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!

Rose Marie (1954): Love Amidst the Rockies

Tomboy meets manly man, falls for his charm, and becomes a “lady” for him. Sound familiar?

Rose Marie has shades of two other highly esteemed musicals of the 50’s – MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Warner Brothers’ Calamity Jane (1953), in which a tomboy gets transformed into a lady. Interestingly, these films also share the same leading man, Howard Keel. What makes Rose Marie unique however, is the style of the music, the casting of the heroine, and the ending of the story.

This 1954 adaptation of Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart’s operetta, Rose-Marie, was MGM’s third time bringing this story to the big screen. The first film, now considered to be lost, (1928) was a silent with Joan Crawford playing the lead. The second and best-known version, (1936) starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, gave the team their signature song, “Indian Love Call.” Each time the film has been re-made, the story has changed, but the 1954 version bears close resemblance to the original operetta. While the film only retained three of the songs from the original operetta, it did add five others. The duet “I Have the Love” is exceptionally lovely.

Taking us on this journey into the Canadian wilderness and into the heart of Rose Marie is the lovely Ann Blyth. As the titular character, Ann is sassy and independent, while still retaining her feminine charm. She is the perfect blend of innocence and fire. Unlike Betty Hutton’s Annie Oakley and Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Ann Blyth’s Rose Marie is not larger than life; quite the contrary. Ann plays the part in an understated fashion. She brings out Rose Marie’s naivety, and her plight to find her proper place in the world. I think this is what made her so wonderful in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) – her ability to portray a character who is innocent and naive about certain things, but also very vulnerable and emotionally intelligent at the same time. And to play that character in a likable way that does not come across as fake, contrived, or cloying.

Note: I enjoy Betty’s Annie and Doris’s Jane as well; however, I like to note different acting styles and character interpretations. I love the individual qualities each one possesses and appreciate each of them for what they are. The differences are what makes each special, unique, and exciting to watch. We move on… 🙂

Rounding out the cast is Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Bert Lahr, and Marjorie Main. The most notable for me was Bert Lahr. I believe this is the second film I’ve seen him in. The first, of course, as the incomparable Cowardly Lion in Oz. He does have a number which is fun to see and makes some of his lion grunts and sounds.

Howard Keel and Fernando Lamas add their rich baritone voices to the mix while vying for the hand of Rose Marie. Keel is well cast as the good-hearted Mountie and Lamas as the ambiguous trapper. In my eyes, these two couldn’t be more opposite – all the more fitting for the story.

MGM pulled out the stops by filming Rose Marie in the Canadian Rockies, and it is simply breathtaking. The gorgeous scenery filmed in eye-popping color enhances the realism of the story and the plight of the Mounties. In addition, the cinematography by Paul Vogel (High Society, 1956) is beautiful and engaging. The film is also the first movie musical to be released in the new widescreen format at that time, CinemaScope.

I had to watch this film twice to fully appreciate it because it took me be surprise. All in all, Rose Marie (1954) is very enjoyable, featuring one of the most beautiful duets, talented singers, nature’s beauty, and produced by the most prestigious studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If any of those mentioned above make your heart skip a beat, this film is calling you…

This post is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Head over here to read the rest of the posts honoring this vast and beautiful country.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!