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Esther Williams

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.

Awards and Accomplishments

1939 U.S. Nationals 100 meter freestyle, 400 meter relay, 300 meter medley
1953 Received Golden Globe award for Million Dollar Mermaid
1966 Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame
1993 Received Femme Award from the Dallas Fashion Awards for contributions to the swimsuit industry
1997 Received Lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy Foundation, and the Museum of Modern Art

Related Biography: Swimmer Annette Kellerman

If Esther Williams was the mother of synchronized swimming, Annette Kellerman was its grandmother. Williams was aware of this, and she had great respect for Kellerman, even titling her autobiography Million Dollar Mermaid after the movie she made about Kellerman's life.

Kellerman's career paralleled Williams's in many ways. Like Williams, Kellerman began as a swimmer, became a star of live water shows, and later became an actress.

Annette Marie Sarah Kellerman was born July 6, 1887 (some sources say 1888), in Sydney, Australia. As a child, she suffered from polio, which left her with weak, bowed legs, and she took up swimming to try to strengthen them. She was soon walking without leg braces, and by age ten she was a champion swimmer.

Kellerman excelled in distance swimming. After her family moved to England when she was fourteen, she swam the twenty-six mile length of the Thames River, from Putney to Blackwall, amid much media fanfare. It was unprecedented for anyone, let alone a teenage girl, to complete such a feat. Kellerman received many lucrative sponsorships for her long-distance swims, including her two failed attempts to become the first woman to swim the English Channel. Later, Kellerman parlayed this fame into a career in vaudeville, and she also made appearances at the London Hippodrome.

In 1907, Kellerman came to the United States, where she toured the country with a swimming and high-diving show. That summer, while performing in Boston, Kellerman achieved international notoriety by being arrested for indecent exposure. Her crime? She appeared on the city's Revere Beach wearing a unitard swimsuit which left her neck, all of her arms and much of her legs exposed. At that time, proper women "swam" as best they could in full, loose skirts and long-sleeve blouses.

Kellerman appeared in several silent films, starting in 1909 with three films in one year: The Bride of Lammermoor, Jepthah's Daughter: A Biblical Tragedy, and The Gift of Youth. She caused another moral scandal with the skinny-dipping scenes in her next film, Neptune's Daughter (1914), but she went on to star in several more movies, including Daughter of the Gods (1916), Queen of the Sea (1918) The Art of Diving and What Women Love, both 1920, and her final film, Venus of the South Seas, in 1924. After she married and retired from film, Kellerman opened a health food store in the Pacific Palisades.

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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Famous Sports StarsSwimmingEsther Williams Biography - Learning To Swim, A Career Change, Chronology, Becomes A Movie Star, Awards And Accomplishments - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY WILLIAMS: