The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography

The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography

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by Esther Williams

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During Hollywood's heyday, big studios battled over the next box-office attraction. While Gene Kelly danced and Judy Garland sang, Esther Williams swam into the heart of America with her dazzling smile, stunning aquabatics, and whole-some appeal. Hand-picked for stardom by movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, Esther shed her wide-eyed innocence at what she affectionately

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During Hollywood's heyday, big studios battled over the next box-office attraction. While Gene Kelly danced and Judy Garland sang, Esther Williams swam into the heart of America with her dazzling smile, stunning aquabatics, and whole-some appeal. Hand-picked for stardom by movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, Esther shed her wide-eyed innocence at what she affectionately calls University MGM, a unique educational institution where sex appeal and glamour were taught, a school where idols were born. Once a national swimming champion and struggling salesgirl, overnight she became one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. And though fame came quickly, Esther's personal life was often less than joyous. Through troubled marriages, cross-dressing lovers, financial bankruptcy, she shares the ups and downs of her extraordinary career in The Million Dollar Mermaid, a wildly entertaining behind-the-scenes account of one of Tinseltown's classic dream factories.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Forthright and affably ribald.-Entertainment Weekly
"Her sparkling anecdotes alternate the scandalous, the charming and the ridiculous....Tremendously entertaining life story."-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Williams is capable and down-to-earth, but the movie star has just enough ego-and the requisite bad taste in men-to make her story interesting."-Chicago Tribune
"Williams, always sassy, proves herself to be a daring memoirist."-Time "One of the most engaging and involving movie-star bios ever; her Million Dollar Mermaid is really something special."-Liz Smith, The New York Post
Robert Gottlieb
...fresh and convincing...Williams tells it honestly...This [is an] interesting and engaging account of her life, and of the Hollywood she knew.
NY Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
MGM swim-femme Williams delighted millions in choreographed aqua-movie-musicals during the 1940s and '50s: her unbuttoned autobiography examines both her splashy, sunny public image and the murky waters of her private life. Williams and Diehl (Tales from the Crypt) backstroke through a flood of memories, giving a fluid treatment to "hundreds of hours of conversations that are the basis for this book." Williams opens by describing the LSD trip she took in 1959 (Cary Grant helped her score the acid), then dives into her traumatic early life: a brother died at 16, and a boy the same age raped the young Williams repeatedly. Competing in swim meets at 15, Williams became a national champion in 1939, costarred in Billy Rose's Aquacade with the drunken, exhibitionistic Johnny Weissmuller and signed with MGM in 1944. Williams's movie years constitute the colorful core of the book, displaying life inside a major studio during Hollywood's Golden Age and showing screen legends with their pants down--sometimes literally. Williams had to deal with disastrous marriages, manipulative moguls and life-threatening water stunts. Her sparkling anecdotes alternate the scandalous, the charming and the ridiculous. When, during the rain-drenched filming of Pagan Love Song, Williams cables from Kauai to tell her studio head she's pregnant, the announcement reaches all the ham radio operators in California. Later chapters cover Williams's work for TV, her swimsuit licensing and her years with jet-setting, tyrannical third husband Fernando Lamas. Williams speaks of her own "zest for life"; she and collaborator Diehl demonstrate it many times over in this tremendously entertaining life story. First serial to Vanity Fair. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A national champion swimmer at 16, the statuesque (5'8") Williams reluctantly parlayed her talent into a lucrative MGM contract during World War II. She swam through a few small rolls (A Guy Named Joe, Andy Hardy's Double Life) and by 1948 was a full-fledged Hollywood star. In this rich memoir, Williams candidly looks back on her eventful life, from her amateur swimming days in the 1930s through her trademark aquatic musical spectaculars. Along the way, she gives readers glimpses of some of Hollywood's nuttiest celebrities, including studio chief Louis Mayer (who once writhed on the rug to make a point). She also tells stories about the likes of Howard Hughes, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, and Victor Mature and frankly reveals some surprising details from her life--including a sexual assault at age 13, LSD therapy, and catering to third husband Fernando Lamas's every wish (in exchange for fidelity). Williams describes Hollywood's golden age thoughtfully and humorously; to echo Billy Crystal's affectionate parody of Lamas, this book is "mahvelous." Recommended for all public libraries, especially those with large film collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/99.]--Kim R. Holston, American Inst. for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, Malvern, PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Time Magazine
It's hard to think of a better way to spend a summer Saturday than lounging with America's only swimming-star actress, Esther Williams, preferably at poolside. With the help of Digby Diehl, Williams writes so engagingely you can practically hear her voice, telling caustic but affectionate tales of Hollywood at midcentury...Williams had her share of traumas, including painful family conflicts and a disasterous financial breakdown. But there isn't a trace of self-pity here. Her book, like her movies, make no claim to be high art; but its charm and candor are irresponsible. And the photos almost make you nostalgic for those armored bathng suits of yore.
Robert Ellsworth
�Williams gives us not only a warts-and-all account of her life, but a vivid depiction of Hollywood's golden age. She tells her story with candor and dignity. It's a rich and sensitive autobiography you won't want to put down.
Kirkus Reviews
Film star Williams reveals all, including how every hair and eyelash remained in place during the spectacular water ballets that were the core of most of her movies. The 1940�50 Williams's films, like Neptune's Daughter, Thrill of a Romance, and Million Dollar Mermaid, are featured on cable television's movie channels, so a younger generation of viewers is familiar with the signature splashing fountains, corps de bathing beauty, and spectacular Esther Williams smile. Here's a description of how those effects were achieved (oil and Vaseline for the hair; the smile was her own), as well as tales about the star's four marriages, several affairs, three children, and coming of age as a contract player in the MGM "finishing school," along with Lana Turner, Katharine Hepburn, June Allyson, and Judy Garland. The Esther Williams films, as bland and predictable as the plots were, were big moneymakers. Only 18 years old when she signed with MGM, she had already been in the Olympics, where she swam fast, and a star of Billy Rose's Aquacade, where she swam "pretty." Straightforward and unpretentious, she understood that it was the wet Williams that drew people to her films. She developed increasingly complicated routines (precursors of synchronized swimming) and did her own sometimes dangerous stunts—she once broke three neck vertebrae in a diving sequence. As her career tapered off in the mid-'50s, she found that her second husband had lost or gambled away virtually all the money she'd earned in the water. Unhappy and confused, she took LSD (overseen by a doctor); it was like "instant psychoanalysis" and enabled her next marriage, to actor Fernando Lamas, although uneven, to last for 22 yearsuntil his death. Now happily married to husband number four, she heads a bathing suit firm. With the help of L.A. media critic Diehl, this is written with humor and a sense of proportion that leaven the usual movie star bio. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

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