Esther Williams: Remembering the Beautiful Mermaid
Beginning Thursday, June 13, at 8/7c TCM will honor the late Esther Williams by airing thirteen of her popular films. Williams made her film debut in a bit part in the movie “Andy Hardy’s Double Life”, with the marvelous Mickey Rooney. She was shot to fame in her next film, “Bathing Beauty”, in which she was the lead. Her career spanned 20 years and she was paired with some of Hollywood’s hottest leading men, from Van Johnson to Tom & Jerry. Well, leading men and a cat and a mouse.
I saw Esther Williams first in “Jupiter’s Darling”. I was struck by how long she could hold her breath under water. I was very young and didn’t understand the tricks of filming. To me she was doing all that ballet dancing underwater in one breath and she looked so beautiful while doing it. Since my favorite fairy tale story was “The Little Mermaid”, I knew as I watched Esther that I wanted to swim beautifully. I didn’t want to just learn how to be safe in the water and all that, I wanted to look good too. The buoyancy of water allowed me to be as graceful as she was, and something I could never be on land.
After “Jupiter’s Darling” I wanted to see all of Esther Williams’ films. I made sure to catch all of them when they would air. This was pre-cable television and movie marathons weren’t common. But there was Saturday afternoon films and late night movies so eventually I was able to see them. Esther wasn’t always in the water in all of her movies, but I loved watching her. She had a corn-fed wholesomeness that and winning charm that made her films comfortable and cozy to watch.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that some of those gorgeous underwater scenes came at a price. In a famous diving scene in “Million Dollar Mermaid”, Esther actually broke her neck and was in a body cast for months. She has suffered ruptured eardrums from being underwater for so long, and once she almost drowned when she couldn’t find the trap door to outside of the tank she was filming in. It had been painted the same color as the inside of the tank.
Williams’ films were rated among some of the most popular films during the 40’s and 50’s. It’s not hard to see why if you’re a musical film buff and vintage movie fan like me. Esther also started a line of bathing suits that were flattering and comfortable to wear for women. It’s a style that is becoming popular once again. And then there’s synchronized swimming, which is now an Olympic competition. It started with Esther Williams.
I did learn how to swim – beautifully.
TCM schedule of Esther Williams films (all times are ET):
8:00 PM – Bathing Beauty
10:00 PM – Neptune’s Daughter
11:45 PM – Million Dollar Mermaid
1:45 AM – Dangerous When Wet
3:30 AM – Andy Hardy’s Double Life
5:15 AM – Thrill of a Romance
7:15 AM – Easy to Wed
9:15 AM – The Hoodlum Saint
11:00 AM – Fiesta
1:00 PM – This Time For Keeps
3:00 PM – On an Island with You
5:00 PM – Pagan Love Song
6:30 PM – Texas Carnival