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Known as both a star of the movie screen and as one of the most celebrated synchronized swimmers in 20th century America, Esther Jane Williams charmed audiences from the 1930s through the 1950s with her swimming skills as well as her incisive wit and friendly personality. Here is some background on the life and career of Esther Williams, including her most recent ventures.
Born on 8 August 1921, Williams gained her first national recognition as the National AAU champion in the synchronized swimming category of the hundred meter freestyle competition during her teens. By 1939, Williams was performing in Billy Rose’s Aquacade at the San Francisco World’s Fair. Plans to travel abroad in 1940 were postponed by the advent of World War II, but Esther Williams continued to move forward with her career. Noticed by a number of talent agents associated with MGM Studios, Williams soon made the leap to the big screen.
Many of Esther Williams’ movies featured sequences that capitalized on her status as a premier synchronized swimmer. Elaborate sets and intricate routines were staples in most of the productions that Williams appeared in during the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, the complexity of the routines was sometimes also accompanied by a degree of physical risk as well. Over the course of her career, Esther Williams suffered a number of muscle strains and difficulties with her eardrums. Williams would only on rare occasion allow the use of a stunt double, preferring to do the work herself.
This approach to her work led to what is perhaps the most famous of all accidents that occurred during the making of an Esther Williams picture. While making Million Dollar Mermaid in late 1951, Williams suffered a broken neck as a result of a dive from a fifty foot (15 m) tower. Rushed to the hospital, Esther Williams spent the next six months in a body cast. She was well enough to receive well wishers upon the release of the film in 1952, and went on to continue to work in films for several more years.
During 1956, Esther Williams left MGM and signed with Universal Studios. While she continued to make pictures, her movie career began to cool. By the early 1960s, Williams had more or less retired from show business, although she would do the occasional appearance on television and also used her celebrity to endorse a number of charitable causes. In 1999, Williams co-wrote her autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid, a work that provided a lot of details about both her professional and personal lives, including details of past loves, accidents that occurred on movie sets and details about her marriages.
Still active in 2007, Esther Williams continues to swim regularly and promotes swimming as a means of maintaining personal health. Williams endorses a line of swimwear for women that carries her name. She is also the spokesperson for a line of swimming pools and accessories that are sold under the Esther Williams brand.