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Her Career Leaps From 5-2 Snoopy to TV’s Big Cats

Nicolienne Francois liked animals so much that she became one. Sort of. “Jobs were scarce after I graduated from an animal training program in the San Fernando Valley, so when Knott’s Berry Farm offered me a chance to play ‘Snoopy the Dog,’ I jumped at the chance,” said Francois, 23. “It was what you would call a starter job.”

That was in 1986. It led to other jobs involving animals, including one at the Santa Ana Zoo. In the last year, she has been in Africa, Taiwan, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City, tending her four big cats--two black panthers and two Bengal tigers.

“If I hadn’t taken the Snoopy job,” Francois said, “I might never have had the chance to become an animal trainer, and I don’t know what I would have been doing today.”

Last week, Francois returned to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, but this time as an animal trainer to perform in “Spellbound,” a magic show that features illusionist Mark Kalin and his high-tech act featuring her leopards and tigers. Kalin made the cats appear and disappear in the hourlong show.

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TV appearances make her more nervous than caring for the cats, although the tigers each weigh upward of 350 pounds. “You always have to be a little afraid, because they are so big,” Francois said, but she has never suffered an injury from the animals.

Training tigers has been her dream since age 10. “I remember seeing a woman handling a tiger on television, and I said that was for me,” said Francois, who was raised in Manhattan Beach and stayed with her mother there during her weeklong stop at Knott’s. She and the show are leaving for another yearlong tour that will include Australia and Europe.

“It’s a lot of fun traveling around the world, although it can be hard at times,” she said. “What I’m really aiming for is a career in movies and commercials that include animals.”

Francois said she knows that it will not be easy breaking into movies and making ads with animals: “There are a lot of people out there with animals trying to do the same thing, and I know I can’t restrict myself to just cats. When someone calls, you have to have what they want or they go to someone else.”

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Francois said she told a fib when she applied for the first job as Snoopy: “They said I had to be 5 feet, 3 inches tall to fit into the costumes. I told them I was, but I’m not. I’m 5-feet-2 . . . almost.”

In 1945, George C. Titman was a Marine corporal stationed in El Toro and living in Santa Ana. But he decided he wanted to become a citizen of the world.

After his discharge, he moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where he renounced his U.S. citizenship. Then he tore up his U.S. passport, not vindictively, he said, but to cancel it.

Then he tried to develop a declaration of interdependence for a world federal government with enough power to ensure world peace. “It was along the lines of the United Nations concept and would prevent wars,” said Titman, who still lives in Auckland.

The 64-year-old former Marine, who has been married three times and has five grandchildren, returned to Orange County last week to visit his daughter, Denice McDermott, from his first marriage in Santa Ana. He had not seen her for 41 years. He competed in the recent Los Angeles Marathon.

“For years I walked and talked to everyone to get my point across, but I really don’t feel my thinking was widely accepted,” he said. “We really haven’t reached a point in the world where disputes between nations are (settled) through talking.”


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