Thursday, June 6, 2013

Esther Williams swims into the Sunset

Young Esther on her way to an Andy Hardy picture circa 1942
Who ever thought this little girl would amount to much?  Well she did!  It might not have been Olympic Gold but this girl had chutzpah and took her one talent as far as anyone has before or since.  Esther Jane Williams was born in 1921 and missed the 1940 Olympics because of the war.  She parlayed her talent and her figure into quite a Hollywood empire.  Starring in some the biggest grossing MGM pictures of the late 1940's and early 1950's.  She got involved in marketing bathing suits from the start.  Working with Fred Cole who founded Cole of California line of bathing suits before there were celebrity products.  By the 1990's when I was ending my life in the Fashion Industry Esther had developed her products far and wide through the Cole Catalina Collection.  
Esther in modern setting that could have been the Tropicana Hotel in Havana

Esther in one of her many Hollywood Extravaganzas

Possibly from Neptune's Daughter

Esther swam with anyone who would get in her specially built pool.  She co-starred with  Tom and Jerry, Gene Kelly, Red Skelton, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Jeff Chandler, Ricardo Montalban, Gilbert Roland and Fernando Llama whom she married after working with him in Dangerous When Wet.

With Fernando Llamas who subdued her as the archetypal Spanish lover
At the Del Coronado with her Children.  Fernando Jr. was her stepson.

Esther like the rest of us did not lead a perfect life.  She was married four times.  She had three kids with Ben Cage an alcoholic who squandered millions of her hard earned swimming money.  In 1959 Cary Grant played with LSD and recounted his experiences to many of his friends.  Esther decided to try it as well and try and figure out her potential demons.
From Million Dollar Mermaid

I was in a relationship with the critic from Performing Arts Magazine in 1980's Los Angeles.  We were part of the stable of opening night guests to many a performance in the Los Angeles / Long Beach  area.  Amongst the people I often saw at these first night events were people like Ann Miller, Cesar Romero and Esther Williams.  They represented a Hollywood that (at that point) was in the process of disappearing.  Much ballyhoo was offered to these stars from other times and they and their guests would be wined and dined for the purposes of creating Press for the events.  In 1989 Debbie Reynold opened at the Pantages Theater in the stage version of her movie hit The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  As with all of these performances, everyone that could fit into a guest list was there:  including Esther Williams and Cesar Romero, who at this event, were escorting one another (or so it seemed).  After the performance there was the typical opening night party with the cast and guests and lots of shrimps, champagne and buffet lines.  While standing in one of these a woman snuck in line before me.  Turning to my friend I let go a stage whisper "Who does she think she is?  Esther Williams?"  Well, it was, and I knew it, but having seen her at so many other events I felt I knew her when I didn't.  She was not the least bit embarrassed and rather friendly about the whole thing. So today we bid farewell to a Hollywood Siren.  Esther Williams was 91.