Remembering Swimmer and Movie Star Esther Williams

America's favorite mermaid, who inspired thousands to take the plunge, died June 6, 2013, at age 91.

Esther Williams

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Esther Williams
Swimming helped keep Williams vital and strong. Ever since the 1940s, she had been one of the sport’s most ardent and visible promoters, inspiring thousands along the way to take the plunge. ©SEPS

Esther Williams didn’t plan on swimming into history as America’s most memorable mermaid. Blame it on Hitler. The pretty high school athlete had qualified for three berths on the 1940 Olympic team heading to Finland. But while Williams was busy lapping the pool and perfecting her strokes, Hitler was terrorizing Europe and occupying Scandinavian countries. The 1940 Olympic Games were canceled.

What Williams didn’t know was the showman Billy Rose was scouting for a performer to star in his San Francisco Aquacade. He noticed the young athlete’s picture in the local newspaper and invited her to try out. With her shot at the gold medal canceled along with the games, she accepted Rose’s challenge and became an Aquacade headliner opposite Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan-movie fame.

Read More: Editor Pat Perry interviewed the vivacious swimmer who brought a lifelong love of water to America in “Esther Williams: Still in the Swim” (January/February 1998).

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