"I sensed the water was my natural element."
June 6, 2013 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Esther Williams, swimming champion, movie star and inspiration to many, dies peacefully in her sleep, aged 91.

The BBC obit includes archive footage and some rather interesting gossipy tidbits. If you haven't seen her in action, check out the underwater scene from "Jupiter's Darling" - she's amazing.
posted by Athanassiel (35 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
May a mission of mermaids swim her to her rest.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:40 PM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

posted by nowhere man at 5:42 PM on June 6, 2013

posted by jonmc at 5:43 PM on June 6, 2013


She was the mother of synchronized swimming.
posted by brujita at 5:46 PM on June 6, 2013

Shamefully I hadn't heard of her until a few weeks ago, when I bought one of her swimsuits* and Googled the name. There's lots of fun stuff at her website - photos, movie clips, interviews. Amazing lady.


* LADIES, if you are in the market for beachwear, these swimsuits are amazing. A+++ WOULD BUY TEN MORE.
posted by lalex at 5:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by donajo at 6:01 PM on June 6, 2013

I first heard of her when reading Judy Blume's Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, so I always associate her with Jewish families moving to Florida, in a good way. Thank you for the beautiful video link.
posted by jaguar at 6:20 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yep, Sally J. Freedman was my entry into knowledge about Esther, but I'm glad.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:22 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


When we had TCM, I'd watch Esther Williams movies whenever they were on.

Here's a Williams montage from "That's Entertainment".
posted by drezdn at 6:22 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the movie footage is any indication, a burial at sea would look fantastic.
posted by mazola at 6:24 PM on June 6, 2013

Came here to say exactly what jaguar and roomthreeseventeen said. A generational thing, perhaps?

posted by Melismata at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by radwolf76 at 6:34 PM on June 6, 2013

posted by localroger at 6:43 PM on June 6, 2013

Me too for the Sally J Freedman connection. I think you're right, Melismata.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:52 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

First was: "How can you find someone 'not Esther Williams'?"

Then I read about her Starring Sally J. Freedman.

Either way, stars are, indeed, not made like like her any more.

posted by droplet at 7:05 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Lynsey at 7:06 PM on June 6, 2013

posted by pearlybob at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2013

My grandma was a swim instructor here in Los Angeles in the 40s through the 70s. Somewhere along the way, she was working on one of Ms. Williams productions and was given one of her sparkly swimsuits which now resides at my sister's house in Sherman Oaks. I've always had a fondness for her.

posted by Sophie1 at 7:14 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


also W.O.W.

I am watching clips of her production numbers - they are SO huge and fantastic. Esther is so natural and graceful in the water. Glory.

and yeah, those swimsuits are gorge!
posted by louche mustachio at 7:17 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by trip and a half at 7:19 PM on June 6, 2013

I was saddened to read the excerpts from her autobiography that I found today, as well as the larger story in the obits. She had a tough life, by all accounts. The bad husbands and physical damage aside, the disdain she felt from certain MGM colleagues seems the worst.

I saw Silk Stockings some time after I saw That's Entertainment, which introduced me to her beyond simply a name. And despite Janis Paige's memorable reading of a dipso ditz of a swimming movie star in the former, I can't imagine why MGM thought it OK to take such an obvious potshot at someone who'd been one of their marquee stars. Or how it must've stung Williams.

posted by the sobsister at 7:20 PM on June 6, 2013

I love that many of us connect Esther Williams to Sally J. Freedman, which was my first chapter book.
Thanks for posting the scene- it was beautiful! RIP.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:28 PM on June 6, 2013


Many rainy Sunday afternoons were spent watching her movies with my family. Thanks for the memories.
posted by arcticseal at 7:40 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by lazaruslong at 7:44 PM on June 6, 2013

I've caught a few of her movies on TCM over the years. I always liked Take Me Out To The Ball Game, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Not an all-time classic movie, but a lot of fun. What a unique career she had!
posted by stopgap at 8:14 PM on June 6, 2013

So I originally found out about Esther Williams because my dad was a major old movie buff, but then was delighted to find her referenced in Judy Blume, so I caught up with my generation, or they caught up with me.

And I must absolutely second the endorsement of her swimsuit collection. If you have curves, or want to appear to, whatever, they're the tops. And you can really swim in them! I snorkeled the shit out of my cherry-print two piece.
posted by padraigin at 8:34 PM on June 6, 2013

It is amazing that Hollywood made so many successful movies that centered around Esther Williams in swimming pools. She obviously had quite a presence.

The studio found Ms. Williams performing in Billy Rose’s Aquacade at the San Francisco World’s Fair.

My father saw her with Jonny Weismuller at the swimming exhibition at this 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island. He and I both met her and Wiesmuller's son at a recreation of the Fair 50 years later. She still had that presence.

posted by eye of newt at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just read her Wikipedia entry. Her mom invited this 16 yr old boy to stay with them who ended up raping her and her parents sided with him. Sad.
posted by discopolo at 9:24 PM on June 6, 2013

Wow, I didn't link to the Wikipedia entry because I foolishly assumed the obits would have more information. That's a very interesting bio, and yes, sounds like she had more than her fair share of hard times for all that she clearly had a lot of success too. Thanks for the heads-up, discopolo.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2013

Tangential, but I have a book by Mark Leyner on my shelves titled I Smell Esther Williams. It's a constant reminder of her. Not sure the free-form stories inside honor her, but I should probably re-read it to find out.*

* To be clear, the book is not at all about Esther Williams.
posted by maxwelton at 10:14 PM on June 6, 2013

I'm actually pretty bummed about this. I really love Esther Williams. Even in college my best friend and I used to get high and watch Esther Williams movies and just be like dude, that is some elegant amazing mesmerizing beautiful work.

Swim in peace.

posted by Lutoslawski at 11:11 PM on June 6, 2013

So sad to hear this. :(
posted by jillithd at 6:17 AM on June 7, 2013

maxwelton: that book is what led me to find out who Esther Williams was

posted by idiopath at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2013

sobsister: Paige's character of "Peggy Dayton" is in the stage musical the film is quite closely based upon, and her big number, a showstopper on Broadway, is "Stereophonic Sound," the lyric to which kids her underwater films.

"Peggy" is meant to be suggested by Williams, not to be a detailed exposé of her foibles, and I think audiences at the time understood that. Williams herself spoke with some irony about her film career: though I don't have the direct quote, she said something like, "Every film I made, I said to myself: surely this one must be the last!"
posted by La Cieca at 11:25 PM on June 7, 2013

posted by susanbeeswax at 2:17 AM on June 8, 2013

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