Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Don't Just Lie There, Swim Something.

That Funny Lady Fannie Brice has a small but interesting connection to the star of this week's Dance Party:

Esther Williams
Everybody knows Williams died last week, and while I must admit to never being able to sit through one of her movies, she deserves some notice. 
"Beware. Curves ahead."

She is, or rather was, one of the last remaining stars of the Golden Age of MGM Musicals.  With the possible exception of skating star Sonja Henie, the stardom of Williams was the most oddball of all musical careers at the time.
Whether or not Esther invented synchronized swimming, she certainly brought it into the mainstream.
Esther maintained that she had really lived three full lives.  The first was as a competitive swimmer.  She was on her way to winning some medals at the 1940 Olympic Games in Helsinki when the outbreak of WWII forced the cancellation of the games. 

Esther's stardom proved to little girls that they could be athletes
and still remain feminine.
She instead went to work as a salesclerk at a Los Angeles department store.  While inventorying stock at I.Magnin, she was contacted to replace swimming star Eleanor Holm in the Billy Rose vaudeville-styled extravaganza Aquacade
Billy Rose's Aquacade was one of the impresario's huge entertainment spectacles.
Thus began her second life, as an entertainer.  Her participation in the Billy Rose show brought her to the attention of MGM, who signed her for a series of musicals built around her uncanny talent of swimming, and smiling open-mouthed, underwater, without air bubbles escaping.
That open-mouthed smile, underwater, was a little freaky.
In her later years, Williams admitted to being perplexed by her own popularity. 
Williams with two other MGM stars.

The absurdity of building lavish musicals around synchronized swimming (she is sometimes given credit for actually inventing it) was not lost on our gal, but she had an engaging personality which came through on camera, and her killer body dressed in skintight onesies didn't hurt at the box office. 
When Fernando Lamas asked Esther
to stay home with the kids, she did.

But by the time heartthrob Fernando Lamas proposed marriage, she was pretty much finished at the cineplex.  That third life of hers was spent as a stay-at-home wife to the famous Latin lover.
Latin film star Fernando Lamaz fathered this dude, but alas, our Esther was only his stepmother.  Lorenzo Lamas's mother was Arlene Dahl.
This week's Dance Party is a fun tribute which appeared on YouTube after Esther died.  It is a montage of some of her films, set to a song called, appropriately, "H2O."  The singer in question is even more appropriate:  the background song is sung by Jodi Benson, who voiced Disney's The Little Mermaid (Esther Williams was known as America's Mermaid). 

Oh, and here's a fun fact which slays me.  After husband Fernando Lamas died, Williams crept back into public life.  She lent her name to a line of swimwear and was a commentator for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.  But her most surprising act was one of refusal;  in 1972, she turned down the chance to revive her acting career in a big budget studio film which required a middle-aged woman who could swim.  Her role went elsewhere:

In the allstar disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure, Shelley Winters took the role turned down by Esther Williams, and won an Oscar nomination.

Oh, and how does Esther Williams connect with funny lady Fannie Brice?  Follow this if you can.  Impresario Billy Rose was married to Brice for a time, while sleeping with his swimming star Eleanor Holm.  Holm would later become his second wife, after his divorce from Brice.  Our Esther replaced Holm in Rose's big show.  And Fannie Brice famously described Esther thus: "Wet, she's a star.  Dry, she ain't." 
Eleanor Holm was the only swimming star to rival the celebrity of Esther Williams.  She was a real party girl.  On her way to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, she champagned with Helen Hayes and won handily at craps on board her cruise ship.  Her drunken behavior was considered inappropriate, and she was banned from competing. But she latched onto producer Billy Rose, above, and together they lived a lavish lifestyle.  It was this relationship which inspired the quip which titles this piece.  In Funny Lady, Streisand's Fannie Brice surprises Holm and Rose in bed, to which she snaps, "Don't just lie there, swim something."
Nobody much liked the chemistry between Streisand and James Caan in Funny Lady.  But Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller? Hubba hubba. Or rather; glub glub.