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Annette Kellerman smiling
, c. 1907 (printed 2003)

by H. Walter Barnett

modern bromide print from an original negative (sheet: 30.3 x 40.5 cm, image: 27.3 x 39.3 cm)

Annette Kellerman (1887-1975) took up swimming as a child to correct a birth defect in her leg. Her marathon swimming feats made her famous in Australia and then in England, where she swam 30 miles down the Thames. In the U.S. she first gained notoriety in 1907, when she was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a one-piece swimsuit that revealed an indecent proportion of her arms and legs. Soon afterwards she mounted a successful stage tour of the States, performing underwater routines in large transparent water tanks. Signed by Universal Studios, she appeared in a succession of aquatically themed movies beginning with Neptune's Daughter (1914), in which she was required to perform a provocative "nude" scene, her modesty shielded only by a carefully deployed length of seaweed. Her later films included A Daughter of the Gods (1916) and Venus of the South Seas (1924). Her career was commemorated in the 1952 movie Million Dollar Mermaid, starring Esther Williams as Kellerman.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of an anonymous donor 2004
Accession number: 2004.12