The Word: ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’ Esther Williams has died

THE ESTHER WILLIAMS AQUA SPECTACLE -- Pictured: Actress/swimmer Esther Williams -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Esther Williams Credit: Herb Ball/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Actress and swimming star Esther Williams died in her sleep Thursday. She was 91.

Esther was a champion swimmer as a teen. She expected to go to the 1940 Olympics, but they were cancelled after the outbreak of World War II. But the sport’s loss was Hollywood’s gain. After she was discovered at a swimming show, she began starring in “aquamusicals:” romantic films with synchronized swimming musical numbers.

In 1952 Esther starred in the MGM musical “Million Dollar Mermaid,” which became her nickname in Hollywood. She married four times and had three children with her second husband, Ben Gage.

Although she ruefully admitted that the plots for her films were sometimes stretched thin to give her an excuse to get in the water, according to the Guardian, Esther was proud to showcase her athletic brand of womanhood. ”My movies made it clear it’s all right to be strong and feminine at the same time,” she said.

After retiring from film in 1960, Esther stayed connected to the swimming world. She had her own line of retro swimwear and provided synchronized swimming commentary for the 1984 Olympics.

Those who didn’t grow up in the 40s may remember Esther as one of Sally’s obsessions in Judy Blume’s classic young adult novel “Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself.”


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