An American actress of the silent film era. Her screen debut came in 1909, in a short called Justified. She jockeyed her early film appearances with a burgeoning stage career. Her pretty brunette looks were reminiscent of the famous Gibson Girl drawings by Charles Dana Gibson. On the stage, she appeared mainly in musicals or musical reviews such as The Ziegfeld Follies of 1911. These musical appearances indicate a singing talent Clayton may have possessed but went unused in her many silent screen performances. Her screen credits number more than 180.
There were two sequences to shoot. In the first In had to descend the steps and approach the filigree gate. I was told to remain perfectly calm, for the gate was made of painted wood and therefore easily breakable. If a lion happened to get excited or angry and jumped up against it, he could smash right through it. However, the lions were not expected to even come near the gate, the trainers said. In the second sequence, I had to lie on my stomach and have a lion put his paw on my bare back. Once I was in costume, Mr. DeMille escorted me to the great enclosed set. When the lights hit me, I walked across the floor to the throne room toward the steps, and at a given moment the trainers cracked their whips and the lions were released. I could see the shapes of the animals beyond the gate. I took a few more steps forward, then froze, petrified, as one lion unexpectedly moved to the side of the gate and bounded up out of the den, landing a few feet away from me. We stared at each other for a split second, and then one of the trainers whisked me off my feet like a bean bag and carried me outside the enclosure while another forced the lion to jump back down into the arena. There were gasps and whispers on all sides, and an assistant director brought me a glass of sherry, but since I could see that Mr. DeMille was perfectly thrilled at the way the scene had gone, I said I didn’t need anything, that I was fine. Then we did it again, and this time everyone on the crew, as well as Mr. DeMille, carried a stick or a chair. As I slowly descended the steps, one of the animals-I couldn’t tell if it was the same one- sprang forward and crouched menacingly just on the other side of the wooden gate. I was afraid to turn my back to him. Men behind me were calling instructions, but I stood absolutely still. The lion and I stared at each other, hypnotized, until a trainer stepped in front of me and drove him back with a whip and a chair. Somehow I managed to pick up the train of that beaded dress as if it were the sheerest nightie and scramble over to another trainer who helped me off the set. There was a pandemonium in the studio. “That’s it! Cut! Fine!” Mr. DeMille was shouting. He rushed over and asked me if I was alright. "Yes,“ I said in a small, white voice.- This time I had to lie on the floor and remain absolutely still. I would ruin the scene if I couldn’t control my breathing. My back was bare to the waist. I could hear a lion’s claws scratching the floor as the trainer led him in on a leash. Then I could hear another trainer whisper to Mr. DeMille, who came over and knelt down beside me. "I must ask you something for your own safety,” he whispered. “You’re not menstruating, are you?” 'No,“ I replied very softly. He stood up and said to the trainer, "We can proceed. Everything’s fine.” Then I could hear the lion breathing near me. They put a piece of canvas on my back to keep the lion’s manicured claws from making the slightest scratch. Then they brought the lion up to me and put his paw on the canvas. Ever so slowly they pulled the canvas aside until I could feel his paw on my skin. Every hair on my head was standing on end. I could hear the camera grinding and the crack of the trainer’s whip. Every cell in my body quivered when the animal roared. His hot breath seemed to go up and down my spine.
Male and Female (1919) - Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
Excerpt from Swanson on Swanson by Gloria Swanson.