Okay folks, this one hurts. I know that people passing is part of the circle of life, and when our favorite stars go, it should really just be a general sadness for them and their families while we enjoy the biography specials and the exposes on E!, but when I read that Esther Williams died today at 91, it kind of hit my like a truck. You see, when I was an adolescent, trying to figure out just what was going on for me in terms of my not being attracted to girls and having a rather powerful crush on one of my male neighbors, I was also watching old movies on the TV. Debbie Reynolds and Judy Garland were favorites; but above them all, standing on perfectly arched feet was Esther Williams.
I’m not quite sure what it was…maybe not so much a single quality, but a combination of things that made her seem at once other worldly and totally human. In my youthful mind, she had the perfect body and face…which is a little ironic, because when I look at her now, she’s built a bit like a boy…clearly, I had formed my likes by this point. She also seemed to have an irrepressible sense of humor. When I watch her films now, I get the sense that frequently they had to do multiple takes because she was always cracking up.
It seemed to me that even though she was stunningly beautiful, she never took herself too seriously. Although, that was different when it came to her swimming. Watching her glide through the water, you could tell that this was a trained athlete, with flawless timing and technique…at least to a non-athletic swimmer like me. She was beauty and strength and humility and glamour. Wow. Watching a woman like this in action gave me incredible respect for the full dimension of feminine culture. In a bizarre way, seeing her was the beginning of me understanding that the other little boys and the terrible way they talked about girls as objects wasn’t right; nor was the way that some of the little girls acted like objects. There was obviously much, much more to being a woman. What a great foundation for getting to know the powerful young women of my teens not to mention the women of my family.
So to Esther and her family, I send a prayer, immense gratitude and a wish that somewhere some little gay boy is watching your old movies, looking at you and thinking, as I did, “if that is what a woman can be, then I will always be in awe of what woman can be.”