Esther Williams


  1. Lana Turner, Somewhere I’ll Find You, 1942.
    Lana had wed Artie Shaw without the permission of MGM’s weepy chieftain, LB Mayer. So he axed her from  the  Honky  Tonk sequel.  “The ultimate vengeance was to replace Lana with an unknown,” said Esther,  called  in  from lapping the Beverly Hills Hotel pool to test with Gable. She won the part  – and refused it. “I’m  not an actress, Mr  Mayer,  I couldn’t do a whole film with Gable,” said the swimmer cheated out of Olympic glory at the 1940 Helsinki Games by WWII.  “Let me do the film you picked me for. You know Lana will come back and you’ll drop me, anyway.” Years later, she said:  “I still don’t know how a 17-year-old swimmer found such wisdom.” Lana did return and Esther did make Mr Co-Ed, 1943, headlining Red Skelton until preview reaction had it thrown all her way as – what else? – Bathing Beauty… And Metro’s  highest earner since   Gone With The Wind and Ben-Hur!

  2. Lana Turner,  Cass Timberlaine,  1948.     Six years on, Esther felt she could act.  “But I couldn’t get rid of that blonde. I carried on swimming.  They took  ideas from Billy Rose acquacades and Sonja Henie skating films.  They just melted the ice and threw me in!” Resulting in Fannie Brice’s acidic quip: “Wet, she’s a star. Dry, she ain’t.”
  3. Jane Powell, Deep In My Heart, 1950. “To all those who love the music of Sigmund Romberg.” José Ferrer played Broadway’s Hungarian-born composer in the star-stuffed bio-musical: Cyd Charisse, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Howard Keel, Tony Martin,  Ann Miller, Russ Tamblyn… even Gene Kelly with his brother Fred.  And  Powell subbing the MGMermaid as  Ottilie van Zandt in excerpt from Maytime.
  4. Katharine Hepburn, Pat and Mike, 1952.    Losing Tracy a second time… “A woman who couldn’t lose at sport – perfect for me. But Kate and Spence were too welded at the hip for me  to  get a look in.  All they ever did for me  at  MGM  was  change my leading men and the water in the pool.”
  5. Ava Gardner, The Bandwagon, 1952.    Metro production honcho Dore Schary wanted her to be the star welcomed by the Press at  the start. MGMusicals producer Arthur Freed got his own way. As usual.
  6. Jane Powell, Athena, 1954.   Esther’s typical swimfest churned into a typical MGMusical (new generation) for Jane Powell  – and Debbie Reynolds, Virgina Gibson and Nancy Kilgas. instead of Williams, Janet Leigh, Ann Miller and Elaine Stewart.  Esther got a co-writing credit, not enough to stop her leaving Metro after one last dive  Jupiter’s Darling, 1954.  The credit  remained. So did the writing on the wall. She’d had enough of being wet at  MGM.
  7. June Allyson, The Opposite Sex, 1955.  .   “Manhattan Island: A body of land consisting of four million square malescompletely surrounded by women…”. For the remake of MGM’s The Women, 1939, Kelly, Eleanor Parker and even mermaid Esther Williams were in the frame to succeed Norma Shearer as Kay Ashley Hilliard. It was ridiculous to re-make a classic, said Esther in her autobio. She then realised that she was only getting crap scripts because her MGM tenure was really over.  So, she had the last word. She broke what remained of her contract and swam  out of MGM.  Commenting on  new take of  her 1938 The Women, Joan Crawford blasted  “those pygmies in the remake.”
  8. Doris Day, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, 1962.  If at first you don’t succeed…  MGM’s  first cast in 1943:  Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland.  In 1947 : Frank Sinatra-Judy Garland  – or Gene Kelly-Kathryn Grayson.  1949:  Frank Sinatra-Esther Williams. 1952:  Donald O’Connor-Debbie Reynolds. 1962: Dean Martin-Doris Day. Finally: Stephen Boyd was Day’s (weak) partner in her last musical.  And after all that, it flopped. 
  9. Debbie Reynolds, Mother, 1996.   “If I didn’t have Haagen-Dazs, I would’ve had the part!” Albert Brooks saw many but… No Actual Mothers Were Harmed During The Making Of This Motion Picture. The ex-First Lady Nancy Reagan dropped out. Doris Day had no comeback dreams. “Esther acted very well; she made me laugh.” But she had the wrong kind of ice-cream in her fridge (uh?), not what Albert’s screen Ma would have – and he didn’t want Esther to act somebody she wasn’t. (D’oh, isn’t that what acting is all about?)  Finally, Albert  went to the lady who was forever match-making marriage with him and her daughter, Carrie Fisher.



 Birth year: 1921Death year: 2013Other name: Casting Calls:  9