Esther Williams and the Canceled Olympics

What do you do when you’re an athlete and the Olympics are canceled? Become one of Hollywood’s top stars.

At least, that’s what Esther Williams did.

esther1

17-year-old Esther Williams (third from left) with the Los Angeles Athletic Swim Club team in 1939.

In 1939, 17-year-old Esther Williams was the United States women’s 100 meter freestyle national champion at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championship. She represented the Los Angeles Athletic Club with the winning time of 1:09, which was better than all but one of the swimmers for the next six years, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

The AAU formerly worked closely with the United States Olympic Committee.

Williams was assured a spot on the United States team for the 1940 Summer Olympics which were going to be held in Tokyo, Japan. But the games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

She felt her career as a swimmer was over when the Olympics were canceled and she didn’t receive a swimming scholarship to the University of Southern California, she wrote in her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”

She said stardom was her consolation prize.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Musical Monday: Dangerous When Wet (1953)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Dangerous When Wet (1953)– Musical #79

Studio:Poster - Dangerous When Wet_01
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Charles Walters

Starring:
Esther Williams, Fernando Lamas, Jack Carson, Charlotte Greenwood, Denise Darcel, William Demarest, Donna Corcoran, Barbara Whiting, Ben Gage (uncredited)

Plot:
Katie Higgins (Williams) is the daughter of dairy farmer Pa Higgins (Demarest). The family is the healthiest in the county, starting their morning with exercise and a swim. However, financially their farm isn’t doing so great. When the family meets traveling salesman Windy Weebe (Carson), he convinces them to swim 30 miles across the English Channel with his product, Liquapep, as their sponsor. Katie meets handsome Frenchman Andre Lanet (Lamas) in the process.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Duchess of Idaho (1950)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Duchess of Idaho–Musical #24

poster

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard

Starring:
Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Paula Raymond, John Lund, Connie Haines, Amanda Blake, Clinton Sundberg, Mel Torme, Bobby Troup (uncredited), Mae Clarke (uncredited)
Themselves: Lena Horne, Eleanor Parker, Red Skelton

Plot:
Secretary Ellen Hallit (Raymond) is in love with her boss Doug Morrison (Lund), who constantly has Ellen pretend to be his fiance to get him out tight spots with women. In an attempt to play matchmaker, Ellen’s roommate and best friend Christine (Williams) travels to Sun Valley, Idaho, where Doug is also vacationing. Christine’s plan is to get Doug to fall in love with her, so he will call on Ellen to help him out. However, things get more complicated when Christine meets and falls for bandleader Dick Layne (Johnson).

Continue reading

Baby, It’s Not a Christmas Song

What started out as a song to get party guests to leave is now a Christmas favorite that has come under some scrutiny in recent years.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has evolved into a song never left off a Christmas album. The catch? When it was written in 1944, songwriter Frank Loesser wasn’t thinking of the holidays.

Frank Loesser and wife Lynn Garland in 1956 performing their song.

Frank Loesser and wife Lynn Garland in 1956 performing their song.

Loesser originally wrote the song to only be performed at parties with his wife, Lynn Garland. The duet — labeling the parts wolf and mouse — involves a man trying to convince a woman that she should stay, because it’s snowing outside. She says no, until she relents at the end.  Continue reading

Musical Monday: On an Island with You (1948)

Image

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
On an Island with You” (1948)– Musical #524

Poster - On an Island With You_02

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring:
Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Cyd Charisse, Jimmy Durante, Leon Ames, Kathryn Beaumont, Dick Simmons, Marie Windsor (uncredited)
Themselves: Xavier Cugat, Betty Reilly

Publicity photo for

Publicity photo for “On An Island with You”

Plot:
Actress Rosalind Rennolds (Williams) is making a film in Hawaii with her fiance Ricardo Montez (Montalban). But there are a few love triangles getting in the way of their marriage. Actress and co-star Yvonne (Charisse) is in love with Ricardo, and Lt. Lawrence Y. Kingslee (Lawford), the Navy technical advisor for the film, has a large crush on Rosalind. Lt. Kingslee met Rosalind when she was entertaining troops during World War II when he was picked as a volunteer for skit. Ever since, been in love with her. Lt. Kingslee’s love makes him take some extreme measures in order to be alone with Rosalind.

Trivia:
-Esther Williams’ character falls in a hole in the jungle in one scene. The director of “On an Island with You” did not cushion the bottom of the hole and Williams sprained her ankle, according to her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.”
-Cyd Charisse broke her leg during the filming of the “Pagan Dance,” according to an interview on Turner Classic Movies.
-Ricardo Montalban dubbed by Bill Lee

Child star Kathryn Beaumont

Child star Kathryn Beaumont

Highlights:
-Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban dancing
-Cyd Charisse’s “Pagan Dance”
-Kathryn Beaumont’s Jimmy Durante impression

Notable Songs:
-Takin’ Miss Mary to the Ball performed by Jimmy Durante
-I Know Darn Well I Can Do Without Broadway performed by Jimmy Durante
-On an Island with You performed by Ricardo Montalban, dubbed by Bill Lee
-The Dog Song performed by Xavier Cugat and Betty Reilly
-Não Tenho Lágrimas performed by Xavier Cugat

July 1947, Florida, USA --- Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

July 1947, Florida, USA — Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

My review:
I liked this film better than when I saw it for the first time during Summer Under the Stars 2004.

“On an Island with You” is colorful, humorous and has some excellent swimming and dancing numbers.

This has quite the star studded cast too with magnificent music from band leader Xavier Cugat.

Esther Williams’ swimming numbers are lovely, particularly a dream sequence that Peter Lawford has of Williams in a blue and green sequined bathing suit and another featuring surfboards and a gold lame bathing suit.

But for me, even more stunning than the swimming numbers was the dancing in this film. Cyd Charisse’s dances are show stoppers in all of her films, but these are somehow even more exciting. I think this is partially because her numbers have the added bonus of Ricardo Montalban as her partner. The two dance beautifully together; something they also exhibited in the 1947 film “Fiesta.” I feel like Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban could have made a great dancing team in MGM musicals had they been given that opportunity.

Jimmy Durante adds the comic relief in the film and offers some of the most entertaining songs, though Xavier Cugat’s tunes keep your toes tapping.

Another highlight in “On an Island with You” is a brief role played by child actor Kathryn Beaumont. For Disney fans, this is a great treat since Beaumont was the voice of Wendy in “Peter Pan” (1953) and Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” (1951). This was Beaumont’s second film and first credited role.

Esther Williams writes in her autobiography that “On an Island with You” was “another ridiculous plot.” She felt most of the plots to her films were as fluffy as cotton, which isn’t false.

However, the film offers the perfect mix of cool Technicolor entertainment and gorgeous dance numbers for an August afternoon.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Pagan Love Song (1950)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

874241_1_lThis week’s musical:
Pagan Love Song” (1950) – Musical #75

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Alton

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Minna Gombell, Rita Moreno, Charles Mauu

Plot:
Half-American, half-Tahitian Mimi (Williams) dreams of getting off the island-where she lives with her rich aunt (Gombell)- and going to the United States. Ohio school teacher Hazard Endicott (Keel) moves to the island to run a small plantation his uncle left him and is happy to relax and be lazy on the island. Will Hazard convince Mimi to change her plans?

Trivia:
-Esther Williams was pregnant while filming Pagan Love song, which made her especially concerned about filming a scene in an outrigger, according to Williams’ autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid.
-Howard Keel broke had a broken arm during part of the film, and his cast is covered with a towel during a bike riding scene, according to Keel’s autobiography “Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business.”
-Originally was supposed to star Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson, but Charisse got pregnant, according to Esther Williams autobiography.
-Originally supposed to be directed by Stanley Donen, but after having a difficult time with Donen in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Williams requested otherwise, according to her autobiography.
-Esther Williams sings two of her own songs but is dubbed by Betty want in “The Sea of the Moon”
-Produced by Arthur Freed
-Based on the book “Tahiti Landfall”

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Notable Songs:
None. They were all lousy.

My review:
From the adorable, colorful poster you think “Oh this film has so much potential!”….But this isn’t one of Esther Williams better films. I’m not sure if it’s as bad as “Jupiter’s Darling,” but it’s up there. And the fact that Williams is made up in tan makeup as a part Tahitian isn’t even the worst of it.
Everyone in the film laughs non stop and smiles like an idiot for most of the movie–I guess to show that everyone-even the Ohia school teacher- loves Tahiti. But non-stop laughing in a 72 minute movie can get pretty annoying.
If you read the plot above, you can see there is absolutely nothing to this plot. As I was watching it, I even found myself thinking, “So…what’s the point of this story?” (And that’s coming from someone who has watched and enjoys silly fluff films).
The filming of this movie was about as unhappy as the viewing experience, according to both Williams’ and Keel’s autobiographies.
The director had never shot on location, Keel and Arthur Freed had a falling out, Keel was unhappy with the score and songs, Williams was nervous about sailing in an outrigger over jagged reef while pregnant, Keel had a broken arm, and it rained a large portion of the filming, according to their autobiographies.
For a film set at the beach, starring Esther Williams who is wearing a sarong 40 percent of the film, you would think there would be swimming galore. In reality there are only two swimming scenes:
-Esther Williams singing a tune while a group (her swimming class) swim in a diamond behind her.
-Williams and Keel swim in a lavish dream sequence in the last 10 minutes of the film.
For me, the most notable feature in this film is that you get to hear Esther Williams’ own singing voice in a couple of songs, while she was usually dubbed. For the more serious ballad, Betty Wand dubbed Williams but from what little we hear, Williams sounds decent.
Films that came out of the “Freed Unit” (produced by Arthur Freed), are generally glittery, fantastic forms of entertainment. Which is why I find it so shocking that “Pagan Love Song” is a real stinker.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Bathing Beauty (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Bathing Beauty” (1944)– Musical #61

bathing

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Basil Rathbone, Bill Goodwin, Jean Porter, Janis Paige, Donald Meek, Margaret Dumont, Nana Bryant
As themselves: Harry James, Lina Romay, Xavier Cugat, Helen Forrest, Ethel Smith, Carlos Ramirez

Plot:
George Adams (Rathbone) is unhappy when his star songwriter Steve Elliot (Skelton) says he’s leaving the business to marry pretty swim instructor, Caroline Brooks (Williams). George creates a misunderstanding between the two that sends Caroline back to the all-girls college where she teaches. Determined to win her back, Steve finds a loophole in the charter and enrolls.

Trivia:

-Esther Williams’ first starring role.

Red Skelton's comedic ballet

Red Skelton’s comedic ballet routine which was created by Buster Keaton.

-Skelton’s ballet routine was created by Buster Keaton, according to Gehring’s book.

-Originally titled “Mr. Co-Ed” with Red Skelton as the defined lead. Once Esther Williams was brought on the project, Skelton was knocked to secondary lead, though he has more screen time, according to Red Skelton: The Mask Behind the Mask by Wes Gehring.

-When Esther Williams did her first swimming number (the first in the movie and the first of it’s kind on screen), director George Sidney told her to do what she wanted because he knew nothing about swimming, according to Williams’ autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography .”

-The finale swimming number with Williams, Harry James and Xavier Cugat was choreographed by John Murray Anderson, who choreographed Billy Rose’s aquacades, according to Williams’ book.

-The skit where Red Skelton pretends to be a girl waking up and getting ready in the morning was created by his first wife, Edna Stillwell, according to Gehring’s book.

-This film was shown in combat areas overseas during World War II.

-The pool used at the beginning was the Lakeside Country Club in San Fernando Valley.

-Janis Paige’s first film.

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in “Bathing Beauty.”

Highlights:
-Xavier Cugat’s musical performances with Lina Romay singing.
-Every swimming scene with Esther Williams
-Red Skelton’s skit of woman waking up and getting ready.
-Red Skelton dancing in a tutu

Notable songs:
-“Te quiero dijiste” performed by Carlos Ramirez
-“Bim, Bam, Bum” performed by Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay
-“Tico-tico no fubá” performed by Ethel Smith
-“Alma llanera” performed by Lina Romay and Xavier Cugat
-“I Cried for You” performed by Helen Forrest and Harry James
-“Loch Lomond” performed by Harry James, Jean Porter, Ethel Smith, Janis Paige and other co-eds

My review:
This film is true escapism, particularly good for the World War II era.

Esther Williams in the finale of

Esther Williams in the finale of “Bathing Beauty.”

“I think the reason the movie did so well was that it was exactly the right kind of breezy summer entertainment for war-weary public,” Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography.

While “Bathing Beauty”‘s plot line is a little silly, this movie is such a joy.

It’s vibrant Technicolor, humorous scenes with Red Skelton, Esther Williams looking beautiful and cool in the pool, and top musical performances from Harry James, Helen Forrest, Carlos Ramirez, Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay.

This movie is notable for several reasons:
-It catapulted Esther Williams’ career of swimming musicals- a genre never before seen on films- that were top in the box office for 10 years following. This new type of genre is a great example of how MGM tried to bring novelties to the screen and seem new, fresh and innovative.
“We didn’t know it, but we were about to invent synchronized swimming as it had never been before seen on film,” she wrote.
-You get a glimpse of who the top performers in music were: Harry James and Xavier Cugat. While MGM often tried to seem cultured while bringing in opera stars such as Laurietz Melchoir, they often brought in the most popular names in music.
-South American themed musical numbers- here with Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Carlos Ramirez- were commonplace in 1940s films, and this is a great example of that theme.

But while this musical landed Esther williams on top, it is also a little sad for Red Skelton, who had been in films for a few years but still was not on top. Skelton started in films with hopes of becoming a serious comic but was often misplaced in his roles.

However, in “Bathing Beauty” Skelton has more screen time than Williams and pulls out all the stops with his hilarious scenes, he received very little recognition in the film columns. All of the critics were enamored with Esther Williams and gave little mention to Skelton, according to Gehring’s book.

“Audiences apparently care more about what the heroine is wearing than if Skelton gets her in the in,” the New York Herald Tribune came to his defence.

Regardless, Skelton gives a great performance and Williams is a breath of fresh air…or maybe a cool dive in a pool.

While things are steamy outside, cool off with this film indoors and soak in the Technicolor, rather than get a sunburn.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com