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

May 2013

From the front page

A stadium’s last stand

Arrogance. Vandalism. Victory. It’s the NSW disease

Image of ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

Making the private public: ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

This new history traces how the decade’s redefined politics shaped modern Australia

Image from ‘Destroyer’

Hell hath no fury: Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’

Nicole Kidman confronts in this LA crime thriller

‘Exploded View’ by Carrie Tiffany

This new novel is most striking in how it diverges from its predecessors


In This Issue

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

‘The Secret River’, Sydney Theatre Company

‘The Secret River’

Sydney Theatre Company

Still ready to served: Rudd’s backers refuse to give up agitating for his return © Andrew Taylor/Fairfax Syndication

Kevin Rudd’s unrelenting campaign to regain power

How Labor changed its view of the deposed PM from party saboteur to potential saviour

Bruce Springsteen, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, 29 March 2013

Bruce Springsteen Live in Melbourne

Rod Laver Arena, 29 March 2013


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, 2010

Rats, heroes and Kevin Rudd’s ‘The PM Years’

This memoir answers some questions about his deposal and return but raises others

Image of Gerald Murnane

Tracking time: Gerald Murnane’s ‘A Season on Earth’

Forty years on, the author’s second novel is reunited with its lost half

Image of Matmos

Clicks, plinks, hoots and thuds: Matmos’s ‘Plastic Anniversary’

The American experimental duo embrace the ‘sounds’ of a ubiquitous material

A French Western? Jacques Audiard on ‘The Sisters Brothers’

The celebrated director explains how he made a Hollywood staple his own


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

Image of ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

Making the private public: ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

This new history traces how the decade’s redefined politics shaped modern Australia

Image from ‘Destroyer’

Hell hath no fury: Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’

Nicole Kidman confronts in this LA crime thriller

Image from Hobart’s school strike for climate

The kids are alright

Climate-striking students have every right to protest

Image of Defence Minister Christopher Pyne

The Teflon Kingdom

Saudi Arabia is confident it can buy out the West, and Australia is happy to oblige


×
×