Without A Net

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'Bathing Beauty' Esther Williams dies; watch video of her best underwater moments

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“Bathing Beauty” Esther Williams, the Inglewood-born swimming champion who took her swim moves to film in 1940s and ’50s musicals, has died at 91.

Williams had been aiming to swim in the 1940 Olympics, but World War II got in the way of that when it led to the cancelation of the Olympics that year. She ended up getting discovered working as a department store model and went on to appear at the World’s Fair in San Francisco, where an MGM talent scout spotted her and helped bring her to film, despite a lack of any sort of acting background.

After breaking out in “Bathing Beauty,” she continued to appear in romantic musical comedies that somehow involved swimming, like “Easy to Wed” and “Dangerous When Wet.” Some of her other films with colorful titles telling stories I’ll leave to your imagination: “Texas Carnival” and “Pagan Love Song.”

The MGM film “That’s Entertainment!” took a look back at the studio’s stars, including telling the story of Esther Williams and the stars she worked with in her prolific career. Those stars included Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Red Skelton.

The 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughter” featured her joining in song with Khan himself, Ricardo Montalban, to deliver a Christmas favorite — “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Swimming proved surprisingly dangerous work — she ruptured her eardrum numerous times, almost drowned and even broke her neck during a diving sequence in 1952’s “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

Some of her swimming scenes weren’t quite so dangerous — here she is talking to and swimming with a fake duck in another 1952 film, “Skirts Ahoy.”

In 1955’s “Jupiter’s Darling,” Williams plays a Roman woman who somewhat improbably helps Hannibal swim the Tiber River to scout out Rome before he attacks.

Williams eventually tried reducing the swimming in her films and did some non-swimming roles, but audiences just wanted to see her back in the water.

As “Funny Girl” star Fanny Brice put it, “Esther Williams? Wet, she’s a star. Dry, she ain’t.”

She ended up retiring after marrying her “Dangerous When Wet” co-star, Fernando Lamas, in 1962 — her third husband. Lamas also directed her in her last movie, 1961’s “The Magic Fountain.” She explained her choice to leave film in a 1984 interview:

“A really terrific guy comes along and says, ‘I wish you’d stay home and be my wife,’ and that’s the most logical thing in the world for a Latin. And I loved being a Latin wife — you get treated very well. There’s a lot of attention in return for that sacrifice.”

Here’s one last look at the charm of Esther Williams on the game show “What’s My Line?”

Esther Williams' complete filmography:

  • “Andy Hardy’s Double Life,” 1942
  • “A Guy Named Joe,” 1943
  • “Bathing Beauty,” 1944
  • “Thrill of a Romance,” 1945
  • “Ziegfeld Follies,” 1946
  • “The Hoodlum Saint,” 1946
  • “Easy to Wed,” 1946
  • “Till the Clouds Roll By,” 1947
  • “Fiesta,” 1947
  • “This Time for Keeps,” 1947
  • “On an Island With You,” 1948
  • “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” 1949
  • “Neptune’s Daughter,” 1949
  • “Duchess of Idaho,” 1950
  • “Pagan Love Song,” 1950
  • “Callaway Went Thataway,” 1951
  • “Texas Carnival,” 1951
  • “Skirts Ahoy!,” 1952
  • “Million Dollar Mermaid,” 1952
  • “Dangerous When Wet,” 1953
  • “Easy to Love,” 1953
  • “Jupiter’s Darling,” 1955
  • “The Unguarded Moment,” 1956
  • “Raw Wind in Eden,” 1958
  • “The Big Show,” 1961
  • “The Magic Fountain,” 1961

With contributions by AP

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