Oral History: For Esther Williams, It's No Business, No Show

by Jack Tewksbury March 6, 2019
Esther Williams and June Allison

Esther Williams (left) and June Allison at the 16th Golden Globes, 1960.

hfpa archives

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items- is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

In this excerpt from our archives, Esther Wiliams, the siren of Hollywood's golden age, recalls her fight to get paid for MGM's hit musical anthology That's Entertainment (1974-1994).

“They told me at MGM I have a mouth so big I could gargle with the Atlantic Ocean. That’s because I was the star of aquatic spectaculars. So listen to what I have to say. On the first That's Entertainment movie MGM did, Jack Hayley Jr. phoned me to narrate a segment and I asked him who else was doing it. He said Crosby, Astaire, Sinatra, Jimmy  Stewart. I asked, ‘What are you paying them?’  and he said, ‘Nothing.’

I don't know what it is about actors. They love to have their picture taken. No matter no money. When they completed That's  Entertainment, I saw it and the movie was wonderful. In fact, they built the (hotel) MGM Grand with the money the movie made.

I called my lawyer and asked him, ‘Can they do this, can they take our work and use  it?’ and he said, ‘Did you ever read the stock contract that SAG president Ronald Reagan approved? Do you know what you signed? MGM owns everything you ever did. If ever you want to pursue it, you have a class action suit because all the studios had the same contract, so it was anti-trust. You've got a hell of a lawsuit. Would you take this  on?’ I said, ‘Unfortunately, there is no way you can get enough actors in this town to join us because they're all hoping that somebody will offer them a job again. They don't want to make anybody mad. That’s the way actors are. No way they will  ever change.’”