Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Esther Williams

When thinking of Wonderful, Wet Women, only one name comes to mind for most classic movie fans, Esther Williams (b. 1921), America's Mermaid.  She only made 23 features, but they are mostly memorable, and she worked with some big stars.

Back in the 1970s, during a vacation in Florida, we went to Busch Gardens and saw the Florida shaped swimming pool that she used for a film.  I just picked up a set of her films at Costco, and I am fixing to have an Aqua Esther Weekend.

Her first feature was Andy Hardy's Double Life in 1942 with Mickey Rooney.  It was not an 'Aqua Musical' as her later films were known, but it did show her talent, and more roles followed.

Bathing Beauty in 1944 was her first swim on screen, co-starring with Red Skelton (1913 - 1997).  Esther only made a few films each year, from 1942 to 1955, when the wet screen seemed to wain in popularity.  After that, she was in a few dramas and TV shows, and was featured in That's Entertainment III in 1994.

Her documentaries are as entertaining as her movies.  I have probably seen "Esther Williams at Cypress Gardens" made for TV in 1960, and I would certainly like to see "The Esther Williams Aqua Spectacle" from 1956.

Esther was the star of her films, although she may not have had the biggest part.  In Neptune's Daughter (1949), also with Skelton, she shared the screen with Ricardo Montalban (1920 - 2009), Keenan Wynn (1916 - 1986), Xavier Cugat (1900 - 1990) and Mel Blanc (1908 - 1989).  That's a tough group to act with, but I think only Montalban could swim!  Maybe that makes the rest of the cast Bit Actors.

Williams only made two films with her long time husband, Fernando Lamas (1915 - 1982).  The first was in 1953, Dangerous When Wet.  Then, in 1963 they were both in Williams' final movie, Magic Fountain, which was filmed in Spanish for that market. 

An interesting film at the end of the Aqua Musical era was Jupiter's Darling (1955).  This was a historical/aqua musical, starring Howard Keel (1919 - 2004) as Hannibal and George Sanders (1906 - 1972) as Fabius.  My guess is that it is less than factual.  Especially the underwater ballet with statues that come to life.

Pick up some Esther Williams films and have your own Aqua Esther Weekend.  Load your hair up with Vaseline to keep it styled underwater, and stick to the Aqua Musicals.  You'll have a memorable time with the Best of Esther.  And don't forget to watch for the Bit Actors.

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