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

Black Is the New White

Welcome to The Summer Library: selected extracts from the best new books this summer

An Orchestra of Minorities

Welcome to The Summer Library: selected extracts from the best new books this summer

Close to Home: Selected Writings

Welcome to The Summer Library: selected extracts from the best new books this summer

Climate Justice

Welcome to The Summer Library: selected extracts from the best new books this summer


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


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Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

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Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

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Read on

Image from ‘The Beehive’

The lady vanishes: ‘The Beehive’ at Sydney Festival

Zanny Begg and Philippa Bateman on their enigmatic film that explores the unsolved disappearance of Juanita Nielsen

Image from ‘Primavera’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art

‘Primavera 2018: Young Australian Artists’ at the MCA

This exhibition of the up-and-coming asks complex questions about who we are

Fusion

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Zebra and Other Stories

Welcome to The Summer Library: selected extracts from the best new books this summer


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