Magazine article Variety

In the Water, Esther Williams Was a Star

Magazine article Variety

In the Water, Esther Williams Was a Star

Article excerpt

Swimmer starred in 25 MGM films, later admitting she couldn't act, sing or dance

Esther Williams, the swim champion turned actress who was known for roles in MGM aquatic spectaculars such as Bathing Beauty and Million Dollar Mermaid, died June 6 in Beverly Hills. She was 91.

Popular in the 1940s and '50s for her easy, amiable manner and aquatic abilities, Williams was a shrewd businesswoman who made a series of wise investments for the days after her decade or so of fame had ended, lending her name to swimming pools and bathing suits. Except for occasional commentary at swimming events, most notably the Olympics, or instructional videotapes, Williams largely retired after the mid-'60s.

While she was on top, she was one of MGM's most colorful stars, appearing in hit films including 1945's Thrill of a Romance and Easy to Wed the following year, two of several outings with co-star Van Johnson. By the late-'40s, she was one of the top 10 moneymakers in Hollywood.

She frequently swam in her films, echoing the famous Fanny Brice remark, "Wet she is a star. Dry, she ain't." And Williams admitted she could not act, sing or dance. But her easy California looks, winning smile and aquatic abilities were enough for postwar American audiences. Many of her films were profitable for MGM, and she was a cover girl on countless magazines.

A Los Angeles native, Williams grew up swimming and surfing. Her first job at the age of 8 was counting towels at an Inglewood, Calif., public pool. She began competing in local swim events, and by the age of 14 was winning regional meets. At age 16, she repped the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team and earned three national championships. But her hopes of becoming an Olympic medalist were dashed when the 1940 Tokyo Summer Olympics were cancelled in the shadow of WWII.

The media coverage she received for her swim triumphs brought the tall, leggy Williams to the attention tion of showman Bill Rose. …

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