Becomes A Movie Star
Williams's first screen role was in Andy Hardy's Double Life. The Andy Hardy movies were lighthearted fare about a teenage boy and his family. The series, although formulaic, had already proved to be a major success for MGM, and the studio often used roles in these films as tests for up-and-coming starlets. Williams passed with flying colors. Audiences loves the scene where she kissed Andy Hardy underwater, and the two-piece swimsuit that she wore in the movie became a fashion must-have.
Williams was soon cast in another romantic film. She played a swimming instructor at a girls' college, where Red Skelton's character tried to enroll to be able to woo her. The film was originally titled Mr. Coed, but after preview audiences raved over the aquatic finale, the title was changed to Bathing Beauty.
The finale of Bathing Beauty is often credited with inventing synchronized swimming as we know it today. In a brand new, ninety by ninety foot pool with $250,000 worth of special-effects rigging, scores of swimmers practiced for ten weeks to create elaborate patterns, lines, and pinwheels as they swam and dove in unison. Williams claimed in her autobiography that, due in large part to this finale, Bathing Beauty grossed more than any other film of the time except Gone With the Wind.
Many people immediately embraced synchronized swimming as it was demonstrated in Bathing Beauty. The first synchronized swimming competition in the United States was held in Chicago about a year after the film's release. Over the years, early fans of the sport contacted Williams and asked for her advice in starting their own synchronized swimming team. With the help of her mother, Williams put together instructional packets to send to them. In only eleven years, the sport gained enough international recognition to become an event at the Pan American games, and the next year, 1956, synchronized swimming became an Olympic demonstration sport.
Williams was in the water in her next film, Thrill of a Romance, in which she plays a neighborhood swimming teacher who is torn between her absent husband and a young hero who is recovering from his war wounds. Thrill of a Romance was also a hit, but Williams's third movie, The Hoodlum Saint, flopped. This was a serious film, done in black and white, and Williams did not swim in it. MGM did not make those mistakes again soon. For her next several films, Williams was in the water, in lighthearted musical romances, in Technicolor.
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