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Interview with Margaret Russell of the Aquarena Springs Resort

Gordon Wilkison

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TAMI Tags
  •  Training the ballerinas 
  •  Margaret Russell's swimming history 
  •  Margaret Russell on meeting her husband 
  •  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid 
  •  Family life 
  •  Touring property 
  •  Margaret Russell on swimming pigs 
 
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  • About the video
  • Aqurena Springs Aqurena Springs
  • Gordon Wilkison Gordon Wilkison
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Austin television personality Jean Boone interviews Margaret Russell, wife of the former General Manager of the Aquarena Springs Resort, about her many responsibilities at Aquarena, like the choreography of swimming acts for the Submarine Theatre. Margaret also divulges her past celebrity life as a swimming double in a Hollywood feature film. At the time of Margaret Russell's management, the Aquarena resembled a resort with an amusement park and hotel. Today, the Aquarena is a nationally preserved habitat and its uses by the public are exclusively educational.
Opening in 1951, Aquarena Springs was a resort and amusement park located on Spring Lake in San Marcos. Attractions included glass-bottom boat tours, a sky ride, and a submarine theater. (For the latter, the audience partially descended into the water to see a performance by the “Aquamaids,” young women wearing mermaid tails who stayed underwater by sipping from air hoses.) Arguably the most popular attraction was Ralph the Swimming Pig, who began each show by taking a “swine dive” into the lake to drink from a milk bottle held by a trainer. At its peak, Aquarena Springs attracted 250,000 visitors annually, remaining a popular tourist destination from the 1960s through the 1980s. 
 
Texas State University purchased the property in 1994, initially planning to update the theme park and use it to underwrite academic research. Dwindling attendance and surging costs, however, made operating the park—then known as the Aquarena Center—impossible. Ralph made his final performance in February 1996. Texas State ultimately tore down most the facility to return Aquarena Springs to its original condition. (The area is one of the oldest continually inhabited locations on the continent.) What remained eventually became the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, an educational center dedicated to water research. The center still conducts glass-bottomed boat tours.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation.  At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades - during the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
 
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
 
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
 
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.