Thursday, June 6, 2013

Contextually Appropriate

Consider Esther Williams.

American pop culture has a long history of making stars of its athletes.  Usually the athlete is a star in his own right but Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer (intending to compete in the 1940 Olympics, she was compelled to give up that ambition by the advent of World War II) and later a performer in Billy Rose's Aquacade, a music/dancing/swimming revue.  An odd combination, but that's America pre-internet for you.  And from the Aquacade sprang an entire entertainment career.

Where the pin up era featured a great many pretty girls in lingerie or, more often, swimwear, very very few celebrities to be featured in swimwear actually belonged there.  Having pursued swimming as an athletic career and built a fair portion of her entertainment career around her swimming background, Williams in swimwear wasn't so much titillating as it was de rigeur.  Of course she's in a bathing suit, she's Esther Williams.  What else would she wear?  And in future years she would even lend her name to a swimwear fashion line - again, I say: who else's name could you put on swimsuits?

To date I've only seen a couple of Esther Williams' movies.  The first one I cannot recall, it must not have made much impression.  But I sat through most of Fiesta, and was quite surprised by what I found there:

1) Esther was an extremely attractive young lady, and she seemed to have real acting chops.  Certainly she didn't spend the entire movie swimming, there was quite a bit of character development.

2) Ricardo Montalban, the male lead of the film, was as captivating an actor in his youth as he later became as the cordially mysterious Mr. Roarke, or the gleefully megalomaniacal Khan Singh.

Esther died today at the ripe old age of 91, having lived a full life with, as nearly as I can tell, no significant scandals.  We need more celebrities like that.

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