Esther Williams – Million Dollar Mermaid


Esther Williams once estimated she had swum more than 1,250 miles for the cameras in an aqua-movie musical career with MGM that spanned more than ten years.
Chrissy from The Lindy Charm School for Girls recalls her introduction into Esther Williams’ world:


Pin-Up photo for Yank, The Army Weekly magazine, 1945

Pin-Up photo for Yank, The Army Weekly magazine, 1945

I happened upon a quaint little book exchange store a few years ago and the first book to catch my eye was in the bargains bin (later I reflected on the tragic misplacement of such a book). I instantly recognised the unmistakable gold lamé bathing suit and the stunning beauty wearing it as none other than one of my favourite original Pin Up Gals, Miss Esther Williams, aka The Million Dollar Mermaid. Indeed a happy day and that book was now mine.

On the first page, the first heading I read was “Esther Williams, Cary Grant and LSD”. I could not put it down. Do yourself a favour and buy the book. It’s a great read with lots of history and insight into the lives of the glamorous MGM stars and their leading men!

“Esther Williams had one contribution to make to movies — her magnificent athletic body,” the film critic Pauline Kael wrote.

Esther Williams was born August 8th, 1922 in LA and died June 6th, 2013 at 91 years of age. It would seem swimming really is good for you!

Originally training for the Olympics, these dreams were pushed aside when Hitler’s march on Europe forced the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics. She had to settle for joining Billy Rose’s San Francisco Aquacade where the combination of her stunning looks and water ballet prowess caught the eye of MGM Talent Scouts. A star was about to be born. Even though she did not possess any acting, singing or dancing experience, she was signed by them and went on for the next eleven years swimming her way through no less than 18 movies, mostly shot in Studio 30 which housed a purpose-built swimming pool just for her.

“Clark Gable was the first to have called me a mermaid”. – Esther.

Promotional for Fiesta, 1947

Promotional for Fiesta, 1947

Performing in that 25ft-deep pool, which the swimmers nicknamed Pneumonia Alley, Ms Williams ruptured her eardrums seven times and nearly died when filming the climactic 50ft dive in Million Dollar Mermaid. She nearly broke her neck and spent half a year in a body cast. That’s dedication to your craft!

Asked once who her favourite leading man was, Esther Williams offered a simple and unsurprising response: “The water”.

I always wondered how she managed to keep her glamorous looks under water. Apparently MGM covered the star in a thick cream makeup and lathered her hair in baby oil and Vaseline. She remarked in her biography that by the time she came out of hair and makeup she was as waterproof as a mallard.

Esther Williams posing in a swimsuit 1939

Esther Williams posing in a swimsuit 1939

What I believe makes Esther a stand-out are her natural attributes such as:

•    Her winning smile – you should never leave home without it. It does help to have the perfect All-American-Smile though.
•    Esther’s hair was quite voluminous and seems to have had a natural wave which gave her those effortless styles. Even so, I’m sure she almost certainly used a setting lotion such as The Essential Setting Lotion by The Lindy Charm School for Girls. Esther would have also routinely pin-curled her hair once or twice a week to get, and keep that wave full and manageable.
•    Her eyebrows are quite possibly the nicest shape I have ever seen, perfectly arched and not too thin, creating a lovely wide open shape to her eyes. I am a fan of limited eye makeup if you have striking eyebrows. A little cheek stain and lipstick is all you need and this worked for Ms Williams too. Simple yet striking.
•    Of course having a stunningly fit figure due to her swimming regime helped, combined with the most amazing costumes. But as Alex Perry, women’s fashion designer says, “you can couture any garment to make a woman’s body appear smaller and give any figure shape. It’s all in the nip and tuck”.

Actresses from this era had the best designers in the business nipping and tucking their every need, but I do believe the design and construction of the garments back in this time created a more flattering, feminine look as a matter of course – definitely much more than the fashion of today does.

Vale Esther Williams is an Inspiration Immortal.

Images sourced from Creative Commons Wikimedia Commons


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