Stardom and controversy
From marathon swimming and diving shows she went on to play packed houses with her unique vaudeville show in London and later New York. She became acquainted with controversy early on when the one-piece bathing costume (right) she developed caused a stir during her performance for royalty.
In 1909 she got into the movies – going on to star in 14 films. She became known as the Million Dollar Mermaid when her 1914 film Neptune's Daughter (Herbert Brenon, USA, 1914) was one of the first films to take one million dollars at the box office.
Ahead of her time in so many ways, Kellerman included a drag king act in her shows – looking dashing in a tuxedo and monocle. She called the character The English Johnny.
A sex symbol of the early 1900s, she kept her sense of humour about being dubbed 'the Perfectly Formed Woman' by the New York Times in 1912, although she found the label 'ghastly'. She is credited as being the first woman to appear nude on film – in the three-hour epic A Daughter of the Gods (Herbert Brenon, USA, 1916).
She was a passionate advocate for women's health and in 1909 she formulated a mail-order diet and fitness program undertaken by 40,000 women.
Thrown to the crocodiles
Strong and powerful, she performed all of her own stunts in her movies, including a 20-metre dive into the ocean with her hands and feet bound.
In her 1974 oral history she tells the story of being thrown into a pool with six crocodiles in A Daughter of the Gods saying 'That was honest to God you know'.
You can see her physical prowess in this rare footage of her unique style of underwater ballet: