Kathlyn Williams - Silent Star of April, 1998
by Kally Mavromatis
She was the Queen of the Serials, the first woman to be put in danger,
week after week, her safety unassured until the next installment.
No. Kathlyn Williams.
In 1913, Colonel William Selig, in a last-ditch effort to help save the
floundering Chicago Tribune, began a collaborative effort to boost the
paper's circulation and increase attendance at his pictures. The
Adventures of Kathlyn (1913) perfected the concept of the cliffhanger,
with the paper publishing each chapter's story in conjunction with the
latest installment. While the idea of a continuous series was not new --
it had been done earlier by Edison and Ladies World with What Happened
to Mary (1912) with Mary Fuller -- what made Adventures different was
its heady mix of wild animals, thrills, and vicarious adventure.
The combination proved to be a winning success. The Tribune's
circulation increased 10%, and its star became so popular that a dance
was named in her honor, as was a cocktail, with her hairstyle and hats
widely copied. Men carried a postcard of Kathlyn, with over 50,000 of
them selling out in days.
Kathlyn Williams was born in Butte, MT, May 31, possibly 1888, to a
Norwegian father and a Welsh mother. She began acting on stage at a
fairly young age, becoming the protege of Senator W.A. Clarke. She
attended Wesleyan University, going on to study at the Empire School of
Acting in New York, appearing on stage and touring with several
Kathlyn eventually migrated west to Los Angeles as a member of the
Belasco stock company. She worked for a time with D.W. Griffith and
Biograph, making her first screen appearance in Gold is Not All (1910).
By winter of 1910 she began working with Selig, appearing in Two Orphans
(1911), The Adventures of Captain Kate (1911), and The Adventures of
Kathlyn (1913). With the rousing success of Adventures, Selig continued
to make a whole series of films using animals that came to be known as
the Selig Zoo, and later the nucleus for the San Diego Zoo. In 1913
Kathlyn married Victor Kainer and had her only child, a son named for
In addition to the serials, she appeared in quite a few Westerns,
including Chip of the Flying U (1914), The Spoilers (1914), and The U.P.
Trail (1919) for Zane Grey Pictures. The Spoilers was Selig's most
famous production to date, with Kathlyn's portrayal of Cherry Malotte
universally recognized as the best performance of her career.
In 1915 Kathlyn had her best year yet, with a string of hit features:
The Ne’er Do Well, The Carpet From Bagdad, The Rosary, Sweet Alyssum,
and Thou Shalt Not Covet, all directed by Colin Campbell. Despite the
popularity of Kathlyn and her films, in 1916 Selig Studios rapidly lost
ground as a major producer of motion pictures. Like many of the
company's players Kathlyn moved on, signing a long-term contract with
Oliver Morosco's company whose films were released by Paramount.
By 1916 her marriage to Kainer had failed, and she married Charles
Eyton, an actor-producer who later became a studio manager for Jesse
Lasky. That same year saw her first real hit, Redeeming Love, directed
by William D. Taylor. Kathlyn's career continued to build, and she
continued to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including
two pictures with matinee idol Wallace Reid: Big Timber in (1917) and
The Thing We Love in (1918). In 1918 she starred in two Cecil B. DeMille
epics, The Whispering Chorus and We Can’t Have Everything. Despite her
successes, her marriage to Eyton ended in divorce. Kathlyn never
In 1919 she worked with William de Mille in The Tree of Knowledge and in
1920 The Prince Chap and Conrad in Quest of His Youth. In 1921 Kathlyn
starred in five films with May McAvoy: A Private Scandal, A Virginia
Courtship, Morals, Everything for Sale, and Clarence. But after 1921
Kathlyn began playing major supporting roles; too old to play the
ingenue she was more believable in character roles. Her contract with
Morosco/Paramount having lapsed, she continued to free-lance in films
such as The Spanish Dancer (1923), Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924), Our
Dancing Daughters (1928), and Honeymoon Flats (1928). More devastating,
however, was the death of her son Victor in 1922 who accompanied her on
a trip to China.
After a few talkies, Kathlyn retired from movies in 1934, pursuing her
hobbies and interests full-time. In 1949 she lost a leg in a car
accident, and spent her remaining years in a wheelchair. On September
24, 1960, Kathlyn Williams died from a heart attack in her Los Angeles
In doing research on Kathlyn Williams, I found conflicting evidence
regarding her marriages and her son. While using what I thought was the
more reliable information, I received the following from Bruce Long,
author of Taylorology:
Most of my sources are cited in Taylorology 48; there is a
Motography item from March 15, 1913 reprinted there with the name
of her husband and date of marriage. There is also an item from
Photoplay, May 1922 on the death of her son; the age (16) is given
but not the name or father. It is stated that he attended
Hollywood High School, so he must have been born before her 1913
marriage. I have seen other 1913 items which say "Robert Allen"
was the name of her 1913 husband, not "Frank Allen." Don't know
which is correct.
In "Ladies in Distress", Lahue says Victor Kainer had been her
first husband. So I assume Allen was the second, Eyton the third.
(I don't have Bodeen's books, but I think he devoted a chapter to
her career somewhere.).
Many, many thanks for the clarifications, Bruce!
And so .The Adventures of Kathlyn. continue....
Glen Pringle /
Kally Mavromatis /
Copyright © 1998
by Glen Pringle and Kally Mavromatis