Annette Marie Sarah Kellerman (6 July 1886 – 6 November 1975) was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, film actress and writer. She was one of the first women to wear a one-piece bathing costume, instead of the then-accepted pantaloons, and inspired others to follow her example.
She is often credited for inventing the sport of synchronised swimming after her 1907 performance of the first water ballet in a glass tank at the New York Hippodrome. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On 24 August 1905, aged 19, Annette Kellerman was the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel. After three unsuccessful swims she declared, "I had the endurance but not the brute strength."
Kellerman was famous for advocating the right of women to wear a one-piece bathing suit, which was controversial at the time. According to an Australian magazine, "In the early 1900s, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming. In 1907, at the height of her popularity, Kellerman was arrested on Revere Beach, Massachusetts, for indecency – she was wearing one of her fitted one-piece costumes."
The popularity of her one-piece suits resulted in her own line of women’s swimwear. The "Annette Kellermans", as they were known, were the first step to modern swimwear. It may be argued that the "Annette Kellerman" is the direct ancestor of the unitard.
Kellerman and Beatrice Kerr, who was billed as "Australia’s Champion Lady Swimmer and Diver", were keen rivals, although they never met in a competitive race.
In 1908, after a study of 3000 women, Dr Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University dubbed her the Perfect Woman because of the similarity of her physical attributes to the Venus de Milo.
In 1916, Kellerman became the first major actress to do a nude scene when she appeared fully nude in A Daughter of the Gods. Made by Fox Film Corporation, Daughter of the Gods was the first million-dollar film production. Like many of Kellerman’s other films, this is now considered a lost film as no copies are known to exist.
The majority of Kellerman’s films had themes of aquatic adventure. She performed her own stunts including diving from ninety-two feet into the sea and sixty feet into a pool of crocodiles. Many times she would play mermaids named Annette or variations of her own name. Her "fairy tale films", as she called them, started with The Mermaid (1911), in which she was the first actress to wear a swimmable mermaid costume on film, paving the way for future screen sirens such as Glynis Johns (Miranda), Esther Williams and Daryl Hannah (Splash). She designed her own mermaid swimming costumes and sometimes made them herself. Similar designs are still used by The Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaids, including her aquatic fairy costume first introduced in Queen of the Sea (1918).
Kellerman appeared in one of the last films made in Prizma Color, Venus of the South Seas (1924), a U.S./New Zealand co-production where one reel of the 55-minute film was in colour and underwater. Venus of the South Seas was restored by the Library of Congress in 2004 and is the only feature film starring Annette Kellerman known to exist in its complete form.
Text: Wikipedia – Images: State Library of New South Wales on Flickr