Florida Citrus Queen 1950, Aqua Maid stand-in for Esther Williams at Cypress Gardens

Florida Citrus Queen 1950, Aqua Maid stand-in for Esther Williams at Cypress Gardens


By Manny P. Hernandez

Her parents had relocated to Florida from frozen Michigan when in 1931 Marion Helen Helzer was born in Plant City, Florida. She would later be known throughout her entire professional career as Kathy Darlyn. By age six, little did Kathy know that the nearby grand opening of Cypress Gardens on January 2, 1936, would be the scenario where she would showcase her skills, talent and beauty to the world.

Now 81, Kathy is being cared for by Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care www.CornerstoneHospice.org


Beauty Queen at 19, Cypress Gardens Aqua Maid, rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s celebrities.

At age 19, Kathy graced the cover of Citrus Magazine as the 1950 Miss Florida Citrus Queen, a recognition which would give her statewide notoriety; coming to the attention of Dick and Julie Pope, owners of Cypress Gardens, Florida’s first tourist theme park featuring lush tropical gardens, Southern Belles strolling the grounds and what would become world-renowned waterskiing performances by world-class skiers and Aqua Maids, Kathy Darlyn among them. Kathy was part of the elite Aqua Maid group throughout the entire decade of the fifties from 1950 thru 1959. The park’s owners were accomplished world travelers, bringing to the park over 8,000 varieties of flowers and exotic plants from over ninety different countries.

Cypress Gardens served as backdrop at the time of filming the acclaimed Esther Williams film “Easy to Love” with leading man Van Johnson playing the role of real-life Dick Pope, the theme park’s owner (released 1953). The film’s producers noticed Kathy’s looks, swimming and acrobatic water skills, placing her as stand-in for Esther Williams who had filmed one prior movie at the park. Her first one was “On an Island With You,” filmed in 1947 with Ricardo Montalbán. Elvis Presley, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas and other frequent visiting film and TV stars made Cypress Gardens the Florida tourist attraction to be visited by Hollywood’s top celebrities.


Kathy Darlyn is featured in the official photo released for the premiere of “This is Cinerama,” released in 1952. Several sequences were filmed at Cypress Gardens. Kathy was married at age 26 to her first husband Paul Smith and later to her second husband Theo Saliba, The former Aqua Maid is now Kathy D. Saliba.

Due to her age, Kathy D. Saliba is being cared for by Cornerstone Hospice. Pat Ludemann RN and patient care supervisor for the nonprofit, indicated “Kathy is a prime example of many of our advanced age patients whom we care for with utmost medical care and professionalism.” Since 1984, Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care, a nonprofit community-based healthcare organization, has been caring for central Florida patients and families experiencing a life-limiting or life-threatening illness. To learn more, call anywhere in Polk County (863)291-5560 or toll-free (800)503-5756.

Thanks to Kathy’s daughter Stephanie, to brother-in-law Win Brown and his wife Selenea who have provided details for this human interest story on this Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care patient.

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