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Million Dollar Mermaid tells the story of Australian swimming sensation Annette Kellerman, who overcame childhood polio to go on and achieve fame as a professional swimmer and film star in the early decades of the 20th century. At the same time, she scandalized the world by wearing a one-piece bathing suit on public beaches long before the style was accepted in polite company, and made waves in other ways as well. The story was a perfect vehicle decades later to showcase the star quality of Esther Williams in the 1950s, and Kellerman's moniker was picked up by Life Magazine when it named Ms. Williams the "Million Dollar Mermaid" herself. Written by
Annette Kellerman (Esther Williams) tells the judge that her swimsuit "will cover the entire body except the *forearms* and the head." However, the swimsuit she exhibits in court and which she wears in the following scenes does not cover *any part of her arms*. See more »
If any kind of biographical film was to be made about Annette Kellerman, champion swimmer from the turn of the last century, MGM was the only studio to do it. They had the only star qualified and the only studio that gave said star her own set.
If Annette Kellerman hadn't blazed the trail, Esther Williams could not have had a movie career. Kellerman first won many swimming medals in her native Australia and then went to the United Kingdom and then to America where she was the first international female swimming star. The Aquacade, the water ballet, I believe the Australian crawl swimming stroke were named in her honor, all these are due to her. She was crippled as a child and swimming did indeed make her legs grow stronger, as therapeutic to her as it was to a certain crippled president of the United States.
I'm really surprised that the Australians have not done any kind of big screen or small screen film about her, she was such an icon in a newly independent country. Leaving it to America and to MGM, Million Dollar Mermaid is a fine Esther Williams film, but no more than that. I get very little information about the trials and tribulations of the real Annette Kellerman and the people around her.
She did in fact marry her manager James Sullivan played here by Victor Mature who did NOT bring Rin Tin Tin to the silver screen. They do in fact cover her notorious arrest in Boston for wearing a shocking newly designed one piece bathing suit. Boston had many silly laws back in the day, they were known for it. If you remember in John Ford's Donovan's Reef, a gag is used about Elizabeth Allen wearing the typical Gay Nineties bathing attire and then stripping down to what Kellerman popularized.
Most of the plot of Million Dollar Mermaid is fictitious, her romance with Hippodrome impresario David Brian, her accident on the set of Neptune's Daughter. Annette did become an early silent film star as big in the silent days as her male successors Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe became in sound.
Kellerman and Sullivan lived to see Million Dollar Mermaid and it's unknown what they thought about it. The fact they were both still around I'm sure made MGM tread softly. One thing the film didn't answer was why Kellerman did not compete in the Olympics. In that she has something in common with Esther Williams. Esther didn't compete because the 1940 Olympics were called off as were the 1944. She had to turn professional and then became an actress and the rest is history. Why Kellerman didn't is something I'd like to know.
Perhaps an Australian production might answer that question if one is made. Until then we'll have to be satisfied with the beautiful and expensive Million Dollar Mermaid.
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