Annette Kellerman

Last updated

Annette Kellermann
Annette Kellerman1.jpg
Kellermann in her famous one-piece bathing suit, c. 1906
Annette Marie Sarah Kellermann

(1886-07-06)6 July 1886 [1]
Died6 November 1975(1975-11-06) (aged 89)
Resting place Great Barrier Reef
Occupation(s)Swimmer, actress, writer
Known forSwimmer, actress, writer, Inventor of Synchronised Swimming, Pioneer of women's swimwear
James Raymond Louis Sullivan
(m. 19121975)
Parent(s) Alice Charbonnet-Kellermann
Frederick William Kellermann

Annette Marie Sarah Kellermann (6 July 1886 – 6 November 1975) [1] was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, film actress, and writer.


Kellermann 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. Kellerman's swimming costumes became so popular that she started her own fashion line of one-piece bathing suits. Kellermann helped popularize the sport of synchronised swimming, and authored a swimming manual. She appeared in several movies, usually with aquatic themes, and as the star of the 1916 film A Daughter of the Gods was the first major actress to appear nude in a Hollywood production. Kellermann was an advocate of health, fitness, and natural beauty throughout her life.

Early life

Annette Kellermann (frequently recorded as "Kellerman") was born in Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia, on 6 July 1886, [1] to Australian-born violinist Frederick William Kellermann, and his French wife, Alice Ellen Charbonnet, a pianist and music teacher. [1]

At the age of six, a weakness in Kellermann's legs necessitated the wearing of steel braces to strengthen them. To further overcome her disability, her parents enrolled her in swimming classes at Cavill's Baths, a tidal swimming pool in the North Sydney suburb of Lavender Bay. By the age of 13, her legs were practically normal, and by 15, she had mastered all the swimming strokes and won her first race. At this time she was also giving diving displays. [1]

Swimming career

Annette Kellermann, early 1900s Annette Kellerman.jpg
Annette Kellermann, early 1900s

In 1902, Kellermann won the ladies' 100 yards and mile championships of New South Wales in the record times of 1 minute, 22 seconds and 33 minutes, 49 seconds respectively. In that same year, her parents decided to move to Melbourne, Victoria, and she was enrolled at Mentone Girls' Grammar School, where her mother had accepted a music teaching position. [1]

During her time at school, Kellermann gave exhibitions of swimming and diving at the main Melbourne baths, performed a mermaid act at Princes Court entertainment centre, and did two shows a day swimming with fish in a glass tank at the Exhibition Aquarium. In June and July 1903, she performed sensational high dives in the Coogee scene of Bland Holt's spectacular, The Breaking of the Drought , at the Melbourne Theatre Royal. [1]

Kellermann and Beatrice Kerr, who was billed as "Australia's Champion Lady Swimmer and Diver", were rivals, although Kerr's public challenges to Kellermann to meet in a competitive race went unanswered. [2]

On 24 August 1905, aged 19, Kellermann was one of the first women to attempt to swim across the English Channel. After three unsuccessful swims she declared, "I had the endurance but not the brute strength." The first woman to attempt a Channel crossing had been Austrian Baroness Walburga von Isacescu, in September 1900. [3] She had made a previous effort the month before alongside Ted Heaton, but had to leave the water several miles out in the channel due to sea-sickness. [4] Kellermann later challenged and defeated von Isacescu in a Danube race. [5]

While in London a short was filmed of her performances and shown back in Australian venues. [6] Kellermann helped popularize the sport of synchronised swimming after her 1907 performance of the first water ballet in a glass tank at the New York Hippodrome.[ citation needed ]

In 1911, she appeared on Broadway in the title role of “Undine”, an aquacade specialty conceived by composer Manuel Klein and performed in repertory with the popular musical Vera Violetta that featured Al Jolson. [7]

Swimwear line

Kellermann advocated for the right of women to wear a one-piece bathing suit, which was controversial at the time. [8] According to an Australian magazine, "In the early 1900s, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming." Although Kellermann later claimed to have been arrested at Revere Beach for public indecency while wearing one of her suits, there are no contemporary police records or news stories corroborating this, and she appears to have invented the incident. [9]

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 towards modern women's swimwear.

Film career

Kellermann and Hugh Thompson in Queen of the Sea MerillaQueenOfSeaStandingWithSuplicant.jpg
Kellermann and Hugh Thompson in Queen of the Sea

In 1916, Kellermann became the first major actress to perform in a nude scene when she appeared fully nude in A Daughter of the Gods . [10] [11] Made by Fox Film Corporation, A Daughter of the Gods was the first million-dollar film production. Like many of Kellermann's other films, this is now considered a lost film, as no copies are known to exist.

Kellermann in nude scene from A Daughter of the Gods Annette Kellerman in tree, arms spread.jpg
Kellermann in nude scene from A Daughter of the Gods

The majority of Kellermann's films had themes of aquatic adventure. She performed her own stunts including diving from 92 feet (28 m) into the sea and 60 feet (18 m) 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, Ann Blyth ( Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid ) and Daryl Hannah ( Splash ). Kellermann 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, another lost film).

Kellermann appeared in one of the last films made in Prizma Color, Venus of the South Seas (1924), a US/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 Kellermann known to exist in its complete form.


In addition to her film and stage career, Kellermann wrote several books including How to Swim (1918), Physical Beauty: How to Keep It (1919), a book of children's stories titled Fairy Tales of the South Seas (1926), and My Story, an unpublished autobiography. She also wrote numerous mail order booklets on health, beauty, and fitness called The Body Beautiful. [12]

Personal life

Kellermann in her full-length swimwear AnnetteKellermanRecumbent.jpg
Kellermann in her full-length swimwear

Kellermann married her American-born manager, James Sullivan, on or around 26 November 1912 at Danbury, Connecticut. [1]

A life-long vegetarian, Kellermann owned a health food store in Long Beach, California, later in life. [1] She remained active well into old age, continuing to swim and exercise until a short time before her death. She and her husband returned to live in Australia in 1970, and in 1974, she was honoured by the International Swimming Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. [1]

Kellermann outlived her husband and died in the hospital at Southport, Queensland, Australia, on 6 November 1975, aged 89. She was cremated with Roman Catholic rites. Her remains were scattered in the Great Barrier Reef. She had no children. [1]


Venus of the South Seas poster Venus of the South Seas poster.jpg
Venus of the South Seas poster

In 1908, after a study of 3,000 women, Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University dubbed Kellerman the "Perfect Woman" because of the similarity of her physical attributes to the Venus de Milo. [13] During her Fox film series, she was often billed as ‘Australia’s Perfect Woman.’ [14]

Kellermann's large collection of costumes and theatrical memorabilia was bequeathed to the Sydney Opera House. [1] Today, many of her original costumes and personal items are held by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. [15]

The Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales has Kellerman’s archive of personal papers. [16]

Kellerman was portrayed by Esther Williams in the film Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), and her name is on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on Hollywood Boulevard. An award-winning Australian documentary called The Original Mermaid, which was about Kellermann, was produced in 2002.

A swimming complex in Marrickville which opened December 2010 was named after her. [17]

The streets in the suburb of Holt in the Australian capital Canberra are all named after Australian sportspeople, and Kellermann Close was named for her.

In 2016, X Swimwear, a made-to-measure swimwear line, launched a custom swimsuit called "The Kellerman" after her. [18]

The American thoroughbred mare Annette K. (foaled in 1921 out of the mare Bathing Girl) was named after her. Annette K. became the grandam of U.S. Triple Crown winner War Admiral. [19] [20]


Kellermann photographed in the United States, 1907 Annette Kellerman 1907.jpg
Kellermann photographed in the United States, 1907

As herself

Archival footage

Annette Kellerman in a clip from the 1924 film Venus of the South Seas


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bikini</span> Two-piece womens swimwear

A bikini is a women's two-piece swimsuit that features one piece on top that covers the breasts, and a second piece on the bottom: the front covering the pelvis but usually exposing the navel, and the back generally covering the intergluteal cleft and a little, some, or all of the buttocks. The size of the top and bottom can vary, from bikinis that offer full coverage of the breasts, pelvis, and buttocks, to more revealing designs with a thong or G-string bottom that covers only the mons pubis, but exposes the buttocks, and a top that covers only the areolae. Bikini bottoms covering about half the buttocks may be described as "Brazilian-cut", while those covering about three-quarters of the buttocks may be described as "cheeky" or "cheeky-cut".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swimsuit</span> Clothing worn for swimming

A swimsuit is an item of clothing designed to be worn by people engaging in a water-based activity or water sports, such as swimming, diving and surfing, or sun-orientated activities, such as sun bathing. Different types may be worn by men, women, and children. A swimsuit can be described by various names, some of which are used only in particular locations, including swimwear, bathing suit, swimming costume, bathing costume, swimming suit, swimmers, swimming togs, bathers, cossie, or swimming trunks for men, besides others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">One-piece swimsuit</span> Article of swimwear

A one-piece swimsuit most commonly refers to swimwear worn primarily by women and girls when swimming in the sea or in a swimming pool, playing water polo, or for any activity in the sun, such as sun bathing. Today, the one-piece swimsuit is usually a skin-tight garment that covers the torso, although some designs expose the back or upper chest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Esther Williams</span> American swimmer and actress (1921–2013)

Esther Jane Williams was an American competitive swimmer and actress. She set regional and national records in her late teens on the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. Unable to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics because of the outbreak of World War II, she joined Billy Rose's Aquacade, where she took on the role vacated by Eleanor Holm after the show's move from New York City to San Francisco. While in the city, she spent five months swimming alongside Olympic gold-medal winner and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. Williams caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer scouts at the Aquacade. After appearing in several small roles, and alongside Mickey Rooney in an Andy Hardy film and future five-time co-star Van Johnson in A Guy Named Joe, Williams made a series of films in the 1940s and early 1950s known as "aquamusicals", which featured elaborate performances with synchronised swimming and diving.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nude swimming</span> Swimming without clothing

Nude swimming is the practice of swimming without clothing, whether in natural bodies of water or in swimming pools. A colloquial term for nude swimming is "skinny dipping".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Competitive swimwear</span> Swimsuit, clothing, equipment and accessories used in the aquatic competitive sports

Competitive swimwear refers to the swimsuit, clothing, equipment, and accessories used in the aquatic sports of swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, triathlon, and water polo.

Kellerman is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sea bathing</span> Bathing in the sea or in sea water

Sea bathing is swimming in the sea or in sea water and a sea bath is a protective enclosure for sea bathing. Unlike bathing in a swimming pool, which is generally done for pleasure or exercise purposes, sea bathing was once thought to have curative or therapeutic value. It arose from the medieval practice of visiting spas for the beneficial effects of the waters. The practice of sea bathing dates back to the 17th century but became popular in the late 18th century. The development of the first swimsuits dates from the period as does the development of the bathing machine.

<i>A Daughter of the Gods</i> 1916 film by Herbert Brenon

A Daughter of the Gods was a 1916 American silent fantasy drama film written and directed by Herbert Brenon. The film was controversial because of the sequences of what was regarded as superfluous nudity by the character Anitia, played by Australian swimming star Annette Kellermann. The scene is regarded as the first complete nude scene by a major star, which occurred during a waterfall sequence, though most of Kellerman's body is covered by her long hair. It was filmed by Fox Film Corporation in Kingston, Jamaica, where huge sets were constructed, and directed by Herbert Brenon.

<i>Million Dollar Mermaid</i> 1952 American film by Mervyn LeRoy

Million Dollar Mermaid is a 1952 American biographical drama film about the life of Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr. from a screenplay by Everett Freeman. The music score was by Adolph Deutsch, the cinematography by George Folsey and the choreography by Busby Berkeley.

Jantzen is a brand of swimwear that was established in 1916 and first appeared in the city of Portland, Oregon, United States. The brand name later replaced the name of the parent company that manufactured the branded products. The brand featured a logo image of a young woman, dressed in a red one-piece swimsuit and bathing hat, assuming a diving posture with outstretched arms and an arched back. Known as the Jantzen "Diving Girl", the image in various forms became famous throughout the world during the early twentieth century.

<i>Neptunes Daughter</i> (1914 film) 1914 American film

Neptune's Daughter is a 1914 American silent fantasy film featuring the first collaboration between actress Annette Kellerman and director Herbert Brenon. It was based on Kellerman's idea of "a water fantasy movie with beautiful mermaids in King Neptune's garden together with a good love story." It was filmed by Universal in Bermuda during January and February, cost approximately $50,000, and grossed one million dollars at the box office.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of the bikini</span> Aspect of history

Evidence of bikini-style women's clothing has been found as early as 5600 BC, and the history of the bikini can be traced back to that era. Illustrations of women wearing bikini-like garments during competitive athletic events in the Roman era have been found in several locations, the most famous of which is at Villa Romana del Casale.

<i>Venus of the South Seas</i> 1924 film

Venus of the South Seas, also known as Venus of the Southern Seas, is a 1924 silent drama film directed by James R. Sullivan starring swimmer Annette Kellerman. It was one of the last films with footage in the Prizma Color process.

While not being urged to avoid competition, women had few opportunities to compete in sport in Australia until the 1880s. After that date, new sporting facilities were being built around the country and many new sport clubs were created. For swimming, the rapid expansion of facilities took place during the 1880s and the 1890s. Compared to the past when the whole of the swimming community was made up of males, currently 55 percent of the Australian swimming membership is made up of women. Not only do females dominate swimming in the pool but there are more than 5,500 female coaches in the swimming world in Australian and over 2,000 female technical officials.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mermaiding</span> Swimming dressed in a mermaid costume

Mermaiding is the practice of wearing, and often swimming in, a costume mermaid tail.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beatrice Kerr</span> Australian swimmer

Beatrice Maude Williams, known professionally as Beatrice Kerr, was an Australian swimmer, diver, and aquatic performer. Born in Melbourne, Kerr learnt to swim at Albert Park Lake, and won medals at both the Victorian and Australasian championships in 1905, at the age of 17. Early the following year, she toured South Australia and Western Australia, winning every race she entered. From there, Kerr went to England, giving swimming exhibitions in Bradford, Liverpool, London, and Manchester, being billed as "Australia's Champion Lady Swimmer and Diver". She returned to Australia in October 1911, living the rest of her life in Sydney, New South Wales. Although often compared to Annette Kellerman, another Australian swimmer, Kerr's repeated challenges to Kellerman to race went unanswered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of swimwear</span>

The history of swimwear traces the changes in the styles of men's and women's swimwear over time and between cultures, and touches on the social, religious and legal attitudes to swimming and swimwear.

<i>Queen of the Sea</i> (film) 1918 American film

Queen of the Sea is a 1918 American silent fantasy film released by Fox Film Corporation that was directed by John G. Adolfi and starred Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. This film is presumed to be lost.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alice Charbonnet-Kellermann</span>

Alice Ellen Lauentine Charbonnet was a French-Australian composer of romantic and classical music. Her father was a French judge, and her formative years were spent in a variety of countries. She married violinist Frederick William Kellermann; their daughter Annette Kellermann was a long-distance swimmer, vaudeville entertainer, film actress, and educator.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Walsh, G. P (1983). "Kellermann, Annette Marie (1886–1975)". Kellermann, Annette Marie Sarah (1886–1975). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. Archived from the original on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2007.
  2. Nelson, Judy (2005). "Kerr, Beatrice Maude (1887–1971)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume; Kerr, Beatrice Maude (1887–1971). National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  3. Bohn, Michael (2009). Heroes & Ballyhoo: How the Golden Age of the 1920s Transformed American Sports. Potomac Books Inc. ISBN   9781597976091. Archived from the original on 9 December 2020. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  4. "Cross-channel swim - Double attempt ends in failure". The Newcastle Daily Chronicle. 27 July 1905. p. 7.
  5. "Great Swim in the Danube". The Week (Friday 22 June 1906). 22 June 1906. Archived from the original on 9 December 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  6. Reade, Eric (1970). Australian Silent Films, A Pictorial History 1896-1929, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, p. 28.
  7. Kellermann; “Undine“ entries,
  8. Reader's Digest Services, "Record-breaking swimmers", Australia's Yesterdays: a Look at Our Recent Past, 2nd edition, 1974 p. 193
  9. Wilk, Stephen R. Lost Wonderland the brief and brilliant life of Boston's million dollar amusement park. Amherst. ISBN   978-1-61376-803-7. OCLC   1227994036.
  10. Vagg, Stephen (12 July 2019). "Good Sports: Australian Athletes Who Act". Filmink.
  11. Robertson, James Crighton (1993). The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913–1975. Routledge. pp. 9–10. ISBN   0-415-09034-2.
  12. "National Film and Sound Archive of Australia". 17 August 2018. Archived from the original on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  13. "Modern Woman Getting Nearer The Perfect Figure – Dr. Dudley Sargent of..." Archived 15 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine ; 4 December 1910; Text: subject of an article on health refers to Kellermann's body as "... the most ideal figure"; Sunday Magazine; accessed November 2015
  14. Reade, p.94.
  15. Annette Kellermann Costume Collection Archived 21 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine ; collection; Powerhouse Museum online; retrieved January 2020
  16. "Annette Kellermann - papers, c.1870-1975". Manuscripts Oral History and Pictures Catalogue, State Library of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 9 December 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  17. "Annette Kellerman Aquatic Leisure Centre". Archived from the original on 15 March 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  18. The Kellerman One Piece Archived 2 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine , X Swimwear
  19. "Annette K Horse Pedigree".
  20. "War Admiral Horse Pedigree".
  21. How to Swim; Kellermann, Annette; Library of Congress; New York : George H. Doran Company, [1918]; Electronic copy from HathiTrust: Electronic copy; LCCN: 18026477; OCoLC: 2462576; ©1918; accessed 29-01-2021
  22. Physical Beauty, How to Keep It; Kellermann, Annette; Library of Congress; New York : George H. Doran Company, [1918]; LCCN: 08012247; LC: RA778 .K38; ©1918; Accessed 29-01-2021