May 2013

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Annette Kellerman & Esther Williams

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Both were champion swimmers. Both made a splash in show business.

“My God, I wish I could meet her,” thought Esther Williams when she was shown a photograph of Annette Kellerman, the woman she was set to play in the 1952 MGM aqua-musical Million Dollar Mermaid.

Taken 30 years earlier, the photo showed Kellerman twirling a parasol as she walked a tightrope high above Santa Monica pier.

Born in Marrickville in 1886, Annette Kellerman began swimming at six as a treatment for rickets. She practised natation, mastered the trudgeon and, at 16, was the fastest woman in NSW waters. Moving to Melbourne, she got a job cavorting with the fishes in a glass tank at the Exhibition Aquarium. In 1905, her first attempt on the English Channel was thwarted by the weight of her skirted woollen bathing costume. In response, she sewed black stockings onto a boy’s bathers and invented the women’s one-piece swimsuit. When she wore one on a public beach in Boston, she was arrested for indecency.

By the 1920s, she was a star of screen and vaudeville, mixing mermaid routines with wire-walking, ballet dancing and high-diving into small tanks, sometimes containing crocodiles. She wrote books promoting health and fitness and toured the US giving lectures to “modern” women.

Esther Williams was a very modern woman. At eight, she was already working as a towel girl at her local Los Angeles pool. By 16, she was a national freestyle champion. When the outbreak of war dashed her medal hopes at the 1940 Olympics, she joined the Aquacades. Sumptuously irrigated movies soon followed, their gushing fountains and bathing beauties choreographed by Busby Berkeley.

Kellerman, meanwhile, had quit the water and opened a health-food shop in San Diego. One day, she turned up on the set of Million Dollar Mermaid. She was 65, “not a wrinkle on her face”.

The two women posed for a picture, then Williams asked how Kellerman felt about her playing her life.

“I wish you were Australian,” Kellerman answered.

“I’m the only swimmer in the movies, Miss Kellerman. I’m all you’ve got.”

Later in the shoot, Williams broke her neck when she dived from a 35-metre tower in a gold-sequinned leotard and aluminium crown. She spent five months in a full body cast. She recovered, but demand for water-based musicals was drying up and so was her movie career.

Annette Kellerman returned to live in Australia. She died aged 89 and became a municipal aquatic centre in Enmore.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

Cover: May 2013
View Edition

From the front page

Image of Industry, Science and Technology Minister Christian Porter and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Image

Porter’s complaint

Christian Porter wants his defamation case to run on his terms

Still from Shane Meadows’ ‘The Virtues’

Vice grip: ‘The Virtues’

Shane Meadows’ astonishing series stems from a late reckoning with his own childhood abuse

Image of artwork by Sarah Goffman

The moment of reckoning

Any addressing of parliament’s abuse, misogyny and sexism must also tackle its racism

Cover image of ‘The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen’

Body language: ‘The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen’

Echoing folktales and fables, Krissy Kneen’s memoir contemplates the body’s visceral knowledge of inherited trauma


In This Issue

Misogyny exerts a force on all our lives: Prime Minister Gillard with Kyle Sandilands © Sam Mooy/Newspix

Hashtag feminism

‘Destroying the Joint’

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Death in Amsterdam

Vox

Mental disorders are messy amalgams of biology, psychology and culture / ‘The Extraction of the Stone of Madness’ (c.1494), Hieronymus Bosch

DSM-5 and the mental illness make-over

Modern madness

Peter Sutton at a Wik outstation in 1977: “That period seems a little innocent now”. Photo courtesy of David Martin

The Aurukun blues of Peter Sutton

An anthropologist hits the skids in Cape York


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Patricia Lockwood

Mind over meta: ‘No One Is Talking About This’

The debut novel from the extremely online Patricia Lockwood considers how the virtual invades the real

Image from ‘Supernova’

Lodestar: ‘Supernova’

Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth star in Harry Macqueen’s quiet elegy to a loving relationship in its twilight

Image of Pharaoh Sanders and Sam Shepherd

Always tomorrow: ‘Promises’

Legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders joins electronic musician Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra for a compositionally minimalist album

The death of Yokununna: ‘Return to Uluru’

Mark McKenna explores Australia’s history of violence, dispossession and deception through one tragic incident


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Read on

Still from Shane Meadows’ ‘The Virtues’

Vice grip: ‘The Virtues’

Shane Meadows’ astonishing series stems from a late reckoning with his own childhood abuse

Cover image of ‘The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen’

Body language: ‘The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen’

Echoing folktales and fables, Krissy Kneen’s memoir contemplates the body’s visceral knowledge of inherited trauma

Cartoon image of man standing on chess board

Reality is irreversible

The systems game and the need for global regime change

Image of Cristin Milioti as Hazel Green-Gogol in Made for Love

Can’t get you out of my head: ‘Made for Love’

Leading April’s streaming highlights is a subversive black comedy that takes coercive control to its digital extreme