Celebrating Esther Williams’ Centennial with 10 Favorite Swim Spectaculars

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting a blogathon in honor of one of my favorite stars and people, the Million Dollar Mermaid, Miss Esther Williams.

August 8, 2021 will mark the Centennial of Esther’s birth and while she is no longer with us, what she left behind is an incredible legacy full of cinematic treasures and a life story that continues to delight and inspire.

I could write endlessly about Esther because she means so much to me, but today I decided to talk about my favorite swim spectaculars. Summer is in full swing here and I can’t think of a better way to cool off than taking a dip with Esther, especially on her birthday.

1. Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) – Title song

This film is near and dear to my heart because it was my first Esther Williams movie. As a little girl I imitated this scene whenever I went swimming and Esther became a role model for me from then on. You can read more about my admiration for Esther here.

2. Bathing Beauty (1944) – The finale

If there ever was a definition for showstopper – this is it. Fountains, fire, a bevy of swimmers, dancers and Esther like Venus rising from the water. The result? Over the top beauty on screen in the film which made Esther a star.

3. Neptune’s Daughter (1949) – The finale

The finale of this fun movie is colorful colorful and creative. I believe there is a Greek theme going on (correct me if I’m wrong, her headdress certainly gives me that vibe), and some impressive underwater choreography, but my favorite part is Esther’s intro as she gleams and shines in the spotlight. Absolutely stunning.

4. Bathing Beauty (1944) – “Magic is the Moonlight”

Esther’s opening routine in Bathing Beauty is special because this was her first foray into the Technicolor dream world that she became well known for. I love it because the number appears to be so natural, not in the least bit staged. It’s as if you had a pool party at your house and invited Esther Williams – these are the moves i imagine she would be doing. As it turns out Esther wrote in her autobiography that she choreographed this charming routine herself.

Fun fact: “Magic is the Moonlight” became Esther’s trademark song that nightclub orchestras would play upon her arrival.

5. Pagan Love Song (1950) – “Pagan Love Song”

I could watch this water ballet on repeat. Esther glides elegantly through the underwater landscape as fish swim calmly around her. Beautiful colors fill the eye as Howard Keel serenades us with the hypnotic title song. Ultimate escapism in the tropics with Esther and Howard.

6. Dangerous When Wet (1953) -“Ain’t Nature Grand”

Esther and future husband Fernando Lamas take to the water for a breezy duet in Dangerous When Wet. Like Esther, Lamas was a champion swimmer and as such he was able to match her stroke for stroke (a feat not usually accomplished by her leading men).

Fun fact: Lamas kept this a secret while at MGM for fear of being cast in all of Esther’s movies.

Many factors contribute to this making my list of favorites. The catchy song, the wonderful chemistry between the swimmers, and the light romantic mood that permeates the scene.

7. This Time for Keeps (1947) – “Ten Percent Off”

Esther and Jimmy Durante made an unlikely, but adorable team. They would star together again the following year in On An Island With You (1948), but in this film they performed a song and dance routine which ended with Esther diving in. The clever choreography (both dance and water ballet) for the film was done by Stanley Donen.

If Esther doesn’t look like a Mermaid Princess in this ensemble, then I don’t know what does. The sparkly silver suit and crown is gorgeous and is my favorite of her swim costumes.

8. Dangerous When Wet (1953) – Tom and Jerry Sequence

Talk about iconic. Esther’s dip with the famous cat and mouse is a pure delight to watch and even today with all our technical wizardry the effects hold up marvelously.

Esther recalled in her autobiography that upon previewing the film the audience didn’t believe she was underwater. The animators Hanna and Barbera proceeded to draw bubbles around her costing the studio $50,000. Upon hearing this Esther said, “I could have blown those bubbles for free. All you had to do was ask.”

9. Jupiter’s Darling (1955) – “I Have a Dream”

At first glance this appears to be an underwater noir where Esther gets kidnapped by some creepy dudes disguised in white. Nope. Try again.

This time Esther is in ancient Rome dreaming of her true love when suddenly she is startled by a series of statues that come to life and playfully flirt with her in her pool.

I have a fascination for all things Greek and Roman so I was bound to love this one. Once again Esther’s costume and crown are lovely. Her pool, surrounded by statues, pillars, and Greek key is to die for and the water ballet is completely over the top and a whole lot of fun.

Filming the “I Have a Dream” Water Ballet

10. Duchess of Idaho (1950) – “Melody in Swimtime” finale

Don’t you just love that cheeky play on words? Like the title says, Esther gets plenty of swim time in this number. Lucky for us because nothing is worse than a too short swim scene starring Esther Williams. Dancers surround the pool as Esther leisurely floats with male swimmers in this relaxing, romantic number. You can watch this sequence above. 

Esther was a natural. Her success was based on talent, hard work, and determination – the traits she learned as a champion swimmer. She had the right combination of sincerity and appeal that continued to capture the hearts of the public even after her career in movies ended.

Esther Williams was completely unique. Perhaps that’s why watching her is so special – because you know you’ll never see anything or anyone like her ever again.

This post is my contribution to the 100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon hosted by Michaela at Love Letters to Hollywood. Thanks for hosting and letting me participate, Michaela! Grab your swimsuit and dive in to the rest of the posts celebrating Esther by clicking here.

Happy 100th Birthday to America’s Mermaid!

Thank you for reading!

14 thoughts on “Celebrating Esther Williams’ Centennial with 10 Favorite Swim Spectaculars

  1. Chloe the MovieCritic

    Ack!! It’s so good to see a post from you!! I had missed reading your thoughts. This one is a delight! I’ve only see Dangerous When Wet, but this blogathon always makes me want to fix that. Again, great to “see” you!

    Chloe the MovieCritic | Movies Meet Their Match

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, MC! It’s great to be back 🙂 “Dangerous When Wet” is a good one. The Tom and Jerry sequence is priceless. Isn’t that a great thing about blogathons? Hope you get to see another EW film soon. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  2. Crystal Kalyana Pacey

    This is a great post. Sadly I haven’t seen too many of Esther’s films, but from what I have saw she’s a real delight. I think my favorite swimming sequence is the Tom and Jerry one in Dangerous When Wet. It’s quite iconic.

    I’m also hosting a blogathon and you are cordially invited to participate. Here is the link if interested.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2021/08/03/announcing-the-anne-bancroft-90th-birthday-celebration-blogathon/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Esther is awesome! I honestly think her movies forced MGM to be more creative than it ever was because even though her movies have a lot of the same elements, they always found something new to do with her swimming sequences. Magical stuff. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great list! You are right in the end, when you talk about how unique Esther was.
    My favorite of her dancing sequences is either the Tom and Jerry one or the extravagant Bathing Beauty finale.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michaela

    Lovely list! I’m glad you included that one from Pagan Love Song — I always forget how good it is because I don’t visit that film super often. Honestly, though, I enjoy all of Esther’s swimming routines, they’re just so magical. I put together my own list a few years ago, if you’re interested: https://loveletterstooldhollywood.blogspot.com/2017/08/twelve-favorite-water-ballets-from.html

    Thanks for joining my event! (And sorry my original comment didn’t go through.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s so sweet that you would reenact the Take Me Out to the Ballgame number when you went swimming as a kid. ❤ When I discovered The Wizard of Oz, at the age of 3 or 4, I’d act out Dorothy’s role in my living room with the movie playing in the background. (This grew to become a routine activity in my childhood and eventually included a costume and props.) And Judy Garland is still my favorite. 🙂 It’s so interesting how the movies and stars we connect with as children continue to hold a special place in our hearts – and, in a way, shape who we become. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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