Advertisement
Advertisement

Esther Jane Williams (1921 - 2013)

A photo of Esther Jane Williams
Esther Jane Williams
1921 - 2013
Born
August 8, 1921
Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California United States
Death
2013
Other Names
Esther Williams
Summary
Esther Jane Williams was born on August 8, 1921 in Inglewood, California United States. She died in 2013 at 91 years of age.
3 Followers
Updated: August 14, 2020
ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM
Advertisement
Esther Jane Williams (August 8, 1921 – June 6, 2013) was an American competitive swimmer and actress. Williams set multiple national and regional swimming records in her late teens as part of the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. Unable to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics because of the outbreak of World War II, she joined Billy Rose's Aquacade, where she took on the role vacated by Eleanor Holm after the show's move from New York City to San Francisco. While in the city, she spent five months swimming alongside Olympic gold medal winner and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller.[1] Williams caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer scouts at the Aquacade. After appearing in several small roles, alongside Mickey Rooney in an Andy Hardy film, and future five-time co-star Van Johnson in A Guy Named Joe, Williams made a series of films in the 1940s and early 1950s known as "aquamusicals," which featured elaborate performances with synchronised swimming and diving. From 1945 to 1949, Williams had at least one film listed among the 20 highest-grossing films of the year. In 1952, Williams appeared in her only biographical role, as Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman in Million Dollar Mermaid, which went on to become her nickname while at MGM. Williams left MGM in 1956 and appeared in a handful of unsuccessful feature films, followed by several extremely popular water-themed network television specials, including one from Cypress Gardens, Florida.
Show & Tell Her Story
Share your memories, stories, and photos so that Esther is always remembered.
Update biography
What's this?

This collaborative biography is for you to show & tell Esther's life so that she is always remembered.

Biography
Esther Jane Williams
Most commonly known as
Esther Jane Williams
Full name
Esther Williams
Other names or aliases
Unknown. Did Esther move a lot? Where was her last known location?
Last known residence
Female
Gender
Esther Williams was born on in Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California United States
Birth
Esther Williams died in
Death
Birth
Death
There is no cause of death listed for Esther.
Cause of death
Do you know the final resting place - gravesite in a cemetery or location of cremation - of Esther Jane Williams?
Burial / Funeral
Heritage

Ethnicity & Lineage

Early years Esther Jane Williams was born on August 8, 1921, in Inglewood, California. She was the fifth and youngest child of Louis Stanton Williams (January 19, 1886 – June 10, 1968) and Bula Myrtle (née Gilpin; October 8, 1885 – December 29, 1971). Louis was a sign painter and Bula was a psychologist. The two lived on neighboring farms in Kansas and carried on a nine-year courtship until June 1, 1908, when they eloped and set off for California. However, they ran out of money in Salt Lake City, Utah, and settled there. Esther's brother, Stanton (September 4, 1912 – March 3, 1929) was discovered by actress Marjorie Rambeau, which led to the family (including sisters Maurine and June and brother David) moving to the Los Angeles area to be near the studios. Louis Williams purchased a small piece of land in the southwest area of town, and had a small house built there. Esther was born in the living room, which was also where the family slept, until Louis Williams was able to add bedrooms. In 1929, Stanton Williams died after his colon burst.

Nationality & Locations

Where was Esther born and where did she live?
Childhood

Education

Inglewood, CA. She was a swimming athlete.

Religion

Was Esther a religious woman?

Baptism

Was Esther baptized?
Adulthood

Professions

Esther Williams Born August 8, 1921 in Inglewood, California, USA Died June 6, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California, USA Birth Name Esther Jane Williams Nickname America's Mermaid Height 5' 8½" (1.74 m) Mini Bio (1) Esther Jane Williams was born on August 8, 1921 in Inglewood, California. Her youth was spent as a teenage swimming champion and she won three United States National championships. She eventually was spotted by a MGM talent scout while working in a Los Angeles department store. She made her film debut with MGM in an "Andy Hardy" picture called Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). She became Mickey Rooney's love interest in the movie, and her character was called Sheila Brooks. Following this short movie, stardom was not far away. MGM created a special subgenre for her known as "Aqua Musicals". Her first swimming role was in Bathing Beauty (1944). Bathing Beauty was a simple movie compared to her later big splashes such as Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), co-starring Victor Mature and Walter Pidgeon. Esther Williams was often called "America's Mermaid", as it appeared that she could stay underwater forever! Following the decline of the once lucrative MGM aqua musical, she attempted dramatic roles. The Unguarded Moment (1956), is one example of this new found dramatic confidence. It co-starred George Nader and John Saxon. Also, The Big Show (1961), co-starring Cliff Robertson and Robert Vaughn was another dramatic role. Overall, Esther's acting skills were limited and, as a musical star in the audiences eyes, she was unsuccessful. She retired from the movie industry in the 1960s, returning as a star guest in That's Entertainment! III (1994) discussing her appearance in MGM films. She certainly is recognized today for bringing enjoyment, escapism and entertainment on the big screen and has also a highly successful business in swimwear. Occasional television work discussing her contribution to the film industry is a treat for her fans from time to time. Esther Williams died at age 91 in her sleep on June 6, 2013 in her home in Los Angeles, California. - IMDb Mini Biography By: Bobby G Spouse (4) Edward Michael Bell (24 October 1994 - 6 June 2013) ( her death) Fernando Lamas (31 December 1969 - 8 October 1982) ( his death) Ben Gage (25 November 1945 - 20 April 1959) ( divorced) ( 3 children) Dr. Leonard Lee Kovner (27 June 1940 - 19 September 1944) ( divorced) Trade Mark (1) Being an acclaimed swimming champion, her films usually had elaborate dance sequences involving swimming. Trivia (47) Excerpts from her 1999 autobiography in major American magazines revealed that her one-time lover, actor Jeff Chandler, was obsessed about dressing in women's clothing. Williams' revelations about Chandler angered many readers. The book also revealed Williams took LSD under a doctor's supervision, after Cary Grant recommended it. Younger sister of Stanton Williams. In the 1950s, she was known as "America's Mermaid". Filed a lawsuit against MGM for use of some footage in That's Entertainment! (1974). Her movie career played a major role in the promotion of competitive and synchronized swimming, which she is credited with popularizing. In 2003 she co-produced Aquaria, a Las Vegas water spectacle. A mother of three children, two sons and one daughter. Benjamin Stanton "Ben" Gage was born on August 6, 1949. Second son, Kimball was born on October 30, 1950. And only daughter, Susan Tenney "Susie" Gage was born on October 1, 1953. Met fourth and last husband, Edward Michael Bell, at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She lent her name to a brand of swimming pools that are still sold today, Esther Williams Pools. Before her stint in MGM musicals, she had been training as a competitive swimmer, and probably would've participated in the 1940 and/or 1944 Olympics (she would've been 18 and 22 years old respectively) if they hadn't been canceled because of World War II. Her first job was at age eight at a local (Inglewood, CA) neighborhood school's swimming pool counting towels. She and teammate Virginia Hopkins were to take part in the 1940 Olympics, which was canceled due to World War II. Met first husband Leonard Kovner while a student at the University of Southern California. He was a premed student. Received her first screen kiss by Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). Was inducted into the Swimming Pool Hall of Fame in 1967. Second husband was singer/actor Ben Gage, a "Big Band" vocalist who dubbed Victor Mature, George Montgomery, Dana Andrews and Cornel Wilde in various musical films. They had three children. Born in Los Angeles, Esther was the youngest of five children. Her family had come to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City, where her older brother Stanton Williams was "discovered" by actress Marjorie Rambeau and brought to Hollywood for films. Stanton, who was born in Salt Lake City, died suddenly at age 16 when he developed intestinal blockage and his colon burst. Youngest of five children. The others were Stanton, June, Maurine and David. She was offered roles in both The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) by Irwin Allen. She turned down both. In Italy, all her films were dubbed by Dhia Cristiani, except Raw Wind in Eden (1958) where the talented Andreina Pagnani lent her voice to Williams. Grandstepmother of Shayne Lamas and A.J. Lamas. Stepmother of Lorenzo Lamas. Her son Kimball Austin died at age 57 in May 2008. Three stepchildren, from Lamas: Cristina, Alexandra "Alex" and Lorenzo. Her son, Kim, was injured in a motorcycle accident. Both of his legs were shattered and he had to relearn how to walk. She had two grandchildren, Austin and Erin, from her son Ben. She has a grandson, Thomas, from her daughter Susie. Was the national champion in the 100-meter freestyle and was a favorite to make the 1940 Olympic team. Unfortunately, she missed her opportunity due to the outbreak of World War II. An advisor to the International Olympic Committee at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for the new sport of Synchronized Swimming. She was a member of the Unity Church. She was a strong supporter of the Republican party. She appeared with Virginia Mayo at the 1953 Republican Rally and in past presidential elections she endorsed Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine St. on February 8, 1960. Once worked as a stock girl for I. Magnin in Los Angeles. MGM's Louis B. Mayer claims he pursued Esther as an answer to 20th Century-Fox's box-office ice-skating film star Sonja Henie. Esther won her contract after making a screen test with Clark Gable. Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, as a contributor, in 1966. Esther was the youngest of five children. Claiming that her oldest sister, Maurine, was more of a mother to her while growing up, it was Maurine who became her first swimming coach. Esther later stated that her mother, Bula, tried "to get rid of me" while pregnant by purposefully going horseback riding and by once jumping off a chest of drawers. Aquatic filming had its dangers according to Esther. She once broke three neck vertebrae in a dive; suffered several broken eardrums over the years; nearly drowned once when she couldn't find an underwater trapdoor exit; was almost mutilated by an out-of-control outrigger; and was nearly overcome by waves created by a camera boat that came within inches of her water skis while shooting (pregnant) a scene in Cypress Gardens, Florida. Looking back, Esther claimed that the water was her favorite co-star. When she discovered her talent in swimming, she practiced dutifully in the ocean to gather strength and eventually won a spot on the prestigious Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. She started gaining notice after appearing in aquatic revues, occasionally opposite such swimming notables as actor and Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. Upon her death, she was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea in the Pacific Ocean. Stated that her favorite film was Ziegfeld Girl (1941). Miscarried what would have been her first child with second husband Ben Gage in September 1946 at four months pregnant. Her hobbies included cooking, singing, dining, fishing, traveling, spending time with her family, sailing, reading, petting animals, dancing and of course, swimming. Returned to work two months after giving birth to her son Benjamin to begin filming Duchess of Idaho (1950). Was three months pregnant with her son Benjamin when she completed filming Neptune's Daughter (1949). Was four months pregnant with her son Kimball when she completed filming Pagan Love Song (1950). Returned to work four months after giving birth to her son Kimball to begin filming Texas Carnival (1951). Was three months pregnant with her daughter Susan when she completed filming Easy to Love (1953). Returned to work seven months after giving birth to her daughter Susan to begin filming Jupiter's Darling (1955). Personal Quotes (13) I was called America's mermaid, because it appeared that I could stay underwater indefinitely. All they ever did for me at MGM was change my leading man and the water in my pool. No one had ever done a swimming movie before so we just made it up as we went along. I ad-libbed all my own underwater movements. I don't know to this day how I managed to fit into those bathing suits when I was pregnant, but I did. The popular "Andy Hardy" series movies were MGM's tests for its promising stars such as Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Donna Reed. If you didn't make it in those pictures, you were never heard from again. [International Swimming Hall of Fame] If swimming would make his daughter grow up to look like Esther Williams, then father was willing to pay for the lessons. [in 2003] I was just a swimmer who got lucky. MGM made money off me, but they never understood the art form. Not until the fifth picture did I even get a choreographer. When I first started swimming, not many girls participated in the sport. They either didn't want to get their hair wet or wanted to go out on Friday nights instead of going to a meet. But as a result of the popularity of the water ballet, pretty girls began to swim. I've been a lucky lady. I've had three exciting careers. Before films I had the experience of competitive swimming, with the incredible fun of winning. I had a movie career with all the glamour that goes with it. That was ego-fulfilling, but it was like the meringue on the pie. My marriage with [Fernando Lamas--that was the filling, that was the apple in the pie. [on her marriage to Fernando Lamas] A really terrific guy comes along and says, "I wish you'd stay at home and be my wife", and that's the most logical thing in the world for a Latin. And I loved being a Latin wife--you get treated very well. [as a young player to MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, who had scolded her] Mr. Mayer, please don't yell at me. You can make movies, but you can't get to the end of the pool first. So you can't yell at me 'til you can. [about director Busby Berkeley, who set up a dangerous shot for her while filming Easy to Love (1953) at Cypress Gardens, FL] My life was of no importance to him at all. The shot was the thing.

Personal Life

Born Esther Jane Williams August 8, 1921 Inglewood, California, U.S. Died June 6, 2013 (aged 91) Beverly Hills, California, U.S. Resting place Remains scattered into the Pacific Ocean Education Washington High School Alma mater Los Angeles City College Occupation Actress, swimmer, businesswoman Years active 1942–1963 Spouse(s) Leonard Kovner ​ (m. 1940; div. 1944) Ben Gage ​ (m. 1945; div. 1959) Fernando Lamas ​ (m. 1969; died 1982) Edward Bell ​ (m. 1994) Children 3

Military Service

Did Esther serve in the military or did a war or conflict interfere with her life?
Obituary

Average Age

Life Expectancy

Looking for a different Esther Williams?
View other bios of people named Esther Williams
Advertisement
Advertisement
Esther's immediate relatives including parents, siblings, partnerships and children in the Williams family tree.

Esther's Family Tree

Parent
Parent
Esther Jane Williams Esther Jane Williams
Partner
Child
Partner
Child
Sibling

Friends

Friends can be as close as family. Add Esther's family friends, and her friends from childhood through adulthood.

Add bio

Leave a comment to ask questions, share information, or simply to show that you care about Esther.

Cancel

Share Esther's obituary or write your own to preserve her legacy.

Esther Williams died at age 91 in her sleep on June 6, 2013 in her home in Los Angeles, California. - IMDb Mini Biography By: Bobby G Spouse (4) Edward Michael Bell (24 October 1994 - 6 June 2013) ( her death) Fernando Lamas (31 December 1969 - 8 October 1982) ( his death) Ben Gage (25 November 1945 - 20 April 1959) ( divorced) ( 3 children) Dr. Leonard Lee Kovner (27 June 1940 - 19 September 1944) ( divorced) Trade Mark (1) Being an acclaimed swimming champion, her films usually had elaborate dance sequences involving swimming. Trivia (47) Excerpts from her 1999 autobiography in major American magazines revealed that her one-time lover, actor Jeff Chandler, was obsessed about dressing in women's clothing. Williams' revelations about Chandler angered many readers. The book also revealed Williams took LSD under a doctor's supervision, after Cary Grant recommended it. Younger sister of Stanton Williams. In the 1950s, she was known as "America's Mermaid". Filed a lawsuit against MGM for use of some footage in That's Entertainment! (1974). Her movie career played a major role in the promotion of competitive and synchronized swimming, which she is credited with popularizing. In 2003 she co-produced Aquaria, a Las Vegas water spectacle. A mother of three children, two sons and one daughter. Benjamin Stanton "Ben" Gage was born on August 6, 1949. Second son, Kimball was born on October 30, 1950. And only daughter, Susan Tenney "Susie" Gage was born on October 1, 1953. Met fourth and last husband, Edward Michael Bell, at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She lent her name to a brand of swimming pools that are still sold today, Esther Williams Pools. Before her stint in MGM musicals, she had been training as a competitive swimmer, and probably would've participated in the 1940 and/or 1944 Olympics (she would've been 18 and 22 years old respectively) if they hadn't been canceled because of World War II. Her first job was at age eight at a local (Inglewood, CA) neighborhood school's swimming pool counting towels. She and teammate Virginia Hopkins were to take part in the 1940 Olympics, which was canceled due to World War II. Met first husband Leonard Kovner while a student at the University of Southern California. He was a premed student. Received her first screen kiss by Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). Was inducted into the Swimming Pool Hall of Fame in 1967. Second husband was singer/actor Ben Gage, a "Big Band" vocalist who dubbed Victor Mature, George Montgomery, Dana Andrews and Cornel Wilde in various musical films. They had three children. Born in Los Angeles, Esther was the youngest of five children. Her family had come to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City, where her older brother Stanton Williams was "discovered" by actress Marjorie Rambeau and brought to Hollywood for films. Stanton, who was born in Salt Lake City, died suddenly at age 16 when he developed intestinal blockage and his colon burst. Youngest of five children. The others were Stanton, June, Maurine and David. She was offered roles in both The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) by Irwin Allen. She turned down both. In Italy, all her films were dubbed by Dhia Cristiani, except Raw Wind in Eden (1958) where the talented Andreina Pagnani lent her voice to Williams. Grandstepmother of Shayne Lamas and A.J. Lamas. Stepmother of Lorenzo Lamas. Her son Kimball Austin died at age 57 in May 2008. Three stepchildren, from Lamas: Cristina, Alexandra "Alex" and Lorenzo. Her son, Kim, was injured in a motorcycle accident. Both of his legs were shattered and he had to relearn how to walk. She had two grandchildren, Austin and Erin, from her son Ben. She has a grandson, Thomas, from her daughter Susie. Was the national champion in the 100-meter freestyle and was a favorite to make the 1940 Olympic team. Unfortunately, she missed her opportunity due to the outbreak of World War II. An advisor to the International Olympic Committee at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for the new sport of Synchronized Swimming. She was a member of the Unity Church. She was a strong supporter of the Republican party. She appeared with Virginia Mayo at the 1953 Republican Rally and in past presidential elections she endorsed Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine St. on February 8, 1960. Once worked as a stock girl for I. Magnin in Los Angeles. MGM's Louis B. Mayer claims he pursued Esther as an answer to 20th Century-Fox's box-office ice-skating film star Sonja Henie. Esther won her contract after making a screen test with Clark Gable. Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, as a contributor, in 1966. Esther was the youngest of five children. Claiming that her oldest sister, Maurine, was more of a mother to her while growing up, it was Maurine who became her first swimming coach. Esther later stated that her mother, Bula, tried "to get rid of me" while pregnant by purposefully going horseback riding and by once jumping off a chest of drawers. Aquatic filming had its dangers according to Esther. She once broke three neck vertebrae in a dive; suffered several broken eardrums over the years; nearly drowned once when she couldn't find an underwater trapdoor exit; was almost mutilated by an out-of-control outrigger; and was nearly overcome by waves created by a camera boat that came within inches of her water skis while shooting (pregnant) a scene in Cypress Gardens, Florida. Looking back, Esther claimed that the water was her favorite co-star. When she discovered her talent in swimming, she practiced dutifully in the ocean to gather strength and eventually won a spot on the prestigious Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. She started gaining notice after appearing in aquatic revues, occasionally opposite such swimming notables as actor and Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. Upon her death, she was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea in the Pacific Ocean. Stated that her favorite film was Ziegfeld Girl (1941). Miscarried what would have been her first child with second husband Ben Gage in September 1946 at four months pregnant. Her hobbies included cooking, singing, dining, fishing, traveling, spending time with her family, sailing, reading, petting animals, dancing and of course, swimming. Returned to work two months after giving birth to her son Benjamin to begin filming Duchess of Idaho (1950). Was three months pregnant with her son Benjamin when she completed filming Neptune's Daughter (1949). Was four months pregnant with her son Kimball when she completed filming Pagan Love Song (1950). Returned to work four months after giving birth to her son Kimball to begin filming Texas Carnival (1951). Was three months pregnant with her daughter Susan when she completed filming Easy to Love (1953). Returned to work seven months after giving birth to her daughter Susan to begin filming Jupiter's Darling (1955). Personal Quotes (13) I was called America's mermaid, because it appeared that I could stay underwater indefinitely. All they ever did for me at MGM was change my leading man and the water in my pool. No one had ever done a swimming movie before so we just made it up as we went along. I ad-libbed all my own underwater movements. I don't know to this day how I managed to fit into those bathing suits when I was pregnant, but I did. The popular "Andy Hardy" series movies were MGM's tests for its promising stars such as Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Donna Reed. If you didn't make it in those pictures, you were never heard from again. [International Swimming Hall of Fame] If swimming would make his daughter grow up to look like Esther Williams, then father was willing to pay for the lessons. [in 2003] I was just a swimmer who got lucky. MGM made money off me, but they never understood the art form. Not until the fifth picture did I even get a choreographer. When I first started swimming, not many girls participated in the sport. They either didn't want to get their hair wet or wanted to go out on Friday nights instead of going to a meet. But as a result of the popularity of the water ballet, pretty girls began to swim. I've been a lucky lady. I've had three exciting careers. Before films I had the experience of competitive swimming, with the incredible fun of winning. I had a movie career with all the glamour that goes with it. That was ego-fulfilling, but it was like the meringue on the pie. My marriage with [Fernando Lamas--that was the filling, that was the apple in the pie. [on her marriage to Fernando Lamas] A really terrific guy comes along and says, "I wish you'd stay at home and be my wife", and that's the most logical thing in the world for a Latin. And I loved being a Latin wife--you get treated very well. [as a young player to MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, who had scolded her] Mr. Mayer, please don't yell at me. You can make movies, but you can't get to the end of the pool first. So you can't yell at me 'til you can. [about director Busby Berkeley, who set up a dangerous shot for her while filming Easy to Love (1953) at Cypress Gardens, FL] My life was of no importance to him at all. The shot was the thing.
ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM
Advertisement

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Esther's lifetime.

In 1921, in the year that Esther Jane Williams was born, on November 11th, the first burial was held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The body of an unknown soldier - selected by Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger who was highly decorated for valor and received the Distinguished Service Cross in "The Great War" - was brought back from France (World War 1) and placed in the newly completed tomb. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies.

In 1935, she was just 14 years old when on September 8th, Louisiana Senator Huey Long was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss. Weiss was shot and killed immediately by Long's bodyguards - Long died two days later from his injuries. Long had received many death threats previously, as well as threats against his family. He was a powerful and controversial figure in Louisiana politics (and probably gained power through multiple criminal acts). His opponents became frustrated with their attempts to oust him and Dr. Weiss was the son-in-law of one of those opponents. His funeral was attended by 200,000 mourners.

In 1948, by the time she was 27 years old, on January 30th, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi by a member of a Hindu nationalist party who thought that Gandhi was too accommodating to Muslims. The man, Nathuram Godse, shot Gandhi 3 times. He died immediately. The shooter was tried, convicted, and hung in November 1949.

In 1957, when she was 36 years old, on October 4th, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man made earth-orbiting satellite - and triggered the Space Race. Sputnik I was only 23 inches in diameter and had no tracking equipment, only 4 antennas, but it had a big impact.

In 1991, when she was 70 years old, on December 25th, the Soviet Union flag was lowered and replaced by the Russian tricolor flag. It was the end of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as President of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin became President of the Russian Republic.

Other Williams

Other Biographies

Back to Top