Monday, July 06, 2009

Australian mermaid Annette Kellerman

1887 Annette Kellerman (born at Marrickville, NSW; d. November 5, 1975), Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star, women's rights advocate and writer, portrayed on the silver screen by Esther Williams.

Billed as 'The Diving Venus' and 'The Australian Mermaid', Kellerman was famous (or notorious) in her day for wearing a one-piece bathing suit instead of the old pantaloons costume, and in 1907 was arrested in Boston, USA for wearing one of her naughty creations.

As a toddler she was crippled with rickets (caused by Vitamin D deficiency, not uncommon in Sydney in Australia's 1890s Depression), requiring her to wear leg braces until the age of seven. Swimming was prescribed to strengthen her limbs, and by 1902 she won her first title: Swimming Champion of New South Wales. She was the women's 100 metres world record holder by the age of 16 and in 1905 at the age of 17 she was the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel, although unsuccessfully:

It was two o'clock in the morning when we assembled on the beaches. The pores of my skin were rubbed full of porpoise oil and my goggles glued on. I was ready. It was the most terrible ordeal I ever went through. The salt water stung my eyes, and I was finally so blinded I could barely see a foot ahead of me. I became very seasick. After 11 hours in the cold and choppy seas, the tide turned, sweeping us all back from the French coast. It was my first Waterloo.
She also appeared in several movies, sometimes as a mermaid. Kellerman was famous for her advocacy of the right of women to wear a one-piece bathing suit, which was a controversial topic in the early 20th century. She was portrayed by Esther Williams in the 1952 movie Million Dollar Mermaid. Williams said of her: "She was her own woman. She didn't follow any rules, she didn't let anybody tell her, 'Women can’t do that. They can't swim,' and I always had a warm feeling for any woman who stands her ground and says, 'I'm going to do this whether it's proper or not.'"

Annette Kellerman was sister to cinematographer Maurice Kellerman.

Kellerman herself was in several early movies: Miss Kellerman's Diving Feats (1907); Miss Annette Kellerman (1909); Jepthah's Daughter: A Biblical Tragedy (1909); The Perfectly Formed Woman (1910); The Mermaid (1911); A Daughter of the Gods (1916); Queen of the Sea (1918); What Women Love (1920) and Annette Kellerman Returns to Australia (1933), and she played herself in The Great Stone Face (1968).


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