Collecting Esther

 

When I was working on my master's thesis on Esther Williams a few years ago, I wanted to find materials that would really help me dive deep into her stardom, her onscreen persona, her real life, and her films. I started with random searches on eBay and realized I had been missing out on a wealth of ephemera and photos for who knows how long.

As a die-hard fan and someone who hopes to publish a book on Esther someday, I've amassed quite the collection these past couple of years and thought it could be fun to share some of my favorite purchases!

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Throughout her career, Esther was one of the biggest box-office stars around and she adorned hundreds of magazine covers, usually in a swimsuit. I only have a dozen or so magazines in my collection because they can be quite pricey or in terrible shape, but these three are some of the more unique ones I've come across. The College Life issue is actually from when Esther was still a champion swimmer, which is amazing. I also just got this copy of See in the mail a few days ago; I hadn't heard of this magazine before nor had I ever seen this particular image of Es before, so it immediately went into my eBay cart.



As a record-breaking champion swimmer who likely would've medaled at the 1940 Olympics had they not been cancelled, Esther wasn't just someone who looked gorgeous while swimming -- she really knew her stuff. She truly believed that swimming was the best exercise you could do and she loved sharing her technique and tips to help others learn. For many years, she taught blind children and said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life, and she did a line of videos called Swim, Baby, Swim to show parents how to teach their own kids. The booklets pictured below are some of the materials Esther penned, posed for, or lent her name to to instruct her fans in how they could swim like her.








One of the more random finds I never expected to discover: a copy of a yearbook from Esther's senior year at Washington High School in Los Angeles! I was really hoping to find a signature from Es hidden in here somewhere, but no luck.



One of my favorite things to add to my collection are fan-made scrapbooks. It's so cool to look through them and see what fans back then cut out of magazines and wanted to keep. It's also a great way for me to see what was being written about Esther at the time without buying a ton of magazines.

I have five scrapbooks so far and, although they can be cumbersome to find storage for in my small space, I love (carefully!) flipping through their pages.


Speaking of Esther's fans... I've been able to find lots of incredible materials from one specific fan club who in the '50s created their own newsletter/magazine called "The Swimmin' Hole," which included the latest news about Esther, letters from her (likely written by someone else, but you never know), snapshots that you could buy, personal accounts of meetings with Esther from the fan club president, and more. I only took a picture of two of these newsletters, but I have probably close to ten by now.

Also, how cute is their illustration of Queen Esther in that second image?! These are truly my people.



There's a candid photo of Esther I've always loved where she is wearing this terrific flower swimming cap and playing in her pool with her kids, so I was over the moon when I stumbled upon a holiday card she and her husband Ben Gage sent out in the '50s using a photo from that same session. Sadly there is no writing on the card (which is likely why I could afford it!), but it did come with the original envelope that it was sent in so that's cool.



Moving away from eBay, I tried to branch out and try my luck on a more international site to see what goodies I could find overseas. The site I found wasn't the best -- you could only pay sellers directly through a service like PayPal and it necessitated a lot of back-and-forth with sellers who were either really nice and prompt with shipping or non-communicative and slow. But I still managed to snag these colorful Spanish heralds for Bathing Beauty, On an Island with You, and Thrill of a Romance.




When I made my banners for the very first iteration of my Esther blogathon, I found this Australian poster for Pagan Love Song and fell head over heels in love with it. My jaw dropped when it later popped up on emovieposter.com (a great resource, by the way!), and now it proudly hangs on my wall by my bed.

Side note: yes, I'm using push pins for this poster. I KNOW. It's not the best, but I just can't afford to frame to all of the things I'd like, especially ones with weird dimensions like this particular piece. I typically try to avoid using pins (which is why most of my original Esther posters are safely tucked away), but I adore this poster so much and I'm not planning on ever selling it to anyone else, so I bit the bullet.


The only film of Esther's I haven't seen is The Magic Fountain (1963), a Spanish film directed by and co-starring Fernando Lamas, who became Esther's third husband. It kills me that this movie was never released in the U.S. and seems to have disappeared into thin air. Finding anything about it is also a challenge, including film stills, so I'm very glad I was able to snap up some Mexican lobby cards for it. They're not all in the best shape, but I love the look of them and have this one on my wall.


Another purchase from a sketchy European site! Easy to Love is my second favorite Esther film, and I'm obsessed with this Belgian poster. I love the ridiculousness of Es and Van Johnson waterskiing like this (as you can guess, this never happens in the actual movie) and the colors really pop in person.


I have a few different lobby cards I've framed, but this one for Neptune's Daughter is easily my favorite. Love the film, love the stars, love the image, love the gold frame I found for it, love it all.


Although I'm crazy about Thrill of a Romance, I have to admit that I find Lauritz Melchior's constant songs in that film exhausting. (Melchior is undeniably wonderful, but opera just isn't my thing and it's insane how many numbers he was given.) So, it's a touch ironic that I bought this collection of records, but hey, that's how much I adore Thrill of a Romance.


One of my prized possessions is honestly For Sentimental Reasons, a record Esther and her husband Ben, who was a radio singer, released in 1954. I think Esther had a lovely voice and it is a joy to listen to her on this short album. There are only four songs, and it's slightly comical to hear the Gages sing lovey-dovey duets when their marriage was definitely troubled by this point, but it's incredible nonetheless.


Photos are the #1 thing I collect. I have four binders absolutely stuffed with them, and I even have three pictures in the mail right now on their way to me. They're just the easiest and often cheapest thing to find and it is always really exciting to see and own an image you've never spotted before. Below are some of my favorites.











Finally, I wanted to share the artwork I have of the Million Dollar Mermaid. This first one is a Kate Gabrielle original. If you don't know Kate, she's an incredible artist with tons of classic film pins, art, shirts, and more. A few years ago on her Patreon, she offered to do drawings of anything her patrons wanted and I immediately asked for an Esther piece. I was so thrilled with the final result! Kate later did a different drawing of Es for TCM's Summer Under the Stars last year and it has been really hard not to get it on everything Threadless offers.


While perusing Etsy two weeks ago, I found this adorable drawing of Esther from Easy to Love. The same shop, Awwdraws, just listed a different print from The Million Dollar Mermaid and you can bet I'll be buying that one, too! This shop sells out pretty quickly, but they also restock quickly so if you want an Esther print of your own but don't see it, I'd just wait a few days and check again. There are also tons of other fantastic pieces celebrating I Love Lucy, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and other classic film things -- highly recommend!


Another Etsy shop that is amazing but is even trickier to buy from is CuriousPip. I absolutely adore her work, but for some reason she only lists a limited number of art prints and it can be months before she restocks something you had your eye on but was snatched up before you could get it. I was downright shocked when the larger print, inspired by my #1 Esther film Dangerous When Wet, was actually available a couple of days after I had missed the first batch. Still, CuriousPip's work is tremendous and I have always loved every piece I've bought from her.


I hope you all enjoyed this look into my obsession collection! It is truly something I am constantly adding to and it's been so much fun to find things I didn't know existed and to hold them in my hands and make sure they're cared for. Esther is the kind of star who is both well-known and forgotten, and so it feels really special to keep her history alive with these materials.

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This is my contribution to my Third Esther Williams Blogathon. Check out the other entries here!

Comments

  1. I loved seeing bits of your collection! It really shows how much you love Esther. My favorite itens were the holiday card and the photo of Esther with a cute dog.
    Thanks for hosting thias blogathon again!
    Cheers!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I love that photo of her with her cocker spaniel at her house, partly because the wallpaper in the background is Alice in Wonderland-themed, which is my favorite book. :)

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  2. Yeah, you should totally write a book! This is a gold mine. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks! Trust me, it is absolutely on my to-do list. I've been meaning to set aside time to work on an outline and such, but life just keeps... happening, haha. I really need to get on it, though!

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