Diane Webber appeared in eight cult films, various TV series episodes (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Peter Gunn), and at least two nudie-cutie loops. She also graced the cover of Nelson Riddle’s easy listening LP, “Sea of Dreams.” Though I’ve been a fan of hers for many years, I had never read the book “Thy Neighbor’s Wife" (1975), in which author Gay Talese uses Diane as the iconic heartbeat of his bestselling study of sex in America. Last month I finally picked up a copy and delved into it, and my interest in Ms. Webber has, well, escalated, to say the least. Diane’s parents were no strangers to show business. Her father, Guy Empey, wrote a bestselling book, “Over the Top" (1917), about his frontline experiences in World War I, and acted in the book’s film version the following year. He also wrote and acted in several other films in the 20s. His future wife, as a result of winning a beauty contest, was given a small part in a Cecil B. De Mille silent, and in 1932, in Los Angeles, the couple gave birth to a daughter, Diane Marguerite Empey. Diane grew up near Hollywood, took ballet lessons in her early teens, and at 18, discouraged that her ballet aspirations would never amount to anything, took a job as a chorus girl in a San Francisco nightclub. For extra cash, she followed the suggestion of a fellow dancer and began nude modeling on the side. By 1955, she was the nation’s number one figure model. Her popularity was such that she was one of the few models to grace Playboy’s centerfold twice, in 1955 and again in 1956, both under the name Marguerite Empey, with her second appearance photographed by Russ Meyer. Around this time, she met college senior and budding film technician Joe Webber; the two married and soon became active nudists, and Diane became a leading spokesperson for the health and spiritual virtues of the naturalist lifestyle. In the 60s, she took up belly dancing and went on to teach classes for many years in the San Fernando Valley. Her interest in this unique art seems to have lead to a couple roles--she plays a belly dancing coven member in THE WITCHMAKER, and in THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK she actually plays the part of a belly dancing instructor. In Steve Sullivan’s book, “Va Va Voom,” Russ Meyer talks about working with her: “She did it for the money. She looked upon this whole thing [the glamour/nude modeling industry] as being ridiculous. Sex to her was very ethereal, in the head, very spiritual.” Sullivan notes that, “Today, Diane lives quietly in a California nudist community, declining all offers to cash in on her legend.”
GHOST DIVER (1957) - Diane has a small part as a stuntwoman in this underwater adventure.
THIS IS MY BODY (1959) - Rare Russ Meyer nudie-short, featuring footage of Diane bathing outdoors, which played in theaters with his THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS. I assume this is in Meyer’s archives, and hope to heaven it will be released someday.
MERMAIDS OF TIBURON (1962) - In her most well-known film, Diane stars as the Mermaid Queen. This was directed and shot by John Lamb at breathtaking underwater locations around the world--Mexico, Catalina, Hawaii, Florida, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Circulating gray market prints are fullscreen and black and white, but MERMAIDS played in theaters in “Aquascope” and Eastman Color. There appear to be three versions: (1) the original, released by Roger Corman’s Filmgroup; (2) a concurrent European variant with scenes of Diane swimming topless; and (3) the later, retitled version, THE AQUA SEX, which was reissued numerous times and had added scenes of new topless models/mermaids (among them, Gaby Martone, an obscure model/actress whose only credit appears to be THE AQUA SEX). Trivia: I could swear I read a Tom Weaver or Paul Parla interview piece in, I think, Movie Collector’s World, where someone noted that underwater camera specialist Lamb also shot scenes--uncredited--for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. One MERMAIDS OF TIBURON review remarked that, as she plays a mermaid, Diane’s surname “Webber” must have been an in-joke; in fact, though, it is her married name. Diane repeated her sea creature portrayal in a 1967 episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, appropriately titled, “The Mermaid.”
SHE DID IT HIS WAY (c. 1962) - Another rarity, this is a one-hour nudist camp film featuring Diane. The only place I’ve read anything about this is in Sullivan’s “Va Va Voom.”
THE SWINGER (1966) - Diane has an uncredited part as a model, along with fellow Playboy gals China Lee and Veronica Ericson.
THE WITCHMAKER (1969) - Shot on location in Louisiana, the pressbook states that the coven scenes--with Diane, FASTER PUSSYCAT’s Sue Bernard, and horror host Seymour--were filmed in California.
SINTHIA, THE DEVIL’S DOLL (1970) - Diane appears topless in a strange, closeup, mother/daughter lesbian scene (!) in Ray Steckler’s surreal trip of a movie.
THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK (1974) - As mentioned above, Diane has a small role as a belly dancing instructor, her real-life profession.
I’ve seen four of her films (TIBURON, THE SWINGER, SINTHIA, WITCHMAKER) and “The Pearl Necklace,” an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode in which she appears with Hazel Court. How many Diane Webber films have you seen?