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Did you ever Wonder

about Getting a Cat to

Appear on TV

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Does your Cat Qualify to be on TV?

Creature Comforts: 
Wendy Christensen

Is your cat star material? He doesn’t need a pedigree to be a
media superstar. Many of the world’s most famous cats had humble
origins. Many of the most lionized fictional and cartoon kitty
stars were inspired by their creators’ own pets. Some feline
superstars were rescued from shelters. Hint: It might help if
your cat is a tabby — especially an orange tabby!

Even cat shows didn’t start out as the exclusive province of the
pedigreed. The winner of the first-ever cat show in the United
States was a “brown tabby female” named Cosie. Held at Madison
Square Garden, New York City, on May 8, 1895, the show featured
176 cats.

A tiny, gray-striped tabby stray named Chessie became a star when
she appeared in a September 1933 advertisement for the Chesapeake
and Ohio Railroad in “Fortune” magazine. The sweet-faced, sleepy
kitten was an instant hit, surprising her creators and railroad
officials. Quick to take advantage, though, they furnished C&O
trains with everything from towels to dining-car china featuring
Chessie’s image. On Father’s Day, 1937, Peake, a white-pawed
tabby described as “Chessie’s Old Man” (and the father of her two
kittens!), made his first appearance in an advertisement for the
C&O. Chessie and Peake were among the most beloved advertising
symbols of the 20th century, starring in calendars and on
products for decades.

In 1945, Sylvester, the lovable, bumbling black-and-white “Puddy
Tat,” debuted in legendary animator Friz Freleng’s “Life with
Feathers” cartoon. Poor Sylvester never has quite caught up with
his intended prey, Tweety Bird. (Maybe it’s because he wasn’t a

In 1973, cartoon cat Heathcliff, a “tough little mug” created by
George Gately (actually George “Gately” Gallagher), debuted in
the first-ever newspaper comic to feature a cat as the main
character. Chubby, orange and plagued by bulldog Spike,
Heathcliff went on to star in over 80 animated television shows,
50 books with over a million copies in print and even a movie
(“Heathcliff: The Movie”), in which the legendary Mel Blanc lent
the feline star his memorable voice. Heathcliff cartoons are even
hung on the walls of the Louvre in Paris.

Another orange feline superstar showed up on the scene in June,
1978. The first cartoon featuring Garfield, a fat, lazy,
lasagna-loving tiger cat, launched the cat star (and cartoonist
Jim Davis) into super-stardom. The Garfield phenomenon spawned a
publication and product-licensing bonanza, and Garfield
collectibles remain perennially popular.

One of the biggest feline stars ever was rescued from a shelter —
just moments from euthanasia! In spring, 1967, Chicago animal
talent scout Bob Martwick was searching for a cat to use in a
mattress commercial. For a fee of $5, he rescued a large,
personable orange tabby from the Hinsdale Humane Society shelter
in Hinsdale, Ill. He named the big cat “Lucky.” Lucky turned out
to be a born actor. Several months later, Martwick got a call
from the Leo Burnett Advertising agency, looking for a
“nice-looking cat that would eat well” for a commercial for
Star-Kist 9-Lives cat food. Suave, professional Lucky charmed the
paws off the jaded ad execs. According to legend, the big cat
renamed himself “Morris.”

On May 5, 1969, Morris’ first 9-Lives commercial ran on TV for
the first time, in Chicago. (A 30-second version debuted on
nationwide TV on June 19, 1969.) The one-minute spot had been
filmed in May, 1968, on location in Chicago. The delay between
filming and release was caused by a lengthy search for the
“perfect voice” to dub the debonair cat’s lines. (The owner of
that “voice” is still top secret!) 9-Lives cat food jumped off
supermarket shelves into the shopping carts of American cat
owners. Truckloads of fan mail, addressed to “Morris,” arrived at
Star-Kist’s home office in California. A star was born! Since the
days of the original Morris, at least three Morris look-alikes
have starred as “Morris” on cat-food cans and in TV commercials
and ads. But true fans think the original Morris is still the

In 1988, Morris announced his candidacy for U.S. president.
Responding to “paw-titions” signed by legions of fans at his
appearances, Morris distributed thousands of bumper stickers and
buttons. In 1992, Morris mounted another presidential campaign,
garnering even more support. He finally resigned from the
campaign, amid reliable rumors of polls showing that the orange
superstar was about to embarrass the Democrat and Republican
candidates by winning several primaries. Responding to his
client’s critics, Morris’ press secretary remarked, “It’s true,
Morris does not talk, but he thinks a lot, and in a politician,
that’s not a bad trade-off.” Something to keep in mind in the
upcoming election year!

Wendy Christensen is an award-winning pet writer and illustrator,
and a member of both the Cat Writers’ Association and the Dog
Writers Association of America. She lives in New Ipswich with her
husband Jeff MacGillivray and their six cats.

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