Picture-Play Weekly, April 17, 1915
Miss Kathlyn Williams is well known as one of the most daring persons posing for the motion-picture camera. In almost every picture in which she is featured she is surrounded by uncaged wild beasts, a test for the most ironlike nerves. She was the woman who carried out almost impossible feats in the “The Adventures of Kathlyn.”
The following article is a story of Miss Williams’ work, an account of her experiences with untamed beasts, written by herself, and a short biography of her life.
Very few men, not to mention women, would risk themselves to undertake any of the feats accomplished Miss Kathlyn Williams, the well-known star of the Selig motion-picture company. Her intimacy with wild beasts one of the features of her work which have attracted the admiration of picture theatergoers over the country, and when it is considered that Miss Williams never went closer to animals of the jungle than to look at them through a cage at the county fairs, before she went into motion pictures, makes her work the more interesting. With daring unusual to her sex and with undaunted nerve, she entered one of the cages in which a lion was kept one day shortly after she had joined the Selig company, and since that time has never feared any of the beasts, appearing with them in pictures without the separation by steel bars.
Miss Williams has written, herself, a short account of her experiences in motion-picture life, bearing for the greater part upon her work with the animals of the jungle. This we print below.
BY MISS KATHLYN WILLIAMS.
“I am told that the public is inter- ested in my methods of playing with the wild animals in motion pictures, and would be pleased to read a short article written by me and telling of my experiences in this line of work. I am happy to tell, in as few words as possible, of my experiences with the wild animals.
“I will confess that I was somewhat nervous when I started to work on my first jungle picture play for the Selig Company. I had never been close to a wild animal except as I viewed his majesty, the lion, through the bars of a steel cage in a circus tent. The first animal picture that I ever worked in also called for the services of several lions.
“The keeper impressed upon me the fact that I must show no fear; he said to enter among them confidently, and never take your eyes off them while in the cage. I acted upon his advice, although I will confess that the temptation was great to just drop everything and run.
“I’ll never forget my sensations as I walked in among those three lions for the first time. They tell me that I showed no fear, and that there was no danger, but if I didn’t show fear, I certainly felt fear.
“‘Caesar,’ who is certainly a king of beasts, transfixed me with his great yellow eyes as I entered the den. He half arose as if to saunter toward me. The keeper said to me: ‘Don’t hesitate; keep right on advancing; don’t turn your eyes away from ’em; there’s no danger!’ I thought to myself that it’s easy enough to say ‘no danger’ when you’re on the outside looking in, but when you’re on the inside looking out, that’s another story!’ Caesar continued to stare at me, and I stared back. I think now the big fellow was only curious as to the identity’ of this latest human being who had so coolly entered his domain, but to my excited imagination, Caesar seemed to be contemplating the advisability of springing at me. In any event, he looked me over with his big. unblinking yellow eyes and then—he thumped down on the floor of the cage and went to sleep!
‘T can say that after my first experience I never had the slightest feeling of fear when obliged to make pets of wild animals, and perhaps it is this fact that causes the keepers and tamers to say that I am very successful in my acts with beasts. There is always an element of danger, they tell me; proper precautions are always taken when Zelig Jungle-Zoo picture plays are filmed; but I have never as yet experienced a serious accident.
“Among all the wild animals, leopards are my favorites. These great, beautiful beasts I know by name, and I certainly think that they have affection for me. They are dog-like in their familiarity, and great pets. I know that many would have no desire for leopards as pets, but you remember the story of the ancient princess drove teams of chained leopards? Well, I have often envied that princess, for I would like to drive such a team!
“It is always dangerous for a stranger to go around wild animals of any kind, although their keeper can disturb them at any hour of the day or night without annoying them. People see working with leopards, day after day, and they do not realize it while the big cats are my pets, harmless so far I am concerned they would ferociously tear pieces any stranger who might intrude upon their privacy.
“On several occasions I have been enabled save the life some one who intruded upon her pet kittens, one occasion, while we were taking the ‘Kathlyn’ pictures. two of the actors in costume approached the spot where leopards were waiting to fill the turn. I knew them both well, and one them, in a playful way, placed his hand upon my shoulders. Whereupon ‘Sapho’ sprang at his throat, and I had all I could do to keep her from ripping her open with her long hind claws. On another occasion we were producing ‘The Leopard’s Foundling,’ a photographer picked up one of Sapho’s cubs which aroused her Ferocity, and she sprang upon his back. It took some time to quiet her.
“I admit that I may experience serious accident some time, but I had acted, with the aid of my pets, I certainly like the work.”
About Miss Williams.
A radiant and picturesque personality is Kathlyn Williams. A daughter of Montana, she was well-born on the lights. While still simple and unspoiled by adulation, she can look beyond the horizon. The failing of family fortunes early in life compelled her, as a high-school graduate, to start out and seek her own, which she did with a modesty and force of energy that soon demonstrated her superiority in mastering whatever she undertook.
Her charm of face and grace of figure, her poise and histrionic resourcefulness, attracted the attention of a western theatrical manager, who gave to her first engagement in small parts at a theater, in Butte,
Montana. There her histrionic powers attracted the attention of Senator Clark, the copy-king, noted for his then appreciation of the artistic. He made some inquiries concerning the young girl, and she was as gifted with talent as she was poor in worldly goods, and offered to educate herself—to polish the rough diamond at what he saw so wholesome amid the poverty and the yellow lights of the little theater stage, through his generosity, she went to the Franklin Sargent Dramatic School, in New York, where she studied two years with such avidity and to such advantage that, she accomplished wonders, and was, at her graduation, accorded the position of leading lady in a prominent dramatic company.
Then, with the true artistic temperament, difficult to curb, her ambition was averted for a time, but she came back, and as she had the artistic armament for the stage, W. N. Selig recognized her capabilities and engaged her as leading lady for his stock company in Chicago. While she preferred the kore intellectual work of the stage—plays been being far more simple than now—she entered the new work with a zest, and was soon recognized as a most valuable acquisition for the serious side of the motion-picture business. Having played as sentimental and turgid, tragic heroines, for such figured largely in the earlier stages of the picture business before the board of censorship had its domination, she became the favorite in a new sort of drama in which wild animals figured vitally and pictorially. The beasts of the jungle, prior to this time, had never been brought into the line of the camera without steel bars between.
It may always be noted for fact that Miss Williams appears with wild animals that are never restrained by wire or collar. They are never cabined or confined, and move as freely as they do in their native haunts.
The difficult and unexpected things offer a peculiar fascination to this trig, firmly knit, resourceful, intrepid gentlewoman, who has the classic cast of heroic face with nothing to suggest feminine fear. She has been in many and varied predicaments—for picture plays are real, not mythical or faked—from a flight in a hydroplane and a fall in a lake, to the collision of a train and the wrecking of a locomotive. These dangers have not been met, passed, or overcome without unusual risk, but Miss Williams never shirks a duty, but rather courts a dangerous situation for the sheer spice of its novelty.
Some little time ago she produced a play of her own on the Pacific coast dealing with seafaring life, and experienced some of the closest calls of her precarious calling in this dangerous ca- pacity. She was lashed to a mast that was cast loose on the stormy Pacific. It had a wider area of dangerous action than was anticipated, and was dashed on the rocks and then drawn out by the undertow, so that the hapless heroine, tied and hapless, was held under the big spar, and was only rescued from drowning with the greatest difficulty. In some later scenes of the play, requiring a transfer from a wrecked ship to a small boat, the waves yawned between the ship and the little rescuing craft so violently that the ill-starred heroine was cast in the sea, and as the storm was real and everybody had to look to themselves, she was forced to rely upon her prowess as a swimmer, to keep afloat half an hour, until she could be rescued in reality.
While acting for the famous pictures of “Adventures of Kathlyn,”in which she was the central figure, Miss Williams went through some especially daring feats.
“These things.” Miss Williams remarked reminiscently, shrugging her shoulders, “are all in the day’s work. They do not impress me nearly as much as formulating ideas for situations in plays which to me is a matter of more personal and professional pride. There is a peculiarly pleasurable sensation in the creation of a role particularly those new, strange, and out of the ordinary. The range of the picture play is widening so rapidly and taking depth in proportion, that it is giving new valuations to the impressive drama appealing to the more sensitive tastes of the public. The serious side of motion-picture plays is now attracting the attention of the greatest actresses of the time, which is encouraging to the lesser ones.”
Miss Williams’ Advice to “Movie-ambitious” Girls.
According to recent records about one in every three of the charming young ladies of Chicago, Illinois, are ambitious to become motion-picture ac tresses. Miss Kathlyn Williams was a guest recently at a Chicago hotel while en route from the Isthmus of Panama to Los Angeles, California, and during her leisure hours she kindly granted audiences to bevies of charming misses who have lost all desire for the glamour of the footlights, and wish to pose, as leading ladies, in the silent drama.
According to the records which were carefully kept by Miss Williams, just two hundred and sixty-two pretty misses were given some sound advice.
In chronological order, their aspirations follow:
Fifty would become leading ladies in movie society dramas.
Thirty have been taking riding lessons, and believe they could star in film dramas of the Tom Mix type.
One hundred said they “could just do anything,” from flights in airships, to riding the pilot of a locomotive.
Ten wish to star in serial picture plays of “The Adventures of Kathlyn” type. Only two think they are temperamentally fitted for characters of the “adventuress” type, while the rest are perfectly willing to serve as supernumeraries for a brief time, until “they are more familiar with the artistic requirements.”
The young ladies had no hesitancy in selecting favorite motion-picture stock companies in which their services would likely be appreciated. Tom Santschi, Tom Mix, Wheeler Oakman, Romaine Fielding, Crane Wilbur, Arthur Johnson, and Earle Williams seemed favorites with the Chicago girls, all of whom were more or less confident that they would succeed much better if given opportunities to act in the productions in which these stars would appear.
Another unusual detail was that the aspirants, almost without exception, preferred drama to comedy, and if they were all to secure engagements as leading ladies, there would certainly be a superabundance of stirring dramas and a sad dearth of comedies on the animated screen,
Kathlyn Williams devoted hours of her time in granting audiences to the girls who had early learned of her presence in Chicago through the newspapers said Miss Williams, “and at that time more than appreciated a word or two food advice. I was glad to tell the girls the truth about motion-picture acting. It is work, purely and simply, as I invariably advise girls to seek some other occupation. Amateurs have an opportunity now to successfully enact upon the work, because the field is crowded with those having long stage experience, and, naturally, they are first engaged to fill the few vacancies.”