Thursday, June 6, 2013
The Big Screen in the Sky
Film Gab is saddened to learn of the death of MGM's aquatic superstar Esther Williams. Born to a working class family in Los Angeles, she learned to swim at an early age and nurtured Olympic dreams until they were dashed by the onset of World War II and the cancellation of the games. Instead, she found herself with a contract at MGM testing out her audience appeal as one of Mickey Rooney's endless string of girlfriends in Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). Audiences went wild and for nearly two decades she starred in a parade of musicals featuring her talent (and long legs) in a series of increasingly elaborate water ballets. The studio excavated a huge pool for her and deployed Busby Berkeley to marshal the corps de piscine into his signature kaleidoscopic effects. Her best known film is perhaps Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), but she had some success outside of the pool as the owner of a ball team in Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) alongside Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Whatever the role, Williams infused all her work with athleticism, cheerfulness and grace.