Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Star Esther Williams dies aged 91

Esther Williams has died at the age of 91 (AP)

Esther Williams, the swimming champion turned movie star, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 91.

Her publicist Harlan Boll said she died on Thursday in her sleep. Esther became one of Hollywood's biggest money-makers in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing in spectacular swimsuit numbers that capitalised on her wholesome beauty and perfect figure.

Such films as Easy To Wed, Neptune's Daughter and Dangerous When Wet followed the same formula - romance, music, a bit of comedy and a flimsy plot that provided excuses to get the actress into the water.

The extravaganzas dazzled a second generation via television and the compilation films That's Entertainment. Esther's co-stars included the pick of the MGM contract list, including Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban and Howard Keel.

When hard times signalled the end of big studios and costly musicals in the mid-50s, Williams tried non-swimming roles with little success. After her 1962 marriage to Fernando Lamas, her co-star in Dangerous When Wet, she retired from public life.

She explained in a 1984 interview: "A really terrific guy comes along and says, 'I wish you'd stay home and be my wife,' and that's the most logical thing in the world for a Latin. And I loved being a Latin wife - you get treated very well. There's a lot of attention in return for that sacrifice."

She came to films after winning 100-metre freestyle and other races at the 1939 national championships and appearing at the San Francisco World's Fair's swimming exhibition.

As with Judy Garland, Donna Reed and other stars, Williams was introduced in one of Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy films, Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). She also played a small role in A Guy Named Joe before Bathing Beauty in 1944 began the string of immensely popular musical spectaculars.

Among them were Thrill Of A Romance, Fiesta, This Time For Keeps, On An Island With You, Texas Carnival, Skirts Ahoy, Million Dollar Mermaid (as Annette Kellerman, an earlier swimming champion turned entertainer), Dangerous When Wet, Easy To Love and Jupiter's Darling.

"I've been a lucky lady," she said in a 1984 interview. "I've had three exciting careers. Before films I had the experience of competitive swimming, with the incredible fun of winning. ... I had a movie career with all the glamour that goes with it."

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