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Working Felines: Entertainment & Media



Cats in Films and TV


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   Training of film cats

A number of cats usually compete for roles. In a feature film there is generally a team of four or five cats playing the part of one. The cats must learn to 'hit a mark', touch a prop, and hiss or meow on command. A former TV star called Princess Kitty was able to perform more than 70 actions on command, including 'slam-dunking' a cat-size basketball!

One of the more remarkable cat films was Romeo and Juliet (1990, directed by Amanda Acosta). The film was acted entirely by a cast of some 150 street cats from Venice, Ghent and New York, with a beautiful white Angora playing Juliet. The cats were filmed acting naturally and 5000 hours of editing were required! John Hurt narrated and the film was set to Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet' music.

Here are some of the feline 'actors' and 'actresses' we've come across, including those that have appeared in advertisements for pet food.


Arthur the Kattomeat cat
Arthur the Kattomeat cat, during a photoshoot, 1970s
Arthur, the petfood cat
From 1992 Kattomeat was rebranded to Arthur's name

   Arthur

Between 1966 and 1975 in the UK a white cat named Arthur was hired by the pet-food company, Spillers (Dalgety Spillers Foods Ltd of London). Arthur's particular skill was that he could scoop food out of a tin with his paw, leading to his appearance in more than 300 TV commercials for the Kattomeat brand of cat food. His career blossomed, with his picture appearing on T-shirts, towels and in various other advertising campaigns. Sadly, Arthur died in February 1976, just before his 17th birthday.
      It wasn't until January 1987, at the Savoy Hotel in London, that Spillers launched Arthur II, who was discovered at an animal shelter — although he wasn't in very good condition and needed a lot of TLC to make him 'telegenic'. Like his predecessor, he too could scoop food from a tin with his paw. He could also place his paw on anything near him upon the command 'paw'. Arthur retired after nine years to make way for a younger cat.
      Such was Arthur's fame that in 1992 Spillers renamed the brand after him — also partly because they were facing fierce competition in the marketplace from Pedigree's Whiskas (now produced by Mars Inc.). Arthur II wrote his memoirs, with a little help from owner Ann Head, and retired; he died in 1998. The same animal shelter as before, Wood Green in north London, provided Arthur III, spotted there as a kitten and carefully groomed for stardom. He also had a couple of understudies who turned up for film shoots with him, in case for some reason he failed to perform satisfactorily.
      In 1998 Spillers was taken over by Nestlé. We believe the Arthur's brand no longer exists, but it appears to have been available until at least 2006.
[ There are several clips on YouTube and elsewhere of adverts with Arthurs II and III. For Kattomeat, 1980s (hiding tins), 1987 (with nephew George), 1990 (kittens queueing), 1990 (on TV), 1991 (birthday). For Arthur's: 1993 (Choice Chunks, psychedelic), and also within this collection of adverts from 1999 at 7:15 (with 'the ladies' and Cyril, voiceover by Leslie Phillips). For an example of Arthur being used to advertise another brand, there's one for Panasonic at about 2:19 in a 1994 advert break ]


Jason, Blue Peter cat 1964-76 Blue Peter cats Jack and Jill
Blue Peter cat Willow Blue Peter cats Kari and Oke
Blue Peter cat Smudge Blue Peter cats Cookie and Socks

   Blue Peter cats

The Blue Peter cats are some of the animals that have regularly appeared on the BBC children's television series Blue Peter in the UK. The first pet was a dog named Petra, in 1962; since then there have been other dogs, cats, tortoises, parrots and even horses. The original idea behind featuring the programme's pets was to teach viewers lucky enough to own animals how to look after them, and for the creatures to act as surrogate pets for those that did not own any. For example, dog-training items, tortoise hibernation, and cat care are often featured on the programme.
      Cats on the show have been Jason (Siamese sealpoint, from 1964 to January 1976); Jack (silver-striped tabby, 1976-1986); Jill, who was Jack's sister (silver-spotted tabby, 1976-1983); Willow (1986-1991, when she retired); Kari and Oke, who were rescue kittens (1991-2004; they retired at the age of 13); Smudge, who was a very popular kitten but had only a short tenure, as he died from injuries after being hit by a car (2004-2005); and the latest ones, Socks (from 2005) and Cookie (from 2007). Both Socks and Cookie left the show in October 2013 as their appearances involved them in too much travelling. No replacement cats have so far been found (in late 2014).
      Further details of the cats and indeed all the animals can be found at Wikipedia.


Crookshanks the cat, with Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) in the Harry Potter films
Crookshanks the cat, half Kneazle, in the Harry Potter movies
Crookshanks on a postage stamp from the Republic of China/Taiwan, 2004, part of a set depicting Harry Potter characters

   Crookshanks

In the hugely successful Harry Potter stories, Crookshanks was a red tabby Persian cat belonging to Hermione Granger (played by Emma Watson). He was half-Kneazle, as shown by his lion-like appearance, his ability to solve problems on his own without aid or teaching, and his clear dislike of, and ability to recognise, untrustworthy persons. (A Kneazle was defined as a magical feline creature related to, and similar in appearance to, a cat.) In the story Crookshanks was bought by Hermione from the Magical Menagerie, in Dragon Alley, in 1993. The proprietor told her that the cat had been there for quite some time and that 'nobody wanted him' — but it could have been that, as a highly intelligent animal, Crookshanks was merely waiting for someone worthy of his companionship to come along. As Hermione was a very intelligent witch, Crookshanks must have deemed her worthy of his affection.
     In real life Crookshanks was played by Pumpkin, actually a female and also a 'rescue cat', from a UK rescue centre for Persians. Born in 2001, she appeared in the third, fourth and fifth films (Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004; Goblet of Fire, 2005; and Order of the Phoenix, 2007). It took three to four months to train her for her role, but then she proved to be perfect for it, being calm and well behaved in front of the cameras and following directions on set incredibly well, from sitting still on the Hogwarts Express to running promptly to her mark on cue. Pumpkin and Emma were said to get along brilliantly; she was a very gregarious cat and the sound crew often had to regulate her loud purring! But then she had plenty to purr about — she had her own 'dressing room' (a modified travel crate) and stylist on the set, and was treated to roast lamb and chicken!
     Following the end of the Harry Potter series, Pumpkin retired to Douglas, on the Isle of Man, with her trainer Donna McCormick-Smith. Apparently she became quite the diva, and refused to eat conventional cat food — roast meat it had to be. It's possible she might do further film work — although nothing quite so glamorous — as Donna works with 'MannInShorts', an initiative based on the island that provides a short-film platform for aspiring filmmakers.
     Crookshanks is the only film cat we know of to be featured on a postage stamp — one of a set from the Republic of China (that's Taiwan) showing Potter characters and issued in June 2004.


D.C. the cat in That Darn Cat, 1965
Hayley Mills and Dean Jones with D.C. the cat, from the Disney movie That Darn Cat
Hayley Mills with D.C. the cat, played by Syn in the Disney film That Darn Cat
Poster for That Darn Cat, with D.C., and starring Hayley Mills, Dean Jones, Dorothy Provine and Roddy McDowall, 1965

   D.C. (Darn Cat)

That Darn Cat! is a 1965 Disney feature film starring Hayley Mills, in the last of six films she made for the Walt Disney Studios, and Dean Jones, starring in his first film for Disney. It's a family film with a story about bank robbers, a kidnapping and a mischievous but important cat, D.C., who holds the clue to the crimes. The story was based on the book Undercover Cat by Gordon and Mildred Gordon. 'Traditional' Siamese cats were used, of which one was Syn; another was the cat that also starred in Disney's 1963 The Incredible Journey. One reviewer of the film wrote, 'The feline that plays the informant, as the FBI puts it, is superb. Clark Gable at the peak of his performance could not have played a better tom. This elegant cat is a paragon of suavity and grace, and he cracks the case by a whisker.' There was a remake in 1997.


General Sterling Price, the cat in the film True Grit
True Grit, 1968 - Rooster Cogburn's cat, General Sterling Price
General Sterling Price was the cat belonging to Rooster Cogburn (played by John Wayne) in the 1969 film True Grit

   General Sterling Price

Cats are not animals that might usually be associated with John Wayne — but one feline did play quite a prominent role in a film often considered to be one of his best Westerns, True Grit. Based on the novel of that name by Charles Portis, the 1969 film has Wayne as the drunken, one-eyed marshal Reuben 'Rooster' Cogburn, hired by a young woman to help catch her father's killer. Cogburn lives in the back of a store run by Chinaman Chin Lee. The cat is named after a politician from Missouri who became a Civil War general on the Confederate side. One of Wayne's lines from the film is, 'General Price don't belong to me. He just rooms with me. Cats don't belong to nobody. 'Course, I depend on him.' We don't have any information about the actual cat that played the General.
     A sequel film Rooster Cogburn appeared in 1975, and there was a new film version of the novel in 2010, with Jeff Bridges as Cogburn.


Marlon Brando with cat in The Godfather

   The Godfather cat

Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, was seen sitting in his office during Connie Corleone's wedding ceremony with a cat on his lap — his only animal associate. Francis Ford Coppola, the film's writer and director, found the stray tabby-and-white cat while walking through the lot at Paramount studios. Originally, the cat — which doesn't seem to have been named — was not in the script at all, but right before the scene was filmed, Coppola gave the cat to Brando to see how it would play out. The use of the cat in the scene has later been interpreted as representing the hidden claws beneath the Don's warm façade. The only problem was that the cat, pleased with all the attention, purred so loudly that it drowned out the lines from the other characters, and they ended up having to re-record their voices! There's a YouTube clip of the scene with the cat, with spoof subtitles.


Jake, The Cat from Outer Space, 1978
Jake, The Cat from Outer Space, 1978
Jake with Frank (Ken Berry) - The Cat from Outer Space, 1978
Jake, The Cat from Outer Space, 1978

   Jake, The Cat from Outer Space

Comedy science-fiction tale from 1978 involving an alien cat, Zunar J5/9 Doric 4-7, piloting a UFO that makes an emergency landing on Earth and ends up being impounded by the US government. The cat, known as Jake to humans, eludes the authorities but needs help to reclaim and repair his ship to get back home. He reveals that he can predict the winners in sporting events and soon the military is trying to track him down, but he gets help from a slightly oddball scientist.
      Jake is a tawny-coloured Abyssinian, and his part was shared by two cats, Amber and Rumple.


Jones the cat with Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley aboard the Nostromo in Alien
Jones the cat with Ellen Ripley in Alien

   Jones

Jones, a ginger tom, and his human (Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver) are the only two survivors on the spaceship Nostromo after it's invaded by alien beings in the film Alien (1979). Apparently Jones spent much of the film fretting over his food and being annoyed that the humans kept waking him up from his naps! To get the cat to react fearfully to the descending alien, a German shepherd dog was placed in front of him with a screen between the two, so the cat wouldn't see the dog at first and came over. The screen was then suddenly removed to make Jones stop, and start hissing.
      Jones made a further appearance in the sequel Aliens (1986).


Morris the cat, famous for advertising 9-Lives
Morris the cat
Morris the cat, on a talk show, 1973

   Morris

Born in 1959, the original Morris came from Chicago, and was 'discovered' by animal talent scout Bob Martwick in 1968 at the Hinsdale Humane Society in that area; the cat had been shortly due for euthanasia. He went home with Martwick, who became his trainer, and the following year he made his TV debut for '9-Lives' cat food, being described as 'the world's most finicky cat' and eating only that brand. His 'signature' appeared on all 9-Lives packaging. During his career he visited the White House, where he signed a bill with an ink impression of his paw, and in 1973 he received a special 'Patsy' award (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year), the equivalent for animals of an Oscar. He has been in Time magazine; appeared in a couple of films (The Long Goodbye, with Elliot Gould, 1973, and Shamus, with Burt Reynolds, also 1973); been in presentations promoting responsible pet ownership; 'authored' a couple of books; and in 1974 was himself the subject of Morris: An Intimate Biography by Mary Daniels. He covered some 200,000 miles a year with Martwick, promoting 9-Lives. In the 1970s the TV ads came to Britain, where Morris was voiced by Johnny Morris, leading people to think the cat was named after Johnny, but it was not so. He died in 1978, aged 19, and was buried with some ceremony in Bob Martwick's garden in Chicago.
      Since then there have been three other cats taking the part of Morris, also rescue animals. Morris II was found, also by Martwick, in New England; he held the job for 15 years, after which he retired. He died in 1997, marking the end of Martwick's involvement with Morris. Morris III apparently lived only a few years and was considered to be not very effective. There is therefore now (2013) Morris IV, who lives with trainer Rose Ordile in Los Angeles; he has an entertaining and much frequented Facebook page. Morris has stood for president of the US on more than one occasion!


Orangey, with Ray Milland, Jan Sterling and trainer Frank Inn, signs his contract on landing the part of Rhubarb in the film of the same name, Feb 1951, from the Kentucky New Era
Orangey the cat playing Rhubarb
Audrey Hepburn with cat, assumed to be Orangey
Orangey playing Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's, with Audrey Hepburn

   Orangey

He was a red tabby cat and talented animal actor owned and trained by Frank Inn, a well-known cinematic animal handler. The cat, credited under various names (if at all!), had a prolific career both in films and TV in the 1950s and early 1960s and became the only cat to win two PATSY awards (1952 and 1962). Those were for the title role in Rhubarb (1951), about a cat that inherited a fortune, and for his portrayal of Cat, Audrey Hepburn's 'poor slob without a name' in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).
[ A clip at YouTube shows the closing scenes from the film where Holly searches for and then finds Cat in the rain; and this one of stills from the movie includes a number of Cat, particularly towards the end. ]
      Apparently no fewer than 14 cats were used to portray Rhubarb, all playing their parts superbly, but young Orangey was the outstanding one. From a digitised newspaper — hence the poor quality — we have traced a photo of him (top left), with his trainer and the film's stars and producer, 'signing' his contract after being hired for the part in February 1951.
      Other films, in most of which he was not credited, with the name of the cat portrayed, included Neutron the laboratory cat in This Island Earth (1955); Butch in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957); Gigot (1962); Cleopatra in The Comedy of Terrors (1964); and Giant Cat in Village of the Giants (1965).
      Orangey also appeared in the TV series Our Miss Brooks (1952-58) as 'Minerva'. He is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.


Orion, the cat in Men in Black

   Orion

In Men in Black (1997), government agents are assigned to retrieve a whole galaxy, stolen by an intergalactic terrorist, that turns out to be hidden in the collar worn by Orion the cat ('Orion's belt'). The ginger-and-white cat playing Orion was said to be one of the most expressive felines ever to appear on a cinema screen.


Pepper, feline star of Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, Los Angeles
Film star Pepper the cat at the Keystone Studios, Los Angeles Pepper the cat in an advert for the Sennett film Down on the Farm, 1920
Pepper the cat in the Sennett film A Little Hero, 1913
Mack Sennett cat Pepper of the Keystone Studios Pepper II, a granddaughter of Pepper the Mack Sennett studio cat

   Pepper

She was said to be a Maltese cat, and seems to have been the first feline film star. According to some accounts she was born under a sound stage at the Keystone Studios in 1912, and was discovered by Mack Sennett when, as a kitten, she 'introduced herself' by clambering up through a crack in the floorboards onto a set during filming, along with one of her siblings (who took to his heels and vanished). However, other contemporary accounts that mention her origins say she was an alley cat from a colony that had the run of the lot, and that Sennett spotted her when she strayed into the studio one day.
     After some uncredited appearances in comedy 'shorts', Sennett introduced her to the silver screen in A Little Hero in 1913. She turned out to be a very talented actress and went on to star in a number of other films of the time, often with well-known human stars. Pepper became quite famous and has been referred to as 'the Lillian Gish of cats'; she was considered so valuable as to be insured for 5000 US dollars — a princely sum at the time.
     There was a veritable menagerie of animals at Sennett's studio and Pepper got on well with most, although she always treated Bruno the bear with great respect and gave him a wide berth. She formed a particular bond with Teddy the Great Dane dog; he died probably sometime around 1923 and Pepper did not like his successors. In particular one of them is said to have chased her, after which she lost her nerve and seems to have left the studio and disappeared — or, as Sennett put it, 'She retired at the top.' The date of her death is unclear, but was probably not long after that, in about 1924 or 1925. Her last film of the 25 she made (of which she was credited in 17) was the 1922 Bow Wow, in which Teddy also appeared.
     Pepper was said to have raised many kittens, but to Sennett's disappointment none showed any acting talents. After her death the names of two were given as Tom and Beauty in a 1925 report saying that one of Beauty's kittens looked so much like her grandmother and showed such intelligence that she was named Pepper II (bottom right image) and was being schooled for film appearances. We don't have any other information about her, though, and it may be that for one reason or another she never made a screen appearance.
     About three years after her death, in the 1927 film The Girl from Everywhere, 'Pepper the studio cat' was played by Puzzums, a later feline actor.


Pyewacket the cat in the movie Bell Book and Candle, 1958
Witch's familiar Pyewacket the cat, with actress Kim Novak - Bell Book and Candle, 1958
Siamese cat Pyewacket, played by Houdini - Bell Book and Candle, 1959
James Stewart with Pyewacket the cat, played by Houdini - Bell Book and Candle, 1958

   Pyewacket

Kim Novak's cat and familiar in Bell Book and Candle (1958) was played by a sealpoint Siamese called Houdini. Greenwich Village witch Gillian, played by Novak, admires her neighbour, Shep (James Stewart), who one day walks into her gallery of primitive art to use the telephone. When she finds out he's about to marry an old college enemy of hers, she takes revenge by casting a love spell on him, but then starts to fall for Shep herself. Eventually she has to make a stark choice, as witches who fall in love lose their supernatural powers. Pyewacket becomes agitated and leaves her when she decides in favour of Shep.
     Houdini had been so named because he was such a clever escape artist. According to a member of his human family, who was eight at the time, Houdini was three times Grand Champion All-American Cat, and had just won his third title at a New Jersey cat show when Hollywood casting scouts appeared and were adamant that he was the cat they wanted for the film. No other cat would do or was even considered. 'It all sounded so glamorous and special,' he said. 'They assured us that even though Houdini was a hard-to-handle, four-year-old tomcat, he would be in the hands of the finest animal trainers in the business. Later my mother and I were mortified when we were shown the raw dailies from Columbia Studios of a terrified Houdini being posed and chased about while movie cameras filmed his every waking moment. We wanted him back, but in Hollywood a dealís a deal.'
     Houdini was returned to his family three weeks later and seemed none the worse for his experiences, but four years after that he died from feline distemper.


Spot the cat with Data, in Star Trek, the Next Generation
Spot the cat, in STNG

   Spot

Data's cat in Star Trek: The Next Generation was first played by a male Somali named Monster, in the episode Data's Day, and then by two ginger shorthaired look-alikes. However, by the seventh episode Force of Nature the cat was referred to as 'she', and in Genesis even gave birth. The change of breed and gender are attributed in the Star Trek Encyclopedia to a matter transporter malfunction! Spot also appeared in two of the STNG feature films.
      Spot was fickle and didn't take much to other members of the Enterprise crew. While he was caring for her at one stage Commander Riker was scratched in the face and had to go to sick bay; Worf tried unsuccessfully to give Spot commands; and when Geordie 'borrowed' her to see what having a pet was like, the two of them didn't get on very well either. And in fact, although the character of Data loved Spot (and made 221 different food formulas for her), actor Brent Spiner didn't much like her at all.


Solomon the cat, with Donald Pleasence playing Bond villain Blofeld
Solomon the cat, who appeared in several James Bond films

   Solomon

Ernst Stavro Blofeld, an evil genius, is the archenemy of the British Secret Service agent James Bond and head of the global criminal organization SPECTRE, with aspirations of world domination. In the films Blofeld almost always appears with a white Turkish Angora cat. He was called Solomon, and appeared in From Russia with Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), and Diamonds are Forever (1971). Solomon also appeared in the cult film Clockwork Orange (1971), which was his final film appearance.
      Turkish Angoras are friendly, intelligent, active cats who enjoy interacting with their human family as well as with other cats. One unexpected occurrence when working with Solomon on the Bond films, though, was that the cat frequently relieved itself on its master's lap, being unsettled by all the 'explosions' on the set!


Poster for the film Harry and Tonto
Tonto the cat with Harry (Art Carney)

   Tonto

The touching film Harry and Tonto (1974), with Art Carney as Harry, had Tonto as the feline companion of Art Carney's elderly widower, who decides to embark upon a cross-country road trip with the cat after being evicted from his flat. Art won an Oscar for his performance as Harry Coombes. In the movie Tonto dies, aged 11 years, although we don't find out why; for this scene he was sedated, which Carney admitted to finding distressing although the cat was not harmed. He had said that although he was generally not a 'cat person', he bonded with the cat and respected him as a good actor. To attract the cat that played Tonto into cuddling with the star in pivotal scenes, pieces of liver were placed around Art! We don't know much about the cat, although one report said he was Canadian and, according to a cast list, he really was called Tonto. There were two understudy cats, but they weren't needed. After the movie was finished the trainer offered the cats to the director to keep, but he couldn't take them because his wife was allergic to cats.


Scamper the cat advertising Voila cat food

   Voilà cat food

Scamper the Cat's expression in this publicity photo lets the photographer know that he is disturbing his meal of Voilà Better Cat Food! Described as 'made only from pure meat with no meat by-products or cereal fillers', Voilà Better Cat Food apparently came in two varieties, Beef Burgundy and Beef Kidney Stew, both containing diced carrots, peas and potatoes 'in a delicious gravy'. We haven't managed to trace the date of the photo or even the country of origin of 'Voilà' — any assistance appreciated!



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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.


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