Manny P. here…
The actress and swimmer known for her poolside manner in MGM musicals has passed on. Esther Williams’ star also rose in beautiful Technicolor, while working with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban and Howard Keel. In a bathing suit, she became a popular pinup girl of GI’s during World War II. ESTHER WILLIAMS ——>
Born in Inglewood, CA, Esther was taught by her older sister to swim. In her teens, the Los Angeles Athletic Club offered to train her four hours a day, aiming for the 1940 Olympic Games at Helsinki. In 1939, she won the Women’s Outdoor Nationals title in the 100-meter freestyle, set a record in the 100-meter breaststroke, and was a part of several winning relay teams. But the outbreak of war in Europe that year canceled the 1940 Olympics, and Esther dropped out of competition to earn a living.
She was selling clothes in a Wilshire Boulevard department store when showman Billy Rose tapped her for a bathing beauty job at the World’s Fair in San Francisco. While appearing, she spent five months swimming alongside an Olympic gold medal winner, and the star of Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. At the fair, she was spotted by an MGM producer. She laughed at the idea of doing movies popularizing swimming, as Sonja Henie had done with ice skating. At the urging of her mother, Esther finally met Louis B. Mayer and signed a contract.
As with Judy Garland, Donna Reed and other stars, Williams was introduced in one of Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy films, Andy Hardy’s Double Life in 1942. She also played a small role in A Guy Named Joe before Bathing Beauty in 1944 began the string of immensely popular musical spectaculars. Among them: Thrill of a Romance, Take Me out to the Ballgame, Skirts Ahoy, Duchess of Idaho, This Time for Keeps, Fiesta, On an Island with You, Dangerous When Wet, Jupiter’s Darling, Pagan Love Song, Texas Carnival, Million Dollar Mermaid, and Easy to Love. Her brand of cinema was promoted as Aquamusicals.
After her 1962 marriage to Fernando Lamas, a previous co-star, Esther retired from public life. After his death in 1982, she regained the spotlight. Having popularized synchronized swimming in her movies, she became a co-host of the event on NBC at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She issued a video teaching children how to swim, and sponsored her own line of swimsuits.
Upon induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966, a spokesperson was quoted as saying: Her movie career played a major role in the promotion of swimming, making it attractive to the public, contributing to the growth of the sport as a public recreation for health, exercise, water safety — and just plain fun. She published her autobiography in 1999, calling it The Million Dollar Mermaid. In her final years, she rarely appeared in public; briefly coming out of retirement only at the request of Turner Classic Movies.
Always self-deprecating, she recited Fanny Brice, who once commented: Esther Williams? Wet, she’s a star. Dry, she ain’t.
TCM will be airing a 24-hour movie marathon of many of her most famous films from the 1940s and 1950s beginning June 13th at 8pm. Thirteen films will be included in the cinematic marathon.
The breezy and affable Esther Williams was 91.
Until next time> “never forget”