Esther Williams, Disguised Opportunity

Chuck Warner, the author and coach, is an old friend. Thoughtful and passionate about the sport, he has studied the details behind what it takes to achieve swimming excellence.


Esther Williams became one of the most famous swimmers in history without ever participating in an Olympic Games, because she found opportunities that were disguised in many obstacles that she confronted.

Esther’s parents, Louis and Bula, settled for a time in the 1920s in Salt Lake City, because they became broke on the move of their young family to California. When she was born she lived in their living room for a time, because as the fifth child in a small house they ran out of space in the bedrooms for her to sleep.

As a young girl, Esther landed a job at the Manhattan Beach local pool counting towels. Her work earned enough for her to pay the 5-cent admission to the local pool and the lifeguards taught her how to swim all the competitive strokes.

By the time Esther was 16 years old, she was a three time national champion in freestyle and breaststroke and seemed like a lock for a spot on the 1940 USA Olympic Team. Perhaps the fame that could come with being an Olympian would place her on a path in life that would help her earn a good living?

But the 1940 Olympics were cancelled because of the outbreak of World War II. About the same time Esther lost an opportunity to attend USC when she received a D in a high school algebra class. In order to pay for tuition at LA City College she took a job as a stock girl at the I. Magnin department store.

Suddenly Esther’s goals of the Olympics had disappeared and she was stocking shelves in a department store. But she did a little modeling for I. Magnin and one day an assistant director for Billy Rose’s travelling Aquacade Show contacted her to see if she would temporarily fill in for their star, former swimming great, Eleanor Holm. She readily accepted.

MGM studios spotted her in the show and approached her about making movies for them. She asked for two things: 1) A pass to the Beverly Hills Hotel pool so she could swim everyday and 2) A nine month period to train to become an actor, singer and dancer.

Esther Williams, swimming film star

Esther Williams, swimming film star

In her words, “If it took nine months for a baby to be born, I figured my ‘birth’ from Esther Williams the swimmer to Esther Williams the movie actress would not be much different.”

Esther William’s preparation and swimming background paid off handsomely. Over the next 20 years she made over 30 movies, many of them featuring her swimming skills and became one of the most successful actors of her day.

The sport of swimming is like life with opportunities frequently disguised. When you become disappointed with your present plight consider Esther Williams life and:

  • With a little more time an opportunity may open that you never imagined.
  • Swimming, like life, is a blue-collar experience. Work, works. Keep applying yourself.
  • Swimming has many choices of events and distances. Be open to success in new ones.

In the early 1960s Esther Williams married actor Fernando Lamas and conceded to his request to give up acting for a more stable family life. But another opportunity arose. She initiated a successful line of swimwear and then helped with the development of a swimming pool company.

On June 6th of 2013, Esther Williams moved on from life as we know it here on earth. Her legacy lives on through her movies that, in honor of her passing, are now showing regularly on television. We can all be indebted to her promotion of the beauty of swimming and thankful that she forged ahead with her life when she struggled in her competitive swimming career.

andthentheywon9 - CopyFor more information or to order Chuck Warner’s books Four Champions, One Gold Medal or …And Then They Won Gold, go (access Books * Media) or the American Swimming Coaches Association. You can follow Chuck Warner on [email protected]

Follow Chuck Warner on Twitter here. 


Leave a Reply

1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted
jean Michel

Thank you very much for this non ordinary path story to be inspired from .It was very interesting to read .

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!