Esther Williams was certainly a star from a totally different era. She became a national swimming champion in the 1930’s by the age of 16. She then moved into the world of Hollywood movies and a new genre of films that had some romance, some comedy and revolved around flimsy plotlines that involved Esther ending up in a bathing suit and in the water.
Despite their relatively limited content and restricted storylines her films were big business in the 30’s and 40’s and she starred with many of the big names of the time including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Ricardo Montalban and Howard Keel.
Esther was under contract with MGM with the studios Louis B. Meyer choosing Williams as their answer to rival studio 20th Century Fox’s sports champion turned movie star, the ice skating queen Sonja Henie.
Esther was signed up with MGM having just had the disappointment of missing out on appearing in the 1940 Olympic Games, which had been cancelled owing to the Second World War. She quickly became a US pin-up after appearing on the covers of lots of movie magazines.
The studio showed a lot of faith in Williams and built a 90ft x 90ft swimming pool on one of their movie sets at a cost of around $250k. As a rough guide a similar project today would probably cost around $24m.
Esther William’s most famous movie is Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), which was made in conjunction with legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley She also made 1949’s Take Me Out To The Ballgame and 1953’s Easy To Love with Berkeley. The 1953 movie featured one of the most spectacular scenes in the history of Hollywood as Williams is seen water-skiing through Florida’s Cypress Gardens with 90 other water-skiers before diving into the water from a trapeze hanging from a helicopter. And don’t forget that all of these scenes were filmed before the advent of CGI.
Williams retired from the world of movies after she met her husband, Fernando Lamas, on the set of their 1953 movie Dangerous When Wet. As well as being known as the movie where Esther met her husband Dangerous When Wet is also famous for its dream scene featuring Esther with cartoon favourites Tom and Jerry.
You can check out Esther’s famously spectacular water skiing scene from Busby Berkeley’s Easy to Love in the clip below.