Thursday, June 06, 2013

Water Life, Dept.

Film actress Esther Williams has died at 91.

Despite being a musicals fan, I don't think I've ever seen an Esther Williams film straight through.  Since childhood, I've known what they look like.  And, thanks to That's Entertainment!, feel that I've seen all the best bits of her MGM oeuvre.

She did not, from what I read today, have an easy life, between abusive or parasitic men and the wear and tear (ruptured eardrums, broken neck) of doing all her own water work.  And, from what she wrote in her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid, her co-workers weren't any help.

According to the book, when she, in likely her biggest non-swimming role, made 1949's Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Stanley Donen and co-star Gene Kelly, who co-wrote the story and collaborated on the musical staging, were utter dicks who made her the butt of their jokes, an experience she describes as "pure misery."

She also can't have been pleased, eight years later, when Silk Stockings featured Janis Paige in the role of a dipsomaniacal swimming movie star who constantly whacks at her head to knock out the water though she's nowhere near a pool and who answers a reporter's question regarding what she thinks of Tolstoy (whose War and Peace she's filming as a musical)by saying, "There's absolutely no truth to the rumors; we're just good friends."

At any rate, she left behind a ton of onscreen charisma and some of the most OTT musical numbers in film history (the above done by Busby Berkeley, somehow unsurprisingly).  If you've never seen her, That's Entertainment really is the best collection of, and introduction to, her work.


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