Esther Williams, like many stars of her time, traveled for bond rallies, USO shows and hospital visits to troops, but despite her appearances, her likeness may have logged more miles than she ever could in person.
Esther (due in part to the abundance of photos of here in swimwear) was a popular pin-up already when two buddies in the Royal Australian Navy exchanged a forged, signed photo of the “bathing beauty.” The photo eventually became a prize that was distributed from one ship to another in a new naval tradition and was the source of great esteem to the ship who possessed it. The original photo was retired after traveling an estimated 4,000 nautical miles (copies are still in circulation and Ms. Williams herself was known to send authentic signed copies to ships that had garnered the “Esther Williams Trophy”).
Williams continued her “military service” after the war when, allegedly, she was inspired when she heard that the WAVES were issued a less-than-supportive swimsuit as part of their uniform. She personally modeled a version that was a significant improvement for the Secretary of the Navy, who immediately placed an order for 50,000 suits.
Read Esther Williams’ full obituary.
On June 1, 1943, British actor, Leslie Howard, was killed when his plane, traveling from Lisbon to England, was shot down by German aircraft over the Bay of Biscay. All 17 persons on board were killed.
Theories abound as to why the plane was attacked – ranging from mistaken identity (Howard’s traveling companion bore a resemblance to Winston Churchill and Howard to one of Churchill’s bodyguards, also Churchill was known to be traveling from North Africa during that same period), to intelligence or espionage connections (Lisbon was a hotbed of espionage and Howard was rumored to have ties to British intelligence), to a grudge by Goebbels against Howard (who was very active in British anti-Nazi propaganda campaigns).
Regardless of the cause, the loss of Howard at only the age of 50 was tragic. His talents as a stage and screen actor continue to live on in legendary roles in Gone with the Wind, Pygmalion, Of Human Bondage and many others.
As a footnote, Howard’s death was reported in the same edition of The London Times that included the death of Major William Martin, a man who never actually existed, but played a major role in Operation Mincemeat.