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Esther Jane Williams (born August 8, 1921, although some sources cite 1922) is a retired American competitive swimmer and MGM movie star, notable for her musical films that featured elaborate performances with swimming and diving.

Early years

Williams was born in Inglewood, Californiamarker to Bula Myrtle Gilpin and Louis Stanton Williams. She was enthusiastic about swimming in her youth. She was National AAU champion in the 100 meter freestyle. She planned to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics but they were cancelled to the outbreak of World War II.

Williams went to Hollywoodmarker, where she quickly became a popular star of the 1940s and 1950s. Her brother, Stanton Williams (September 4, 1912 - March 3, 1929), also had a brief acting career during the 1920s before his untimely death from a burst colon at age 16. Williams graduated from Glendale High School in 1939. She appeared with swimming star Johnny Weismuller in Billy Rose's "Aquacade" during the San Francisco World's Fair, 1939-41, where she first attracted attention from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer scouts, as she noted in her autobiography. She appeared in Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942) as Sheila Brooks, a coed with whom Andy falls in love.


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 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. These scenes have been parodied countless times, from The Muppets to The Simpsons in the episode "Bart of Darkness".
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 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 suffers 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 (1999), 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. She would, however, make occasional appearances on television.

Personal life

Williams has been married four times. She 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 were married in the San Franciscomarker 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; they had three children, Benjamin, Kimball and Susan. In her autobiography, she portrayed Gage as an alcoholic parasite who squandered $10 million of her earnings. She 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 broke off the relationship because, she claimed in her autobiography, Chandler was a cross-dresser. She and Gage divorced on April 20, 1959.

She then married former lover, Argentine actor/director, Fernando Lamas on December 31, 1969. For 22 years, she lived in total submission to him, where she had to stop being "Esther Williams" and could not have her children live with her. In return, he would be faithful. They were married until his death from pancreatic cancer on October 8, 1982.

She currently resides in Beverly Hillsmarker with actor-husband Edward Bell, whom she married on October 24, 1994.

Later life

Esther Williams retired from acting in the early 1960s and currently lends 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 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999) with popular media critic and author Digby Diehl.


Year Film Role Notes
1942 Andy Hardy's Double Life Sheila Brooks
1943 A Guy Named Joe Ellen Bright
1944 Bathing Beauty Caroline Brooks
1945 Thrill of a Romance Cynthia Glenn
Ziegfeld Follies Herself
1946 The Hoodlum Saint Kay Lorrison
Easy to Wed Connie Allenbury Chandler
Till the Clouds Roll By Herself
1947 Fiesta Maria Morales
This Time for Keeps Leonora 'Nora' Cambaretti
1948 On an Island with You Rosalind Reynolds
1949 Take Me Out to the Ball Game K.C. Higgins
Neptune's Daughter Eve Barrett
1950 Duchess of Idaho Christine Riverton Duncan
Pagan Love Song Mimi Bennett
1951 Texas Carnival Debbie Telford
Callaway Went Thataway Herself
1952 Skirts Ahoy! Whitney Young
Million Dollar Mermaid Annette Kellerman Henrietta Award (World Film Favorite – Female)
1953 Dangerous When Wet Katie Higgins
Easy to Love Julie Hallerton
1955 Jupiter's Darling Amytis
1956 The Unguarded Moment Lois Conway
1958 Raw Wind in Eden Laura
1961 The Big Show Hillary Allen
1963 Magic Fountain
1994 That's Entertainment! III Herself

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 , 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 Islandmarker in Sydneymarker. The trophy was brought into circulation again in 1997 by officers from HMAS Brisbane , 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 June 30, 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 April 16, 2008, the trophy attended the memorial service for the newly rediscovered wreck of HMAS Sydney II, off Geraldton, Western Australiamarker, travelling in HMAS Anzac .

A documentary, about the trophy's history was produced in 2007.


  1. Actress Esther Williams Hospitalized. (October 25, 2006) AP. Retrieved 2007-11-14. "While some references give a later birth date, Williams told The Associated Press in 2004 that she was born Aug. 8, 1921."
  2. According to the California Birth Index, 1905-1995 located at the Center for Health Statistics, Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California
  3. Infection Hospitalizes Esther Williams. (October 25, 2006) USA Today. Retrieved 2006-12-04. From the article: "Associated Press archives list Williams' birthday as Aug. 8, 1921. Boll said Tuesday that the actress was born Aug. 8, 1922."
  4. The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography, By Esther Williams, Digby Diehl, Published by Harcourt Trade, 2000, p. 113 ISBN 0156011352, 9780156011358
  5. The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography, By Esther Williams, Digby Diehl, Published by Harcourt Trade, 2000, p. 309 ISBN 0156011352, 9780156011358
  6. The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography, By Esther Williams, Digby Diehl, Published by Harcourt Trade, 2000, p.379 ISBN 0156011352, 9780156011358
  7. The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography, By Esther Williams, Digby Diehl, Published by Harcourt Trade, 2000, ISBN 0156011352, 9780156011358
  8. Esther Williams Above Ground and In Ground Swimming Pools - Delair Group
  9. Esther, USS Floyd B. Parks memorial page, accessed April 16, 2008
  10. Karcher, Daniel M., CAPT USN "We've Come for Esther" United States Naval Institute Proceedings July 1986 pp. 115-16
  11. Chasing Esther Willians, Navy News, Vol 47, No 12, July 15, 2004, accessed April 16, 2008
  12. Esther’s Navy fame spans the globe, Navy News, Vol 48, No 10, June 16, 2004, accessed April 16, 2008
  13. Esther Williams' Trophy, Digital Dimensions (2007), accessed 16 April 2008

Further reading

  • Williams, Esther. The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

External links

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