Esther Williams had an epic life, ending Thursday. She was 91. She took up swimming at age 8, the year her 16-year-old brother died, and eventually said she preferred the company of water over any other actor. As a young woman, before she was discovered by MGM—which built her a huge pool, where she eventually broke her back in a swan dive wearing a heavy golden costume (the very swan dive is in the second video below)—she competed in butterfly when it was considered only a man's stroke. She would have gone to the Olympics if it hadn't been for Hitler. Read her whole obituary, by Aljean Harmetz.
I was a competitive synchronized swimmer for 15 years; I've known of Esther Williams for as long as I can remember. In synchronized swimming, the moves that look the most beautiful are often the easiest to execute. I sometimes wished there weren't all those Esther Williams movies floating around in the public consciousness, which made people think all we did was lie around in pretty shapes and smile and occasionally take a stroke or two. I didn't actually watch an Esther Williams movie until I was no longer competing, and then I loved her. All throughout my own history, coaches would continually have to coax me out from under the water by scolding me over the underwater speakers. It seems like if I could have spent my entire childhood and college years underwater, I would have. From watching Esther Williams movies, I have the feeling she was the same.
Here's some footage, and that trailer for Million Dollar Mermaid.
Sideways-related: There's a new interview on obituary writing with New York Times staff obituarist Margalit Fox, on the Longform podcast. Good stuff.