The death of actress Esther Williams in June may cause modern viewers who stumble across the films of Esther and Sonya Henie on a movie channel to wonder how these two women became stars. Sonja paired a winning smile with a winning style on ice skates into a career that lifted her into the top ten box office stars for three consecutive years (1937-1939). Esther parlayed her swimming skills into a lofty place on the same list in 1949 and 1950. Away from the pool or rink, neither charmer earned any acting awards, but many moviegoers found it enough to watch Henie spin her tight circles for Fox and Williams paddle effortlessly in glorious Technicolor for MGM.
Scoffers who wonder how nimble performers could dazzle audiences and earn lucrative livelihoods with limited thespian ability may be unaware that in this age of reality TV and instant réclame there are a group of young women with negligible acting talent but loads of vaulting ambition who are already anxious to jump into the maw of fame. So cue the lights and camera so we can focus on the actions of…
Millie Mileage, marathon runner, who plans to huff and puff her way onto the silver screen. To break up the monotony of watching endless facial grimaces as she endures her grueling run, Millie’s manager has skillfully directed her route through supermarkets and discount stores so she can toss merchandise off shelves into a cart as she races through the aisles declaiming between panting breaths, “I’m coming soon (puff) to a theater (puff) and check-out counter (puff) near you.”
Upsy Daisy weaves a romantic thread into a typical day at the skateboard park in Kneepads for My Heart when, after taking a tumble while executing a backward flip, she is befriended by a lithe swain who not only helps Daisy on the ramp to recovery but also teams with her in an exciting climax in which the pair soar off a half-pipe to complete a double dunk on an adjoining basketball court.
Tennis pro Gertie Gusset, known for her vituperative outbursts against opponents and line judges, has channeled her anger into the “Racket Buster” trilogy in which her gang-breaking exploits take her to several scenic spots: In the Net at Niagara, the story of contraband resin waterfalls being sold at souvenir shops by tax-evading, stink bomb-carrying plagiarists; Double Fault in Dixie, highlighted by a grunting marathon between Gert and a truck-driving, rum-running mama on a deserted highway in Georgia; and Viva Las Volley, exposing the dangers of playing mixed doubles with a machete-carrying, steer-rustling blackjack dealer who can only count to 18.
Stunt motorcyclist Lola Montana, who moonlights as a tattoo artist, has completed two films, The Skin of Your Sheath and I Harley Knew You, the latter feature detailing the involved rescue of one her customers whose arm bearing an exact replica of a credit card is caught in an ATM.
Life under the big top is explored repeatedly in the times and troubles of Hi Lily, tightrope walker and trapeze artist, as evidenced by the titles of her four releases to date: Hold Me Tight, Don’t Let Go, Get a Grip, and Who’s Got the Glue?
The rough-and-tumble world of roller skating comes to life as Roxie Roughneck elbows her way into the laps of viewers in the 3D epic Hit the Boards, a gritty head-banger which earned 3½ black eyes from Mayhem Monthly.
Skydiver Shirley Geronimo cheerfully admits that endless shots of her floating to the Petty strains of “Learning to Fly” might prove a bit tiresome in Down Is the New Up which is why Shirl teams with paraglider Carol Coaster at about 1500 feet so that after they reach the ground they can embark on a “Thelma and Louise” escapade selling hijacked parachutes to Bolivian aliens.
Pole dancer Lotta Luv, recognizing that there are only so many ways a body can whirl around a hunk of metal, spends most of the time in Pole Position behind the wheel of a race car, although critics feel she was carrying asphalt to Daytona in the crash scene when she tears off her racing suit and shinnies up the flagpole in the infield in a G-string to coax down a frantic pit crew member afflicted with cat scratch fever.
Of all the candidates for stardom in this new crop of athletic actresses the one whose career is most in jeopardy is high jumper Amy Springer who unfortunately is also adept at burglary and safecracking. Her first feature, Up, Up, and Away, is scheduled to be released as soon as she is.