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Easy to Love

Easy to Love(1953)

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teaser Easy to Love (1953)

Shot on location at Florida's beautiful Cypress Gardens, Easy to Love (1953) stars MGM's resident bathing beauty Esther Williams as Julie, an overworked aquatic performer who is in love with her oblivious boss Ray (Van Johnson). When Ray takes Julie on a business trip to New York, however, she meets handsome singer Barry Gordon (Tony Martin) who sweeps her off her feet. As Julie struggles to decide between the two men, she swims, dives and water skis in some of the best Busby Berkeley-designed water stunts ever put on film.

Esther Williams was at the top of her career when she made Easy to Love. Audiences loved her and flocked to her films, despite the fact that one plot was virtually indistinguishable from the next. Comedy, romance and swimming, of course, were all that fans wanted from an Esther Williams movie, and Williams was happy to oblige.

Williams had worked with director Charles Walters and choreographer Busby Berkeley before and was familiar with their production styles. Easy to Love was also the fifth and final film in which she co-starred with frequent on-screen partner Van Johnson. "By this time Van and I were as synchronized as any two swimmers in the pool...We were family," said Williams in her 1999 autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid. "Through the years, I swam with Van, married him, fought with him, and made love to him - all on camera. We knew our lives, our secrets, and our public and private personas, even though off camera we had little or no contact."

Before shooting began on Easy to Love, Esther Williams found herself in a dilemma: she was pregnant. It would be her third child with second husband Ben Gage. While the pregnancy was happy news for her, the timing was tricky as Williams would have to spend the majority of the film in bathing suits. She dreaded telling the film's producer, Joe Pasternak. "When I realized what was happening," she said, "the first person I thought of wasn't Ben, but poor Joe Pasternak. This would be the third picture I did for him when I was pregnant. Under the best of circumstances, making a movie and making a baby are a head-to-head race against time. When you have to consider the bathing suit factor and the daredevil stunts associated with Busby's water extravaganzas, it gets even more difficult. I picked up the phone to make the call, knowing Joe would not be happy to hear what I had to say."

In the end, however, Pasternak and everyone on the production pulled together to make Easy to Love happen before Williams' pregnancy started to show. The shooting schedule was rearranged so that all of the water sequences would be shot first.

Wearing a bathing suit with a rapidly expanding belly wasn't the only thing Williams worried about with her pregnancy during the shoot. She was also concerned about performing some of the dangerous water stunts designed by Busby Berkeley. "Busby was setting me up for yet another series of high-flying athletic feats," said Williams, who was used to Berkeley's daredevil choreography. "He had already rounded up sixty-eight of the greatest water-skiers from all over the world. They were already under contract and rehearsing together so they'd be ready to ski with me, the star. This posed a minor difficulty - I'd never water-skied before in my life."

It was common for MGM to assume that Esther Williams would be an expert in anything relating to water. However, Williams knew that waterskiing would require her to learn an entirely new skill. "...waterskiing really has nothing to do with swimming and demands an entirely different set of muscles and skills," explained Williams in her autobiography. "When you ski, your whole body is tensed and held together by an arched back. You need very strong arms, but those long, smooth muscles and powerful leg kicks you develop as a swimmer aren't much help." The studio promptly got her a waterskiing coach and told her to learn - fast.

While Williams perfected her new waterskiing skills, Busby Berkeley was busy dreaming up a trio of eye-popping water spectacles for the film. Berkeley, whom Williams described as "a showman and a show-off," wasn't capable of thinking small. The outdoor location shooting around Cypress Gardens unleashed his creative furor, especially for the elaborate finale he was planning. "Freed from the confines of the pool," said Williams, "(Busby) went wild in the wide open spaces of Lake Eloise. He had so much more room to work with, and with sixty-eight of the world's greatest water-skiers, plus the girls from the Cypress Gardens water show (the Aqua Maids), he had over a hundred troops to command...He felt like King of the World."

Berkeley relished the challenge. "This was the kind of thing I loved," he said in a later interview. "I had Esther and eighty boy and girl skiers whizzing along on skis carrying big flags. I mapped out an intricate pattern of movements for them through the cypress trees and around huge geysers that shot sixty-foot sprays into the air. I had twelve boy skiers going over twelve-foot-high jumps simultaneously. In one part of the routine I used a hundred girls in a huge swimming pool that I had built in the shape of the state of Florida. I used a helicopter in another part of this sequence, with Esther standing on a trapeze while hanging from the plane, then diving from a height of eighty feet into a V-shaped formation of skiers traveling at thirty-five miles per hour across the lake...I wanted to create the effect that she might land right in the audience."

While Williams did almost everything Berkeley required of her for the extravagant finale, there was one thing she refused to do: perform the eighty foot dive from the trapeze. "Certainly the possibility that I might be injured was never a factor when Buzz was dreaming up his routines; he just assumed I could do anything," said Williams. Fearing for her unborn child as well as her own safety, Williams tried to convince Berkeley to use her friend Helen Crelinkovich, an accomplished platform diver, as a double for the one stunt.

"I hate doubles," argued Berkeley.

"Not as much as I hate miscarriages," Williams responded. "I'll do everything else you ask of me, Buzz - I'll even ski-jump over the orchestra at the end - but not the dive. I want to hang on to this baby."

In the end, Berkeley relented and used Crelinkovich in the finale, and she made a perfect eighty foot dive for the cameras - three times. The finale of Easy to Love was a triumph for Busby Berkeley and considered by many to be one of the crowning achievements of the choreographer's illustrious career.

Easy to Love was easily another hit for Esther Williams and MGM. Audiences loved the spectacular waterskiing sequences and the lush beauty of the authentic Florida scenery.

In addition to the stunning water numbers, co-star Tony Martin performs several charming songs including "Didja Ever," "Look Out, I'm Romantic" and the classic title song written by Cole Porter.

Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Charles Walters
Screenplay: William Roberts; Lszl Vadnay (story and screenplay)
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith
Music: George Stoll, Robert Van Eps (both uncredited)
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Cast: Esther Williams (Julie Hallerton), Van Johnson (Ray Lloyd), Tony Martin (Barry Gordon), John Bromfield (Hank), Edna Skinner (Nancy Parmel), King Donovan (Ben), Paul Bryar (Mr. Barnes), Carroll Baker (Clarice), Ed Oliver (Bandleader).
C-97m. Closed Captioning.

by Andrea Passafiume

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