Saturday, March 2, 2013


“Wet she’s a star, dry she aint”. Many people have been attributed to have said this of musical swim star Esther Williams. It was in fact Fanny Bryce who quipped this of the great swim star.

Of course Esther Williams was perfection in the water, however she could do it all, and act, sing and dance a little, but it is for her 16 water ballet extravaganzas at MGM that she is and will be best remembered for.

Esther Williams has said of her life that she could not remember a time when she wasn't in a swimsuit.  There were hours and weeks and years of competitive swimming-and magic movie swimming.

As a teenager she broke swimming records and would have been destined for Olympic game fame but for the outbreak of war.  It was during the time she took on a role with Billy Rose’s Aquacade and working with Johnny Weissmuller himself that she was discovered by MGM and placed in a few small roles opposite some of the major stars of the day. MGM chose to separate her talent for swimming and to use this as a platform for Williams and introduce the world to a series of unforgettable aqua musicals of the 1940s and 50s.  

It should be said that no one has ever tried to do what Esther Williams has done on the screen. As a performer and as a genre, and never was there a challenge made.  Dancers would try to better each other, singers the same, no one tried to be a second Esther. And for thirteen years she did it well.  In fact for the years 1945 to 1949, Esther had at least one film listed among the 20 highest grossing films of the year.

Here is a one piece swimsuit made for Esther Williams and worn in the 1952 MGM film “Million Dollar Mermaid”.

The costume is constructed of a coral satin finish silk. The bodice has princess line neck with zigzag pattern extending over the bust. The suit is panelled to be tight fitting and has a short skirt made of diamond shaped panels. The shoulder straps are made of flesh coloured nylon net and elastic to create a strapless look. The bodice and skirt are heavily decorated with sewn on silver and purple sequins while the body of the suit is randomly scattered with silver and purple sequins. Low cut V at back and centre back zipper fastening and a small metal hook and eye. The whole costume is lined with light tan coloured nylon. The costumes for the film were designed by the incomparable Helen Rose.

Here is a photo of Esther in the costume as it appears towards the end of this amazing production number.

Here are more photos of the costume.

Esther appears in this costume out of the billowing colours of smoke Busby Berkely used as part of the production.

The costume also comes with a matching swim hat.

"Million Dollar Mermaid" was the biographical film role made by Willams. In it she played Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman an Australian swimming and diving star. Williams co-starred with Victor Mature, who played Kellerman's husband and manager, James Sullivan.  Esther Williams has often called this her favourite film, and even named her autobiography after it.

Busby Berkeley-choreographed the swim ballets for the film. They have been considered to be the most glamorous, inventive and surreally beautiful routines Williams ever performed on the screen.

The film was originally to be released under the title “One Piece Bathing Suit” to represent the part of the story where Kellerman is required to convince a court that the one piece swim suit was not indecent.

Here is Esther Williams in the swimsuit doing her thing.  The production number comes in at 2:24. The music you hear is not original to the film and was added by the YouTube user however is very effective with the visual:

Other major films made for MGM include "Bathing Beauty," 1944, "Thrill of a Romance," 1945, "Easy to Wed," 1946, "Fiesta," 1947, "This Time for Keeps," 1947, "On an Island with You," 1948, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," 1949, "Neptune's Daughter," 1949, "Duchess of Idaho," 1950, "Pagan Love Song," 1950, "Texas Carnival," 1951, "Skirts Ahoy," 1952, "Million Dollar Mermaid," 1952, "Dangerous When Wet," 1953, "Easy to Love," 1953 and "Jupiter's Darling," 1955.

Esther Williams retired from film in the 1960s and is now a businesswoman for her line of swimming pools and swimwear.

Esther Williams turns 92 later this year.

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