Awards presented by Olympian Bob Mathias to young Ethan Wayne
and father John Wayne by his side. Virginia Hunt Newman assists
You might say Virginia Hunt Newman 'dove' her way into swim teaching.
From 1940 to 1948 Virginia Hunt (Newman) was a competitive diver at the
Los Angeles Athletic Club. She appeared in water shows for the
WWII troops on behalf of the United Service Organization and the
Hollywood Victory Committee.
In the 1940's Virginia dove at a water show at Ambassador Hotel in Los
Angeles where another emerging baby swim teacher - Crystal Scarborough -
Virginia started teaching swimming in 1950. Around Los Angeles
such instruction for babies could have included screaming and vomiting
students. (Virginia remembers visiting a pool where the teacher
had pan on deck at the water's edge for students to vomit into. Students
shouldn't be vomiting!)
Parents were usually not included in the water with infant-toddlers
classes during the 1950's. "Students were taken into the water but
really didn't seem to be doing very much in most cases" Virginia
recalls. She visited the programs conducted by Scarborough and
Scarborough's sister Jen Loven.
From 1951 to 1956 Virginia taught swimming and diving at Black Fox - a
boys military school. She also taught lessons in peoples' homes.
Students included children of movie stars and entertainers Harry Cohen,
Jerry Lewis, Alan Lad, Bob Newhart, and Max Factor at the school.
Side note: When school headmaster Major Gaver interviewed Virginia for
the position he said that (male) teachers who'd been at the school a
long time couldn't see how a little woman could manage these
boys. Virginia's response was - "Just sit back and watch!" She
got the job, stayed five years and commanded the respect of the boys and
fellow teachers alike. Virginia says it was one of the greatest
teaching experiences of her career.
Among the Hollywood Stars
Mary Crosby receives her Beginner's Certificate from American
Red Cross - Los Angeles
while Johnny Weissmuller, her mother Kathryn Crosby, and
Virginia Hunt Newman look on.
In the early 1960's Virginia got a referral to teach children in a
special family. Virginia had been teaching obstetrician, Dr.
Moss's children who also happen to be the doctor of Kathryn Crosby wife
of singer and movie star Bing Crosby). "Kathryn called and
asked if I would teach her children, Mary Frances and Harry, too,"
Virginia said "Sure". Since the Crosby home did not have a
pool, she taught them at Dr. Moss's home.
Virginia says both children were good students but Mary Frances was more
outgoing and the 'perfect student'. At age 2 years she could back
float, jump in and swim 25 feet recovering up to the surface to get air
as she went. Virginia covered all the skills with the 2-year old
that were then associated with the American Red Cross 'Beginner' test.
Regarding the amount of instruction given Virginia states: "Mary
Frances started swimming at age 10 months and she was almost 2 1/2 years
old in February 1962. We swam 3 times a week for 1/2 hour
excluding vacations. I don't recall either she or Harry staying
home because of illness. So it took about 175 to 180 hours of time
in the water including play time for Mary Frances to learn the skills
she needed to pass the Red Cross beginner's test.
Virginia contacted the Los Angeles area office of the Red Cross to
secure a 'beginner' card for her student. Given Mary Frances's
achievements for her age and her famous father, local Red Cross Director
Roger Plaisted agreed to present the card himself at poolside at the
Moss residence in February of 1962 - hence the photo!
National magazines, newspapers and TV were present for the ceremony.
Famous swimmer and actor Johnny Weismuller came along with Plaisted.
Kathryn Crosby accompanied her daughter but Bing did not attend.
Kathryn Crosby speaks while Virginia Hunt Newman and students
are in the pool all with host Mike Douglas on the Mike Douglas
Virginia felt that father Bing purposely chose to stay away to give his
daughter the limelight on the special occasion covered by the media.
Virginia felt the national American Red Cross office didn't like it that
such a young child had passed the beginner test and felt they took steps
to keep that from happening in the future. Mary Frances Crosby
Mary Frances demonstrated her swimming prior to receiving her card.
Virginia recalls: "I didn't want to take her to a new and strange
place for the demonstration even though she was quite outgoing so we
held the ceremony at the Moss's home where the lessons had been all
along. I didn't want to take any chances knowing the entire media
would be there. I also didn't change my swim suit from the
one I wore in the lessons and I asked her mother not to let Mary Frances
wear a different one either. I treated it as though it were
another lesson. Heavy, heavy hung over my head. And luckily it was
Virginia was also commissioned to teach children of actor John Wayne.
Virginia said that she can vouch for John Wayne being a terrific person.
When Virginia asked if Wayne could attend an award ceremony for his
children's swimming, an aid to Wayne interjected that his schedule would
not permit it. Wayne over road the appointment saying, "Oh
that can wait till Saturday, we can do this for Ginny." ('Ginny'
rather than Virginia as she was and is know by friends from the past.)
Virginia also taught a daughter of author Harold Robbins - Adriana
When they met Virginia a the door of their home on the first lesson day,
Adriana said "I am not going to put my face in" to which Virginia
responded "Well you don't have to do anything that you don't want to
do." In working with Adriana, Virginia put her own face in
and glance around the pool, came up and remarked to Adriana, "Do you
know you have gold fish in your pool?" "No we don't" said Adriana
over and over again. But shortly there after, Adrian put her face in and
rose to remark, "We also have an octopus in our pool!"
Admitting that she didn't know who Harold Robbins was, Virginia laughs
when she recalls a conversation with Robbins' wife. "We talked
about my book (published in 1967) and she said, 'You know, my husband is
a writer too'. I said "Oh really what does he write?".
"Novels", his wife said.
Virginia also taught the daughter of Sonny & Cher - Chastity.
According to Virginia there was little to teach Chastity since father -
Sonny - had already done a good job of it.
Virginia has been featured in the New York Times and interviewed by
Barbara Walters on the NBC Today Show. She'd also made a trip to
Philadelphia with Katherine Crosby to appear on the Mike Douglas TV
A Rabbit Does The Trick
According to Virginia there was a chance meeting that would greatly
shape her teaching style as recorded in her 1967 for the future.
Here husband was a producer and was filming a commercial for a bank
wherein a rabbit had been trained to pick up a silver dollar and place
it into a small bank. Virginia was on the set when the
commercial was being filmed and spoke with the person who'd trained the
rabbit - a Dr. Shaw from the Univ. of Arkansas. He said that in
training the rabbit every time the animal would go near the bank, a bell
would ring he'd be given food - positive reinforcement.
That rabbit changed the face of infant swimming as Virginia went on to
make applications to her teaching. She thought she'd try that with a
friend's baby and was granted permission. She knew also that
babies like to please their parents. Every time child did what
Virginia wanted, she'd give praise. Any action or response that
was not desired would be largely ignored.
In addition Virginia read about the work of scientists Pavlov and BF
Skinner on positive reinforcement. Later she gave students poker
chips as reinforcement - the chips were kid-size, brightly colored and
As a Side note - for her 80th birthday Virginia was given actual red,
white, and blue poker chips with her contact information imprinted -
serving as 'business cards'.
The reinforcement of desired actions was used instead simply forcing the
young students said Virginia.
Virginia passed away in 2009.
below © 1993 ISHOF, Inc.
(International Swimming Hall of Fame) with permission
Virginia Hunt Newman
1993 Honor Pioneer Contributor
FOR THE RECORD: Swimming instructor of
infants; Produced film on how to dive springboard. 1967--published
Teaching An Infant To Swim; Best known for developing the non-forceful,
non-traumatic method of teaching infants and young children to swim.
Virginia Hunt competed in swimming for the Indianapolis Athletic Club
from 1932 to 1940, winning numerous Midwest and national titles. From
1940 to 1948 she competed in diving for the Los Angeles Athletic Club
where she won several Southern Pacific Association titles and a national
During World War II, Virginia traveled with the United Service
Organization and the Hollywood Victory Committee, appearing in water
shows with Hall of Famers Johnny Weissmuller, Stubby Kruger, Buster
Crabbe, and Dutch Smith, for the armed services.
Although she was quite successful as a swimmer and diver, Virginia is
renowned for her accomplishments as an infant swimming instructor. She
began teaching swimming to infants and pre-schoolers in 1950 and became
an aquatic director and diving coach at a private boys' school. During
this time, Virginia wrote and directed a series of films on springboard
diving and served as Secretary of the Southern Pacific Association
Diving Committee for two years.
In 1962 she came to a major turning point in her career. Her star
student, two-year old Mary Crosby, daughter of entertainer Bing Crosby
and his wife Kathryn successfully passed the skill test for the Red
Cross Beginners Certificate. At this time, Mary was the youngest child
in the history of the Red Cross to do this. So impressed with her
achievements and the fact that she was the daughter of Bing Crosby,
Mary's award was personally presented by the director of Red Cross
Safety Services and Hall of Famer Johnny Weissmuller on national
television and covered by Life, Look, and Time magazines and headlined
in the Los Angeles newspapers.
This event led to the compiling of Virginia's methods in her book
Teaching An Infant to Swim in 1967. It gave world-wide attention to
non-forceful or non-traumatic teaching methods. Her book became so
popular that it was published in England, Australia, Germany, Sweden,
Italy, and Japan. She later published her next book Teaching Young
Children to Swim and Dive, in 1969.
Besides her success with young Mary Crosby, Virginia was also the
swimming instructor for the children of John Wayne, Bob Hope, Harry
Cohen, Jerry Lewis, Alan Ladd, Bob Newhart, Max Factor, Sonny & Cher,
and Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.
Her methods, distraction from normal fears associated with learning to
swim and rewards for trying and performing skills, have been accepted by
thousands of swim instructors world-wide.
For her accomplishments, Virginia received both the National Service
Award in 1971 and National Honor Award in 1983 from the Aquatics Council
of American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and
Dance. Virginia later opened Newman Swim Academy in Hollywood,
California, in 1973 and became the executive director of the United
States Swimming Foundation in 1980. In 1993 she was named an Honor
Pioneer Contributor by the International Swimming Hall of Fame. In the
same year Virginia conducted a world conference in Los Angeles for swim
teachers naming it World Aquatic Babies Congress and thereafter started
an organization by the same name. See
About WABC section of this website.