Contemporary folk music’s prolific singer-songwriter Christine Lavin had a special connection with Esther Williams, the Hollywood swimming star who died yesterday at 91.
Last fall Lavin created a fun little video for a song she wrote about Williams’ 1945 film Thrill Of A Romance.
“It starred not only Esther but Van Johnson, Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, and Lauritz Melchior, a tenor at the Metropolitan Opera, making his film debut,” says Lavin. “There are also subplots involving an adorable Mexican boy named Julio who is afraid of the high dive, a bellhop named Lionel whose dream is to be a professional singer, the head of housekeeping at the hotel who has a crush on the opera singer, a blowhard of a prizefighter. Trust me–it’s a wonderful film filled with swimming, scenery, jazz, and opera!”
Lavin calls Thrill Of A Romance her “go-to film whenever I’m blue.” She says she wondered why it never became popular, and decided it was because of a bad trailer.
“So I made a good one that doesn’t give away the plot!” she says. She even threw in some informative text along with suspense-generating questions including “Will Julio learn to dive form the high board?” and “Will the opera singer lose 100 pounds?” and of course, “Will Van Johnson learn to swim?”
Lavin even referenced the King Sisters, who sing in the movie, as “these four vintage Bitchin’ Babes,” playing off her own beloved Bitchin’ Babes quartet of the 1990s.
“Esther loved the trailer, and back on Nov. 31 I got an email saying they were posting it on her bathing suit company’s Facebook page and website!” continues Lavin. “Then on Christmas Day, I started writing a gun/Hollywood song—‘Cary Grant, Esther Williams, Angelina Jolie & The Romance Of The Gun.’ When I asked Esther if it was okay that she was part of this song, she wrote back, on Dec. 27: ‘We believe this song HAD TO BE WRITTEN! AND MUST BE HEARD!’ Her caps.”
Lavin’s song and accompanying video show how fans of media heroes emulate their role models—for good and bad.
“Thank you, Esther, for using your fame to promote good, both in the water and on dry land,” says Lavin. “In February I was out in L.A. and tried to meet with her, but she declined. I was told she wasn’t feeling well. The rumor mill had it that she was dying, and I guess they were right.”
“She was a peach,” Lavin concludes. “There were lots of glowing comments at the New York Times site after her obit. A few years ago the cover of Vanity Fair was the Desperate Housewives cast wearing Esther Williams-inspired bathing suits. So to this day she is still an influence.”
[The Examiner is cited on Page 362 of Christine Lavin’s Cold Pizza For Breakfast: A Mem-wha??]
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