Perhaps she wasn’t “America’s Sweetheart” — Mary Pickford seemed to own that title — but she certainly was “America’s Mermaid,” as Hollywood defined her.
A California girl, a talented young swimmer, Esther Williams was embraced by MGM as a prototypically wholesome sort who looked terrific in a bathing suit. Her career wasn’t extensive — covering a bit more than 30 movie and tv credits — but her imprint on moviegoers was long lived.
If there was a swimming pool at MGM there you’d likely find clean-cut, athletic Esther starring in yet another watery extravaganza during the Forties and Fifties.
Often ignored was Williams’ intelligence — she became a successful businesswoman after her departure from movies — sparked by a refreshing candor about herself and her Hollywood cohorts. Just check out her extraordinarily frank 1999 autobiography (written with Digby Diehl),The Million Dollar Mermaid, upon which this quiz is based.
By the time died last year at age 91, Williams was a woman of various accomplishment, the wife of four successive husbands at least one of whom is famous. How much do you recall about her? Please try our quiz and find out (answers tomorrow).
1) Question: Despite her goody-two-shoes screen image, Williams resorted to taking drugs during her movie career. a) True; or b) False.
2) Question: Which one of Esther’s four husbands was described by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer as “an idiot, a moron, an asshole?” a) Ben Gage; b) Leonard Kovner; c) Fernando Lamas; or d) Edward Bell.
3) Question: Which of her aquatic pictures established Williams as potentially a marquee star? a) Andy Hardy’s Double Life; b) Neptune’s Daughter; c) Dangerous When Wet; or d) Bathing Beauty.
4) Question: Who once quipped about Esther that “wet, she’s a star, dry she ain’t.” a) Lillian Hellman; b) Fanny Brice; c) Mae West; or d) Dorothy Parker.
5) Question: Which one of Esther’s famous lovers turned out to be a cross dresser? a) Victor Mature; b) Jeff Chandler; c) Mickey Rooney; or d) Johnny Weissmuller (pictured below).
6) Question: During one of her swimming pictures Williams suffered a nasty accident, specifically breaking her back. Which one? a) Million Dollar Mermaid; b) Pagan Love Song; c) Raw Wind in Eden; or d) Ziegfeld Follies.
7) Question: Which one of these older actors was slapped onscreen by a young Esther so hard that one side of his face caved in? a) Clark Gable; b) George Raft; c) William Powell; or d) Humphrey Bogart.
8) Question: Which one of the following did Esther find to be a hypocrite, nice in public but hell in private? a) Frank Sinatra; b) Red Skelton; c) Gene Kelly; or d) Van Johnson.
9) Question: Which one of MGM’s biggest stars coined the “mermaid” reference to Williams? a) Mickey Rooney; b) Walter Pigeon; c) Clark Gable; or d) Lana Turner.
10) Question: One of Williams’ husbands financially cleaned her out? Which one (see question No. 2)?