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Swimming movie star Esther Williams passes away

Swimming movie star Esther Williams passes away

THE death has taken place of Esther Williams, the former American swimming champion who became a movie star. She was 91.

There are few people who could boast that a new film sub-genre had been created by a major Hollywood studio in order to bring their talents to the big screen. But that is exactly what happened to Ms. Williams. 

When MGM signed her up in the early 1940s, executives soon realised that finding ways of increasing the time that their beautiful young starlet could be filmed in a swimsuit was sure to increase takings at the box office. 

The solution was found with the invention of the so-called ‘Aqua Musicals’. The movies featured lots of swimming showgirls in support of the stunning Ms. Williams who swam and dived her way to stardom. 

The gamble paid off for MGM with films such as Bathing Beauty (1944), Neptune’s Daughter (1949) and The One Piece Bathing Suit (1952) proving to be a hit with filmgoers. Many of the films featured spectacular finales which had been conceived by the director and choreographer Busby Berkeley.

Ms. Williams — who became known as America’s Mermaid — starred alongside some of Hollywood’s greats, including Gene Kelly, Victor Mature and Frank Sinatra.

But when audiences eventually lost their appetite for Aqua Musicals, Ms. Williams turned to more dramatic roles in movies such as The Unguarded Moment (1956) but was unable to repeat the success of her earlier efforts. She retired from acting in early 1960s.

Away from Hollywood, Ms. Williams set up a highly successful swimwear business. She also made occasional appearances on American TV.

To view movie excerpts featuring Ms. Williams, click here.

To see an interview with Ms. Williams, click here.

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