MAY 23, 1955
How low can a woman go? For Zale Parry, one of the pioneers of skin diving, the answer was 209 feet—the depth of her August 1954 dive off the coast of Catalina island, which set the women's world record. (Call it [1/76] of a League of Her Own.) "I could have gone farther, but I reached the bottom," Parry says. "There was not much to see down there anyway, except for a piece of kelp and a beer can." Nevertheless, her accomplishment earned her a fair measure of attention, including a spot on the cover of SI with a billing—ZALE PARRY, GIRL SKIN DIVER—as clever as it was probing. Parry was, unknowingly, one of SI's first swimsuit models.
Parry practiced her diving technique in a swimming pool, wearing khaki-colored long Johns and a tattered sweater as a makeshift wet suit. For her record-breaking dive, however, she was outfitted in a Bel-Aqua wet suit donated by the company. "The idea of the dive was to test a new non-return valve that is standard for all breathing regulators divers use today," says Parry.
Blonde and athletic, "the good-looking Zale," as SI called her, was tabbed in 1957 to costar with Lloyd Bridges in the underwater TV adventure series Sea Hunt. "When we filmed the show, the fellows wore wet suits, but the girl always had to wear swimsuits," says Parry. After the series ended in 1961, she continued her acting career, performing as a diving stunt double for, among others, Sophia Loren and appearing in a number of television commercials, including one in which she was the original Pop-Tarts mom.
Now a sixtysomething grandmother, Parry lives in West Hills, Calif., where she works out regularly in her backyard pool. Still prominent in the diving community, she received a NOGI Award, diving's equivalent of an Oscar for lifetime achievement, in 1973, was inducted into the SCUBA Hall of Fame in 1994 and is currently cowriting a book on the history of sports diving, SCUBA America. When she's not over her head in water, she spends her days tending to her roses and rust-colored chrysanthemums, volunteering as an emergency-response team member for the L.A. Fire Department and whiling away afternoons with her young granddaughter, Katherine. "When we stroll through museums or curio shops, I tell her to touch with her eyes only," says Parry. "I would hope divers follow that advice when they enter the waters today."