An octopus (Fernando Lamas) who has read to many hentai attempts to get grabby with Esther Williams.
Just when I’m supposed to be watching Ozu, Lang, Borowczyk and probably a few other great auteurs, we get fixated on Esther Williams. This was partly because during our somewhat traumatic Christmas “break” (or maybe “breakdown” would be more apt) we needed something lightweight and distracting, which isn’t really the right category in which to place TOKYO STORY, M or THE STORY OF SIN. And then we both started reading Williams’ autobio, Million Dollar Mermaid, and got so we pretty much wanted to see her whole bizarre oeuvre.
This is a tell-all-and-then-some memoir. Here are some highlights — but which of them are actually taken from the book and which did I make up?
Williams’ co-star and lover Victor Mature suffered from — or perhaps enjoyed — the mystery condition “pica” which caused him to eat non-food materials. He would burst into Esther’s dressing room, grab a piece of cardboard, say, then spread jam on it and eat it.
Victor also suffered from — or perhaps enjoyed — a condition whereby his extremities would swell up if he became overexcited. Thus he was able to play the golfing colossus Big Victor in the Monkees’ film HEAD without the aid of special effects.
Cary Grant helped Esther take LSD under controlled conditions, after which, standing naked before a mirror, she hallucinated a vision of herself as a hermaphrodite. The new body parts were “sensible to touch as well as vision,” leading to a scene anticipating Martine Beswick’s famed mirror encounter in DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.
Preparing to swing from the studio ceiling in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, Esther clung so tightly to the trapeze she broke a toe. And Busby Berkeley hadn’t told her he was going to release red and yellow smoke which made it impossible to see the pool she was supposed to dive into. “You’ve already seen it, you know where it is!” he yelled.
Another dive on the same film resulted in Esther breaking three vertebrae when the aluminium crown she was wearing hit the water and forced her head back. She had to tread water with a broken neck, and the director had just yelled “OK, great, everybody go to lunch!”
Most of Esther’s co-stars couldn’t swim for shit. Van Johnson had to be held up by Esther.
But Fernando Lamas was a champion swimmer as well as a bit of a playboy. “They tell me you can swim,” said Esther. “My dear, I used to be the fifth fastest man in the world!” “I know all about that, but what about your swimming?”
When Esther had the dressing room next to Lana Turner’s, she used to listen to the neighbouring sexual gymnastics with a glass held against the wall.
Lamas was a master of kickboxing — savate — who once forced Jim Brown to back down from a fight by lashing a foot out and missing his face by an inch. “You could have broken my jaw!” “I chose not to.”
Lamas explained that he gave the false impression of being spectacularly well-hung because he was “hung very high,” his genitals being situated further up his body than normal.
When performing at a Vegas casino with a colour bar, Esther got one over on the management by inviting her children’s nanny and her boyfriend, who were both black, to attend disguised as Indian royalty.