The day after Esther Williams passing on June 6th of 2013 I promised to post a story about meeting this incredibly talented lady. Sorry it took so long, but- as they say- better late than never.
It was perhaps over thirteen years ago that my wife and I went to a bathing suit show at Nordstroms in downtown San Francisco. At the time my wife was working for a bay area company that produced bathing suits- she was a pattern-maker, and was interested in the show because it was her trade. I tagged along for the ride. Well, perhaps that wasn’t altogether true, there was an added attraction, the speaker was ESTHER WILLIAMS, and although I was not officially a film historian at the time, I was extremely interested in films and those who, like myself, worked in them- and especially those who were around making movies in an age when studios ran the industry.
Williams with Weissmuller- during Billy Rose’s Aquacade
Esther was charming, down to earth, and frank about her years in the industry. She had plenty of interesting anecdotes about other celebrities in her life. Touring in her younger years with Billy Rose’s Aquacade, she told us the story of JOHNNY WEISSMULLER, and how he loved to tease the other women swimmers on the tour. He was also by her report, quite a ladies man. Incidentally, I knew Johnny’s son, John Jr. He was very proud of his dad, and all the medals for swimming he had won. She mentioned another celebrity I had met, RICARDO MONTALBAN, and related what a gentleman he was (I can attest to that), also, what fun she had working with RED SKELTON, and the only sour note- although she didn’t go into detail (what’s not said, says volumes) was in regards to FERNANDO LAMAS, one of her ex-husbands. Apparently he was somewhat overbearing in regards to their relationship.
Author with Ricardo Montalban back in the 1960s
Esther was born in Inglewood, California on August 8, 1921, the youngest of five siblings belonging to Louis Williams- a sign painter and Bula Myrtle Williams- a psychologist.
Esther set a number of swimming records in her late teens as a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. However, she was not able to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics due to the turmoil brought about with the start of World War 2. Instead, she joined Billy Rose’s Aquacade when it moved to San Francisco- replacing its’ former star, ELEANOR HOLM, who’d decided she didn’t want to leave New York. Talent Scouts from M.G.M. discovered Esther at the Aquacade, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Starting in small roles and moving up, her real fame came from a series of 1940s to early 50s M.G.M. musicals featuring elaborate synchronized swimming routines with lavish sets, and timed to fully orchestrated musical numbers.
Some of her most notable films were: Bathing Beauty (1944), Neptune’s Daughter (1949), and Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).
Williams with Van Johnson
Some of the other stars Esther worked with were: MICKEY ROONEY (My niece interviewed him), VAN JOHNSON (who I’ve met), PETER LAWFORD (Who I’ve also met- see earlier blog), GENE KELLY, VICTOR MATURE, and TONY MARTIN.
Peter Lawford, my mom, & myself back in the 1960s
My wife and I got to spend some time with her. I didn’t say much, but received a warm smile as the two of them spoke shop. She was also kind enough to sign a photograph.
Our autographed picture of Esther Williams
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was next released early 2012, and in July of 2013, his latest Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels” was published and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. A new Tom Logan novel has been completed and is scheduled to be released in 2015. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Tony Piazza is a member of three prestigious writer’s organizations: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the SLO NightWriters.
My earlier bestselling novels, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” and “Anything Short of Murder” now joins “A Murder Amongst Angels” on Amazon’s Kindle at a new, low price of $2.99. Now you can have hours of adventure, thrills, mystery, and romance for the price of a cup of coffee- and just as stimulating! Look for it on Amazon. Print versions have also been reduced.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels is now available!
Find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available for $2.99 on Kindle.