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Actress Esther Williams, nicknamed “America’s Mermaid,” helped popularize synchronized swimming through a string of hugely popular films in the 1940s and 1950s.
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Esther Williams hoped to compete as a swimmer at the 1940 Olympic Games, but the Olympics were cancelled. Disappointed, she took a job at a department store before she landed the lead role in a swimming and diving show. After the show ended, she landed a contract with MGM studios and made her film debut in Andy Hardy's Double Life in 1942. In the 1960s, she stepped out of the limelight.
Competitive swimmer, actress, swimsuit designer. Born in Los Angeles, California, on August 8, 1921. Sometimes called "America's Mermaid," Esther Williams helped popularize synchronized swimming through a string of hugely popular films in the 1940s and 1950s. The youngest of five children, she suffered a great personal at an early age when her older brother, Stanton, a promising actor, died at the age of sixteen. Soon after his death, Williams found a respite from her sadness by learning to swim. She even got a job at a local swimming pool near her house to earn free swimming time.
As a teenager, Williams was a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. She won several national swimming competition events in 1939 and hoped to compete at the 1940 Olympic Games. But the Olympics were canceled because of World War II. Disappointed, she took a job at an upscale department store. But she did not stay on land for long. Producer Billy Rose asked to audition for his swimming and diving show called Aquacade in San Francisco. She landed the lead role opposite Johnny Weissmuller, best known as Tarzan in the popular Tarzan film series.
After the show ended, Williams returned to Los Angeles and eventually landed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios. Around this time, her brief first marriage to Leonard Kovner ended. She made her film debut in Andy Hardy's Double Life with Mickey Rooney in 1942. Williams made a bigger splash, however, with her first swimming movie, 1944's Bathing Beauty with Red Skelton. To film the elaborate synchronized swimming scenes, a special pool was built with all sorts of cranes and lifts to capture the action on film. It became one of the most popular films of that year. The next year she married singer and actor Ben Gage.
Although not an especially good actress, Williams was a sight to see in the water. She starred in a number of aquatic musicals, including Thrill of a Romance, Neptune's Daughter, and Million Dollar Mermaid. People around the world flocked to movie theaters to see the graceful Williams work her magic on screen, making her an international superstar. Unfortunately, her life - both professionally and personally - hit a rocky period in the late 1950s. Her marriage to Gage ended in divorce, and she had some misses at the box office.
In the 1960s, Williams had almost completely stepped out of the limelight.
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