She was known for Technicolor aquatic musicals, in which she emerged from lavishly adorned swimming pools on underwater hydraulic lifts nary a drop of running mascara, her hairdo marvelously intact. Over the years Esther Williams's watery movies have become kitsch classics. But as her entertaining autobiography reveals, there was more to the career and the personal life than water. At a time when women were not known for athletic ability, Williams was the U.S. 100-meter freestyle champ hoping for a chance at the Olympics when she was recruited by showman Billy Rose to appear in his Aquacade at the San Francisco Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1939. Later, when wartime ended her Olympic hopes, she worked as a stock girl and sometime model. But she was also wooed by MGM, which wanted to launch a series of swimming pictures that would rival 20th Century-Fox's ice-skating odes to Sonja Henie.
In titles like Neptune's Daughter and Dangerous When Wet, Williams displayed athleticism, beauty, and accessibility. Along with behind-the-scenes tales (Gene Kelly was a creep to work with; Van Johnson a sweetheart), she dishes about the studio's unforgettable stars Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, and Bette Davis. She also recounts her own dalliances, which included romances with actors Victor Mature and Jeff Chandler. She recounts that Chandler, known for his rugged Westerns, surprised her with the revelation that he was a secret cross-dresser. Along with flouncy chiffon dresses, he owned lots of polka-dotted attire. Therefore Williams left him with a fashion tip: Jeff, you're too big for polka dots. Pat H. Broeske is a biographer of Howard Hughes and Elvis Presley.