From nearly a hundred years ago we have these splendid shots of Australian swimmer and actress Annette Kellerman, on set for her film A Daughter of the Gods (1916); a three hour fantasy set in an Atlantis-type world. Reputedly, the first film to cost more than a million dollars it was shot in Jamaica. Kellerman's nude waterfall scene (the first by a lead actress in a Hollywood film and pre-Hay's Code) gave the film instant notoriety,
Kellerman was used to notoriety, however, as she started wearing a skin tight swimsuit a decade earlier; eschewing the traditional female swimming garb with its skirt and pantaloons for something modelled on male swimwear. In 1907 she was arrested for indecency in Massachusetts for wearing her famous swimsuit (she added tights for this shot), which she eventually put into mass production under her name.
It's hard to believe, looking at Kellerman's superbly toned thighs, that she took up swimming to strengthen her legs, as she had to wear calipers on her legs as a child, following a bout of rickets when she was two. She was thirty when this film was made and would go on to live to be eighty-nine years old, swimming to the last.
Sadly, the film itself, which had a (unusually at the time) specially composed score by Robert Hood Bowers, is now lost. William Fox, founder of Fox Film Corporation (later Twentieth Century Fox) was so annoyed at Irish-born director Herbert Brenon's (he had made Neptune's Daughter with Kellerman in Bermuda two years previously) profligate spending on the film (it was estimated that the production employed twenty thousand people) he took his name off the credits, although Brenon later sued and had his name reinstated.
Interestingly, in 1916, it was obviously thought that the film was quite suitable for children (the poster suggested arranging a children's party around seeing the film), despite Miss Kellerman's nude scenes and indeed could be advertised using properly nippled mermaids (c.f Walt Disney). Kellerman trained the production's 150 actresses playing mermaids herself.
The" perfect woman", according to Harvard Professor Dudley Sargent in 1908 after "studying" 3000 women's bodies.
Kellerman's life formed the basis of the film Million Dollar Mermaid starring her Hollywood swimming successor, Esther Williams (who died last year at the age of 91 - swimming is good for you!). The two women met on the set of William's film in 1952. Williams had previously starred in a remake of Kellerman's Neptune's Daughter (1949). Kellerman thought Williams was prettier than her but reckoned her body wasn't as good. She was annoyed she hadn't been offered the part of herself, even though she was sixty-five at the time.
Esther Williams as Annette Kellerman in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
Kelllerman was a successful business woman and what would now be known as a role model for women. She wrote the first ever diet and fitness book: Physical Beauty: How to Keep It and gave well-attended lectures on the subject. She was one of the first women to own and drive a car and in later life advised President Roosevelt on exercises for his legs. After she died in 1975 her ashes were scattered on the Great Barrier Reef at her request.