Kathleen Burke: Panther Woman

The screen career of Kathleen Burke (1913-1980) was short, but notable, especially for lovers of classic horror and mystery.

Burke had done some radio and modeling in Chicago when she was picked out of 60,000 contestants in a search for someone to play Lota, the Panther Woman in the spooky 1932 horror movie Island of Lost Souls. Only 19 at the time, she was cast primarily on account of her exotic beauty (she looks a bit like Aubrey Plaza in that photo, eh?). That same quality was no doubt what got her the female leads in Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) with Gary Cooper and The Lion Man (1936) with Jon Hall. Another female lead she scored was in the B movie western Nevada (1935) opposite Buster Crabbe. She also had good supporting parts in movies like Murders in the Zoo (1933), Craig’s Wife (1937), and Boy in the Streets (1938) with Jackie Cooper.

A good bit of the time, though, Burke was relegated to bit parts. In 1938, after fewer than two dozen films, she called it quits, although she did do some live theatre in Great Neck, New York in 1942. By the time of her passing four decades later she had returned to Chicago.