Million Dollar Mermaid: Trailer

Million Dollar Mermaid: Trailer
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This is an excerpt from a mute trailer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Million Dollar Mermaid (Mervyn LeRoy, USA, 1952). The film is based on the life story of Annette Kellerman and stars then relative newcomer Esther Williams.

As far as biopic trailers go, this is something of an oddity, focusing almost exclusively on grandiose choreographed swimming and diving routines rather than other aspects of Kellerman's life.

Nonetheless, the technicolour is sumptuous and the superimposing of moving footage adds an attractive dreamlike quality, almost mimicking the translucent nature of the water. What it does effectively advertise is that this is a big-budget film and cinema audiences can expect a visual treat.

The clip features examples of synchronised swimming, a sport which Kellerman pioneered. It is given the 'Busby Berkeley treatment'. Berkeley was the prominent Hollywood choreographer of his generation, creating large-scale dazzling dance spectacles in films like 42nd Street (1933), Footlight Parade (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933).

Kellerman performed all of her stunts, unlike Williams who required two stunt doubles. Olympic diver Helen Crlenkovich likely performs the high dive from a trapeze that is seen in the trailer, while Edith Motridge was Williams' swimming double. Esther Williams injured herself while they were shooting a high-diving scene in the film, and spent six months in a body cast as a result.

Kellerman was not a fan of Million Dollar Mermaid, calling it a 'silly little yarn' and a 'namby-pamby attempt' at her life story. She said, 'It may not sound modest, but I did many more things in show business than my swimming act. I lectured in five languages in Europe. I sang, danced, and played the accordion.'

She was particularly disappointed that they left out a sequence where she danced the Diving Swan ballet with Arturo Toscanini, a highlight of her career. She was also an author and fitness entrepreneur.

The title of the film refers to Kellerman's nickname 'The Million Dollar Mermaid', which she gained after the financial success of Neptune's Daughter (Herbert Brenon, USA, 1914).

The UK title was The One-Piece Suit, honouring Kellerman's pivotal role in popularising the modern one-piece bathing suit. By 1911 the term ‘Annette Kellermann suit’ was American terminology for a one-piece swimsuit and she lent her name to a range of swimsuits from 1914 to the 1930s, incidentally becoming a prototype for movie stars marketing their own clothing lines.

Notes by Beth Taylor