When I was a child, I remember seeing photos, magazines, and movies starring the beautiful film star and competitive swimmer, Esther Williams. At the time, I guess somewhere inside my nine-year-old head, I knew she was gorgeous, with long legs and sexy bathing suits, but when you’re a kid, you don’t look at things the way the rest of the world does.
Besides, I was practically a junior Esther Williams, minus the gorgeous, long legs and sexy bathing suit. Born and raised in southern Florida, I spent my youth in water of one form or another. Ocean, pool, creek, river, it didn’t matter, I was there. I also competed in local swim meets until I discovered rock and roll at age twelve. Until that time, my life was spent in one bathing suit or another, practically year-round. In fact, when we go through family albums, most of us knew what year it was by what swimsuit I was wearing.
But back to E.W. What impressed me about our glamorous mermaid wasn’t all the fancy dives and breaststrokes but how she could pop up out of the water with a sparkling smile and eyes wide open.
I mean, how, how, how? Have you ever tried opening your eyes coming out of either chlorine or saltwater, not to mention wearing a smile? I could never do it and man, I have tried. My eyes would sting, get bloodshot, and blink like crazy. I would wind up grimacing and looking more like a character out of a Max Sennett’s comedy rather than a glamorous film star. And forget smiling. Smile and your mouth fills with water. Okay, at the time I was a nine-year-old missing a few teeth, but I still can’t do it, complete choppers and all.
Then there was Esther’s hair. In real life, if you’re wearing a swimming cap, your hair is going to be lying flat against your head, dripping wet. Granted, there are some swim caps that can keep out a certain amount of water, especially if you don’t dunk your head. These are the ones applied with a shoehorn, cause an intense headache, and a bright red line across your forehead. In truth, a swimming cap is merely worn to keep the hair off your face and out of the pool’s water. Anything else is false advertising.
Minus the cap, when you come up out of the water you are going to be temporarily blinded by the hair plastered against your face and over your eyes. At least fifteen seconds will be spent spitting out water, rubbing eyes, and pushing back gobs of sticky, wet hair so you can see again.
Anyone remember our gal pal going through any of that in her movies? Of course not. Putting aside the smile and batting eyelashes, most of the time her hair was beautifully styled atop her head. This was even after she came up from a 20 Thousand Leagues Beneath The Sea dive. Every single hair was magically in place. In fact, it didn’t even look wet!
It was a mystery that started me on my career of sleuthing. I have never found out how she managed to smile so brightly and bat those fake eyelashes -– maybe drugs? But, after years of research, probing, and heartbreaking toil, I happened upon an article revealing the secret of Esther’s impossibly neat and dry coiffeur. Vaseline! Yes, petroleum jelly was the hush-hush ingredient, revealed by a hairdresser who went into the witness protection program.
I don’t think I could have handled this revelation as a kid, so keep the news away from your children. Unless you are asking, who is this Esther Williams? Then all I have to say is, be still my heart; am I really that old?