- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 14, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684852845
- ISBN-13: 978-0684852843
- Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 145 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography Hardcover – September 14, 1999
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Her big movies are hard to find these days, and her name doesn't evoke the fan recognition awarded fellow MGM grads Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, yet for more than a decade during Hollywood's age d'or Esther Williams was one of the studio's most bankable leading ladies. An American beauty and swimming champ, she was hired at MGM in 1941 at age 18, and from then on starred in two or three thinly plotted "swimming musicals" a year--movies with titles like Neptune's Daughter, Million Dollar Mermaid, Easy to Love, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Her inevitable role was the pinup you could pin up at home, and it seems to have reflected her offstage personality too. Her long (400 pages) memoir is not always a miracle of narrative, but it includes a wealth of juicy gossip: Louis B. Mayer's rolling-on-the-floor tantrums; Gene Kelly's verbal cruelty on the set of Take Me Out to the Ball Game; her three failed marriages, including a long, draining one to Fernando Lamas; Lana Turner's name for Mayer ("Daddy"); Johnny Weismuller's backstage pursuit of her (naked); her own heat for Victor Mature ("unleashed"); and the LSD she tried in 1959 on Cary Grant's recommendation. Like so many other as-told-to books, the memories often feel self-serving, and there are plywood sentences even Lana Turner would choke on delivering. Disappointingly, Williams rarely shares what went on behind her lowered eyes and those buoyant cheekbones. --Lyall Bush
From Publishers Weekly
MGM swim-femme Williams delighted millions in choreographed aqua-movie-musicals during the 1940s and '50s: her unbuttoned autobiography examines both her splashy, sunny public image and the murky waters of her private life. Williams and Diehl (Tales from the Crypt) backstroke through a flood of memories, giving a fluid treatment to "hundreds of hours of conversations that are the basis for this book." Williams opens by describing the LSD trip she took in 1959 (Cary Grant helped her score the acid), then dives into her traumatic early life: a brother died at 16, and a boy the same age raped the young Williams repeatedly. Competing in swim meets at 15, Williams became a national champion in 1939, costarred in Billy Rose's Aquacade with the drunken, exhibitionistic Johnny Weissmuller and signed with MGM in 1944. Williams's movie years constitute the colorful core of the book, displaying life inside a major studio during Hollywood's Golden Age and showing screen legends with their pants downAsometimes literally. Williams had to deal with disastrous marriages, manipulative moguls and life-threatening water stunts. Her sparkling anecdotes alternate the scandalous, the charming and the ridiculous. When, during the rain-drenched filming of Pagan Love Song, Williams cables from Kauai to tell her studio head she's pregnant, the announcement reaches all the ham radio operators in California. Later chapters cover Williams's work for TV, her swimsuit licensing and her years with jet-setting, tyrannical third husband Fernando Lamas. Williams speaks of her own "zest for life"; she and collaborator Diehl demonstrate it many times over in this tremendously entertaining life story. First serial to Vanity Fair. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Although she is able to control her career and resist being sexually used by studio bosses and co-stars who don't appeal to her, she turns around and tolerates the most horrible of husbands for years and years. One, who routinely embarrasses her, spends all her money and leaves her in debt, another, the famous Fernando Lamas, makes her literally a slave for 22 years. Yet she was loyal to a decision she made to make up to him for the early loss of his mother. What's going on here?
The combination of early sexual abuse and having to be the family breadwinner made Esther demand perfection of herself in everything she did, from swimming to movies to being a wife. And sometimes the requirement of perfection becomes irrational, and yet she doesn't perceive it. It is most obvious when she talks about neglecting her children because Fernando doesn't want children -- hers or his -- around. Some of the reviewers here blast her for this, but they forget that all during their lives, they were essentially raised by a nanny. Esther's idea of motherhood was dropping in from time to time, or controlling things from a distance, and she continued to do this, farming the kids out with relatives, when she was with Fernando.
At no point during this book does Esther turn on herself and see any flaws or faults, which is consistent with the denial one goes into after a horrific childhood. She strove for perfection, achieved it in many areas, and is quite content. At this point, she might as well -- if she is still alive at this writing -- continue on with the illusion. No point in undergoing any psychiatric treatment when you've managed this far. I know of people in my own life who are trying to be "perfect" to compensate for some messed up stuff when they were younger and who are in extraordinary denial about reality, so it was interesting to see another example of it here.
As many reviewers have commented, the book does seem very arrogant and then wildly perplexing when you get to the whole Fernando bondage years, but it's a textbook psycho case.
After seeing her do a long interview on Turner Classic Movies and hinting at some of the wilder sexual escapades in this book -- and she does dish the dirt on how wild men can be about their packages -- I was intrigued and able to buy it for a penny on Amazon.com, so it was well worth it.