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Esther Williams


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Lucy's costar Esther Williams has died at the age of 91. :(


LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Esther Williams, the swimming champion turned actress who starred in glittering and aquatic Technicolor musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, has died. She was 91.


Williams died early Thursday in her sleep, according to her longtime publicist Harlan Boll.


Following in the footsteps of Sonja Henie, who went from skating champion to movie star, Williams became one of Hollywood’s biggest moneymakers, appearing in spectacular swimsuit numbers that capitalized on her wholesome beauty and perfect figure.


Such films as “Easy to Wed,” ”Neptune’s Daughter” and “Dangerous When Wet” followed the same formula: romance, music, a bit of comedy and a flimsy plot that provided excuses to get Esther into the water.


The extravaganzas dazzled a second generation via television and the compilation films “That’s Entertainment.” Williams’ co-stars included the pick of the MGM contract list, including Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban and Howard Keel.


When hard times signalled the end of big studios and costly musicals in the mid-’50s, Williams tried non-swimming roles with little success. After her 1962 marriage to Fernando Lamas, her co-star in “Dangerous When Wet,” she retired from public life.


She explained in a 1984 interview: “A really terrific guy comes along and says, ‘I wish you’d stay home and be my wife,’ and that’s the most logical thing in the world for a Latin. And I loved being a Latin wife — you get treated very well. There’s a lot of attention in return for that sacrifice.”


She came to films after winning 100-meter freestyle and other races at the 1939 national championships and appearing at the San Francisco World’s Fair’s swimming exhibition.


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” (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,” ”Fiesta,” ”This Time for Keeps,” ”On an Island with You,” ”Take Me out to the Ballgame,” ”Duchess of Idaho,” ”Pagan Love Song,” ”Texas Carnival,” ”Skirts Ahoy,” ”Million Dollar Mermaid” (as Annette Kellerman, an earlier swimming champion turned entertainer), “Dangerous When Wet,” ”Easy to Love” and “Jupiter’s Darling.”


Williams in a bathing suit became a favourite pinup of GI’s in World War II, and her popularity continued afterward. She was a refreshing presence among MGM’s stellar gallery — warm, breezy, with a frankness and self-deprecating humour that delighted interviewers.


She laughed as much as anyone over an assessment by Fanny Brice, the original “Funny Girl”: “Esther Williams? Wet, she’s a star. Dry, she ain’t.”


After leaving MGM, she starred in two Universal dramatic films, “The Unguarded Moment” and “Raw Wind in Eden.” Neither was successful. In 1961 Lamas directed her last film, “The Magic Fountain,” in Spain. It was never released in America.


When she published her autobiography in 1999, she titled it “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”


Esther Jane Williams grew up destined for a career in athletics. She was born Aug. 8, 1921, in Inglewood, a suburb southwest of Los Angeles, one of five children.


(Some references give a birth year of 1922 or 1923, but she told The Associated Press in 2004 that the correct date was 1921. “I think we ought to just count our blessings,” she said at the time. “You get old. It happens, but oh, what life we had when we were young.”)


A public pool was not far from the modest home where Williams was raised, and it was there that an older sister taught her to swim. They saved the 10-cent admission price by counting 100 towels.


When she was 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 cancelled 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 there, she was spotted by an MGM producer and an agent. She laughed at the suggestion she do films that would popularize swimming, as Henie had done with ice skating.


“Frankly I didn’t get it,” she recalled. “If they had asked me to do some swimming scenes for a star, that would have made sense to me. But to ask me to act was sheer insanity.”


She finally agreed to visit MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, and recalled that she took the job after her mother told her: “No one can avoid a challenge in life without breeding regret, and regret is the arsenic of life.”


Lamas was Williams’ third husband. Before her fame she was married briefly to a medical student. In 1945 she wed Ben Gage, a radio announcer, and they had three children, Benjamin, Kimball and Susan. They divorced in 1958.


After Lamas’ death in 1982, Williams regained the spotlight. Having popularized synchronized swimming with her movies, she was co-host of the event on television at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She issued a video teaching children how to swim and sponsored her own line of swimsuits.


“I’ve been a lucky lady,” she said in a 1984 interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve had three exciting careers. Before films I had the experience of competitive swimming, with the incredible fun of winning. … I had a movie career with all the glamor that goes with it. That was ego-fulfilling, but it was like the meringue on the pie. My marriage with Fernando — that was the filling, that was the apple in the pie.”




There are so few MGM stars left now. :(.


That Fanny Brice quote is actually about swimmer Eleanor Holm who married her former husband Billy Rose.

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I was just thinking about Esther because I watched "Easy to Wed" and "that's Entertainment 3" done in 1994 with Esther as one of the on-camera commentators.

Esther would have been the perfect guest star in "Lucy in Marineland"

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I was just thinking about Esther because I watched "Easy to Wed" and "that's Entertainment 3" done in 1994 with Esther as one of the on-camera commentators.

Esther would have been the perfect guest star in "Lucy in Marineland"

Great thought, Neil! :D


So sad... all Lucy's "contemporaries" and associates are leaving us, with so few remaining. But....she did live to be a presumably happy and healthy 91 so ....here's to Esther Williams!



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Thanks for putting the Esther and Lucy picture up in the banner whomever!


My mom loved Esther so I grew up watching the movies - I remember an August day in the late 80's when I was a young teenager watching something like 8 in a row (some sort of a marathon for her bday) on some tv channel (Did TCM exist then? Can't figure out what would've shown that if not. Maybe it was TNT or TBS or something. TCM doesn't sound right.) I'm not sure I'd have the stamina anymore to do that, but it's a great memory. My mom ended up getting a lot of her movies on VCR, and I got her TCM's DVD set for her birthday when that came out.ago.


Since this is a Lucy page, I'll say that Easy to Wed's my #4 film of Esther's. Lucy's definitely a great presence in that film, and I think she looks awesome in that technicolor. Esther, I think, was still getting her feet wet in the acting world (if you'll pardon the pun), so I think Lucy's the one who lifted the movie up above a bunch of other movies where Esther did a superior job but the movie wasn't as overall entertaining.

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True, almost all of the REAL BIG STARS of yesteryear are gone, so few remain, sad to see Esther go, but at least she made it to a ripe old age. Wonder if she was still out and about or if anyone knows when she last appeared in public.


Esther appeared at the TCM Film Festival three years ago. I'm not sure if any appearances after that.

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TCM's 24 hour tribute to Esther gets underway tonight at 8 p.m.


8 - Bathing Beauty

10 - Neptune's Daughter

11.45 -- Million Dollar Mermaid

1.45 a.m. - Dangerous When Wet

3.30 - Andy Hardy's Double Life

5.15 - Thrill of a Romance

7.15 - Easy to Wed

9.15 - The Hoodlum Saint

11 - Fiesta

1 - This Time For Keeps

3 - On an Island With You

5 - Pagan Love Song

6.30 - Texas Carnival

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