Sunday, May 26, 2013

Silent Film Star: Kathlyn Williams

Kathlyn Williams (May 31, 1879 – September 23, 1960) was interested in becoming an actress, which lead her to become a member of a community thespian group. She also joined the Woman's Relief Corps that allowed her to sing at the local recitals.

Williams attended Montana Wesleyan University (now Rocky Mountain College) in Helena during the late 1890's and graduated in 1901, where she excelled in voice and her performances were highly praised.

In May 1899, she recited "The Gypsy Flower Girl" at her university's annual competition.

On May 29, 1900, Williams received a gold medal for her recitation of "Old Mother Goose" in a contest.

She caught the attention of William A. Clark, a very wealthy Montana Senator, who paid her tuition to the Sargent School of Acting which is now known as the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York City.

She was also given encouragement by Richard "Uncle Dick" Sutton, who owned several theaters in Butte, where Williams performed on stage early in her career.

In 1900, her friends held a concert at Sutton's Theater for "Katie", to help raise funds to help pay for her college tuition. By 1902, Williams joined a theater touring group called Norris & Hall and Company where she played the lead part in the popular play "When We Were Twenty One."

Williams began her career with Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago, Illinois and made her first film in 1908 under the direction of Francis Boggs.

By 1910, she was transferred to the company's Los Angeles film studio. Williams played "Cherry Malotte" in the first movie based upon Rex Beach's 1906 novel The Spoilers(1914), directed by Colin Campbell. It takes place in Nome, Alaska during the 1898 Gold Rush, with William Farnum as Roy Glennister, Kathlyn Williams as Cherry Malotte and Tom Santschi as Alex McNamara.  The film is known for it's spectacular saloon fistfight between Glennister and McNamara.

Video: Movie in full.

In 1916, she starred in the thirteen episode adventure film serial, The Adventures of Kathlyn. She was busy throughout the silent film era but age and the advent of talkies saw her make only five sound films, the last in 1935.

Williams was married three times. Her first husband was Otto H. "Harry" Kainer (1876–1952), who ran an import and export business on Wall Street in New York City. They were wed on October 2, 1903, and their son, Victor Hugo, was born in 1905. On May 8, 1905, she sued her husband for $20,000 dollars for not paying her $10,000 on the day of their marriage and for every year of their marriage. The case made headline news. They supposedly divorced over Kainer's disapproval of his wife having an acting career and Williams subsequently obtained a divorce from Kainer in 1909 in Nevada.

On March 4, 1913, she married Frank R. Allen, also an actor, but the marriage lasted a little over a year. On June 30, 1914, she filed for divorce in Los Angeles and listed desertion as the reason as the failure of their marriage.

She later married Paramount Pictures executive Charles Eyton on June 2, 1916. The couple met ten years earlier in Salt Lake City, Utah. Eyton went there to look over a new play. While there he met Kathlyn, who was a member of the Willard Mack stock company. Eyton and Williams were engaged earlier but a lover's quarrel broke them up. A second meeting in the movie camps of Los Angeles, California rekindled their love. Eyton was one of the owners of the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Company.

On February 25, 1922, her beloved son, now called Victor Eyton, died suddenly at the age of 16 from complications from the influenza. He was previously enrolled at Harvard Military Academy before he became a student at Hollywood High School. In order to overcome her grief, the Eytons took a trip to Asia which lasted for four months. The Eytons eventually divorced in 1931.

On December 29, 1949, Williams was involved in a deadly automobile accident, which claimed the life of her friend, Mrs. Mary E. Rose, while they were returning home from Las Vegas. As a result of the accident, Williams lost her right limb. On April 8, 1950, Williams sued the estate of Rose for $136,615, citing negligence and claiming that the automobile had inefficient brakes. In June 1951, Williams accepted the offer of $6,500 dollars from the Rose estate.

Kathlyn Williams died of a heart attack in Hollywood in 1960. She was found in her apartment where she resided for nearly 30 years. Although it was widely reported that Williams became a wheelchair invalid since the loss of her leg, she still traveled and lead a productive life.

After her death, Williams bequeathed most of her assets, to charitable institutions: The McKinley Industrial Home for Boys, the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and to an orthopedic and children's hospital. One of her last dying wishes was for a plaque to be placed at The McKinley Industrial Home for Boys to celebrate the memory of her son.

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