Disneyland's Real Life Mermaid Tales
by, 10-04-2011 at 03:51 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
Last week, I received a few comments and emails that I haven't given the West Coast any love yet. Well, this week we will change that, and hopefully make a bit of a splash! Today we will talk to Edie Carhart, who worked during the summer of 1966 as a 'mermaid' at Disneyland and now shares with us some of her experiences and funny "tails" from her time in the water!
For those of you who have already subscribed to the 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!' podcast, you may already recognize Edie's name. While this written interview is great, to get the full story from Edie, you can download the podcast at its iTunes page right here! In the podcast, Edie talks about growing up with Disneyland, relates a tale of a brave sailor who joined the mermaids in the lagoon, and how Disney has affected her outlook on life for the better! So, if you have a chance, check it out!
And now, here's Edie!
JEFF: So tell me...how you became a Disneyland mermaid to begin with?
EDIE: I was told about it by a friend of mine. She had been a mermaid the year before, in 1965. She told me to go up to Disneyland at this specific date and time, wear a bikini, show up to the pool area, and just go for it!
JEFF: Were there many others auditioning for the role as well?
EDIE: I have a newspaper clipping that claims it was around 100 girls. In one of the photos, you can see everyone standing around the lap pool. There were LOTS of gals!
Edie ready to audition for the role!
JEFF: How hard was the audition process? What did they ask you to do?
EDIE: You know, that's the part I remember so little about because I was terrified to do the swimming! I was a surfer and I'm used to really big waves and such, but I wasn't such a strong swimmer in the pool.
Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing. The main thing I remember was that we went in groups of eight. We'd have to go the length of the pool, up and back. I didn't like to do the crawl then (known today as the freestyle), so I just held my breath all the way to the other end, took a gulp of air, and held my breath all the way back! I guess I did fine on the swimming.
I think they may also have made us do a lap of back stroke and side stroke as well. Other than that, I honestly don't remember anything really formal. There were a lot of people around, and everything seemed very informal. A lot of people talked to me, I talked to them, and then I just noticed that not as many gals were standing around anymore. I think they had us put the tails on at that point and then do some more work in the water to see if we drowned or not! The only requirements I were aware of was having long hair, being able to swim, balance on the tail, and smile a lot!
JEFF: So you had to prove that you could swim first and THEN they put on the tail?
EDIE: Yes, I think so. It's amazing how little I paid attention to all of that because I was just looking around at everything and going "This is so weird!" It was fun, though. They may have just watched us a lot while we were standing around in our bikinis. You know, to see how we moved and how we looked and interacted with each other.
I do know that they chose five of us, because they used a mermaid from the previous year. So there were six: three blondes, three brunettes.
Edie's acceptance letter
JEFF: You mentioned that you weren't such a strong swimmer to begin with. Did you find it much more difficult to swim with that tail on, or did it help you out more?
EDIE: Well, you had to get used to that. Jenny, who was our head mermaid, had been there the year before. She coached us on all of that. They had us put on tails at the tryouts to see if we would flounder or not.
After we were hired, we had our own tails made by the production department from neoprene wet suit material, which was then sprayed green with painted black scales. They fit nice and tight, and they had a great big fluke on the bottom. We did have to learn how to maneuver, do the dolphin swim, hang upside in the water, and spin the tails around. Once we got used to it, it became pretty natural! We could go really fast!
JEFF: So it was almost like you attended mermaid school!
EDIE: Pretty much. When we got our tails, we all had to get comfortable with them and work with them.
JEFF: How did you guys get in and out of the lagoon? I assume you didn't just jump over the rails, into the water! Was there some sort of hidden underwater tunnel?
EDIE: The way that we entered the lagoon is that we would come out of our little trailer in our little mumus, covering our bikinis, and then we would enter into this long tube thing that was disguised as something else. I don't remember what, though. We would slide into our tails in there, and then at one end of it we could push off. It was automatically under water. We could take a big gulp of air and do the dolphin swim and pop up in the middle of the lagoon. That way, people wouldn't know where we came from. When we changed shifts, we would re-enter the tunnel the same way. We'd work an hour in the water and an hour out, in shifts of two.
Edie's paycheck...look how much she made a week!
JEFF: What was a typical day in the life of the mermaid?
EDIE: We'd get to Disneyland before it opened and go into our trailer in the back. We kept our tails locked up there. We would change and then whoever was on the first shift would be in the water by the time the park opened. Then we would play around for an hour, and the others would show up and we would leave. We did four shifts a day, and when we weren't in the water, we were supposed to be in the trailer. But of course, we snuck out! Our long, wet hair and mumus were dead giveaways: who else runs around Disneyland looking like that?
JEFF: Did anyone ever recognize you guys?
EDIE: Oh, yeah! But we tried to keep an eye out and be subtle about it. We just had a good time.
JEFF: When in the water, were you interacting with the guests or were they too far away?
EDIE: They were viewing us from the railing around the lagoon, and our mermaid rock was in the middle. We couldn't really swim over to the railing because under the water was the track that the submarines took. We could see the submarines, because of the thing on top where the pilot would sit. When the submarine ride would pass, we would dive underwater. We'd smile and wave and do tricks and be cute for the folks on the ride. We had to learn how not to have a whole face full of bubbles coming out of our mouths, because then we'd look grotesque! It was such a kick to see the look on the people's faces!
The last girls standing...er, swimming! Edie and the other 5 girls chosen to be mermaids of 1966.
JEFF: Could you get pretty close to the submarine?
EDIE: Well, there was no barrier, but we had been given strict instructions because I think the year before some gal who had gotten too close and hurt her arm on the submarine. Now, I don't know if that really happened, but we all knew not to get too close. We actually had a lot of room to swim around in there, anyway.
JEFF: Were there any specific activities that you had to do each day?
EDIE: They wanted us to always have someone wave to the subs when they went by, about every 15 minutes, just so the people in the submarine could see us playing and swimming for them underwater. When there weren't submarines, we'd sit on that nice smooth rock on the middle of the lagoon, and wave our tails a bit.
Then they gave us these plastic combs to brush our mermaid hair with these nice pretend mirrors. They also gave us pretend instruments - lutes or lyres - to play. We didn't yell out at the crowd, but we'd wave at them a lot. We kind of played around and did whatever was fun. I remember one of the times, toward the end, I was with one of the gals out there, and we decided to act like robots. So we did everything like robots, our movements, everything!
JEFF: So, there were only two mermaids at a time in the lagoon?
EDIE: Yes, because the six of us had to cover all seven days a week during the summer. So, working in shifts of two... yeah, we had to work a lot, and usually one group of two had off every day. It was just the summer months, and they stopped us toward the end of August. I don't believe they've had them there ever since.
JEFF: Do you know why?
EDIE: I believe it was an issue with the chemicals in the water. You know, the chlorine, the fluoride, and all that were really hard. One girl had trouble with her eyes, and it was hard on our hair and skin. I was used to opening my eyes in salt water with the surfing, so I was used to that, but it was still rough. I personally didn't have too much of a problem with it, but some of the girls with the really blonde hair had their hair turn a little bit green!
EDIT: As per request from comments below, and a few emails, I got Edie's blessing, and here is a photo of her from just last month! She's doing well, and still looking good!
A big thank you to Edie for sharing with us!
Also, a very special thanks to fellow Disney blogger Matt Crandall at VintageDisneyAlice for helping me set up this interview.
I'll be visiting Walt Disney World again from November 26th through December 3rd, and if some of you are around, I'd love to meet you. If you're interested in participating in a 'From the Mouth of The Mouse' meet up, please let me know! Write a comment, send me an email, make some smoke signals...just let me know, and I'd love to meet you folks.
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And finally, a lot of folks who followed me over here from my old stomping grounds have been asking if the Podcast will return anytime soon...and the answer is yes! I have a few lined up that need to be edited, so look for them in the coming weeks. And if you're new to the column, and would like to catch up, you can download them by visiting it's iTunes page right here!
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626, we invite you to check it out.
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