Born in England, Paley emigrated to the United States where he became an X-Ray exhibitor until his health started to suffer from the effects of the machine. Abandoning X-rays, in 1897 he built a film projector which he named the Kalatechnoscope, and was soon taken on as a cameraman by the Eden Musée, partly to film a version of the Passion Play staged on a New York rooftop.
War was brewing with Spain at this time, and in 1898 Paley contracted with the Edison company to film it. Paley was soon known among the war correspondents as 'the Kinetoscope Man', distinctive both for his own size and for the novel camera he carried. But he found that filming warfare was not easy, it was a war of hidden snipers and Paley sadly concluded, 'I don't think there is much in this campaign for the kinetoscope'. Then his camera malfunctioned, and living out in the open he went down with fever, almost dying coming back to America.
Following recovery he returned to camerawork, and the following year established a long term arrangement with the showman F.F. Proctor, over the next few years filming as an Edison licensee. By mid 1904 Paley had formed a partnership with William F. Steiner, and they began releasing short comedies. But by now the Edison company began cracking down on independents, and in November they sued several companies including Paley-Steiner, and by 1905 the partnership was dissolved. This was not the end of Paley's woes: in late 1906 or early '07 he was forced out of business as an independent producer and was looking for work as a freelance cameraman. He next surfaced in 1910, shooting westerns at the Star Film Ranch in San Antonio, Texas.
The following year the company moved to California, and it is likely that Paley spent much of the rest of his life in the West. In March 1912, employed by the Nestor Company to film the California mountains he suffered a fall, and one leg had to be amputated. Almost destitute, his colleagues started a fund to help him during his final years.
"When manager J. Austin Fynes and owner F. F. Proctor saw the error of their ways, they quickly formalized a relationship with William Paley, famed for his films of the Spanish-American War. His kalatechnoscope opened on 9 October at Proctor’s Twenty-third Street Theater and two weeks later at the Pleasure Palace, where Paley soon had an office and lab facilities that enabled him to put films on the screen with maximum speed. Paley filmed a vessel that caught fire in Long Island Sound off Rye, New York, on 14 October and then showed the results, The Burning Of The “Nutmeg State,” that same evening. He filmed Automobile Parade and Dick Crocker Leaving Tammany Hall in November and quickly put them on the screen. 21 In the trade papers, Fynes declared:
"The secret of Moving Pictures consists in the timeliness. Without that feature such an Exhibition must inevitably fail. I regard the Kalatechnoscope as incontestibly the most perfect and most thoroughly up-to-date machine in existence. It has proved its superior qualities in these Houses and I have booked it for an indefinite run.
(New York Clipper; November 4, 1899, p. 756).
The kalatechnoscope was soon at Proctor’s house in Albany, New York, as well, and once the vaudeville impresario took over the Fifth Avenue Theater in May 1900 and the 125th Street Theater in August, Paley had his service in five Proctor houses on a full-time basis. The opening of Proctor’s Montreal theater in March 1901 provided Paley with a sixth permanent outlet. Although Paley exhibited in other venues, these contracts were of brief duration; Proctor was to remain his key customer in the years ahead.
The general popularity of moving pictures at this time is underscored by Paleyrelated evidence. A photograph of Proctor’s Twenty-third Street Theater in 1900 shows that over the marquee there was a sign in bright lights announcing “Moving Pictures.” The kalatechnoscope was also given a prominent role in Charles Frohman’s theatrical production of Hearts Are Trumps, which opened at New York’s Garden Theater on 21 February 1900. According to Cecil Raleigh’s script, a music-hall girl lures a lecherous, evil earl to a studio and has him surreptitiously filmed as they do a dance. Later, after the nobleman’s perfidious nature is revealed, he is humiliated — and the music hall is saved from bankruptcy — when the films are shown to delighted crowds. 22 For the play’s story to be believable, film exhibitions had to be seen as having drawing power, particularly when they could offer a popular subject."
from Imaginary Interviews by William Dean Howells)
"Why, bless my soul!" the rejected one cried, starting somewhat violently forward, "what is your magazine itself but vaudeville, with your contributors all doing their stunts of fiction, or poetry, or travel, or sketches of life, or articles of popular science and sociological interest, and I don't know what all! What are your illustrations but the moving pictures of the kalatechnoscope!"
"There were twelve stunts on the bill, not counting the kalatechnoscope, and I got in before the first was over, so that I had the immediate advantage of seeing a gifted fellow-creature lightly swinging himself between two chairs which had their outer legs balanced on the tops of caraffes full of water, and making no more of the feat than if it were a walk in the Park or down Fifth Avenue."
"But I had had enough without counting him, though I left the kalatechnoscope, with its shivering and shimmering unseen. I had had my fill of pleasure, rich and pure, such as I could have got at no legitimate theatre in town, and I came away opulently content." We reflected awhile before we remarked: "Then I don't see what you have to complain of or to write of."
1904 Proctor's Newark Theatre Vaudeville program