By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Magazine
20 February 2016
In 1907, Kellerman was arrested on Revere Beach, Boston, for wearing one of her suits without a skirt. But the judge accepted it had been designed for exercise and was decent, provided she wore a skirt until entering the water.
t’s 100 years since Annette Kellerman became the first person to appear nude in a Hollywood film. But this was just one of many remarkable events in her life.
She sat naked on a tree branch, her arms stretched upwards, but her hair largely covered her breasts.
It might not seem very risque today, but this scene, from a film released in 1916, was an important event in the history of film. Annette Kellerman is regarded as the first star – male or female – to appear nude in a mainstream Hollywood production.
The fantasy drama A Daughter of the Gods featured her as a character called Alicia who falls in love with a prince and enlists the help of the inhabitants of Gnomeland to help in his struggles with his enemies. The cast included a sultan, the Witch of Badness, the Fairy of Goodness and several eunuchs. No copies of the film are thought to exist today, but at the time it caused a huge media fuss.
An advert promoting the film among cinema owners proclaimed: “It has made big money wherever shown. Book it now.”
When A Daughter of the Gods came to Kellerman’s native Australia in 1917, The Green Room theatrical magazine said anyone not seeing it would miss “one of the greatest events” in the country’s history.
“From the far-away sphere of the Unknown we are immediately borne, by this film, to a land of enchantment,” it added. “Something of the wonder of the Arabian Nights, of the glory of the East, of our own war, of fairyland, of womanly power and eternal beauty, is manifested to us by this masterpiece of cinematography.”
The film was a first for Hollywood but just one of a remarkable series of events in the life of Kellerman – a champion swimmer, vaudeville pioneer, swimwear designer, stuntwoman, businesswoman and health-and-fitness guru.
“She represented the fit, active and spectacular female body, and urged other women to throw away their corsets and become fit and healthy,” says Angela Woollacott, professor of history at Australian National University. “She saw herself as something of a guru for women’s fitness, but others also saw her as an icon of feminine modernity,” she adds.