Thursday, June 06, 2013

Obituary: Esther Williams

Swimming great and Hollywood star Esther Williams, one of the last major performers from the Hollywood studio era, died in her sleep this morning at the age of 91.

Williams also wrote a book a number of years ago recounting her years in Hollywood. Naturally I bought and read it. Many people who once admired her were not happy because she wrote about her romance with action star Jeff Chandler and felt she ruined his reputation because of her claim he was a cross-dresser. Chandler died as a result of medical malpractice in 1961. His children, who both sadly died of cancer as adults, received a large settlement. He was well liked by people and didn't deserve to have any dirty lingerie thrown out there when he couldn't defend himself.

Also in her book, Williams didn't have much good to say about Gene Kelly although he was generally well liked by other people. They simply didn't get along at all.

Williams's four marriages were a major of part of her memoir. She described in detail her romance with Fernando Lamas and of course later married him, but he was one person she SHOULDN'T have had anything good to say about. He was insanely jealous of her, and it got to the point that after they got married, they had to have two separate residences, one for him, and one for her children, and poor Esther had to flit from one place to the other. That was because jerkwad Fernando couldn't bear the thought of living under the same roof with children Esther had with another man. It was also part of a "deal" he cut with Esther: If she had the separate residences and became a doormat for him, the infamous womanizer would remain faithful to her. Fernando may have been an ass, but he did keep his promise. He was handsome as hell and reportedly great in the sack, so he did have some good points. However, he didn't need marriage--he needed a shrink.

Somehow that marriage endured for some 13 years until Lamas died in 1982 of cancer. In 1994 Williams married Edward Bell, a college professor ten years younger and who treated her a whole lot better. They remained together until she died.

From the NYT obituary:

At a time when most movies cost less than $2 million, MGM built Ms. Williams a $250,000 swimming pool on Stage 30. It had underwater windows, colored fountains and hydraulic lifts, and it was usually stocked with a dozen bathing beauties. Performing in that 25-foot-deep pool, which the swimmers nicknamed Pneumonia Alley, Ms. Williams ruptured her eardrums seven times.

By 1952, the swimming sequences in Ms. Williams’s movies, which were often elaborate fantasies created by Busby Berkeley, had grown more and more extravagant. For that year’s “Million Dollar Mermaid,” she wore 50,000 gold sequins and a golden crown. The crown was made of metal, and in a swan dive into the pool from a 50-foot platform, her head snapped back when she hit the water. The impact broke her back, and she spent the next six months in a cast.

Ms. Williams once estimated that she had swum 1,250 miles for the cameras. In a bathing suit, she was a special kind of all-American girl: tall, lithe, breathtakingly attractive and unpretentious. She begged MGM for serious nonswimming roles, but the studio’s response was, in effect, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Audiences rejected her in dramas like “The Hoodlum Saint” (1946) and “The Unguarded Moment” (1956). Her only dry-land box-office success was “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949), with Ms. Williams as the owner of a baseball team whose players included Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

Clip from Jupiter's Darling:

1 comment:

John Maher said...

Yes, her acid fuelled vision of Jeff Chandler.!! I never liked her after that.