Such is the Golden Age of Hollywood that a person with an extraordinary talent could find big screen success. It did not have to be a talent for acting, per se, it could have been in swimming. And it was a talent for swimming, movie star good looks, and the rude interruption of World War II that made Esther Williams a star.
Williams set a number or regional and national records in her teens in the late 1930s and was a sure bet to go on to win Olympic Gold in the 1940 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, those Olympics, which were set to take place in Tokyo, Japan, were cancelled due to the onset of World War II.
The teenage Williams intended to go school to become a physical education teacher when a representative from Billy Rose’s Aquacade contacted her about joining his show in time for its appearance at the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition. She agreed and it was through that job that Williams caught the attention of MGM executives. MGM was looking for a female athlete to build film slate around, inspired by Fox’s success with films starring Olympic Skater Sonja Henie.
Williams would go on to star in 26 films between 1942 and 1963, more often than not in so-called “water musicals,” musical films with extended swim sequences to spotlight Williams’ talents in the water. Williams quickly became one of the biggest stars in the country, often having one or more films in the list of highest grossing films of each year (particularly between 1945 and 1949).
After she retired from film, Williams lent her name to many different forms of swimming related merchandise, including swimwear, swimming pools and swim accessories.