Los Angeles native Diana Bruner Puskas was one of the prettiest and most fashionable divas to ever grace Soul Train. Her upbeat, perky personality and beautiful smile along with her eye catching dance style was a welcome treat for viewers of Soul Train. She also put the “c” in the words “chic” and “classy” as many of the fashionable outfits she wore caught viewers’ eyes. She is, indeed, one of a kind. Here is her story.
Soultrain.com: Did you have inspirations of going into show business?
Diana: Yes, from a very early age. I wanted to go into professional dance. I even did a film for Hanna-Barbara Productions at the age of 14 called The Drug Scene for the Unified School District of Los Angeles.
Diana: Pat Davis was my close friend in high school. She invited me on the show. She was my ticket in.
Soultrain.com: Do you recall your first time at Soul Train? Were you nervous?
Diana: I wasn’t really nervous. I was kind of a ham when it came to the camera (Laughs).
Soultrain.com: You and Pat would dance and rehearse at her house, right?
Diana: Yes, we would go to each other’s homes and practice and come up with different steps.
Soultrain.com: Did you ever do the Soul Train Scramble Board?
Diana: I did it once. I got a whole little kit of Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen products with a natural comb. I got it in the mail.
Soultrain.com: What are your favorite memories of Soul Train, aside from the guest stars?
Diana: Memories of everyone getting together during breaks, going to get Famous Amos cookies and eating chicken on the bleachers.
Soultrain.com: What are your fond memories of the guest stars that came to the show?
Diana: I used to talk to all the guest stars. Teddy Pendergrass asked me for my number! (Laughs) I really enjoyed Elton John. He was was so nice. James Brown was fabulous. He had all of his JBs with him. Ricky Sylvers (of The Sylvers) and I were very good friends. One time [Soul Train dancer] Kim Jackson and I were chosen to stand by Barry White at his piano when he performed one of his numbers. He had such a presence. Sly Stone, Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, The O’Jays, Patti Labelle, The Delfonics, Chaka Khan, and The Spinners are some of the other artists that I have great memories of.
Soultrain.com: The outfits you wore on the show were very chic.
Diana: Thank you! I was always around fashion. I managed my godmother’s clothing store in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles called Cassinis.
Soultrain.com: Did you have a favorite dance partner while on Soul Train?
Diana: Tyrone Swan. I also danced with Don Campbell and Fred Mays, but mainly Tyrone Swan. Mr. X was also a favorite.
Soultrain.com: What was it like for the Soul Train Gang to appear at various schools around Los Angeles?
Diana: It was a great opportunity for us. We would judge a lot of dance contests and talent competitions.
Soultrain.com: Did you do any performing outside of Soul Train?
Diana: Yes. Damita Jo Freeman, Sharon Hill, Pat Davis, Vicki Abercrombie, and I performed during a Rolling Stones concert at the Los Angeles Forum. We danced on stage behind them. Damita was responsible for getting us this gig. I remember during the concert Mick Jagger threw a bucket of water at Liza Minnelli in the audience for some reason (Laughs).
Soultrain.com: You said in an old issue of Right On! magazine that sometimes dancers would make unpleasant statements at each other.
Diana: There was a lot of jealousy at times. Rivalry was present.
Soultrain.com: Speaking of Right on! magazine, you were featured in many of its issues. What was that like for you?
Diana: It was terrific! Flo Jenkins (the editor) would come to the tapings and interview us and we did many photo shoots and layouts for the magazine.
Soultrain.com: Were you ever caught chewing gum by the audience coordinator Pam Brown?
Diana: (Laughs) Yes! I got caught chewing gum many times by Pam.
Soultrain.com: What were your impressions of Don Cornelius?
Diana: Don was Don. He never wanted to get too close to any of the dancers. However, Don had a very large presence. He was like a stern father. He would speak to me and say, “Hello Bruner!” (Laughs)
Soultrain.com: What are your memories of the annual Soul Train Christmas parties?
Diana: They were so much fun. The parties would be held at either the Speakeasy or the Playboy Club. Many celebrities would attend.
Soultrain.com: What did you do after leaving Soul Train?
Diana: I went on to do many auditions and several TV shows. I did the Touch of Gold special on ABC with Petula Clark and Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods. The comedian Paul Mooney helped to get me a gig for the Richard Pryor Show, in which I performed during the station breaks. I also did commercials for a drug store chain in the islands of St. Thomas and I did modeling in Paris, France.
Soultrain.com: You had professional training as a model, right?
Diana: Yes. When I moved to New York City at the age of 21, I worked with the modeling agency Big Beauties/Little Women for petite models and another agency called Zoli. I also had my own catering business while I was in New York on Spring Street in the Soho area.
Soultrain.com: You took professional training for dance too as well, right?
Diana: Yes. I studied ballet, jazz and modern dance.
Soultrain.com: You also worked with Jeff Kutash’s group The Dance Machine, correct?
Diana: Yes. I did several TV shows with the group but I decided to leave for personal reasons.
Soultrain.com: You were also attending Los Angeles City College at one time, right?
Diana: Yes, I was gonna go to law school but I became a finance major.
Soultrain.com: What did you think of Soul Train in later years of the show, say the mid eighties onward?
Diana: It was very different. It changed a lot from when I was on the show.
Soultrain.com: What are you doing currently?
Diana: I am a security consultant for a large security integration company, where I have been for 25 years.
Diana: I was devastated by Don’s death. It was like a family member going away. I was so happy to reunite with so many people at his memorial such as Pam Brown and dancers like Pat Davis, Fawn Quinones, Tyrone Proctor, and so many others.
Soultrain.com: What was your overall experience with Soul Train?
Diana: It was the most fulfilling experience to be a part of. It introduced me to new avenues and opened so many doors for me.
Soultrain.com: What would you say is Don Cornelius’ legacy?
Diana: Black people were restricted in many ways, but Don introduced black culture to the world. We need to keep Don’s vision alive.
Soultrain.com: Do you have a word of advice you want to share with readers?
Diana: Love one another and put God first.
Photos courtesy of Diana Bruner Puskas
Be sure to check out the classic Soul Train clip featuring Diana Bruner Puskas and Tyrone Swan, dancing to the Isley Brothers’ “Live It Up”!
In addition to being a journalist, Stephen McMillian is also developing creative projects within the entertainment industry.