Thursday, May 12, 2011
TCM's Star of the month: Esther Williams.
What I love most about Esther Williams, is her uniqueness as competitive swimmer and glamorous MGM movie star. It was at Aquacade that Williams first attracted attention from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer scouts. Williams signed her contract with MGM in 1941.
Three weeks after signing her contract, George Sidney directed William's first screen test. The studio liked what they saw, and when Lana Turner eloped with Artie Shaw, Williams screen tested with the leading man Clark Gable, for the film, Somewhere I'll Find You. Turner, soon divorced Shaw after four months of marriage and rejoined the cast. Next, Williams went on to perform in the film, Andy Hardy's Double Life and in a small part in the film, A Guy Named Joe.
Bathing Beauty, was her first Technicolor musical. The studio changed the title of the film to showcase Williams. Williams, next appeared in the film Ziegfeld Follies as herself. This was followed by the musical, Thrill of a Romance. Van Johnson co-starred as a decorated war veteran who falls in love with Williams while on her honeymoon. She also performed in the film, Easy to Wed, a remake of 1936's Libeled Lady, with Johnson and Lucille Ball.
One of my favorite Esther Williams films is, Fiesta, where Williams plays Ricardo Montalban's twin sister, who pretends to be her bullfighting brother in hopes of bringing him back home to the ranch. Production was difficult with a multitude of problems. The director of photography, Sidney Wagner, and one other crew member died of cholera from eating contaminated street food. Many of the film's stuntmen were sent to the hospital after being gored by bulls. Director Dick Thorpe hadn't wanted the bulls killed because they were too expensive to replace. After filming was completed on Fiesta, Williams performed in the film, This Time for Keeps with singer Johnnie Johnston. William's plaid flannel swimsuit for Thrill of a Romance, was so heavy that she was dragged to the bottom of the pool, had to unzip the suit and swim naked to the edge of the pool to avoid drowning. Cole swimsuits used latex, which meant zippers were no longer necessary.
On An Island With You (1948), If you are an Esther Williams fan you will love this movie. It is one of my favorites. Williams and Lawford are wonderful together and so are Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse. Especially during their beautiful dance numbers. If you love happy and romantic musicals you'll love this movie. And don't forget.. we get to see Esther doing what she does best in beautiful water performances.
The story begins when Ricardo Montez, who is playing the part of a Navy man in love with a Polynesian woman, played by his fiancee, Rosalind. They hired Lawrence a Navy Lieutenant, as technical adviser, to help the director on the film's authenticity. During the filming of one of Rosalind and Ricardo's love scenes, Larry interrupts the shooting to take the opportunity to kiss Rosalind .
That evening, at the Royal Aloha hotel, the cast and crew attend a nightclub show performed by Xavier Cugat and his orchestra. Larry, finds another opportunity to get close to Rosalind, and asks her to dance. She refuses thinking that he is too forward.
The next day, Larry is to circle the set once in an airplane with Rosalind on board, but he flies the plane to the tropical island where they first met. Larry wants one dance with her before he returns her to the set. Rosalind, says she will kiss him to prove that she has no feelings for him, but the kiss shows that she is an attracted to Larry. When Larry and Rosalind return to the airplane, they find that the wheels and other parts have been stolen by the islanders. The two set out to find the natives village, but become separated. Will they be rescued before the natives have them for dinner? (wink/wink). I love the dance numbers with Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse.
In 1949, Williams began filming, Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It was a period musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as players on a baseball team owned by William's character, K.C. Higgins. Williams also made Neptune's Daughter that year, co-starring Ricardo Montalbán, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett, who had also been in the film, Take Me Out to the Ball Game. In the film, Williams sings the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Montalbán.The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 22nd Academy Awards.
In 1952's Million Dollar Mermaid, Williams played Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimming and diving star. Williams co-starred with Victor Mature, who played Kellerman's husband and manager, James Sullivan.
1953's Easy to Love (also with Van Johnson) was filmed on location in Cypress Gardens, where a Florida-shaped pool had been built specifically for the film. Williams was pregnant during shooting, but still performed her own water skiing stunts.
In the film Dangerous When Wet, Williams worked with three well known actors: Tom and Jerry and future husband Fernando Lamas. During casting, Lamas told Williams he did not want to star in the film with her because he only wanted to be involved in "important pictures". His part had to be rewritten to convince him to take part in the film. Williams then made the film,Duchess of Idaho, shot on location in Sun Valley, Idaho, co-starring Van Johnson. MGM next paired her with Howard Keel for two films, Pagan Love Song and Jupiter's Darling.
In 1953, Williams had been on maternity leave for three months and had assumed that she would get straight to work on the film, Athena when she got back. However, production started without her, and the studio cast Jane Powell in the lead role. The studio moved her to the film, Jupiter's Darling. In 1956, she moved to Universal International and appeared in a non-musical dramatic film, The Unguarded Moment. After that, her film career went down the drain.