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Monday, December 3, 2012

Paramount Pictures Search for the 'Panther Woman'


In 1932, Paramount Pictures held a talent contest in search of a leading lady for their film, Island of Lost Souls, the first screen version of H.G. Wells's novel The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The search for Lota, the Panther Woman, brought Paramount to the Midwest, where young women in Illinois and Indiana vied for the role. Contests were conducted by the Publix-Great State Theater Corp., and sponsored locally by the Waukegan News-Sun and Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.

On August 10, 1932, Miss Leona Bloom of 845 Ash Street, Waukegan, polled 5,320 votes to win the "right to represent Lake County" in the Panther Woman screen tests in Chicago. Leona Bloom (left) as pictured in the Waukegan News-Sun, August 11, 1932.


Miss Bloom received a two-day trip to Chicago where Paramount's screen and vocal tests were conducted. She stayed at the Hotel Sherman where accommodation was reserved for the contest winners by the Publix Theater Corporation. In addition, Miss Bloom received a porcelain miniature with an 18-karat gold plated frame.


Postcard of the Hotel Sherman at Clark and Randolph Streets, Chicago by the Curt Teich Company, 1942. The postcard caption reads: "One of the largest hotels west of New York, with 1,600 rooms, beautiful new dining rooms, elaborate banquet and convention halls." (CTPA 2BH323).


Photo of the young women competing for the title of "Panther woman." Pictured are: Leona Bloom, Waukegan; June C. white, Danville; Eleanor Wilke, Hammond; Sally Mansfield, Aurora; Wilma Jacobson, East St. Louis; Lillian Satterlee, Elgin; Eleanor Manning, Decatur; Margaret Stahl, Chicago Heights; Louise Pfund, Bloomington; Lavonne Long, Rockford; Ada Sellers, Alton; Kathryn Harney, Peoria; Lavette Carlson, Kewanee; Evelyn Gray, Joliet; Margaret Martinson, Michigan City, Indiana; and Mildred Huckins, South Bend, Indiana. Photo from the Chicago Daily Tribune, August 14, 1932.

The young women were taken to a Chicago studio for screen tests. The films were then sent to Hollywood for the executives to choose their new leading lady.


Ultimately, the studio's choice was Kathleen Burke (1913-1980), a dental assistant from Chicago. Pictured above in a publicity shot for her role as Lota, the Panther Woman.


Poster for Paramount Pictures' "Island of Lost Souls" starring Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Leila Hyams, and Kathleen Burke, which opened 80 years ago this month in December 1932.

While filming the movie, Miss Burke's boyfriend from Chicago, Glen Nelson Rardin (1902-1987), often visited the set. The studio took issue with their leading lady going out with Rardin, claiming the "midnight snacks after working hours" could affect her acting.

Burke and Rardin married in February 1933, and divorced in November 1934.

Her success in the "Island of Lost Souls" led to many more screen appearances, most notably as the leading lady in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) opposite Gary Cooper, and "The Last Outpost" with Cary Grant (1935).

Her final film role was in 1938, but she continued acting until at least 1940 when she played the part of Rebekah in the Biblical radio drama, "Light of the World."

I have not been able to find what became of Leona Bloom after her audition. If anyone knows, I would enjoy hearing from you. I imagine she got married and had a family, and perhaps wondered how life would've been different (for better or worse) had she been chosen as the Panther Woman.

1 comment:

shawn2625 said...

My goodness thank you for this article. Leona was my great aunt and also my godmother. I did not know of this story of the panther woman. Leona had also screened for a movie in California with Ronald Regan before she was famous but did not get that role either. The family says that she was very beautiful but could not act. She was also the first Ms. Lake county fair or Country Life Queen as it might have been called at the time. She was born to John Christian (Chris) Blume (from Baden, Germany) and Mary Brosier of Wadsworth. Her father later changed the name to Bloom. She went to Townline School in wadsworth and later to Warren High I believe. She married John Ricketts from the famous Ricketts Restaurant in Chicago and became quite wealthy. She was a very kind and loving woman to her family. I have the picture and article from when she won Country Life Queen, I guess then she went downstate for state competition and was runner up.