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.

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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.

Swimming to Stardom
She took a job at I. Magnum department store until producer Billy Rose called her at the store asking if she wanted to audition for the Aquacade- a show of music, dancing and swimming in San Francisco.

“You swim very fast,” Billy Rose said when she auditioned.

“That’s what I do, Mr. Rose,” Williams said. “I’m a sprint swimmer. The U.S. 100-meter freestyle champion.”

“I don’t want fast,” he said. “I want pretty.”

Williams was reluctant to take the job in the Aquacade because it would mean losing her amateur standing, which would keep her from ever competing in the Olympics again.

Esther Williams swimming "pretty and not fast" with former Olympian Johnny Weissmuller

Esther Williams swimming “pretty and not fast” with former Olympian Johnny Weissmuller

“Young lady, there’s a war on and there aren’t going to be any Olympic games for a long time,” Billy Rose told her. “You might as well make some money off your talent.”

Due to World War II, there wasn’t another Olympic games until 1948, when Williams was already a top star at MGM.

She swam with former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who Williams said she had to escape from him after every performance, because he would try to get her out of her swim suit. The Aquacade was not a happy experience. Because of that she repeatedly told MGM that she wasn’t interested in a film career, she said in her autobiography.

“If my experience at the Aquacade with the dingy dressing room and the grabby hands was any indication, they could keep their stardom,” she wrote. “I had a husband, a career at I. Magnin to look forward to, a whole new life. That would be enough for me.”

But Esther Williams eventually relented to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, signed with the studio and was in her first film in 1942. Her career catapulted with the swimming musical “Bathing Beauty” (1944) and she rose to be one of MGM’s top stars.

Esther Williams in "Bathing Beauty" (1944)

Esther Williams in “Bathing Beauty” (1944)

Esther Williams in a synchronized swimming extravaganza in "Bathing Beauty"

Esther Williams in a synchronized swimming extravaganza in “Bathing Beauty”

From 1942 to 1963, Williams starred in 34 films. The swimming musicals were modeled after the novelty ice skating films Olympic ice skater Sonja Henie starred in…but just with swimming.

Williams learned to swim pretty, as Billy Rose advised, and her synchronized swimming numbers were performed in a 25-foot-deep, $250,000 swimming pool on Stage 30, complete with underwater windows, fountains and hydraulic lifts, according to Williams’ 2013 New York Times obituary.

Back at the Olympics
But everything eventually came full circle for Esther Williams and she found herself back at the Olympics.

Williams attended the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics not as an athlete but as a commentator. Synchronized swimming was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1984 games. Due to Williams popularizing synchronized swimming in her films, NBC Sports asked Williams to join their team as a color commentator. Williams was co-commentator to Donna de Varona, swimmer and 1964 Olympic gold medalist.

Esther Williams co-anchoring with former swimmer Donna de Varona

Esther Williams co-anchoring with former swimmer Donna de Varona

“I was dazzled by the skill of all the athletes and by the underwater technology of NBC’s coverage,” Williams said of the 1984 games. “Some of those girls were underwater for more than half of their five-minute programs and you could see every balletic move.”

Leading up to this, Williams had researched how synchronized swimming could be recognized as an Olympic sport. She also would answer questions and create informational packets for community swimming groups around the country interested in starting a team, she wrote in her autobiography.

In 1956, a synchronized swimming demonstration was held at the Melbourne summer Olympics. But former International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage—who served from 1952 to 1972—complained that they were “all just clones of Esther Williams. That’s not a sport!”

“Despite Avery Brundage’s sexist notions, synchronized swimmers are superb athletes,” Williams wrote in her autobiography. “They have to lean ballet and first do their routines on dry land as exercises. They have to hold their breath for long periods of strenuous activity.”

Swimmers Tracie Ruiz-Conforto and Candy Costie took home gold medals that year.

“I was touched to realize how these girls had seen those movies and gotten together in their groups and wanted to swim pretty and not fast,” Williams wrote. “I was proud to be there when it came into the Olympics. I was proud to be an inspiration, a godmother to a sport. It was a very emotional moment for me. Tears came to my eyes on camera, and I thought, I love every one of those girls in the water.”

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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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

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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 in 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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Musical Monday: “Jupiter’s Darling” (1955)

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.


Jupiters-darling-1955This week’s musical:

“Jupiter’s Darling” – Musical #110

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, George Sanders, William Demarest, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden

Plot:
A fabricated tale based on a historical event set in 216 B.C. when Hannibal (Keel) marched on Rome. Amytis (Williams) is the fiance to Roman dictator Fabius (Sanders). Curious and spirited Amytis hears Hannibal is attractive and wants to check out him, his troops and elephants that are stationed outside Rome. Amytis and her slave girl, Meta (Champion), are captured and brought to Hannibal. Amytis charms Hannibal, purposefully delaying he and his troops from attacking Rome.

Trivia:
-Remake of “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) which starred Maria Corda, Lewis Stone, Ricardo Cortez and Alice White.
-Esther William’s singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.
-In the film, Esther Williams’ character rides a horse that dives off of a cliff into water. Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography, “Million Dollar Mermaid” that director George Sidney wanted her to do the stunt but she refused. Stunt man Al Lewin performed the stunt and broke his back in the process.
-Esther Williams’ last film made under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-The pool Williams swims in was modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s pool at his estate, San Simeon, according to Esther Williams’ autobiography.
-The “underwater statues” in the “I Have a Dream” underwater sequence were secured to the bottom of the pool wearing cleats, according to Williams’ autobiography.
-Williams broke her left eardrum, which had been broken five times before in films, while swimming in the 25 feet deep pool for the “I Have a Dream” sequence, according to her autobiography.
-The Hayes of Office, which dictated the moral censorship production codes, was uncertain about the scantily clad “marble statues” during the “I Have a Dream” sequence, Williams wrote.
-The movie opened to a disappointing box office. Williams wrote this was “not surprising.”
-Howard Keel said he felt this was the best film he and Williams made together and Hannibal was his best performance, he wrote in his autobiography “Only Make Believe.”
-In one scene, Keel and Williams walk in with a leopard. The director suggested Keel pick up the leopard and the animal bit his shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing leather armor, according to Keel’s autobiography.

Esther Williams swimming with a "marble statue" in the 'I Have a Dream" sequence.

Esther Williams swimming with a “marble statue” in the ‘I Have a Dream” sequence.

Highlights:
-The underwater, swimming “I Have a Dream” dream sequence with men painted like white marble statues. Notable mainly because it’s a bit odd, but it is staged pretty nicely too since it is all underwater. This includes swimming small children dressed as cherubs who shoot arrows.
-Husband and wife dancers Marge and Gower Champion to the song “If This Be Slavery.” The actual song is silly but this is the one dance in the movie that really show cases their talent. The dance with “The Life Of An Elephant” is a bit distracted by the actual elephants (though the babies are really cute).

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Let This Night Get Away” sung by Howard Keel
-“I Have a Dream” sung by Esther Williams, dubbed by Jo Ann Greer

My Review:
Esther Williams is one of my favorite stars, but “Jupiter’s Darling” is just no good. And Williams knew it too, according to her autobiography.
“Jupiter’s Darling” is not just a turning point in Esther Williams’ career but also the movie musical at MGM.
This musical marks the end of Esther Williams’ MGM career. At one point, she was MGM’s top star. After 12 years at MGM, it’s sad that her career at the studio that made her famous was a bit of a dud.
To put it into context, gossip columns around this time were writing “The Mermaid on the Lot has been beached,” according to Williams’ autobiography.
She was originally supposed to star the musical “Athena,” but was replaced by Jane Powell (but if you ask me-that wouldn’t have been any better of a last MGM film than this one).
Led by studio head Dore Schary, MGM was suffering and many of it’s major stars were leaving. Greer Garson, Clark Gable and Van Johnson were already “jumping ship.”
At the same time “Jupiter’s Darling” was released, Lana Turner also suffered from bad reviews for her film “The Prodigal.” Trade papers were both saying Williams and Turner were losing their fan base.
After this film, Williams was offered the lead in “The Opposite Sex,” the remake of “The Women” (1939). Williams wrote in her autobiography she thought it was ridiculous to remake the classic and refused. Williams realized Schary was probably purposefully giving her terrible scripts and that this was the end of her career, so she left and broke her contract.
It had been over 10 years since I last saw this movie and in my mind it was the worst movie.
After revisiting it- while “Jupiter’s Darling” isn’t the worst film ever made- it’s simply not very good.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several ancient history films were being made such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus.” “Jupiter’s Darling” fits into that fad but it just doesn’t work. Probably because it is so historically inaccurate.
The songs are ridiculous such as “Never Trust a Woman” which has lyrics about decapitating or “Hannibal” which is simply “Hannibal, oh Hannibal we’re fighting men of Hanniabl.”
I will admit that the color is beautiful and Williams’ looks gorgeous in the Roman costumes. However, set dressing and costumes can not save this film.
It’s a shame that Esther Williams glittering career had to end with such a dud. If you have never seen an Esther Williams film, don’t start with this one.

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in "Jupiter's Darling"

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in “Jupiter’s Darling”

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Classic Films in Music Videos: Aeroplane by Red Hot Chili Peppers

This is November’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s film references in music videos.

Director/choreographer Busby Berkeley was known for his elaborate nature and kaleidoscope-like musical numbers.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used scenes from Esther Williams films such as "Million Dollar Mermaid" for inspiration in their music video "Aereoplane"

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used scenes from Esther Williams films such as “Million Dollar Mermaid” for inspiration in their music video “Aereoplane”

His work has been mimicked in movies such as “The Great Muppet Caper” to music videos such the the 1995 Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Aeroplane.”

The music video begins with girls in gold sequined body suits.

Esther Williams in her gold sequined costume for "Million Dollar Mermaid" (1952)

Esther Williams in her gold sequined costume for “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952)

Berkeley directed swimming star Esther Williams in two films, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949) and the biographical film on Annette Kellerman, “Million Dollar Mermaid ” (1952.)

In “Million Dollar Mermaid,” Williams wears an aluminum crown and a gold swimsuit, made of 50,000 sequins. Williams said in her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography” that it weighed her down like chain-mail.

When Williams dove into the water, the crown hit the water, she broke three vertebrae and was in a full body cast for six months, she wrote.

Also, in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers video, girls swing on trapezes- like in “Easy to Love” (1953) or “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952). At another part in the video girls dive sideways into the pool, reminiscent of a scene from “Bathing Beauty” (1944).

Another example of a Busby Berkeley kaleidoscope-like shot can be scene at 2:51, which is similar to scene from “42nd Street” (1933). 

Thank you our friends over at Hollywood Revue for telling us the references in this video a few months ago!

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Musical Mondays: “Thrill of a Romance” (1945)

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.

thrill posterThis week’s musical:
Thrill of a Romance” (1945)- Musical #502*

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring: 
Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Frances Gifford, Henry Travers, Spring Byington, Lauritz Melchior, Tommy Dorsey and his band

Plot:
Pretty swimming teacher Cynthia Glenn (Williams) is swept off her feet by wealthy Robert Delbar (Carelton Young) who charms her in a whirlwind romance. After a short time, Cynthia and Robert are married and head to a resort for their honeymoon.
However, after only being married a few hours, Robert abandons his new bride for a business deal, leaving her alone on her honeymoon. As she mopes about being left alone, World War II hero, Major Thomas Milvaine (Johnson) sweeps in to cheer her up.
All of this happens on a glittering backdrop of Technicolor outdoor scenery, swimming sequences and musical performances from big band leader Tommy Dorsey and opera singer Lauritz Melchior.

Trivia:

Van Johnson and Esther Williams. This is my favorite outfit Esther wears in the film.

Van Johnson and Esther Williams. This is my favorite outfit Esther wears in the film.

-“Thrill of a Romance” is the first of four full-length films Esther Williams and Van Johnson made together. But this wasn’t their first film together. Williams has a brief part in “A Guy Named Joe” (1943) with Johnson. Their other films include “Easy to Wed,” “Duchess of Idaho” and “Easy to Love.”
-A young girl plays the piano and sings and is supposed to be Tommy Dorsey’s daughter in the film.  The girl isn’t Dorsey’s daughter and is actress Helene Stanley playing Susan Dorsey in the film. However, he did have a daughter named Susie in real life.

Notable songs:
-Tommy Dorsey plays one of his famous songs, “Song of India.” Aside from that song, it’s always fun to hear big band music in films, especially since that would have been the “pop standard” of that time period.
-Famous Danish opera singer Lauritz Melchior performs several songs in the film. This is notable since he was influential as an opera singer.

Highlights:
-Young Jerry Scott hiding on the terrace singing “Please Don’t Say No, Say Maybe.”
-Van Johnson lip syncing (though he can sing in real life) as Lauritz Melchior sings “Please Don’t Say No, Say Maybe.”
-Esther Williams swimming with Van Johnson

Esther and Frances Gifford.

Esther and Frances Gifford.

My review:
Not only is “Thrill of a Romance” my favorite Esther Williams film, but it is a perfect example of a mid-1940s MGM musical.
It’s not the type of musical where people break into song because they are so full of emotion they can’t speak. It is more a romantic story with a backdrop of musical performances.

Esther and Van dancing to  Tommy D

Esther and Van dancing to Tommy D

The film has a beautiful set, gorgeous costumes, catchy songs and vibrant, young actors.
MGM films always have that something extra special, and while there are a lot of special things about this movie-Esther Williams and swimming sequences stand out.
Louis B. Mayer liked to add class and culture to his films. While some musicals would have contemporary musicians featured, such as Tommy Dorsey in this one, he also featured classical performers in his films. This could vary from pianist Jose Iturbi or opera singer Lauritz Melchior, in the case of this film.
Though this movie may be dismissed as sugar coated, I always find it thoroughly enjoyable.
It will make you want to visit the resort they are staying at–and you will want Williams’s wardrobe. I don’t believe she wears more beautiful clothing in any of her other films.
It’s one of those films that if you are down, it will immediately lift your spirits.

*Though I saw this musical over eight years ago, I discovered I had never put it down on my musical list. Egads!

You can find my Esther Williams tribute here. Williams passed away at the age of 91 on June 6, 2013.

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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