NORMA DEAN MAXWELL PASSES AWAY
Bob and Norma Dean Maxwell
They met because they were divers.
Bob was world renown as the greatest “spotter” diver (a back somersault to the board before the take off). He organized many divers and is the only man in the world to have completed 7 ½ consecutive somersaults utilizing the diving boards. A New York City native of Jones Beach, he was featured for six years with water show troupes in the US and Canada, as the World’s Acrobatic Springboard Diving Champion.
During the same period, Norma Dean also of New York, was a featured diver and performer at Sam Snyder’s “Water Follies” of the US, Canada and Europe. She performed in Johnny Weissmuller’s “Watercade”; Noel Sheridan’s “Water Capers” of South America; Al Sheehan’s “Minneapolis Aquatennial” and “Seattle Seafare”; the Canadian National Exhibition Lakefront Water Shows and George Hamid’s Steel Pier Water- Circus in Atlantic City, NJ. Her diving act at the Steel Pier was a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, as she rode a horse off a 35 foot platform into a 12 foot deep tank of water, six times a day! She graduated from New York University where she was Middle Atlantic States Inter Collegiate 3- meter Springboard Diving Champion. This helped her be a stand-in for film star Esther Williams, when diving scenes were in the script.
In the early 1950’s, Norma met Bob at Sam Snyder’s Show. Their relationship blossomed into a 43 year long marriage that bore two children and a strong business partnership. Bob had formed the winter-time, Miami Beach “Aqua Spectacular” traveling show unit and with Olympic Diving Champion, Pete Desjardins, they put on over 100 shows a year. After five years of the traveling circuit and providing talent for film, television, and other live show producers, Bob and Norma formed “Maxwell Associates”.
Together they became the icon for water show productions. When amusement parks became more prevalent, they began putting water shows into the parks increasing park attendance. They signed up with Great Adventure in New Jersey and stayed for 12 consecutive years. Some of the over 500 parks in which they conducted shows included Disneyland, Sea World, Six Flags, Great Escape, Dutch Wonderland and Busch Gardens. They became mainstays in parks throughout the world including Safari Park in Austria and Ocean Park in Hong Kong. At one time, they had over 300 divers and performers under contract performing in such places as Hawaii, Taipei, Bangkok and Miami.
The Maxwells were pioneers when it came to exposing diving to television. They created and formatted a variety of high dive shows for ABC’s Wide World of Sports and NBC’s Sports World, including the Acapulco Cliff Diving Championships, the Men’s High Diving Championships, the Women’s Cliff Diving Championship and the Mixed Doubles World Target Diving Championships. They were honored with an award from Roone Arledge, head of ABC Sports, when the Acapulco Cliff Diving Championships became the longest-running show on Wide World of Sports – 20 years of Acapulco Championships.
Bob and Norma had a perfect combination of talent. Bob was busy promoting the shows, while Norma produced them. Bob conceived and designed the Acapulco CICI Water Park in Mexico and served as General Manager of Disney on Parade at the Walt Disney Theme Park. Together they promoted and produced three Worlds Fair Aquacades - 1964 New York, 1984 New Orleans and 1988 Brisbane. Their water shows were the most ambitious of their time and set the standard for what was to come. To assure crowd interest, the shows featured a combination of acts like precision water ballets, highboard antics by the Aqua Maniacs, aquabatics by college diving champions and even a
water “circus” with animal acts, jugglers and tumblers and World Championship diving.
Emphasis was on creating a wholesome, family-style show that appealed to whole families around the world. Performers were recruited world-wide, providing an opportunity to travel and earn money. Many stayed with the Maxwell’s for years.
After Bob’s untimely death in 1997, Norma continued to run the business until her retirement a few years ago. She and Bob stood high above their competition, not because they were high divers, but because of the impact they had on what could be accomplished in promoting and producing shows around the water.
Always the thrill seeker, Norma celebrated her recent 80th birthday by jumping out of an airplane, only this time wearing a parachute and not diving into a pail of water.
Story and photos courtesy of ISHOF