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The film's working title was The One Piece Bathing Suit. After the M-G-M logo, the following written statement appears: "The great New York Hippodrome is gone, but those who contributed to its fame linger in cherished memory.... HOUDINI.... PAVLOVA.... SOUSA.... MARCELLINE THE CLOWN...And of course the incomparable ANNETTE KELLERMAN! This is her story."There is a brief, introductory voice-over narration at the beginning of the film. Although the Hollywood Reporter review lists the film's running time as 112 min., all other sources list it as 115. Hollywood Reporter news items include the following persons as "swimming actors" or "swimming partners," but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed: Joan Barton, Sue Casey, Pat Dean Smith, Edith Motridge, Maxine Wosiatt, Jerry Elliott, Joan McKellen, Faye Ann Antakey, Betty Onge, Dorinda Clifton, Gene Summers, Barbara Barrett, Elizabeth Bass, Diane Cassidy, Fred Zandar, Chester Hayes, William Lavin, Murry Teckler, John Brazil, Alex Goudavitch, Al Jackson, William Chatham, Danny Casabian, Regis Parton, Ray Saunders, Russ Saunders, Dorothy Poynton, Audrey Saunders, Janet Lavis and Lita Finn.
As shown in the film, Australian-born Annette Kellerman (1887-1975) was the daughter of a music teacher and overcame a childhood bout of polio to became a championship swimmer. In 1907, she was arrested for indecent exposure on Revere Beach in Boston because she wore a one-piece, man's-style racing suit. Kellerman became an international star, and toured the world with her own water show. Although Kellerman had been in some brief swimming documentaries and appeared in the 1909 Vitagraph short The Bride of Lammermoor (see AFI Catalog. Film Beginnings, 1893-1910), her first feature-length film was Neptune's Daughter, produced by Universal Film Co. and directed by Herbert Brenon (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20).
Unlike the Hollywood setting portrayed in Million Dollar Mermaid, Bermuda was the real location where filming of Neptune's Daughter took place. According to biographical sources, the accident dramatized in Million Dollar Mermaid actually occurred during production of Kellerman's 1916 picture A Daughter of the Gods . Kellerman was not gravely injured in the accident and continued her career on film, sporadically, for several years. Her last film was Venus of the South Seas in 1924, but she continued performing in water ballets for many years and acted as a technical advisor for Million Dollar Mermaid.
Although as in the movie, Kellerman married James R. Sullivan, who handled her career and directed Venus of the South Seas, in an interview in the Los Angeles Times in March 1952, Kellerman stated that, contrary to his portrayal in the film, her own husband (to whom she was married until his death, a few days prior to her own in 1975) was a shy, quiet man, who shunned the limelight for himself. Many of the film's other characters are fictional, as are a number of other incidents, including Sullivan's connection to famed movie dog "Rin Tin Tin."
"Fountain and Smoke" was one of the most famous water sequences of Esther Williams' career. Choreographed and directed by noted director Busby Berkeley, the number has been featured in many documentaries on the history of film. In the sequence, colored smoke enhances the water ballet, which includes several water slides and a shot of Williams dropping from high in the air into a circle of swimmers posing in a decorative pattern. A moment later, Williams emerges from the water, surrounded by ignited sparklers, then descends back down, with the water extinguishing the sparklers. According to several modern interviews, the sparkler shots were obtained by lowering Williams into the water, surrounded by lighted sparklers, then reversing the film, making it appear that the sparklers spontaneously combusted. Million Dollar Mermaid marked the the last onscreen credit for Berkely until the 1962 M-G-M production of Jumbo, on which he was credited as the second unit director.
As predicted in trade publications, Million Dollar Mermaid was a hit and was one of the top money makers of the year for M-G-M. The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Cinematography (Color) category. Williams reprised her role for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on December 14, 1953. Walter Pidgeon co-starred in the radio production, but portrayed "Alfred Harper" instead of the role of Kellerman's father.