Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Filming With Lions Sort of Grabbed 'Em

Cleveland Press May 20, 1966

Said he: "Well we lost some skin occasionally."

Said she: "And we were knocked down now and then. When a lion runs at you there's not much chance to stand up."

He and she are neither game wardens nor animal trainers but actor Bill Travers and his.actress wife Virginia McKenna.

Their newest film is "Born Free,' based on the bestseller by Joy Adamson in which the author described how she and her game keeper husband raised a lion cub and then, after it was fully grown, taught her to fend for herself and returned her to nature The film opens Wednesday at the Allen, Great Northern, Lake, Mayland, Parma and Stillwell.

It is the Adamsons that the acting English pair portray.

WHILE MOST MOVIES are shot in a matter of weeks, the cast and crew of "Born Free" were on location in Kenya for almost a year.

"It's a new kind of film, and you can't make lions work any faster," explained Travers, a big but soft-spoken man who played the title role in "Wee Geordie "

"Nobody's ever made a movie quite like this, you know," he continued. "It's almost experimental. There were no tricks, no split screen effects and no doubles."

THE FIRST EIGHT WEEKS in Kenya were spent getting acquainted with the lions. No trained animals were used, instead, George Adamson rounded up 24 wild lions and lionesses who worked out with the performers.

A number of them were used to portray Elsa, the lioness in the book, at various ages during the three-year period of the story.

Even after shooting began, the performers spent part of each day working out with the animals.

Though the acting pair likes nature and animals generally, they had never worked with wild animals before they signed a contract agreeing to make the movie.

"WE BELIEVED WE COULD DO IT," said Travers. "And we really couldn't expect them to go to all the trouble and expense of sending us out to Kenya and then run the chance of getting a negative answer after two weeks."

"We had read the book and liked it," he continued "and we settled the deal in a half hour over a cup of tea. And we stipulated that there be no doubles."

Much to everyone's surprise there were no fatalities and only one serious accident during the filming. Miss McKenna suffered a broken ankle during the training period.

Though Travers emerged front this film relatively unscathed he broke a shoulder and a leg while making "Duel at Diablo" in Utah last fall.