The International Swimming Hall of Fame Gold Medallion Award is
presented each year to a former competitive swimmer for his or her national
or international significant achievements in the field of science, entertainment,
art, business, education, or government. There are no restrictions other than
the recipient must be an outstanding adult whose life has served as an
inspiration for youth.
No other person is asked or talked about more at the International Swimming Hall of Fame
than Esther Williams, the most celebrated swimming, stage and screen star Hollywood has
ever seen. She was a competitive swimmer who used her swimming talent to become one of
Hollywood’s most famous actresses.
Born in Los Angeles, she grew up swimming in playground pools and surfing at local
beaches. In 1939, swimming for the Los Angeles Athletic Club, she became the U.S.
National Champion in the 100m freestyle as well as a member of three LAAC National
Championship relay teams - the medley relays swimming breaststroke, and the freestyle relay. As a favorite for the 1940 U.S.
Olympic Team, World War II intervened, canceling the Games and her hopes for gold and fame.
Esther decided to go pro and switched from breaking records in the pool to breaking
records at the box office. With her stunning good looks and tall, muscular
frame, she was a standout! Legendary showman Billy Rose hired her to star opposite
Johnny Weissmuller in his “San Francisco Aquacade”, a Broadway musical of
swimmers, divers, singing and special effects. MGM executives soon offered her a
screen test paired with Clark Gable. She signed her first contract and debuted
with Mickey Rooney in “Andy Hardy's Double Life”. Audience response was phenomenal
and her movie career soared into high gear.
“Bathing Beauty” with Red Skelton
was Hollywood's first swimming
movie. A special deep pool was built
on the MGM lot complete with lifts,
hidden air hoses and special camera cranes for overhead shots. “No one had ever
done a swimming movie before” she exclaimed, “so we just made it up as we went
along.” Busby Berkley was responsible for the water scenes - the fountains, flames
and smoke, and lots of pretty girls. “Bathing Beauty” was second only to “Gone with
the Wind” as the most successful film of 1944.
In “Million Dollar Mermaid”, Esther played Annette Kellerman who in 1907 was
arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a shocking one-piece swimsuit that revealed
her arms and legs. It was the first film to cost over $1 million dollars. “Dangerous
When Wet”, “Pagan Love Song” and “Easy to Love” were others of her 26 career
films. Her movies inspired
many youngsters to take up
water ballet and popularized
Following her stellar movie
career, she put her name on
the Esther Williams Above
Ground Swimming Pool. Her Esther Williams swim suit collection, sold
in department stores, was designed for the more mature woman. For more
than 18 years, she was America's sweetheart. In 1953, the foreign press
voted her the most popular actress in 50 countries.