Esther Williams

The mermaid of MGM musicals

She cheerfully admitted she couldn't act, dance or sing. So why was Esther Williams, who died on June 6 at 91 in Los Angeles, a major movie star? Because she could swim--as a teen she set a record for the 100-m freestyle--and looked great whether lolloping in a pool or emerging from it in a one-piece bathing suit. Sleek as a seal, with gorgeously toned arms and a lustrous smile, Williams embodied the midcentury California dream for a country weary of war. She was Doris Day, underwater.

Born in Inglewood, Calif., Williams had never acted professionally before she was signed by...

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