Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sydney Powerhouse Museum Collects Esther Williams Cozzie

The Sydney Powerhouse Museum has acquired an Esther Williams swimming costume for its collection.

For those who don't know who she is, Esther Williams was an MGM movie star in the 1940s and 50s, and the closest thing to an onscreen and real life mermaid you could get. In fact, Clark Gable was the first film actor to famously call her a mermaid.

Esther Williams was a champion swimmer who qualified for the summer Olympics, which unfortunately were cancelled because of the outbreak of World War II. She went on to feature in countless magical Hollywood musicals and romantic comedies. She was most famous for her underwater ballets in a movie genre that was developed just for her – "swimming movies". These included Bathing Beauty, Neptune's Daughter, Dangerous When Wet (which featured her swimming with Tom and Jerry, Jupiter's Darling and many more.

The swimming costume in question was:
A one piece woman's swimsuit designed by Helen Rose and made of coral satin finish (silk). The bodice has a princess line neck with Zigzag pattern extending over the bust. The suit is panelled to be tight fitting and has a short skirt made of diamond shaped panels. A sewn-in fabric label has the handwritten words '1567 EDITH MOTRIDGE'. The number refers to Million Dollar Mermaid being MGM's production number 1567. Edith Motridge worked for MGM as Williams' swimming double. She was a member of the US swimming team at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games. It is likely that Williams would have worn an identical costume rather than this one.
Million Dollar Mermaid was a biopic about Australia's turn of the 19th century vaudeville swim star and actor – Annette Kellerman – who is thought to have revolutionised the sport and art of synchronised swimming. She also scandalised the establishment and was arrested in the USA for daring to wear a one piece swimming costume to the beach. 

Kellerman lived a fantastic life. Here is an excerpt from her Wikipedia page:
In 1916, Kellerman became the first major actress to do a nude scene when she appeared fully nude in A Daughter of the Gods. Made by Fox Film CorporationDaughter of the Gods was the first million-dollar film production. Like many of Kellerman's other films, this is now considered a lost film as no copies are known to exist.The majority of Kellerman's films had themes of aquatic adventure. She performed her own stunts including diving from ninety-two feet into the sea and sixty feet into a pool of crocodiles. Many times she would play mermaids named Annette or variations of her own name. Her "fairy tale films", as she called them, started with The Mermaid (1911), in which she was the first actress to wear a swimmable mermaid costume on film, paving the way for future screen sirens such as Glynis Johns (Miranda), Esther Williams and Daryl Hannah (Splash). She designed her own mermaid swimming costumes and sometimes made them herself. Similar designs are still used by The Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaids, including her aquatic fairy costume first introduced in Queen of the Sea (1918).
You can read more about the swimming costume on the Sydney Powerhouse Museum website.

Here is montage of Esther Williams' movies from That's Entertainment. See if you can spot the swimming costume in question in one of the later sequences.

Sadly, Esther Williams died earlier this year. If you want to read more about her, go to her Esther Williams website or to Wikipedia.

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