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Chapter XIX

CONTROLLING WILD ANIMALS ON THE
FILM

Making the Movies by Ernest A. Dench
New York, The Macmillan company, published 1915 (now in the Public Domain)


pp. 80-83

The producing of animal feature films is to-day a specialised business. When the movies were young, the producers merely hired what they wanted from some circus or menagerie near by. But these were soon found unsuitable for the purpose.

It was hard to accustom the animals to the extreme smallness of the cinema stage. The result of this was that several film companies acquired menageries of their own and trained the beasts especially for motion pictures.

Companies such as Selig and Universal have their own staff of animal trainers, while some of the players make a specialty of the work.

It is first of all necessary for them to get on friendly terms with the animals they play alongside. Undoubtedly Miss Kathlyn Williams is the most accomplished actress in this particular line, for she can handle full grown leopards like cats. But the work is not without its dangers. For instance, in "Lost in the Jungle" she came very near losing her life. She had to stoop down almost on top of a tiger and when it turned round she was to leap behind a projecting rock. the necessary arrangements were made and through some misadventure that arose over a given signal, the animal made for her at a rush. There was not time for the actress to escape and the animal tore her scalp before he could be beaten off by one of the assistants. The gash on her head necessitated six stitches with the surgeon's needle.

It is by no means unusual for the beasts to prove treacherous like this, and the trainers have ever to be alert.

When you see the animals prowling in the African Jungle you can be sure it is somewhere in sunny California. Tracts of land are closed in on all sides in order to prevent the denizens of the forest from escaping.

Like other trades, this has its tricks. In "Samson," Warren Kerrigan was supposed to break the jaws of a lion with his bare arms. The director had "Jack of Hearts" handle the lion -- the tamest one in their zoo -- and then leave him. The camera was stopped while the lion was drugged and, without any apparent break in the film, Warren was seen mastering the almost unconscious beast.

"Quo Vadis?" was another example.

In this picture twenty lions are turned loose upon a whole mass of "Christians" in the arena.

The front rank of these supers were composed of animal trainers, armed with revolvers. On the film the lions are seen tearing the "Christians" to pieces; but in the taking of it the lions advanced to a safe distance and were hustled back to their cages. Then dummy bodies were scattered all over the arena and bullock's blood thrown over the dummies. After this the animals were set free and the smell of the blood made them attack the "bodies" ravenously.

It is really wonderful what the director can do with a juicy piece of meat. When you see wild animals trying to knock doors down in order to attack a human being, you can bet there is a joint hung from a concealed place that the beast is after.

A common trick when beasts leap over a player is to place a dead gazelle out of range of the camera.

Despite all these dodges, the work is far from being danger proof, and you, as a fan, should be appreciative of the thrills that figure in this class of film.


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