Esther Williams: “Hold Your Man”
“If I weren’t careful,” Esther Williams says, “I could dangerously neglect my husband because I enjoy being with my children so much. After a working day I look forward to a wonderful moment that’s waiting for me when I get home. Five minutes after I’m in the house, I throw some bubble bath in the tub, toss off my things and thee Benjie, nearly two and a half, fourteen-month-old Kimmie and I all get into our bath together.
“However, I’m lucky! Ben enjoys the boys as much as I do. From the start we; knew we wanted a large family and we hope to add more members to it as time goes on. We advise any couple that wants to remain happily married to do the same. There’s something basically unsound with just living for yourselves. Ben and I fell in love at first sight, but we waited two years before marriage to be absolutely certain. We wanted to get to know each other well and it was important for Ben to know whether I’d be the right mother for the children he wanted and of course I wanted to be certain he’d be the right kind of father. Thus we began our marriage on a firmer foundation than it might otherwise have had.
“My marriage is now at that period some experts call the ‘danger point,’ ” Esther said. “Statistics show that the sixth to tenth year is the common breaking point, the years in which many hundreds start divorce proceedings. That will-o’-the-wisp called romance is apt to have almost vanished and it is up to the pair to decide whether they are going to enter into a more mature relationship. In some marriages, by the sixth year the husband already is mixed up with another woman, or the wife with another man. In others, the wife may feel she has lost her husband’s interest. Or she is bored by him and wants to seek her so-called ‘ideal.’
“I think the first important thing to decide, if you are even remotely thinking about a divorce, is this,” she said. “Is it worthwhile to give up the investment of six years spent with one man? And how do you know that the next man you find might not have just as many faults and perhaps some that are a lot worse. Besides, can you honestly say you don’t have as many flaws in your own make-up as you think he has in his?
“If you’re like I am, I’ll bet you find yourself on a bad morning thinking of all the little things your husband does that annoy you. That’s the time to start concentrating on the good things. With Ben and me, his being such a wonderful father comes first. I give him twelve stars for that. Balanced against that, those little things about him that I can never change mean nothing at all.
“The things about ourselves that our husbands would love to change, we can go right to work on. Too many girls take the easy way out and say—‘That’s just the way I am, I can’t help it.’ But if you want to have a happy marriage, if you want to have your love grow into the kind of maturity that means the most wonderful adult happiness, you must do something to help it.
“When I make a distinction between mature love and romance, it’s because I believe that love is something you earn and develop and which, in turn, develops you and pays you life’s greatest dividends. Each step in marriage has its compensations and to cling to one and not go on to the next exciting step would be to remain adolescent.”
We asked Esther if she thought a girl must be glamorous to hold a man.
“Most experts agree,” Esther said, “that glamour may attract a man but it has very little to do with holding him. To me one aspect of glamour means cleanliness. A girl doesn’t have to be beautiful to be scrupulously neat. I know Ben appreciates neatness in me even around the house. It’s more important for a girl to worry about how clean her dress is than how many frills it has on it. If she’s clean and dresses in good taste—inexpensive though her costume may be—she has glamour, believe me.”
However, Esther thinks there are other things far more important in a successful marriage than glamour.
“Any man,” she said, “and especially your husband, the man you see so constantly, will approve if you develop your sense of humor and the art of being a good sport. If seeing the funny side of things doesn’t come naturally, try to develop an awareness of humor. A marriage without laughter isn’t as good as it should be.
“If you aren’t feeling well,” she said, “you naturally want to tell your husband. But you don’t have to dwell on the subject. Another thing! I don’t think it’s fair for a wife to spend time acquainting her husband with all the things that have gone wrong around the house while he has been at work. She can only make a bore of herself. He’s probably had complications that day too while earning the family’s living.”
Esther laughed. “I’ve discovered also that it’s possible to be too charming. One night not long ago, I’d had a hard day at the studio. Then I came home and played with the babies until Ben came home. His system of making business appointments in the late afternoon is one of the sweet adjustments to my career that Ben has made. When I’m working on a film, I have only a few moments with the children before leaving in the morning. And unless I have them with me immediately on my return in the evening, I can’t see them except when they’re sleeping. Ben, understanding this, makes many of his business appointments between five and seven in the afternoon, which allows me to have this time, quite free, to play with the children. Then by that time Ben is home for their bedtime and prayers, the boys are tucked in and I’m ready for our dinner and evening together. Usually this routine leaves me in a relaxed state. But one particular night I was still full of bounce. Ben was discussing our restaurant, The Trails, telling me its problems. I’d keep popping up saying: ‘Darling, now I think . . .’ and ‘Now, honey, it’s my opinion . . .’
“All of a sudden Ben was standing up, looking down at me. ‘Do me a favor,’ he said. ‘I love you being so vivacious, but for once just don’t have an opinion. Don’t be quite so vital. Let me finish what I’m saying and then go a little easy. No jumping to conclusions, please.’
“He was smiling broadly, but we both knew he was kidding on the square. It taught me such a lesson,” she declares. “In sports, I know how hard I always want to win, and yet I’ve always known, as any athlete does, that if you press, you become so tense that it’s almost impossible to win. That night I really was overdoing it. Ever since then, I have tried consciously to relax with Ben. I consciously listen, wait for him to ask my opinions before volunteering them—and don’t always have an opinion!
“On that word ‘consciously’ a hold on a husband often depends. Much more so than on glamour or sex. Sex between husband and wife is beautiful, when it is understood and when it takes its rightful place. But the conscious uniting of your mind, your interests and your enthusiasms and the bond your children bring to you are twice as important.”
The $64 question, what would Esther do if Ben fell in love with another woman.
“What a question!” she exclaimed. “I’d stick to him like glue, I think. Until such a thing happens you never know, of course. But I like to think that instead of indulging in false pride I’d study that other woman to find out if she offered my husband more than I could. I’d want to know if it were infatuation or real love that my husband felt for her. If I became convinced that it was infatuation, a passing fancy, I’d regard it as a sickness and stick to my husband just as I would if he were suffering from pneumonia—and pray with all my heart that he’d get over it.”
“What about the subject of money?”
“I certainly don’t think,” she said, “that a wife has a right to be extravagant with her husband’s hard-earned cash. She should be aware of how difficult it is for him to earn money and consider it part of her job to help save for a secure future.
“Neither Ben nor I are very impressed by extravagance. We know my career can’t last forever and that’s one reason we’re so happy that Ben’s business interests are turning out so well. After I’ve retired from pictures and we have, we hope, several children growing up, we want to be able to look forward to a secure future.
“I’ve never needed expensive things in order to be happy. Because of my work I have to spend more money on clothes than I would otherwise. But I’m convinced a girl can look just as smart and lovely in an inexpensive, well-thought-out costume as she can in a number turned out by a custom designer. I’m also the kind of girl who thinks nylon makes better lingerie than all the embroidered silk in China.”
Separations, Esther thinks, are not good. “Marriage is made up of all the intimate daily things; the small laughs, small triumphs, even small hardships that a man and wife share. You don’t share these moments in the same way when you’re apart. Ben and I try to avoid separations. If my work takes me out of town for any length of time, Ben tries to arrange his business engagements to be with me.
“After all, remember that old saying: ‘A good man is hard to find.’ So, if you find him—don’t let him go.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1952