Star of screen and pool, Esther Williams, died yesterday at the age of 91. Esther never planned on being a film star but had a passion for swimming, becoming a champion in the sport by the age of 16. She was working as a store assistant at I Magnin in order to pay for tuition fees for a degree in physical education, when she was talent spotted and placed in the water show ‘Aquacade’ alongside fellow swimmer (and Tarzan star) Johnny Weissmuller.
Her performance in the live Aquacade show was noticed by MGM talent scouts, who quickly signed her up to the film studio in 1941. One of the clauses in her contract was that she should be seen swimming in the pool of the exclusive Beverly Hills Hotel every day. After nine months of acting, singing and dancing classes, Esther started starring in films – very often with water-based scenes so that she could show off her impressive aquatic skills.
Her most famous role was as real-life Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952). The water scenes in these movies were often quite dangerous; she broke her neck from a high dive, suffered repeated ruptured eardrums, and narrowly escaped drowning from a faulty trapdoor.
Esther retired from acting in the early 1960s, but continued to put her name to a line of retro Esther Williams swimwear (still in production today). The swimsuits were hugely popular, and were designed to look figure flattering while still being practical to swim in. Esther said of the line: “I put you in a suit that contains you and you will swim in. I don’t want you to be in two Dixie cups and a fish line.”