Recommended Reading

"The Original Million Dollar Mermaid: the Annette Kellerman Story"

by Emily Gibson with Barbara Firth (Allen & Unwin - 2005. 230 pages)

This 2005 biography of Annette Kellerman should be a welcome addition to any silent film fan's library. Kellerman admittedly didn't do a lot of film work, but the unfortunate fact is that only one feature and some other fragments remain of the work she did. Her two most famous features, "Neptune's Daughter" (1914), which was also her first film, and "A Daughter of the Gods" (1916) are lost. But as one learns in this excellent biography, there was more to Kellerman than her films. She loved vaudeville, and that was where she both started and ended her career - not because of necessity, but because that was what she loved most. One can only imagine see her performance in a large water tank during the 'teens and twenties. She never lost her popularity during these years, either, and continued to pack houses with her performances. As we learn in the story, she started swimming to strengthen her rickets-stricken legs as a young child. Swimming became not only her profession, but her passion, and she first gained notoriety outside of Australia when she went to England - drew crowds at her performances - and drew massive publicity for her - although she was not successful in any of her three attempts. Her popularity brought her to America where she first performed in amusement parks before being invited to the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit where she became an instant success. Of course, her one piece bathing suit was a controversial sensation in this Victorian era, but she was helped when the media caught on to the label given her of having this perfect body. This led to her also giving health advice and writing two books on good health for women - promoting exercise and healthy eating. Kellerman's story is also a beautiful love story with her American manager eventually becoming her husband and a marriage that lasted for 60 years. Her legend was solidified when Esther Williams made "Million Dollar Mermaid" in 1952, a biography of Kellerman's life on which she served as consultant, but was not particularly pleased with the result. The basis for this biography is Barbara Firth's research which began when the worked with the Sydney Opera House to create an archives of theatrical memorabilia. A TV program led to her being invited to meet Kellerman and her sister who offered some of her collection of memorabilia to the archives. This was in 1975, the same year Kellerman died. Firth continued her research on Kellerman in Europe and the United States, as well as Australia. She became associated with Gibson when they collaborated on a 2003 documentary of Kellerman entitled "The Original Mermaid." It is a well-written, authoritative, straight-forward and engaging biography about one of the most interesting personalities of the silent era. The book can still be found online, an enjoyable and touching story that any silent film fan will enjoy.

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