Kitty Swan: Famous Tarzan's Jane Found Her Salvation in Montenegro

By , 27 Feb 2019, 10:15 AM Travel
Kitty Swan: Famous Tarzan's Jane Found Her Salvation in Montenegro Kitty Swan

February 27, 2019 - While the Hollywood actress Kirsten Svanholm, known as Kitty Swan and born in Copenhagen, Denmark, was making the movie "Tarzan and the Brown Prince" on 31 October 1970, in which she played the role of Tarzan's beautiful companion Jane, she hadn't even dreamt that there was a magical country, hidden in the heart of Europe with an even more magical name – Montenegro, writes Milija Pajkovic in the blog within the project "All Wonders of Montenegro", telling us the amazing story connecting the Hollywood star and the small town of Berane at the nothern part of our country. 

It is highly likely that, back then, Kitty didn't even know where this lovely country, full of clear streams, rivulets, rivers and lakes, resting next to the sea and curled up under mountain massifs, in the form of a cuddly cat, was located. On the last day of October, the beautiful Danish lady couldn't even have imagined that there was a small picturesque local community in the fairytale-like Montenegro, with a magical name as well – Berane! If someone had told her by chance that she would somehow end up in Montenegro and Berane, she would have definitely just shaken her cute head as if to say "no" and continued stroking her long dark hair!

However, it is well known that sometimes things that a person could never dream of, or even conceive of, happen to them! It is certain that those things which are directed by destiny and some special force could not be directed even by the best director in the world! It was exactly on that 31 October in 1970, while shooting in Rainbow Springs in Florida that the unskilled pyrotechnicians caused a fire on set which quickly spread out of control and Tarzan and Jane, or Steve Hawkes and Kitty Swan, were unexpectedly caught in the midst of that fire. It took a great deal of effort to get them out of the centre of the fire – Kitty had burns over a quarter of her facial and bodily skin, although Steve got off more lightly. Kitty was transferred to the best American clinic for treating burns, in Gainesville, also in Florida. However, the experts could not help her and they suggested that she should not do anything for a year and after that the worst-case solution could be implemented – plastic surgery. But, Jane would not be Jane, queen of the jungle and Tarzan's love, if she hadn't learned something important, even from a regular fairytale film, and the lesson she learned was that life was a constant struggle and that life, in fact, was just a regular jungle and that those who want to persevere in this jungle-life must never be despondent! Even though she was severely injured and although she barely made it out alive, she decided to declare war on the burns, scars and colloids! She decided to bring back at least the smallest fraction of her previous beauty and to dream the most beautiful dream – to become a mother.

The fact that she could barely walk, had difficulties moving her hands and arms, and constantly had dark thoughts, was something that she never wanted to accept as obstacles on the path towards achieving her goals. It was precisely during that time, when we still all had the same TV channel in our then united country, that the weekly magazine "Radio and TV Review" ("Radio i TV Revija") was issued! Apart from the announcement of the upcoming shows, there were stories about male and female singers, actors and actresses published in this magazine, and sometimes they even published translated news from foreign magazines which had similar topics. It was in this way that some parts of the report from an Italian magazine were published shortly after Kitty's accident, and this report provided a vivid portrayal of the beautiful Kirsten's accident. "Radio and TV Review" was widely read in Montenegro, including in Berane, a dreamy little local community, lulled to sleep under the peaks of Komovi, Bjelasica and Cmiljevica, bordering a plain next to the silvery River Lim. Among the members of the regular readers club of "Radio and TV Review" was a married couple from Berane, Jovan and Dragica Šaljić, who lived in the most recently constructed Berane suburb, located below Bogavsko Hill, known as Novo Naselje (New Settlement). The magazine could have published the article and Jovan and Dragica could have read it in their back garden, under their apple tree, with the sound of their bees, and none of this would have had any relevance to Kirsten Svanholm's most important battle in life had the Šaljić couple not been engaged in making health products from herbs – something they were not doing just for fun.

Therefore, as soon as they found out what this article was about, they were rather shaken up by the actress's cruel destiny. Jovan quickly wrote to the editorial team of the "Review" and the letter he wrote was as short as possible: "I can heal Kitty Swan, Jovan Šaljić, herbalist, Novo Naselje, Berane!" Jovan was already famous in herbalist circles, mostly for healing people after they had been burned, and this was because he and his family had kept the secrets of their ancestors, lived in harmony with nature, respected it and took from it only that which was offered in abundance. And, of course, if there hadn't been anyone in this team of editors who actually believed Jovan, the letter would have probably ended up in the wastepaper basket. But when destiny takes care of things, events uncoil in the exact way they were destined to – not long passed and Kitty Swan, Jane in the film, landed at the airport in Berane, which was located just above Šaljić's house, on a long plain in the valley!

She was wrapped up in blankets, had a pained grimace on her face and she seemed frightened by the sudden leap into an unreal world, which was both strange and beautiful at the same time. She had been bewildered and in disbelief when she first heard about the strange herbalist from this unconceivable country called Montenegro, from a place called Berane, being able to help her, and this situation made her look like a trapped lioness from one of her films. However, faster than expected, Kitty started to feel and look better! Šaljić's ointments started producing results and this was exactly what modern medicine hadn't been able to do, to regenerate a youthful look and restore the old glow of the skin, to get rid of the colloids and unbearable itchiness, and to return elasticity to the entire body. Along with the visible physical recovery, Kitty started feeling her true self mentally as well. Surrounded by the kind attention of the Šaljić family, and with the fact that they accepted her as a family member and with good and healthy home-made food, Kitty Swan was becoming stronger by the day! When the glow in her beautiful eyes started to came back, she took a walk around Berane, along the famous promenade, all the way to Đurđevi Stupovi Monastery, surrounded by the unending attention from the entire population of Berane, and, of course, overwhelmed by the curiosity of the local population because it was not a daily occurrence for them to have a heroine from the silver screen in town, and especially not one whose film were always eagerly watched – Jane!

Additionally, Kitty loved sitting under the big apple tree in the back garden and enjoying the greenery and peace; apart from that, she played hide and seek with the children from the nearby houses, thus becoming their favorite friend. A performance in her honor was organized in the Cultural Centre in Berane, and Roko Dragović translated from Danish for the audience – he was a young man, also from Novo Naselje, who occasionally travelled to Denmark. Swan performed a few songs, which delighted the audience. Steve Hawkes, her on-screen husband – Tarzan – showed that he was not only a great actor, but a great person as well! It was no trouble for him to travel all the way to Berane and provide his unreserved support towards her in this struggle. He was also a guest of the Šaljić family. Steve Hawks, or as the locals from Berane called him "Tarzo", was, in fact, Stjepan Šipek from Samobor, a small settlement near Zagreb! Šipek never found out who his real parents were, and when he was abandoned, he was taken in by a lady from Samobor who lived on her own. The well-meaning lady truly had a good soul and bonded with the child, as she also had no family – her name was Sofija Čakalić. Interestingly enough, she was not related to him in any way.

Even though she was alone and poor, she brought Stjepan up as if he were her own son, as his mother, grandmother and whatever else she had to be. He quickly grew into a strong lad, who became famous for his exquisite strength, physique and healthy appetite throughout the area of Samobor, and even in the surrounding parts. Sofija had a great wish for Stjepan to become a locksmith. Whether poor Sofija–Soka understood and had in mind the profitability and historical importance of that trade remains unknown; none of the very few chroniclers from Samobor record this, or else were not allowed to record it. However, Grandma Sofija's wish never came true, as her Stjepan, her Stjepko, her baby, travelled to Canada in 1959. His trip to this distant country changed his life completely, and this all started in 1964 when he won a swimming marathon at the famous Lake Ontario. He swam a distance of 17 kilometers in eight hours and 55 minutes. After four years, he arrived in Miami Beach; this was exactly the time when films audiences were looking for a new Tarzan, and Šipe was among 300 men who applied for the role.

He won the audition easily. Since he showed that he was prepared to grapple with all the challenges of film making, and especially this type of film, he was given the leading role in the movie "Tarzan, King of the Jungle" during this same year, in the summer. This is how the doors of the film industry opened for Stjepan Šipek from Samobor, and he soon became Steve Hawkes. During his stay in Berane, he became a favorite among the children, as well as the older population, because he exercised in Šaljić's garden, climbing the apple and pear trees, as if he were in a real jungle. Apart from him, Šaljić's home was of course visited by Kitty Swan's fiancé, Roberto, an Italian, and numerous other actors and musicians. The aforementioned shows mostly originated during those evenings when they enjoyed together good food and drinks. During a stay in Belgrade, Kitty Swan recorded the famous old Montenegrin song "Ima Dana", together with the famous folk singer, Toma Zdravković, and the same record, which was published by the label "Jugoton" contains the song "Pjesma o Kiti Svon" (A song about Kitty Swan) performed by Zdravković:

I was listening to this song just yesterday and crying

Kitty Swan For me, you are a beautiful flower in my heart For me,

you are a sad song, Kitty Swan. Your shaky voice means the life to me

And I don't know you, Kitty Swan But I sing about you because you

are in this heart of mine For me, you are a sad song, Kitty Swan.

One day your pain will end A dawn will bring a smile to you

Now sing and smile, each flower looks like you It will stay forever in my heart.

In September 1971, Kirsten Svanholm – Kitty Swan – left Berane almost completely cured, and apart from the many nice and dear recollections and memories, she took ointments with her in her bags. The following year, in September, Jovan Šaljić and Kitty met in Podgorica because she couldn't travel to Berane by car and she couldn't fly there because planes no longer flew into Berane. There was a happy occasion to be celebrated – she was pregnant! Their encounter was touching, full of tears of joy and immense gratitude shown by the beautiful Dane, Kirsten, who had been victorious in her biggest struggle in life, thanks to the help of Mr Jovan Šaljić, the man who cured Kitty Swan. Kitty Swan's stay in Berane was published in almost all the newspapers in the old country of Yugoslavia, but people from Berane and Montenegro did not succeed in making anything bigger out of it and in realising that their future lies in agriculture, combined with the production of healthy food, the exporting of drinking water and tourism, rather than in heavy industry! But there is more to this!

As usually happens in our country, there were individuals who claimed that this ointment was nothing new and that even they could have cured the famous actress! It is true that the valley of Berane and its villages, as well as the surrounding area, represent a true repository of therapeutic teas and potions, and that many people have retained their family's secret recipes and make exquisite ointments. However, it is equally true that no one prevented them from sending a letter and trying to heal Kitty Swan, just as Jovan Šaljić did, together with his wife Dragica, who was originally from the old trading and commercial Antović family from Plav. The area of Berane could have become a film location, even for the types of films dedicated to the adventures of Tarzan and Jane, since there were many areas of virgin forest in Berane at the time, especially in the forests of Šekularac, Bjelasica, Cmiljevac, Kom and Bihor. These areas were abundant in streams with swirling vortices and waterfalls, lianas and large butterburs. Additionally, finding stuntmen among the local population, representing the different tribes in the jungle, would have been easy.

They tended to tan quickly, especially during the first days of spring while herding sheep in the mountain meadows, and during the summer, while they mowed the "Tipac" grass. Unfortunately, such a project would be inconceivable today, since the thick forests are ruined, stripped down and dispersed. This is mostly due to activities undertaken by the households close to the forest areas, but also due to raw material collected for the use of the cellulose and paper factory, and later on due to activities undertaken by various groups of private businessmen and illegal tree fellers. Sadly, Tarzan and Jane would no longer have a place to hide in these forests. Additionally, even the stuntmen are no longer around; most or all of them have left the villages and moved to the centre of the country, or all around the globe. They are now pale, that they could only act in westerns. However, they couldn't even make it there because there are too many cowboy films nowadays"!

Source: www.svacudacrnegore.com (Sva Cuda Crne Gore- All Wonders of Montenegro)

Written by Milija Pajkovic

“All Wonders of Montenegro” project has been initiated by the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism with the aim of renewing interest in tourist locations in the country, and completing their digitalization.

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