Famous And Historical Cats

Cats!

Does the internet talk about cats enough?  Are you sure?  Betteridge’s Law dictates that the answer to that question would be “no,” so here’s some trivia about some famous or historical cats I’ve compiled in semi-chronological order to fix that problem.  Pull up a chair, grab a cat and enjoy purr-rusing this list whilst stroking your four-footed furry friend!

Ta-Miu was a cat that was friends with Crown Prince Thutmose, who lived during Egypt’s eighteenth dynasty, sometime around the year 1400 BCE, making this known cat’s name over three and a half thousand years old.  Tai-miu means ‘she-cat,’ and when Thutmose lost his pet, he had her mummified and buried in a sarcophagus just like any other Egyptian. In fact, we know Thutmose’s full title (“Crown Prince, Overseer of the Priests of Upper and Lower Egypt, High Priest of Ptah in Memphis and Sm-priest (of Ptah)”) because he had it engraved on the side of the cat’s sarcophagus, which can now be seen in the Cairo Museum.  Not so surprisingly, Thutmose is best known just for this cat sarcophagus – we don’t even know when he died, but when he did, his younger brother was next in line for pharaoh, becoming in time Akhenaten, bets known for introducing sun worship instead of the usual Egyptian pantheon, and being married to Nefertiti.  I sent a postcard about Ta-mui to Future Ex-Mrs. Malcolm (why is a long story) and decided every Avocado should know this story, which is why this article now exists, by the way.

Muezza is a cat that’s supposed to have belonged to one of the companions of Muhammad, a man named Abu Hurairah.  A favorite story goes that he was once dressing himself for prayer and found Muezza asleep on his robe’s sleeve so he cut the sleeve off to get the robe without disturbing his cat.  It’s something I think every cat owner has done at one time or another, like how if a cat settles into your lap, you cannot get up or disturb the cat in any manner, and that if you need something, like another beer from the kitchen, you ask someone else to get it for you and by law they have to comply.  It appears the story only dates back to the twentieth century so it’s probably apocryphal, but it’s still quite a relatable story.

Jellylorum was a cat owned by TS Eliot, who named-dropped her in The Naming Of Cats, the first poem in his charming Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats from 1939.  I can’t seem to find any information about Jellyorum herself, so this cat remains as inscrutable as any cat’s third name. What’s not inscrutable however are these whimsical poems, to which a recently recovered hitherto unpublished one was added in 2015.  Anyone who likes cats should probably read this small book at least once, hopefully an edition that includes the Edward Gorey illustrations. Oh yeah, and I gather there was some sort of stage play or musical based off the book?

Jean Paul Sartre had a cat he named Nothing, because of course he did.

Snowball wasn’t the Simpson’s cat but the most famous cat living with Ernest Hemingway (a confirmed cat admirer) at his Key West Florida house in the 1930s.  Snowball was polydactyl, meaning he or she had extra toes, a trait still found in the numerous six- and seven-toed feline descendants that still live in the house-cum-Hemingway museum there.

Orangey, another poorly-named cat, played the cat “Neutron” in the film This Island Earth (1955), which is worthy of a short rant: one of the scientists, introducing Neutron says “we call him Neutron, because he’s so positive.”  “But,” you yell at your screen, “neutrons are tiny particles within the nucleus of atoms, and are electrically neutral! So much for SCIENCE fiction there, This Island Earth! I’m glad MST3K tore you up for their feature film!”  Anyway, Orangey had a very long cat career in Hollywood, and won two of the animal world’s equivalent of an Oscar, the “Picture Animal Top Star of the Year” or PATSY Award, which is handed out American Humane Association’s Hollywood branch – no doubt a stained red carpet affair every year.  Orangey, a male orange tabby, won for his titular portrayal of Rhubarb (1951), a cat that owns a baseball team (there’s no rule that says a cat can’t own a baseball team!), and then in 1961 for the metaphorical “Cat” in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Yes, Breakfast At Tiffany’s!  Orangey was a major Hollywood name! Orangey also got to participate in a number of  future nerd projects, landing roles in The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Comedy Of Terrors, My Favorite Martian, Mission Impossible, and not one but two appearances in the 1966 Batman TV show! Although often uncredited or under a different name, Orangey has a whopping 17 IMDB listings, which is more than you or I ever will.  Stardom apparently went to his head and despite being a prodigy at staying on his marks for hours, he would sometimes dash away instead, holding up production as the crew hunted round the set for him; his trainer ended this by stationing guard dogs at the doors.  One studio executive even said Orangey was the world’s meanest cat, biting and scratching the other stars he worked with. They just didn’t understand his true genius, he was an artist!

Félicette was a black-and-white tuxedo stray cat from the streets of Paris who went into space for the French space program (yes, there was such a thing) in October 1963.  Well, almost into space, it was just a suborbital flight that lasted just less than Warhol’s prescribed fifteen minutes, but that’s still something.  She was the unluckiest of thirteen cats that were readied for space flight by the French program using high-G centrifuges and by having electrodes wired permanently into her brain to study her brain waves whilst in space.  Félicette came back safely but was soon euthanized so that scientists could examine her brain to see if space travel had affected it. I found a French short about her on YouTube, but if you love cats or feel a strong empathy with animals, you’d probably best skip it.  Another cat was sent up just five days later but didn’t make it back; I couldn’t find out what happened there other than that.  Maybe cats should avoid space for now, or at least French scientists.

D.F.C. Willard was quite a smarty-cat, being a credited co-author and once as sole author on a couple of scientific papers.  Turns out the cat’s co-author, physicist and mathematician Jack H. Hetherington of Michigan State, had an article he wanted to publish, but had accidentally (somehow) written using first person plural pronouns; a friend pointed out the article would be rejected from the journal because it listed only one author.  Hetherington understandably didn’t feel like retyping his work so he renamed his Siamese cat Chester, added that name to his paper, and sent it off.  Chester’s nom de scientific plume breaks down thusly: FD from “Felis domesticus,” a house cat’s scientific name; C for “Chester;” “Willard” from Chester’s dad’s name.  The article, “Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc ³He” (a work about low temperature physics), was probably quite a page turner and was accepted for publication and ran in The Physical Review‘s November, 1975 issue.  Hetherington gave the game away three years later by sending friends copies of the article signed by both authors, using a paw print from Chester.  Chester published again in a 1980 issue of the French popular science magazine La Recherche, listed as the only author of “L’hélium 3 solide. Un antiferromagnétique nucléaire.”  The cat was obviously a genius, I mean, I can’t even speak French, much less understand what that paper is about.

All Ball sounds just like the sort of name a sign-language-using gorilla would give a cat, and so Koko, the gorilla who was taught to use sign language, did in 1983.  Sadly, the cat escaped Koko’s cage less than a year later and was hit by a car. Koko went on to get more cats, first Lipstick and Smokey, then in 2015 two more named Miss Black and Miss Grey.  Koko’s cat naming game has obviously got better.

Freddie Mercury wrote a song about his beloved tortoiseshell Delilah on the final album he made with Queen, originally released in 1991.  It’s not much of a song, but if you were hearing it without knowing it was about his cat, the part about Delilah peeing all over his Chippendale suite would be uh, something.  Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer and occasional keyboard player, was later quoted saying “I hate ‘Delilah’. That’s just not me.” I’m assuming he did mean the song, not that cat.  That said, I sincerely hope that Delilah, both song and cat, will appear in the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic.

A pub cat named Catmando (pronounced “cat man do”) was co-leader with his human of Britain’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party for three years beginning in 1999, during which time the party saw its greatest triumph of fielding fifteen raving loonies for political office.  Catmando had run against his human for the party leadership which resulted in a tie vote, so Alan “Howling Laud” Hope proposed they lead together.  Again sadly, this prominent cat’s life and political career was cut short by traffic accident, so the Monster Raving Loony Party forthwith proposed all major roads include a cat-crossing.

Dewey Readmore Books was the library cat for the library in Spencer, Iowa, having been abandoned through the library’s book return by some heartless bastard in 1988.  The library decided to keep him and held a naming contest and Dewey (of the now largely defunct Decimal System fame) won, to which the librarians of course added the “Readmore Books”; cats of course rarely like it to be known that they read books.  Dewey lived to be in his nineties in cat years, but had to be put to sleep for intractable health problems in 2006.  In his time however he achieved worldwide fame thanks to a growing viral presence that began with being entered into a charity pet photo contest and ended with him being featured in a Japanese documentary, which started something of a cult for him there because, you know, Japan.  His death was announced on Japanese television and 270 newspapers around the world ran his obituary.  His ashes were buried just outside the library he had lived in all his life and the librarian that had found and raised him wrote a book about his life a couple of years later.  It reached number one on the New York Times Bestseller List and Meryl Streep was even attached to a movie version that never came about.

Deadmau5 brought us his own black and white cat, Professor Meowingtons, PhD, on the cover of his imaginatively titled album Album Title Goes Here – which is funny, because it’s usually the cat that bring us the dead mouse, not the other way around.

If I bungled any of my history or you know any other good famous historical cat stories, please feel free to tell it in the comments below, and thanks for reading!