Deceived film executives
Williams won a bathing suit contest, becoming Miss Syracuse of 1924. She was sixteen years of age. Afterward she moved to New York City along with her sister Mary. Ned Wayburn signed her to perform in the Ziegfeld Follies of Flo Ziegfeld.
She moved to Hollywood as a nineteen-year-old but left without a movie contract. Then Karlov was in an auto accident and lay in a hospital bed, disabled physically for six weeks. During this time she concocted a bold hoax which she intended to carry out. She also changed her hair color from brunette to blond. She returned to Hollywood using the name of Sonia Karlov, Norwegian actress. Supposedly she was the daughter of a Russian father and a Norwegian mother. Karlov hired a press agent after convincing him that she was a great foreign actress. Another version of how Jeanne became Sonia is that she began dating a press agent who came up with the entire deception. Later he got drunk and revealed everything.
Newspaper reporters flocked to her side for interviews and the daily papers were replete with stories about her. Then she was invited to a newspaper luncheon as a guest of honor. A New York reporter recognized her as Jeanne Williams of the Follies.
The following morning she entered the office of Cecil B. Demille and confessed to him her ruse. Karlov pleaded with him to give her a trial and not tear up her contract. Demille replied that she had been deceptive enough to trick him, his staff, and all of Hollywood. He said that if she was just as proficient as an actress, she could appear in his motion pictures. She was signed to an MGM contract for five years.
Movie and stage actress
Karlov's film career was a brief one. Her sole screen credit is in the role of Lulu Bellew in Lucky In Love (1929). She was released from her MGM contract but received some financial compensation. Charles R. Rogers, formerly an executive of RKO – Pathe Pictures, signed her to a term contract in July 1932. She found herself at a disadvantage in sound motion pictures because of her pronounced Russian accent. She had learned it too proficiently and was forced to return to Broadway, for work.
In October 1930 Karlov played the role of Betty Gilbert in Sisters of the Chorus. The play came to the Ritz Theater in New York after a successful run in western American cities. Karlov's character was a chorus girl in this production that co-starred Enid Markey and Edna Hibbard. She was a part of the cast of Love On Approval, which was staged at The Playhouse in Chicago, Illinois, in June 1932.
Karlov turned to writing film scenarios, of which she had produced six by December 1934. Two of these were accepted and produced by MGM. Her sister, Jane, held a position at the Park Central Hotel in New York City in the 1930s. Mary Williams continued performing as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, George White's Scandals, and the Grand Street Scandals.
- As of 2009, Doris Eaton Travis is the last surviving Ziegfeld girl: "At 105, Doris Eaton Travis, the Last Ziegfeld Girl, Keeps a Hectic Pace"
- Lincoln, Nebraska Sunday Journal and Star, Theater Topics, June 19, 1938, Page 4.
- Los Angeles Times, Hoax Gains Her Chance As Actress, December 2, 1927, Page A8.
- Los Angeles Times, Sonia Karlov Signed, March 30, 1928, Page A10.
- New York Times, Sisters Of Chorus Wise-Cracking Play, October 21, 1930, Page 37.
- New York Times, Theatrical Notes, June 1, 1932, Page 19.
- Oakland Tribune, Fake Accent Blights Career, Tuesday Evening, July 22, 1930, Page 22.
- Port Arthur, Texas News, Pretty 19-Year-Old Fools Hollywood By Telling Them She Was Danish Actress, Sunday, January 1, 1928, Page 16.
- Syracuse Herald, Sonia Karlov, Miss Syracuse Of 1924, Signed to Film Pact, Sunday Morning, July 22, 1932, Page 29.
- Syracuse Herald, Screen Indecency Denied By Alma Jeanne Williams, Here For Father's Funeral, December 28, 1934, Page 4.