Esther Williams, the swim champion turned actress, died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 91 last thursday.
She was one of the most popular stars in the 40’s and 50’s and was known for her ‘aquafilms’. A Los Angeles native, Williams grew up swimming and surfing. At age 16, she represented the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team and earned three national championships for the breaststroke and freestyle. But her hopes of becoming an Olympic medalist were dashed when the 1940 Tokyo Summer Olympics were cancelled in the shadow of WWII. But MGM offered her a screen test and she was signed to a contract in October 1941. She made her screen debut alongside Mickey Rooney in “Andy Hardy’s Double Life,” in which she planted the first kiss on Rooney’s All-American hero.
At MGM, Williams showed off her swimming skills in a series of water spectaculars including “Bathing Beauty,” “Neptune’s Daughter,” and “Million Dollar Mermaid”. Williams officially gave up acting after starring alongside her future husband in the 1963 drama Magic Fountain. Williams was a good businesswoman who made a series of wise investments for the days after her fame had ended, lending her name to swimming pools and bathing suits. Except for occasional commentary at swimming events like the Olympics or instructional video tapes, Williams largely retired after the mid-’60s. She settled into domestic life and charity work for the rest of her years, with an occasional break for interviews in documentaries such as “That’s Entertainment III” and “Busby Berkeley: Going Through the Roof”.
Williams was marrried four times. Her third marriage to Fernando Lamas lasted from 1969 until his death in 1982. She wed Edward Bell in 1994. In addition to Bell, her survivors include two children and three grandchildren.