.

How did you get the job?

Back then, Sea World was an independent company based in San Diego and everyone was hired based on word of mouth.

What were you doing before that?

I was not a full-time employee, but hired on a contract basis to do music writing. I did all of the music writing for all three Sea Worlds at that time.

How long did it take you to score the show?

Not sure, but I probably spent 40-50 hours writing, maybe 10-15 researching the music. I had to use libraries and find rerun TV shows to record themes.

What (if any) pieces of existing music were incorporated into the score?

Sea World didn’t want to pay royalties, so all my music was similar to the original themes but legally original.

That's one big Aquaman.

Were you at the show on a regular basis?

All music at that time was put on tapes that were very much like 8-track tapes. They had multiple tracks that could be selected for playback. Similar systems were used in most radio stations of that time. I wrote an intro, looped body, and short ending to all music used in the parks.

Have you stayed in touch with anyone you met or worked with at the SWSH show?

It’s been many years, and I don’t really remember any names.

Has anyone else interviewed you about the SWSH show?

I was contacted by a book author and supplied a few original scores (printed). This is the name I wanted to find, but my correspondence was on a previous email I no longer have because of moving and the book is packed away. [NOTE: I presume this is Age of TV Heroes.]

What was your first thought when you heard why I was contacting you?

That someone else actually remembers this.

What are you doing these days?

I’m partially retired, but still write music on a freelance basis.

Dan Kibbie, co-writer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—Chuck Jordan, Supervisor of Entertainment

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Sea World superheroes show” (including list of interviewees).

SWSH = Sea World superheroes

What was your role with the SWSH show?

At that time I was Supervisor of Entertainment, Sea World, and supervised live entertainment announcers and actors. Worked with script development, staging and installation, costume operations, etc. Also lighting director for Atlantis Theater.

How did you get the job with the SWSH show?

Visited Orlando when first married and applied for job at Sea World. Interviewed nine times, still not sure why. But was offered the job.

What was your background before taking the job?

Graduate of Florida State University with majors in applied music, dance, theater; worked in summer stock in New York; work in set design and install lighting, etc.

How long were you with the SWSH show or Sea World in general?

Worked for Sea World from 1976 through about 1989 (Supervisor of Entertainment, Sea World; Manager of Entertainment Contract Services and Special Events; Manager of Entertainment Florida Festival; Director of Entertainment Boardwalk and Baseball).

How were the characters to be used chosen? Did you have anything to do with that?

DC Comics played a large role in character selection and integrity of design and character.

How did you find a costume designer?

Costuming was executed by Lloyd Lambert who had extensive experience in LA and Vegas. This was all new at that time, especially the need for durability. Superheroes at that time were spandex city and jumbo spandex, while shiny and durable, has basic weakness in that it was not designed for high-speed extreme sports applications. A simple pair of red high boots for Wonder Woman posed a problem because in the ‘70s there were not red boots, no high gloss paints that would adhere to boots or plastic, etc.

Who wrote the storyline?

Dan Kibble was engaged to do initial script treatments, but again, this was a new process, product, and exercise. The writer provided a treatment but this, as I remember, meant that the script would say something to the effect of “announcer announces the shoe ski act” or “announcer describes the ski jump act.” Not real helpful. A ski jumping act is generally anywhere from five to seven minutes long unless someone falls—then it seems like 45 minutes long—but the announcer (in this case Jimmy Olsen) needed to stay engaged and to take the audience along for the ride.

I guess what I am trying to say is that while the initial storyline may have been constructed via committee with Sea World administration, DC folks, and the “writer,” much of the task of taking that storyline and making it a viable, Jimmy Olsen-facilitated action show came in many cases from the performers themselves. I had numerous people on staff through the run of the show [who] were announcers, not skiers or high divers or boat drivers, but people who actually established the pace of the show, moved it forward for the audience, covered when a boat was late or if there [was] a fall. These are the people who sat in endless script meetings and worked in rehearsals to make this show different from Cypress Gardens or other ski shows; this one had a story and blended action, skill, beauty, magic, stunts, and great visuals in a way that had not been done before.

What, if any, mistakes or accidents happened during a show?

On the whole not a lot of mistakes. I guess we were all pretty demanding of ourselves, music was expected to be right on for all performances, dialogue and subtext were well established to cover for any contingency and most everyone took their job seriously. When you present a show with someone being dragged behind a high-speed boat on two sticks by a piece of rope you have enough variables to deal with. Focus was generally on show quality control and consistency of performance.

Any funny/unusual show anecdotes that you didn’t address already?

I remember always being challenged by the magic illusion apparatus used in the show. Originally designed by Harry Blackstone, Jr. and his wife Gaye, the apparatus was in a unique environment—water, sand, skiers, performers, escape tunnels with rising levels of water sometimes, wheels that would grind to a stop with sand occasionally, training, training, training, and quality control to insure safety. The spike bed was particularly important. I remember [that] every day the show was in production, at precisely the time that illusion was on stage, we all monitored performance; even though we know how the illusion was performed, we, all of us, always paid extra attention to that segment of the show.

John Gaffey

Did you spend time socially with the SWSH performers?

Not really. It has been a long time and my career has taken me to many new memories along the way.

How many SWSH performers have you been in touch with continuously since the show ended?

Continuously none; from time to time, a few of us cross paths.

What do you do for a living?

Have produced shows for hotels, resorts, theme parks and similar venues around the world, continue in production.

What was your reaction when you first heard why I was contacting you?

I was intrigued and hoped you would appreciate that this show was not a superhero show exclusively; this was an exercise in developing a new creative direction for ski shows, theme park shows, and the Central Florida theme park market. The Atlantis Theater was the first 7,000-seat venue in a Central Florida theme park. This was the first concert facility in a Central Florida theme park. This was a first-of-its-kind production that would incorporate storyline, costumed characters, high-speed action, boats, special effects, high divers, fire on the surface of the water, night shows, integrated music and sound effects, magic illusions, licensed DC characters, boat patterns, backwash…it was a show concept unlike anything anywhere else in the world.

Bubby Snow, Sheri McNary

How do you look back at your time with the SWSH show?

I look at the photos and everyone seems so young.

Do you have a favorite memory about the SWSH show?

The day I performed the role of the Joker.

Do you still have the script?

No, [but] I can still hear it in my head.

Next: Clark Gault, composer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—Bob LaPorta, Corporate Director of Productions

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Sea World superheroes show” (including list of interviewees).

SWSH = Sea World superheroes

What was your role with the SWSH show?

The original concept for the superheroes show came from me. Before Sea World in Orlando, Florida had a ski stadium, we had one ski show in our park in Aurora, Ohio. We were looking to skew the ski show viewer demographics younger and I found the means to doing that right in my own home. I had two young sons, one was nine and the other eight years old. Every Saturday morning they watched superheroes on television faithfully and of course had many of the DC Comic books. It was right there in front of me.

As Corporate Director of Productions at the time, I had led the company into the realm of “themed” water ski shows with our “Roaring Twenties Water Frolics” in 1973. That was the first themed water ski show in the world (other than a Disney on Skis performance in a temporary stadium at Disney World in Orlando). For the 1975 season in Ohio, I pitched Sea World senior management the concept of theming the water ski show “Salute to the Superheroes.” With their tepid approval I approached and got permission from DC Comics to proceed.

I hired the same writer/directors who had done the “Twenties” ski show to do the same for “Superheroes.” They were Kenny Johnson [later producer of TV shows including The Incredible Hulk] and Dan Kibbie, friends of mine from our days on The Mike Douglas Show. Our San Diego Scenic Designer (George Yochum—also from the Douglas show) would do the set, which would be the first time we did behind the set ski takeoffs and landings. I hired Harry Blackstone, Jr. to produce three magical illusions for us that the superheroes would have sprung on them by the Joker. Lloyd Lambert of Hollywood was contracted to produce the costumes using spandex and under-costume muscles. This proved disastrous later when the elastic in the fabric melted in the dryer. When we moved the show to Florida for the new stadium, we built a special drying room for the costumes and eluded the Ohio problem.

What was the show’s story?

It was centered around Jimmy Olsen (the host on mic) introducing his pals the superheroes to the audience. Then the Joker steals a boat and tries to take over the show. He and his thugs were the only villains. They fought the superheroes [under] “pow” and “biff” balloon bubble signs.

How long was the show?

35 to 40 minutes.

What do you do for a living now? It looks like you produce films of some kind?

I am semi-retired. I produce fundraising and brand identity videos for non-profit organizations. These are non-broadcast as opposed to scores of network programming I produced while at Sea World and later programs produced by my firm—LaPorta & Company. In the spring [one year in] the early nineties (I want to say), we produced an ABC Network Special for Sea World [called] Mother Earth Celebration starring Miam Bialik; [it] also aired on Nickelodeon.

Were you friends with the SWSH skiers at the time, or was it purely professional?

I would say we were professional friends but it did not extend beyond that.

Have you been in touch with any SWSH skiers since the show ended?

I have not.

Do you still have the script of the SWSH show, or know who might?

It is possibly in the files in Florida.

Do you have a favorite memory about the SWSH show?

It would have to be when Robin in Ohio tried to pick up our 10-year-old son to put him in the Batboat for a ride around the show area and discovered how solid he was and needed assistance from Jimmy Olsen.

The three-tiered pyramid of superheroes was also a sight to behold!

pyramid key:

Wonder Woman—Kaci Whittenton (Hedstrum)
Batgirl—Gay Schwartz (Peteet), Black CanaryDebbie Blake, MeraShirley Duke,
—Sheri McNary
Robin—Kerry Lloyd, Batman—Randy Jones, Aquaman—Tom Weber, Superman—Bubby Snow, Green Arrow—Brad Whitmore or Roland Hillier

Next: Chuck Jordan, Supervisor of Entertainment.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: Sea World superheroes water ski show—introduction

In 1977, every boy between 5 and 15 wanted to be Han Solo…or a Sea World superhero.

Superhero fans nationwide born in the early 1970s remember the comic book ad showing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Robin…water skiing.

Far fewer, however, actually made it to Ohio or Florida to see the actual show at Sea World, which ran from 1976 to 1979.

[2/5/14: I noticed that the video I had originally posted here had been removed from YouTube, but only a week prior someone posted this one—which is longer and more vivid anyway.]

When I was inspired to try to track down the skiers and interview them, I thought I’d be looking for the same number of skiers as characters who appeared in the pyramid I’d seen many times: ten.

However, once I began poking around online, I realized there were characters in the show who were not in the pyramid. My count was 23 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Robin, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, Black Canary, Supergirl, Batgirl, Mera, Mary Marvel, Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and Captain Cold, plus Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and, oddly, Tarzan).

What’s more, I soon learned that each skier portrayed multiple characters at different times. Combine that with the fact that there were two locations (Ohio and Florida) and multiple seasons and it meant there were even more than 23 skiers to find. For a completist like me, that is not good news. It meant I would be driven to try to find all of them.

1977, Ohio

row 1: Tommy Gardner (in cap), Debbie Hay, Tom Freeburn
row 2: Tom Weber, Andy Hansen, Kaci Whittenton (Hedstrum), Ric Jones, Karen Weber
row 3: Mary McMurtrie (white headgear), RiddlerRodney Hendershot,
Paula Nelson (Bloemer), Joker—Ken McCabe, PenguinBubby Snow,
Bob “Bullet” Borth, MeraSherry Satterfield Runion
clump 4-5: Wonder WomanReyna Blasko, SupergirlNancy Radant Combes,
Greg Galloway, FlashBill Schwartz, Batman—?, BatgirlCindy Barhoff (Clasen),
—John Macqueen, Annette Botti (Hoffman) (white headgear)
row 6: Green LanternRandy Messer, Black CanaryJanalee Zimmerman (Addleman),
Green Arrow
Billy Davies, Miles ?, Dave Madeline, Mike Botti, Wade ?

I didn’t, but I did find more than 40 and interviewed many of them. Most were in their late teens or early twenties at the time; a few were mid- to late-twenties. Many have gone on to raise kids and have grandkids in Florida, and most still seem to have a connection to the water.

Something else I found: there are many ways to misremember the name “Mera.” These include Mira, Myra, Merna, and Lady Meara. All lovely in their own right.

I was honored these people let me into their memories to the extent that they did. Though my only attempt at water skiing (at camp in the mid-1980s) did not go well, I felt a kinship with these skiers. For two summers I was a photographer at Lake Compounce, an historic amusement park in Connecticut, and while that job was not anywhere near as physically demanding or flashy as theirs, I suspect some of the feelings overlapped: the joy of working outdoors in a quintessentially “summer” destination, the camaraderie among the young staff, the abundance of possible love connections in one spot, the happy exhaustion of long days on your feet in the sun, and so on.

This is the one that started this project, which expanded far bigger than I could’ve expected.Many skiers and others involved with the show graciously sent me a bounty of photos. I got permission to post all images; if you want to repost, please do the same and ask me first.

Welcome to the first-ever oral history of the Sea World water skiing superheroes show, which some describe as the best ski show ever produced.

Management, staff, and non-skiing performers interviewed (6 parts):

Bob LaPorta, Corporate Director of Productions
Chuck Jordan, Supervisor of Entertainment
Clark Gault, composer
Dan Kibbie, co-writer
Curt Rector and Ken McCabe, announcers
Dan Poor, high diver (Green Arrow)

Skier interviews (10 parts):

1—the training
2—the characters
3—the costumes
4—the show (including stunts, funny incidents, and salary)
5—the mistakes
6—the audience; the fame
7—the relationships
8—after the show closed
9—the skiers' lives today
10—the memories

Skiers interviewed:

Christina Ashley; Sarasota, FL
Cindy Barhoff (Clasen); MA
Reyna Blasko; Las Vegas, NV
Doby Buesse; Orlando, FL
Nancy Radant Combes; FL
Jacque Cook (Jackie Kuntarich); Orlando, FL 
Shirley Duke; Orlando, FL
Steve Fontaine; FL
Greg Galloway; Orlando, FL
John Gillette; Charlotte, NC
Mark Gutleben; Stockton, CA
Andy Hansen; FL
Roland Hillier; Maitland, FL
Al Kelley; Nassau, the Bahamas
Linda Knapp (Moffett); rural VA
Margie LaPoint (Bates); Truckee, CA
Carl Lipsit; northern VA
Kerry Lloyd; south FL
Dave Madeline (boat driver); OH
Betsy Maher (Hawkins); FL
Mary McMurtrie; FL
Randy Messer; Orlando, FL
Paula Nelson (Bloemer); Lake Wales, FL 
Jeff Parnell; Fort Myers, FL
Bill Peterson; Windermere, FL/Breckenridge, CO
Sherry Satterfield Runion; FL

Bill Schwartz; Orlando, FL
Suzanne (and Sharkey) Schwartz; northern CA
Diane D. Smith; central FL
Bubby Snow; OH
Jody Spence; Las Vegas, NV
Lori (and Mark) Taylor; FL
Gary Thompson; TN
Tom (and Karen) Weber; Groveland, FL
Kaci Whittenton (Hedstrum); Hattiesburg, MS
Sherry Wickstrom; Lake Alfred, FL
Janalee Zimmerman (Addleman); Friedens, PA

Who's who on the famous 1976 poster:

Wonder Woman—Kaci Whittenton (Hedstrum)
—?, Supergirl—Gay Schwartz (Peteet), Mera—Debbie Blake, Black Canary—Randi Tetrick
—Randy Messer, Batman—Randy Jones, Superman—Andy Hansen, Aquaman—Tom Weber, Flash—Sharkey Schwartz

10/5/12 addendum (but read the series first): Sea World superheroes reunion!