Cast & Crew
In late nineteenth century Australia, Annette Kellerman, a child recovering from polio, yearns to play like other children. Her devoted father Frederick, who owns a music conservatory, gently asks her not to be jealous, but, instead, concentrate on her music. One day, the maid reports that Annette has run away and Frederick finds her swimming in a nearby river. She calms her worried father by telling him that she has taught herself to swim and the exercise has helped her walk without braces. Over the years, Annette continues to grow stronger and soon begins ballet, in addition to her daily swims. With her father's encouragement, she becomes a champion and eventually wins the New South Wales Women's Amateur Freestyle cup. Because of economic problems in Australia, Frederick is forced to close the conservatory and accept a teaching position in London. On the voyage to England, the Kellermens meet American promoter James Sullivan, who, with his friend Doc Cronnol, is training "Sidney," a boxing kangaroo. Jimmy is impressed by Annette's abilities and looks, and suggests that she let him manage her professional swimming career. While Annette is amused at the suggestion, Frederick is incensed and chastises Jimmy for the insult. When they arrive in London, Frederick finds that the music school has closed after the death of its owner. Without work, and with their funds dwindling, Annette is forced to pawn most of her swimming trophies. One day, Annette is visited by Jimmy and Doc, who have had bad luck promoting Sidney. Jimmy suggests that Annette do a six-mile swim to Greenwich as a publicity stunt for the act and offers her five pounds. Annette is interested, but suggests that she swim twenty-six miles. On the day of the swim, there are no reporters to see her off, but Annette goes into the Thames, with Doc and Jimmy rowing alongside. When the crew of a passing barge see Annette, word spreads of her swim and soon thousands of spectators cheer her on as she passes through London. Frederick, who has read of the swim in the newspaper, also cheers her on and warmly greets his exhausted daughter when she arrives at Greenwich. The next day, Jimmy is flooded with offers for Annette but turns them all down, telling her and Frederick that he knows Alfred Harper, owner of the New York Hippodrome, and proposes building a huge water ballet around Annette. With Jimmy willing to sell Sidney to pay for their passage to America, Frederick and Annette agree to go with him. In New York, Alfred turns down Jimmy's idea because Annette is not known in the U.S., but offers her a job as a showgirl. The disappointed Jimmy urges Annette to take the offer because they are almost broke, but Annette wants to earn enough money to buy Frederick a new conservatory and suggests accompanying Jimmy and Doc to Boston where she will do another marathon swim. In Boston, Annette shocks the prim locals by appearing in a one-piece bathing suit that shows her bare arms and legs and is soon arrested for indecent exposure on Revere Beach. The newspapers are filled with stories about Annette, and Frederick urges her to fight the "medieval" charges. At her trial, Annette convinces the judge that the one-piece bathing suit is necessary for championship swimming and he dismiss the case when she shows him a suit she has altered to include attached stockings. Publicity about Annette spreads throughout the world and she becomes a hit in a swimming and diving carnival show run by Jimmy. The two fall in love, and Jimmy is about to offer her an engagement ring when Annette considers a $500 a week job offer from stuffy Mr. Aldrich, who wants her to begin a dignified lecture tour. After arguing with her over accepting the offer, Jimmy thinks that she will leave him for better things and goes to Florida with Doc to work with a stunt flyer. That evening, Annette turns Aldrich down, but later receives a telegram from Alfred offering her a water ballet at the Hippodrome. Sure that there will also be a job for Jimmy, Annette goes to the carnival, but discovers that he has left without a word. Annette takes the job at the Hippodrome and soon becomes the headliner. Annette is still in love with Jimmy, but Frederick, who now leads the Hippodrome orchestra, tells her that Jimmy will only come to her when he feels that he has something to offer. Frederick dies the following season, a crushing blow to Annette. Some time later, Doc asks Annette to stop Jimmy from entering a dangerous cross-country flying race with a $50,000 prize. Annette arrives just before Jimmy takes off, but when she sees him kiss a pretty spectator, she becomes jealous and the two start to argue. Jimmy refuses to cancel his flight, so Annette has a policeman serve him an injunction, claiming that he absconded with $200 from their carnival show, not knowing that the money was for her engagement ring. Jimmy then dismissively gives her the ring and leaves in the plane. Alfred, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Annette and wants to marry her, but she will not give him an answer. Although Jimmy's plane goes down, he is not seriously hurt, but the he disappears before the worried Annette can speak with him. At Christmas, Alfred again proposes to Annette, and this time she accepts. They soon leave for Hollywood, where Annette will appear in her first film, Neptune's Daughter . On the train west, they run into Jimmy and Doc, who are trying to sell phony Indian blankets and hoping to get a German shepherd named "Rin Tin Tin" into the movies. Some weeks later, on the last day of filming the movie, Alfred looks forward to the start of his honeymoon with Annette, but is hurt to see that she still has Jimmy's ring. Soon after Annette dives into the water for her last scene, a crack starts to appear on the glass of the huge tank. Despite the desperate signaling of the crew, warning her of danger, Annette is trapped and swept onto the broken glass as the tank bursts. Newspapers around the world report the serious accident and two weeks later, her prognosis is still in doubt. When Alfred sees Jimmy, who has secretly come to the hospital every day, he takes him up to Annette's room. Before they can see her, however, the doctor tells them that she may never walk again. On the doctor's suggestion, both men leave, but Jimmy sneaks back to her room. Seeing Annette's depression, Jimmy urges her on, saying that Alfred is a "terrific guy" and that she can overcome her injuries just as she did as a child. Just then Alfred comes into the room and, seeing the love that Jimmy and Annette share, wishes them well and gives Jimmy the ring. As Alfred leaves, Jimmy puts the ring on Annette's finger and they kiss.
A. Cameron Grant
James L. "tiny" Kelly
William J. O'brien
T. Arthur Hughes
George J. Folsey
A. Arnold Gillespie
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Howard W. Koch
John Mcsweeney Jr.
Jack Martin Smith
Beth Slater Whitson
Edwin B. Willis
Million Dollar Mermaid
The movie traces Kellerman (Williams) from her beginnings in Australia to a move to London with her father (Walter Pidgeon) and finally to swimming sensation in turn-of-the-century America. Along the way she meets talent manager James Sullivan, played by Victor Mature, who convinces her to wear a shocking -- for the time period -- one-piece bathing suit as she makes a long-distance publicity swim in Boston. Aquatic fame at New York's Hippodrome Theater and in the movies follow, along with a romance with Sullivan. But misunderstandings force the couple to part, only to be reconciled after an accident at the end.
Dominating the film are, of course, water extravaganzas orchestrated by the Million Dollar Dance Director himself, Busby Berkeley. To recreate one of the highlights of Kellerman's career at the Hippodrome, Berkeley masterminded a sequence involving massive water fountains and colored smoke streams. In The Busby Berkeley Book by Tony Thomas and Jim Terry, the choreographer-director revealed he "used one hundred boy and girl swimmers and for the background I had nothing but red and yellow smoke streams shooting up fifty feet. The effect was made by four hundred electrically controlled smoke pots. On each side of the pool, I had forty-foot-high ramps, from which the swimmers slid down at a terrific pace, standing up and carrying yellow lighted torches as they entered the water. I also had twelve long swings that swung down from high in the air through the smoke, and from which twelve girls and boys simultaneously dived into the water. Esther was also the center of attention in this number. I dropped her from fifty feet into the mass of swimmers below, which exploded into a Ferris wheel effect on the water. Then they all submerged, and gradually out of the water came Esther on a platform surrounded by beautiful girls. The closing effect was an array of five hundred lighted sparklers coming out of the water and forming a background around the whole group."
A long-time fan of Kellerman's, Williams used her considerable influence to get MGM to buy the rights to the story and to even hire Kellerman as a technical adviser on the set. Previously, Williams had starred in Neptune's Daughter, (1949), the same name as Kellerman's first big movie hit in 1914. But aside from the titles, the films had little in common.
Williams was no stranger to the talent and stamina required for the "aquamusicals" produced by MGM. By age 15, the swimming champion trained at the prestigious Los Angeles Athletic Club. An invitation to represent the United States in the 1940 Olympics followed a few years later. Williams' dream of becoming an Olympic champion, though, was cut short by World War II, when Olympic events were cancelled. Instead, she joined the famous Billy Rose Aquacade, a water stage show that included Gertrude Ederle, the first female English Channel swimmer, and Olympic champ and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. A short time later, Hollywood wooed her to the movies, creating a watery genre all for her.
Million Dollar Mermaid was made at the height of Williams' popularity, with trade publication Variety pointing out her "nautical prowess and swimsuit-wearing ability" as major assets in its review in 1952. First making a splash in 1944's Bathing Beauty, she was one of MGM's biggest box office draws through the late 1940s and 50s with such hits as Dangerous When Wet (1953) and Jupiter's Darling (1955). Her success also translated into the field of sports: Williams has been credited with popularizing competitive and synchronized swimming.
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Everett Freeman
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Film Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Esther Williams (Annette Kellerman), Victor Mature (James Sullivan), Walter Pidgeon (Frederick Kellerman), David Brian (Alfred Harper), Donna Corcoran (young Annette Kellerman), Jesse White (Doc Cronnol).
C-111m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox
Million Dollar Mermaid
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.
Released in United States July 1984
Released in United States Winter December 1952
Released in United States July 1984 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (50 Hour Sports Movie Marathon) July 5-20, 1984.)
Released in United States Winter December 1952