Saturday, September 5, 2009
By Julia Williams
Humans and cats have had a relationship for a very long time. Although domestication of the cat is commonly thought to have occurred in Egypt about 4,000 years ago, archaeological evidence of a homo sapien/feline connection actually dates to around 8,000 years. According to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the bones of cats, mice and humans were found together on the island of Cyprus. Regardless, felines have been companions of the rich and poor, the famous and infamous. Out of curiosity, I did some research on famous felines. Here then, are a few worth remembering.
Orangey was a feline movie star whose most famous performance was that of ‘Cat’ in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This orange-and-black tabby got his first big break in Rhubarb, a 1951 movie about an eccentric millionaire who adopts a feisty feral cat. Orangey was rumored to be hard to work with, and so short-tempered that even his owner didn’t like him. However, Orangey did win two Patsy Awards (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) for his catty performances, so perhaps his purr-sonality was not so unpleasant after all. Orangey also appeared with Jackie Gleason in Gigot (1962) and in the 1950s sitcom Our Miss Brooks.
Spot, another fine feline actor, rose to fame as a recurring character on the television series, Star Trek The Next Generation. Despite the name, Spot did not have any spots. Spot originally appeared as a male Somali cat, but later appeared as a female orange tabby. This led to speculation that Spot was actually a shape-shifter or victim of a transporter accident. Spot, however, has not commented publicly on either possibility. Spot did get to dine at the White House though, and his rabid fans sent him furry mice by the dozen.
Morris catapulted to fame as the finicky ‘spokescat’ for Purina 9 Lives. This 15-pound orange tabby lived up to his nickname ‘Lucky’ when he was rescued from an Illinois shelter by professional animal trainer, Bob Martwick. Morris made 58 TV commercials for 9 Lives from 1969 until his death in 1978. Morris would snippily turn up his nose at any cat food offered to him, except 9 Lives of course. Morris also starred in 1973's Shamus, which led Time Magazine to dub him the ‘Feline Burt Reynolds.’ Morris was named Animal Star of the Year three times by US Magazine, and his ad agency (the Leo Burnett company) staged mock campaigns running him for President in 1988 and 1992 on the Finicky Party Platform. Whew—that Morris was one busy cat!
Former ‘First Cat’ Socks was a black-and-white stray who was adopted in 1991 by Chelsea Clinton. In 1993 Socks moved to the White House with the Clinton family, where he spent eight years prowling the presidential halls and being photographed with visiting heads of state. Socks also appeared on an episode of the popular sitcom Murphy Brown, and inspired two books. When President Clinton left Washington in 2001, Socks went to live with his personal secretary Betty Currie in Maryland, at her request. Socks passed away in February at the age of 20 after battling throat cancer. "Socks brought much happiness to Chelsea and us over the years, and enjoyment to kids and cat lovers everywhere," the Clintons said in a statement.
Baker and Taylor were famous ‘library cats’ that were the pride of their Minden, Nevada library. People came from far and away to see this popular pair of Scottish Fold cats, who were immortalized on posters, tote bags and other merchandise. They even had their own fan club. When patrons asked if they could check out the cats, the librarian reportedly quipped that they were “for reference only.” Another famous library cat was Dewey Readmore Books, a handsome marmalade tabby who resided at the public library in Spencer, Iowa for 19 years, until his death in 2006. This wee scruffy kitten was found in the book return chute, cold and barely alive yet purring up a storm. Dewey’s story inspired a best-selling book, and a film is sure to follow.
Precious, a white Himalayan-Persian cat, lived on Liberty Street about a block away from the World Trade Center in New York. Her owners were away when the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred. When they returned, they weren’t allowed to enter their badly damaged building. Eighteen days later, animal rescuers heard meowing, and found a shivering, scared Precious on the roof of the 12-story building. Precious was dehydrated and her eyes were injured, but was otherwise in good shape for a cat who’d survived that long without food or water.
Scarlett was perhaps the most famous feline of all, which is why I’ve saved her for last. I’m sure you will remember the touching true story of how this heroic mother cat rescued her five kittens one by one from a burning Brooklyn building, badly scorching herself in the process. It was April of 1996 when firefighters witnessed Scarlett’s courage and amazing act of motherly love as, again and again, she went into the blazing building to get her 4-week old kittens. One kitten did not survive, but the remaining four, as well as Scarlett herself, recuperated and were adopted by loving families. Scarlett died in 2008, but not before her bravery was immortalized in a wonderful and inspiring book titled Scarlett Saves Her Family. I have just one word to say to anyone who believes that animals do not have souls: Scarlett.
Read more articles by Julia Williams