In the book Diving Pioneers and Innovators, Zale Parry is celebrated as ‘The First Lady of Diving.’ She is also fittingly Chapter 1. Indeed, Zale is a true icon with a rich history in diving. Zale is most associated with her role in the television series, Sea Hunt (1958 to 1961). The underwater detective show, starring Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson, is credited with introducing scuba diving to millions of people, and literally created entire generations of ocean lovers and divers. The show always ended with a message of appreciation for the environment, when Mike Nelson would make a plea to protect the oceans. In the show Zale worked in numerous roles. She performed all of the underwater stunts and work for other actresses, and co-starred in a dozen episodes.
But that wasn’t her start. Zale was raised on a Wisconsin lake, and from the time she was a little girl was always attracted to the water. Working as a young woman in California at the Douglas Aircraft Company, she met Parry Bivens, an aeronautical and aquatic engineer, and became involved in pioneering diving and scientific work. In 1953 she became a test diver of underwater equipment for Scientific Underwater Research Enterprises. Later, she and Parry designed, built, and marketed the first civilian hyperbaric chamber for divers. They became evangelists for the use of hyperbaric chambers around the world to provide lifesaving facilities for divers suffering from “the bends”.
While testing equipment in 1954, Zale set a women’s depth record to 209 feet. Diving was very much a man’s world, and that same year she became the third female instructor to graduate from the L.A. County program. Later that year Zale made her screen debut in Kingdom of the Sea, which was shown in 70 countries and had a successful run of several years.
Zale’s knowledge of scuba diving and her astounding beauty made the producers of Sea Hunt cast her immediately. From the 1950s through the 1990s, Zale remained in demand as an actress and underwater stuntwoman for all of the Hollywood studios. Her credits-list includes appearances in TV’s GE Theatre, Wagon Train, Peter Gunn, The Aquanauts, Man and the Challenge, and she appeared in over two dozen television commercials. Zale appeared on the cover of the May 23, 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated, its first Swimsuit Edition, as the “sweetheart” of scuba diving.
Zale is also an accomplished photographer and writer. In 1957, she co-founded the International Underwater Film Festival that ran for 17 years. In 1960, she became the first elected woman president of the U/W Photographic Society. She wrote and published a book with the late Al Tillman, Scuba America Vol. I, the Human History of Sport Diving in America.
Zale has received the NOGI Award for Distinguished Service, DEMAs Reaching Out Award, the Women’s Scuba Association Scuba Diver of the Year Award, and the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Education Award. In 2001, she was made a “Lifetime Ambassador at Large” by the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences, and in 2002 she was inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. Zale also received the Beneath the Sea Diver of the Year Award, and has been an ardent supporter of The Women Divers Hall of Fame (WDHOF) since its inception.
We are proud to honor Zale’s enormous contributions to the California diving scene with the 2016 California Scuba Service Award.