She stood out among the other female swimmers with her long legs and stunning looks. Even after World War II cancelled the 1940 Olympic Games as well as her chances to win gold, Esther Williams continued to shine in the swimming — and cinematic — spotlight.
Born in 1922 and raised an L.A. girl, Williams had already earned three national championships in both the breaststroke and freestyle by the age of 16. Shortly after the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, Williams was cast opposite Olympic swimmer and screen star Johnny Weismuller for an on-stage swimming musical, “Aquacade.”
Impressed by her looks and talent, MGM executives selected her for a part in Hollywood’s first swimming movie, “Bathing Beauty,” after she debuted opposite Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy’s “Double Life” in 1942.
Williams’ popularity grew with her movie-making, and at one time her face appeared on 14 magazine covers at one newsstand.
At a time when girls didn’t swim because they didn’t want to wet their hair, Williams gave femininity a twist of muscle strength.
Touted as “America’s Mermaid” for more than 18 years, Williams’ success was pivotal in the promotion of synchronized swimming. Through four marriages and three children, she also became a branding name for aboveground swimming pools and fashion swimwear.
And the bathing beauty still swims every day. Today, the 83-year-old Williams is working on a show, “Aquaria,” opening in 2006 at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. She also recently sold the rights to her life story to Argus Entertainment (ironically, her step-son, Lorenzo Lamas, will play her husband). She lives with her current husband, Edward Bell, in Hollywood, and has three grandchildren.