Ester Williams: Camera Hog Extraordinaire

Friday, November 30, 2012
Esther Williams was a huge star during the 1950's and unbeknownst to me someone I was about to cross paths with.
There was always a big event taking place in Atlantic City, and the summer of 1958 was no exception. A new movie was to be premiered at the Warren, previously Warner Theater. The Warren was located on the boardwalk, directly behind our lifeguard station at Arkansas Avenue. It was one of the most beautiful theaters in the country.
The name of the movie was Raw Wind in Eden, starring aquatic mega star Esther Williams and Jeff Chandler.
Prior to the premier however, Esther Williams was to perform a publicity stunt, upon her arrival by helicopter, and that was to dive from the copter into the ocean. She would perform this feat during peak hours when huge crowds packed the boardwalk and beaches. You could not buy this kind of publicity. My partner Tommy and I were excited to learn that after her dive she would swim to shore and exit the water right in front of our lifeguard stand.
Then we received word we'd be the crew to row the photographer out, who would take pictures, as she swam to the beach.
Furthermore, seven more guards from our stretch were picked to swim out and be waiting to greet her as she completed her dive. Their mission was to form a flying wedge behind her and escort her to the beach.
On the appointed day the photographer showed up to our stand. We couldn't believe it, the dude was dressed in a full suit of clothes including hat, tie and a very expensive looking movie camera. We almost fell off the stand. We expected to see someone in a bathing suit and were tempted to tell him he wasn't greeting Esther from a yacht.
We shrugged and led him to the boat. When he saw his mode of transportation, he had the good sense to take off his shoes and socks and roll up his pants. It dawned on him that he would have to wade out a little bit to get in the boat. When all was ready and we had him safely ensconced in the stern seat we headed for our destination.
We rowed out to where the seven guards were waiting and joined them in their vigil. The guard at the head of the flying wedge was my irreverent buddy and world class prankster Joe Rush. These guys were about 150 yards from shore and been waiting for a while for Esther Williams, who was late. When we pulled up in the boat Joe yelled to us, "Where the hell is this broad?"
Just about that time we heard the whirring sound of the helicopter blades, which suddenly appeared over the hotel's rooftops. In a matter of seconds it was circling above. We saw Esther appear at the doorway to get ready for her dive. When the photographer saw her he stood up on the stern seat at the same time a big swell rolled underneath us. The dude lurched forward and if were not for Tommy's quick reflexes, he would have deep-sixed himself... and his camera.

Seconds later, Esther executed a perfect dive from the helicopter, emerged and took her place at the head of the guards wedge. We placed the boat right in front of her and rowed toward shore as the group followed. All the time the photographer was shooting film of her.
After we had gone about 75 yards the photographer told us to move to the left of the group to get some pictures from a different angle. As soon as Esther saw this she cut to her right, not wanting to lose her place as the center of attention, and swam right over Joe Rush's back. He looked up surprised and said "Jesus Christ Esther, do you have to be such a camera hog?" Well this cracked Tommy and me up along with the photographer.
When we reached shore there were hundreds of people waiting on the beach to see Esther. She started posing immediately and though we encircled her she never gave us so much as a glance. The Atlantic City Beach Patrol is a world renowned lifesaving force, so we didn't appreciate being snubbed.
It was OK though, none of us went to see her movie.
Ocean Lifeguard: Reflections from a Son of the Beach A look at the famed 128 year old Atlantic City Beach Patrol circa 1967, exciting rescues, beautiful women, heartbreaking romance, unparalleled nite life, beach characters galore and side slitting humor. A memoir that reads like a novel.


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