Esther Williams became a Hollywood icon in the 1940s and 50s, known especially for her lean and athletic swimmer’s figure. She was an award winning swimmer who caught the eye of an MGM talent scout while performing in Aquacade at the San Francisco World’s Fair. Williams passed away yesterday at 91 years of age.
Williams was born in Los Angeles, California on August 8, 1921. She was the youngest child of 6 and was raised primarily by her oldest sister as her mother was tired of raising children and did not want to deal with Williams. Her brother, Stanton, who provided for the family as a star during the silent movie era, died at 16 years of age from a twisted intestine. Williams was only 8 at the time.
Shortly after the loss, Williams first learned to swim. In her autobiography she states that “I sensed the water was my natural element” from the beginning. She learned techniques and strokes from the lifeguards at their neighborhood pool. Developing her abilities, she won three gold medals at the national championships in 1939. She also earned a place on the 1940 United States Olympic team, but the Olympics were cancelled due to the onset of World War II. Williams stated that she felt her Hollywood fame was essentially a consolation prize that she won instead of the Olympic gold medal that she could have earned.
Williams is well known for her roles in “Bathing Beauty,” “Million Dollar Mermaid,” “Jupiter’s Darling,” “This Time for Keeps,” “Fiesta,” “Easy to Wed,” “Easy to Love,” “Thrill of a Romance” and more. She was known as a beauty and an all-American girl and most her films used her figure and her swimming ability to their advantage. Williams actually pleaded with the studio to allow her to do more serious non-swimming roles, but the studio opposed the idea. In fact, the few dramas that Williams did were poorly received. The only one that was a success was “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” which included Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.
Williams was married four times and faced 2 divorces, one death of a spouse and was survived by her last husband, Edward Bell. Her second marriage, to Ben Gage, provided her with three children before their divorce after 13 years of marriage. When she married Fernando Lamas, he would not permit her three children to live with them or even to attend the wedding. Mr. Lamas died in 1982 and she married Mr. Bell in 1988. Williams is survived by her husband; her daughter, Susan Beardslee; her son, Benjamin Gage; three stepsons and a number of grandchildren and step-grandchildren.
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