Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Diary of a Disneyland Mermaid

Some of you may remember my post from back in August of 2010 regarding a set of photos I had acquired of the Disneyland mermaid tryouts.  I was recently contacted by Mermaid #1, a lovely woman named Edie, and she was kind enough to share the following with me.
Edie in 1966 at the tryouts
I grew up on the beaches of Southern California.  Only three girls at our high school surfed and I was one of them, so everyone assumed I was a good swimmer.  Not so.  My survival depended on a blend of backstroke and desperate spurts of dog-paddling. 
One more time - the camera loves you!
Thus, when I found myself standing in a circle of ninety girls around a pool at Disneyland, waiting for the mermaid try-outs to begin, I was plenty nervous. There were two requirements for mermaids: long hair and being a good swimmer.  Six of us were chosen.
from left to right:  Edie, Judy, Lynn, Marcia,
and Cynthia with Jini in the water.  She was the
head mermaid, the only one from the previous year.
Being a professional mermaid for Walt was nothing to take lightly.  The Productions Department measured us from hip to toe for neoprene tails, complete with large flukes, and green starfish bras.  We were taught to slither into the Submarine Lagoon from a hidden chamber and dolphin kick underwater to magically surface in the center of the pool.  There we sat on a rock and untangled our hair with immense blue and yellow plastic combs, and plucked ersatz lyres.We worked in shifts of two, and traded off hourly.
Photo from Edie's local paper
Each time a submarine passed, we dove underwater to frolic about, hang upside down by spinning our tails, and to wave at curious faces plastered against the portholes.  With practice we learned to smile without emitting bubble screens that would distort our faces into repulsive creatures from the deep.  For all this we were paid $1.85 an hour - a whopping net of $59.55 each week. 
Edie's offer letter
Each weekend flotillas of sailors in dress whites draped over the handrails around the Lagoon, ogling with off-duty exuberance.  They rolled quarters inside dollar bills and tossed them into the lagoon for us to retrieve,a lucrative bonus to our income.One young hero flung himself into the water and swam to our rock. He basked between us,waving to his howling buddies, until Security retrieved him.
A princely sum to be sure
A section of the Monorail hung above the Submarine tank.  It was a ride that gave passengers an aerial view of the entire park and had several stations for boarding, one of which was next to the Lagoon.  Three flights of stairs zigzagged up, giving visitors a bird’s eye view of our rock. One of the Monorail conductors told me of a conversation he’d had with an elderly lady:
         “Are they real?” she asked.
         “Oh yes.”  He replied, assuming she thought we might be robots.
She sighed in amazement and said, 
         “I wonder where they found them . . . probably the Sargasso Sea.”
Edie today
During our hour between shifts we were supposed to stay in a trailer behind the border of the Park (unseen) - they gave us colorful short muumuus to wear.  But we ran around inside the Park - the cutest guys were in Adventureland.  Some of us would go underwater and “re-arrange” the fish, which were attached to rocks by fishing line (to hold them in place).  We would place them in groups, etc. - really fun.
Still a kid at heart

I want to thank Edie for sharing her story with me, and for identifying herself and her fellow femmes of the fin.


A Snow White Sanctum said...

Great post Matt. We just don't hear enough about what it was like to work for the mouse...especially from former mermaids.

Gina said...

How cool is that story? So fun and so neat to see the pics, the job offer letter! I've heard the story about the over-zealous sailor before, but it's nice to hear it reaffirmed by an eye-witness. It's one of those things that you think might just be a urban legend, but it's real! Such a cool post!

Magic Emperor said...

Life is good again.

Beth Ann said...

This was such an entertaining read. :) Loved it, thanks so much for posting!!

Emily Oldfield said...

There should definitely be a book written on 'The Life's of the Disney Employees'. Something to think about Disney!! I'm sure they would have no problem with sales.

city said...

thanks for posting..

Sparkylong said...

Edie, you & your fellow female fin waved at me when I was an 8 year old boy in 1966.

I was walking on clouds for the rest of the day. 'Never forgotten how cheerful (& gorgeous) you both were.


San Diego

Animelover Canada said...

i wish this was still around but it was replaced by nemo

Natalie said...

Just discovered this post and I'm so glad to have! This really makes my day and its so fascinating finding out the backstories to the pictures. Really loving this.

Todd Hoose said...

Great pictures and posts. Thank you! My mother was a 1959 Mermaid for Disney. She was still a senior in High School. I pulled up the original videos and found her in them. I have been in contact with a few Disney historians and they are interviewing her. I enjoy seeing posts from another mermaid. There are so few! I believe it only happened in 59, 65 and 66. She had a very similar experience. I will share your story with her. I'm sure she will love it!
Todd Hoose