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Esther Williams; My Idol

My husband tells me that the tea green non-slip mat I bought for the capacious bathtub in our new 1940’s apartment reminds him of 1940’s Esther Williams movies. She was my idol when I was a kid because I loved to swim and create water ballets à la Esther Williams and her collaborator, Busby Berkeley. Busby was not a swimmer so Esther visualized and scripted most of her water ballets. Films such as "Easy to Wed," "Neptune’s Daughter," and "Dangerous When Wet" followed a formula: romance, music, comedy, a skeletal plot and, most importantly, Esther in the water. The publicity men at the studio dreamed up those hot titles.

In my Esther Williams look-alike, be-alike days, I was always the choreographer—legs in the air, arms outstretched to create a flower, dips and twirls, handstands, water up the nose. And because I was the boss and the eldest, I insisted that my team—my cousin, Peggy, my friends—nag their mothers for Esther Williams swim caps, heavy with faux rubber flowers in pastel shades, and sexy swimsuits designed especially for pre-pubescent girls à la Esther Williams. They were expensive and baby-sitting money had to be saved.

And then one day, miracle of miracles, my step-dad took me to see the Aquacade starring my very own personal Aqua Star, Esther Williams. It was in a outdoor stadium somewhere on Long Island and it took hours to get there. And though we were sitting very far away and I could hardly see anything at all except the water, and Esther Williams was very old and might not even have been in the show anymore, I was completely happy. Swimmers were dames who looked sexy and strong all the time even when wet (or especially when wet), and they were imaginative and innovative because they wrote their own scripts to their synchronized swimming routines. However improbable, the scripts were original and a bit wacky, and so was I.

Esther Williams was a disciplined athlete who worked every day at her craft. She was scheduled to swim in the 1940 Olympic games in Tokyo until the war intervened. Seamlessly, like flipping in the lane, she segued to movies, a modelling career and business. She married—more than once—and had three children. And she kept on swimming. Though she died in 2013, the line of Esther Williams swimwear still exists, as does her website. I’m still a fan of her movies and she is still an inspiration: a free-spirited, hard-working, creative woman. My cousin Peggy and I still swim laps together. Peggy became an artist and I became a writer, but our first artistry—with an audience in mind—was in the water.

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