Esther Williams proves she's a true... Bathing Beauty (1944)
She continued to refuse them for a year, but the more she said "no," the more they wanted her. Talent agent Johnny Hyde kept calling and insisted she have one meeting with Louis B. Mayer. Esther's co-workers at the department store I. Magnin told her to go so she could tell them all about it. When she insisted she had nothing to wear, they put her in a chic Chanel suit and told her to be back before 6 pm when the store closed. (Esther can be seen modeling for the store on the left.) Obviously, Esther finally gave in, signing a contract in 1941. Part of that contract, however, insisted that she have nine months to work on her acting, diction, singing, and dancing. As she later wrote, "If it took nine months for a baby to be born, I figured
here. After that was a small role in A Guy Named Joe (1943), and then came the game-changer: Bathing Beauty.
Originally, Bathing Beauty was supposed to be a Red Skelton vehicle, and for the most part, it still came out that way. Skelton has more screen time and he got to do a lot of comedy routines, but MGM knew to favor Esther in the publicity. They changed the film's
Bathing Beauty was wholly different from the average musical, thanks to Esther's swimming. While her films stuck to the conventions of a musical, the addition of water made things quite interesting. Talking to Robert Osborne, Williams said "What happened is we invented a movie form of dancing in the water that hadn't been done before. They needed a swimming champion to do that because it was very hard to do because nobody knew what they were doing, and there was a kind of 'I don't know, what is she going to do? Do what you do, Esther!'" It was all pretty experimental -- MGM didn't know what the swimming entailed and many times Esther herself had to improvise and learn as she went along. For BB, she recruited John Murray Anderson from Billy Rose's Aquacade to come and choreograph the big finale, while her more simple swimming scene at the beginning was mainly her ad-libbing. Although Sonja Henie's athletic pursuits did well with audiences, there was still an uncertainty regarding the aqua musical, Esther recalling that "after Bathing Beauty, I thought that would be the only picture I would do and that would be the end of it. It seemed to be it was all kind of a wonderful circus time." How fortunate we are that it wasn't her last film -- let's get to it!
a lively tune by the pool. Applauding them at the end of their song is Steve Elliott (Skelton), an adorable songwriter. He asks Carlos Ramirez, a real-life singer playing himself, to perform a new song he just wrote for a Ms. Brooks. Carlos begins "Magic in the Moonlight" and soon our Ms. Brooks (Williams) appears, wearing a pretty Spanish-style cape over a simply lovely pink swimsuit, with short heels and a bow in her hair to match. Ms.
Caroline finishes her brief swim and strikes a pose next to Carlos. When she sees Steve, though, she crosses the pool and pops up in front of him to give him a kiss. Their banter is sweet as they tell each other that they quit their jobs, Caroline's being a swim teacher at an all-girls school and Steve's being the songwriter for a water pageant produced by George Adams (Basil Rathbone).
Arriving just then is George Adams, and he is not pleased. He sent Steve to this resort to relax and write songs, yet he hasn't heard from the guy in weeks. He's greeted by Cugat and asks the
Harry James and his Music Makers. This film is packed with songs and popular performers of the day, so sometimes it can feel a little overstuffed. That being said, the numbers are relatively short and they're always shot interestingly thanks to director George Sidney. I find it endlessly fascinating that bandleaders in the 1940's were given parts in movies. They definitely weren't the best actors,
Easy to Wed, another Williams flick that Smith pops up in, I don't understand the appeal of Smith. The organ just isn't my thing, apparently. I'm definitely a fan of her shoes, though -- check those out! If you're so inclined, you can see Smith and the girls perform "Tico, Tico" here.
Fred Astaire in my mind. It's a traditional Scottish ballad that makes Steve shake his head as the rest of the class is forced to sing it. Prof. Hendricks wants to know why he thinks he's too high and mighty to sing along, causing one of the students to say that Steve's music is a big improvement from this stale old tune. Annoyed, the professor challenges Steve to write a better arrangement and bring it to class tomorrow, allowing him to bring whatever accompaniment he'd like.
here. Do it before I'm forced to give you an F.
here. Once that's over with, Cugat gets on the phone and straight up lies to Steve, telling him he hasn't seen Maria since the wedding. Et tu, Cugie?
a number by Harry James. It doesn't take long for Caroline to realize what a darling Steve is and how silly she's been. Her face says it all as she watches him draw their future house and talk about where they'll put everything -- he even uses a salt shaker to represent her and paprika to represent him. It's pretty charming. Steve wants to leave Victoria College right away so they can start their married life, but Caroline stalls him by asking him to dance. Guess what? It's
here. It's a shame that this is the only showcase in the film for Forrest. She was very popular, having worked with
I don't even know if words can do justice to what all happens here. There are dozens of chorus girls who were trained to swim; both Harry James and Xavier Cugat; fountains; fire; giant seahorse sculptures; big columns; and at the center of it all, Esther. I'll let my pictures do the talking...
here. And if you're wondering why Esther's swimsuit looks especially sparkly, the wardrobe department sewed panels of small mirrors into the suit so that the camera would catch all the light and sparkle it created. Although the water ballet looks glamorous, in real life Esther was dealing with pneumonia and a 102 degree temperature. With everyone involved, though, the studio couldn't postpone the shoot, forcing Esther to work with it. As the audience is applauding Caroline, George jumps into the pool to escape Steve, who goes in after him only to remember he can't swim. Caroline arrives to help him and provide him with a kiss, which makes him sink... and he playfully pulls her down with him!
Thrill of a Romance. Apparently she was also in Easy to Wed, but I don't remember her at all. Porter would appear mostly in television as the years went on, including The Red Skelton Show. She was married to director Edward Dymtryk from 1948 until his death in 1999, so she was with him through his infamous time with the Red Scare in Hollywood. Porter is still alive today at the age of 93.
|Williams wore this dress to a charity event, where she met her second husband, Ben Gage. Their first date was the film's preview at Pomona.|
This is my contribution to the Athletes in Film Blogathon. You can check out the roster here.