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Biography of Esther Williams

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Biography of Esther Williams, famous movie star and swimmer
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Esther Jane Williams (born August 8, 1921, died June 6, 2013) is a retired United States competitive swimmer and movie star. She isfamous for her musical films that featured elaborate performances with swimming and diving.

Esther Williams Early years

She was born in Inglewood, California to Bula Myrtle Gilpin and Louis Stanton Williams. Esther was enthusiastic about swimming in her youth. She was National AAU champion in the 100 meter freestyle. Esther Williams went to Hollywood, where she quickly became a popular star of the 1940s and 1950s. Her brother, Stanton Esther Williams, also had a brief acting career during the 1920s before his untimely death while a teenager.

She appeared with swimming star Johnny Weismuller in Billy Rose’s ‘Aquacade’ during the San Francisco World’s Fair, 1939-41. There she first attracted attention from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer scouts, as she noted in her autobiography. She also had to fend off the amorous attentions of Weismuller. She said he acted as if he were Tarzan on and off the screen.

Esther Williams Career

The scene most people associate Esther Williams with is the famous and often spoofed grand water ballet finale in Bathing Beauty (1944). Several moments, such as the swimmers who dive past one another in the pool, the moment where Esther Williams is received as a queen, then dives and reappears above water, surrounded by several other swimmers who form a circle around her, became iconic.

Many of her MGM films, such as Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and Jupiter’s Darling (1955), contained elaborately staged synchronized swimming scenes, with considerable risk to Esther Williams. She broke her neck filming a 115 ft dive off a tower during a climactic musical number for the film Million Dollar Mermaid which landed her in a body cast for seven months. She subsequently recovered, though she still suffered headaches as a result of the accident. Her many hours spent submerged in a studio tank resulted in her rupturing her eardrums numerous times. In her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography (1999), Esther Williams detailed several other occasions in which she nearly drowned shooting her oxygen-defying stunts, since she rarely used a stunt double.

After years of appearing in musical comedies at MGM, she moved to Universal International in 1956 and appeared in a non-musical dramatic film, The Unguarded Moment. After that, her film career slowly wound down. She later admitted that husband Fernando Lamas preferred her not to continue in films.

Esther Williams Personal life

Her love life was a source of media interest. She married four times. Esther met her first husband Leonard Kovner while at Los Angeles City College. She later wrote in her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid that “he was smart, handsome, dependable…and dull. I respected his intelligence, and his dedication to a future career in medicine. He loved me, or so he said, and even asked me to marry him.”  They married in the San Francisco suburb of Los Altos on June 27, 1940. On their split, she said “I found, much to my relief, that all I needed for my emotional and personal security was my own resolve and determination. I didn’t need a marriage and a ring. I had come to realize all too quickly that Leonard Kovner was not a man I could ever really love.” They divorced in 1944.

She married singer/actor Ben Gage on November 25, 1945, with whom she had three children. In her autobiography, she portrays him as an alcoholic parasite who squandered her earnings. Esther also disclosed in her autobiography that she had a passionate affair with actor Victor Mature while they were working on the film Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), citing that at the time her marriage was in trouble and, feeling lonely, she turned to Mature for love and affection, and he gave her all she wanted. She was romantically linked with Jeff Chandler. But she broke off the relationship when she discovered that Chandler was a cross-dresser, which she revealed for the first time in her autobiography. Esther and Gage divorced on 20 April 1959.

She then married her former lover, Argentine actor/director, Fernando Lamas on December 31, 1969. They were married until his death from pancreatic cancer on October 8, 1982. She resided in Beverly Hills with actor-husband Edward Bell, whom she married on October 24, 1994.

Esther Williams Later life

Esther Williams retired from acting in the early 1960s and lent her name to a line of women’s swimwear and to a company that manufactures swimming pools and swimming pool accessories. She co-wrote her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999) with popular media critic and author Digby Diehl.

Death of Esther Williams

Esther Williams passed away in her sleep on June 6, 2013, at her home in Las Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Esther Williams Filmography


Short Subjects:

  • Personalities (1942)
  • Inflation (1942)
  • Some of the Best (1949)
  • 1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (1955)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood, City of Stars (1956)

Esther Williams Trophy

The Esther Williams Trophy is one of two trophies that have circulated among ships of various navies, after originating in the Royal Australian Navy. Initially, in 1943, the trophy was a joke between two friends, Lieutenants Lindsay Brand and David Stevenson (later the RAN’s Chief of Naval Staff), serving in HMAS Nepal (G25), an N class destroyer attached to the British Eastern Fleet. Stevenson wrote on a photograph of Esther Williams, “To my own Georgie, with all my love and a passionate kiss, Esther” ; Brand (aka ‘George’) put the screen idol over his bed; the photo was taken to another ship by a fellow officer; and, the ‘trophy’ was then circulated by officers among some 200 other ships including in US Navy, British Royal Navy, and Canadian Navy ships in Asian waters.

The original photo became the ‘trophy copy’ to be kept in a safe location, while the second ‘fighting copy’ was displayed where it could be stolen stealthily or taken by force with a good deal of roughhouse between the officers of the ships involved. After the ‘fighting copy’ had been successfully removed from the custodial ship, the ‘trophy copy’ would be presented to the new owners with appropriate ceremony. In 1957, ‘Esther’ was retired by the US Navy and sent to the RAN’s Naval Historical Collection at Spectacle Island in Sydney. The trophy was brought into circulation again in 1997 by officers from HMAS Brisbane (D 41), and has been given official standing by senior officers, for instance when an RAN admiral officiated when the elder Brand was re-introduced to the trophy on 30 June 2004 for only the fourth time since 1943.

At various times, the holders of the trophy have either flown an Esther flag or sent naval signals (signed ‘Esther’) to other nearby ships to indicate where the trophy resided. Notably, on 16 April 2008, the trophy attended the memorial service for the newly rediscovered wreck of HMAS Sydney II, off Geraldton, Western Australia,traveling in HMAS Anzac (FFH 150).

A documentary on the trophy’s history was produced in 2007.

(Courtesy of

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