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America's mermaid Esther Williams made her big splash on the cinematic scene with Bathing Beauty (1944), opposite comedian Red Skelton. Combining an escapist plot, lively tunes and, of course, extravagant water sequences, the aqua musical cleaned up at the box office and made Williams a fan favorite.
Originally a vehicle for Skelton called Mr. Co-ed, Bathing Beauty was tailored to promote Williams and her unique water talents. She plays a swimming teacher at an all-girls' school, where Skelton's enamored songwriter enrolls to be near his lady love.
But the plot takes a back seat to the dazzling underwater dance numbers and the memorable water spectacle conclusion. Surrounded by a flood of water maidens, Williams glides through a pool with fountains gushing high and torches of fire burning to a glorious Technicolor end. The sequence was produced by John Murray Anderson, the choreographer for the famous Billy Rose Aquacade in San Francisco where Williams had once worked.
Giving added zest to the movie, Harry James and his orchestra along with America's "Rumba King" Xavier Cugat swing with tunes such as "Bim, Bam, Boom" and "Hora Staccato."
Bathing Beauty was Williams' third film, but first all-out swimming vehicle and was among her favorites. "Bathing Beauty has to be top on my list," Williams has said. But, she conceded, "They were all fun." The film launched her Hollywood career, or as Variety said in its review of the movie in 1944, she was "pulled to stardom by her swim-suit straps."
Out of the water, Bathing Beauty showcases one of Skelton's funniest screen moments in which he attends a girls' ballet class dressed in a fluffy pink tutu. The scene was so popular, it was re-used as a flashback sequence in The Clown (1953), one of his films made almost ten years later.
Skelton got his start in vaudeville and burlesque while in his teens before entering the movie business in the 1940s. Called one of the most likeable comedians of all time, Skelton later achieved even greater stardom when his self-titled TV show debuted in 1951 and ran for two decades.
While Skelton dove into show business whole-heartedly, getting Williams to the big screen was not an easy task. The former swimming champ and Olympic hopeful turned down initial offers when Hollywood came calling, instead focusing on her work at the Billy Rose Aquacade and later, turning her attention to married life. But after about a year, MGM's persistence paid off, and she signed with them in 1941, providing the studio a star for their "aqua musicals."
Despite their different approaches to the entertainment industry, the chemistry between Skelton and Williams worked well, and they later teamed up for Neptune's Daughter in 1949 and 1951's Texas Carnival.
Williams spent the next decade after Bathing Beauty becoming one of the biggest box office draws with the help of movies such as Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), and Jupiter's Darling (1955).
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: George Sidney
Screenplay: Kenneth Earl, M.M. Musselman, Curtis Kenyon, Joseph Schrank, Dorothy Kingsley, Allen Boretz, Frank Waldman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Film Editing: Blanche Sewell
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Stephen Goosson, Merrill Pye
Music: Johnny Green
Cast: Red Skelton (Steve Elliot), Esther Williams (Caroline Brooks), Basil Rathbone (George Adams), Bill Goodwin (Professor Willi Evans), Jean Porter (Jean Allenwood), Nana Bryant (Dean Clinton).
C-102m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox