Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Tribute to the Million Dollar Mermaid

The first time I heard of Esther Williams was in Pretty Woman, when Kit tells a rival, turf-crossing prostitute on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to go back "...down to Esther Williams, where you belong!" It was not the best introduction for me.
A far better introduction was in Ziegfeld Follies, when I saw Esther perform one of her water ballets for which she was so famous back in the 1940s and 1950s. Her hair was perfect, her makeup was perfect, even when wet! Whenever I go swimming, my mascara runs down my cheeks and my hair is a tangle of knots. I had to learn more about this lady.

As I said, she was most famous for her water ballets, and the 'aqua musical' subgenre created for her by MGM remains her legacy. She was not the most talented actress, but she was still fun to watch with her light heart, bright smile and statuesque poise. Were it not for her talents as a swimmer, her beauty and her charm, she would have been a one-hit wonder. Instead she had over ten years in the movie business, then finally retired in the 1960s after trying some dramatic roles which were largely unacclaimed. She is the original bathing
beauty pin-up, not only because she looked good in a bathing suit, but because she demonstrated the free spirit, athleticism and confidence that makes any beach bunny attractive. There is a large group of women (and men) in the history of show business whose careers have hinged upon their looks. To say that Esther Williams is not one of them is not to insult her appearance, but to praise her work and talents.

I'm still working on watching more of her movies. She made quite a few, so it will probably take me at least the better part of the summer. Meanwhile, in addition to seeing her water ballets and admiring her winning pin-up style which I hope to emulate in daily life, I'm looking forward to spending some more time in my Esther Williams bathing suit. That's right--she now designs bathing suits, all with the vintage flair I so adore. I've gotten more compliments and comments on my one-piece from her than I have on any bikini, and can't recommend her suits highly enough. The next time you're poolside or at the beach, do a favor for yourself and the folks around you by channelling the spirit of the Million Dollar Mermaid.

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