Annette Kellerman 1886-1975

Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman

Kellerman’s third film, Queen of the Sea, was shot on the Maine and Californian coasts in 1918, and featured a breathtaking 26-metre dive from a wire.

In 1921 J.C. Williamson’s invited Kellerman to return to Australia to be the grand opening attraction for their remodelled Theatre Royal in Sydney.

Kellerman was an enthusiastic contributor to numerous troop entertainments and special performances to aid war charities. Several years of dance studies with Luigi Albertieri were rewarded when she was featured in a solo ballet spot in an ‘All Star Musical and Novelty Benefit’ for the Actors’ Fund of America at the Metropolitan Opera House on 16 May 1916.

Kellerman’s third film, Queen of the Sea, was shot on the Maine and Californian coasts in 1918, and featured a breathtaking 26-metre dive from a wire. One of the highlights of 1920’s What Women Love was a fight between Kellerman and a drunken lout – underwater, of course! Her intrepid movie exploits earned her an odd accolade, ‘The Douglas Fairbanks of the Screen Girls’ Athletic Association.’

In 1921 J.C. Williamson’s invited Kellerman to return to Australia to be the grand opening attraction for their remodelled Theatre Royal in Sydney. Miss Kellerman arrived with her company of 22, only to find that the Royal was far from ready. In desperation Williamson's sub-contracted her to Harry Musgrove at the Tivoli. ‘The Lady Versatile, Miss Annette Kellerman (Herself, In Person) and her Big Show of Vaudeville De Luxe’ opened at the Sydney Tivoli early in June and later played in Melbourne and other cities.

Theatre magazine’s reviewer was ecstatic: ‘Anything more classical than Miss Kellerman’s beautiful dancing in Thaïs and The Sea Nymph could not well be imagined. Hers is the first sea dance yet seen in Australia. The swimming motions are perfectly graceful, and delight both the imagination and the sight. Some of her dancing pirouettes are amazing in their effortlessness. She has learnt well the supreme test of balance in a pirouette – stopping on the note. Dozens of fine dancers have often failed in this; but Miss Kellerman’s sense of measure appears to be absolute. Her diving and swimming are, of course, her long suit. In both respects her work is perfection itself. Her lovely, lithe body and intellectual face seem to belong to a water spirit. She is part and parcel of her element. Miss Kellerman is a star that should light the way for many an artistic, gifted mind. Never has she been content with success. She has ever striven to attain true beauty in her work. That is her deep and enduring pleasure – a lesson to all who behold her, and contented happiness for herself.’

Media Gallery

Photograph courtesy State Library of Victoria. PCVPCA112

Biographical references

De Witt Bodeen and Larry L. Holland: ‘Neptune’s Daughters’, in Films in Review, February 1979
Victoria Chance: ‘Annette Kellermann’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Anthony Slide: The Vaudevillians, Arlington House, 1981
G.P. Walsh: ‘Annette Kellermann’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 9
Esther Williams: The Million Dollar Mermaid, Simon and Schuster, 1999