WASHINGTON, June 7, 2013 — Right now she is probably teaching the angels how to swim. Esther Williams is dead. She left us last Thursday at the great age of 91.
I met her many years ago and am still star struck. Bill Holland, my editor at the Burlington County Times (NJ), scanned the newsroom and found no one else around. I was the new kid. “You’ll do,” he said even before handing me the assignment. A star had come to our neighborhood to promote her swimming pool business.
“How would you like to interview Esther Williams?” Bill asked.
Could this be a joke?
“There is no such person,” I protested instinctively. “She is a movie star.”
Where I came from, movie stars were not people. They were gods. Gods cannot be approached, and some of them were so magnified that their names alone signified a mystique that was strictly and awesomely American…names like Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, and right there with them was Esther Williams!
Esther Williams – goddess of the waters!
Such divinities truly walked among us?
“Yes, there is such a person,” said Bill, laughing, and off I went to the interview, dizzy with anticipation.
Apparently, then, celestial beings did come down once in a while to visit the world of mortals.
But I still thought it had to be a joke. Me? Esther Williams?
But there she was. No longer was she the young darling that swam in all those MGM extravaganzas. But she still radiated.
Oh brother did she radiate!
But I still had a job to do. I was here as a reporter, for gosh sakes.
I had a list of questions, but forget them all. My mind was zapped. I just stared at her.
The manager of the swimming pool operation, a terribly annoying man, hovered over me, afraid of what? Was he worried that I would make a play for her? That would be logical. Was there a chance our eyes would meet, me and Esther Williams, and that the attraction would be so irresistible that, despite everything, we would link up and run off together?
That may have entered my mind, yes. Fernando Lamas – big deal! When you are 21 you want to have every woman.
But there would be no future for me and Esther Williams. I can’t swim.
Finally, I came around and asked some questions – but only pertaining to the swimming pool business. Those had been my orders anyway, plus this tip-off: she was wearing a business suit. No bathing suit. Driving over, I had thought, catching Esther Williams – Esther Williams! – in a bathing suit would be as close as I’d ever get (at that time) to the entertainment divinity that is Hollywood.
There was so much I wanted to know. But I was an absolute tenderfoot. If I asked the wrong question, might she storm off?
Might word get back to Bill Holland, to have him say, “How dare you talk this way to a movie star?”
Anyway, that creepy manager kept breathing down my neck. I did ask her if she was planning to do any more movies. The guy tried to intercept. “I can answer for myself, thank you,” she told him to brush him off. Offering a generous smile, she replied that yes, there will be other movies, and that I would be the first to know.
I have been waiting.
So now she is in heaven. But wasn’t she there all along?
Jack Engelhard, a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist, Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, brings his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior and reaches around the globe.
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