Saying Goodbye to the ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’, Esther Williams

One of a kind actress and champion swimmer Esther Williams, who starred in glittering, aquatic Technicolor musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, has died. She was 91.

After being scouted by a MGM producer and an agent, Williams signed her contract with MGM in 1941. In her contract were two clauses: the first being that she receive a guest pass to The Beverly Hills Hotel where she could swim in the pool every day, and the second that she would not appear on camera for nine months to allow for acting, singing, dancing and diction lessons. She wrote in her autobiography, “If it took nine months for a baby to be born, I figured my ‘birth’ from Esther Williams the swimmer to Esther Williams the movie actress would not be much different.”

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.

After her 1962 marriage to Fernando Lamas, her co-star in Dangerous When Wet, she retired from public life, taking with her an entire genre of movie musicals and showing the world that she was indeed, irreplaceable. 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 was born Aug. 8, 1921, in Inglewood, a suburb southwest of Los Angeles, one of five children. It’s said that Esther Jane Williams grew up destined for a successful career in athletics, and boy, did she succeed. She was even credited as one of the originators of synchronized swimming.

“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.”

She will be missed.

Images from here, here and here.

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