Before YouTube made cute cat videos all the more accessible, these felines dominated the big screen—and made names for themselves alongside Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Filmmakers launched a nationwide search to find the perfect feline to star alongside Kim Novak and James Stewart in 1958's Bell, Book, and Candle, which was based on a play of the same name. "We want a cat with an Ava Gardner personality," producer Julian Blaustein told the Deseret News in 1957. "We interviewed some alley cats, er, short-haired domestics. But we decided to go for Siamese. The cat has to have an air of mystery." The producers eventually settled on a Siamese owned by Hollywood animal trainer Frank Inn to play Pyewacket, a magical feline belonging to witch Gillian Holroyd (Novak). While there is some debate about how many cats were actually used in the film—some say as many as nine—at least one of them was named Pyewacket after the feline character, and Novak may have taken that cat home after filming. The cat (or cats) won the Humane Society's PATSY (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) Award in 1958.
In 1961, when animal trainer Frank Inn auditioned cats to play Holly Golightly’s "poor slob without a name" in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, he picked Orangey, who belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Albert Murphy of Hollis, Queens, out of 25 camera-ready felines. The male marmalade cat already had lots of experience: He'd made his debut playing the titular character in 1951's Rhubarb. According to Sam Wasson, author of 5th Avenue, 5AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, Inn said Orangey was "a real New York type cat, just what we want. In no time at all I'm going to make a method, or Lee Strasberg type, cat out of him." Though Orangey could sit still for hours during filming, he would often flee afterward, scratching and spitting at his human co-stars. One movie executive called Orangey "the world's meanest cat." The diva behavoir paid off, though; Orangey was the only cat to win two PATSY awards.
3. Syn Cat
This Siamese cat made his mark by getting up to some serious shenanigans. Starring as the Darn Cat in 1965's That Darn Cat and Tao in 1963's The Incredible Journey, Syn performed stunts himself prompted by bells and treats. He was trained by Bill Koehler, who got the cat for $5 at a shelter when Syn was just two; he had been left there by owners who were put off by the cat's standoffishness.
Before Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, there was Morris. Animal trainer Bob Martwick found the orange tabby at the Humane Society in Hinsdale, Ill., in 1968. Just one year later, Morris booked the job of spokescat for 9Lives cat food. At the audition, Martwick said in 1995, “He jumped on the table … and he walked right up to the art director, the big cheese, and bumped him in the head. And then Morris just sat back. The art director said, ‘This is the Clark Gable of cats.’” Morris appeared in 58 9Lives commercials, won a PATSY Award for the 1973 Burt Reynolds film Shamus, and "wrote" three books. With his cynical-yet-charismatic personality, some believe Morris was the original inspiration for the perma-grumpy cartoon cat Garfield. Morris became an iconic figure—9Lives still uses his image in their promotional material today, and Morris’s Million Cat Rescue campaign inspires others to adopt shelter cats just like him.
Trainer Tammy Maples rescued this Himalayan cat, then 9, from a kitty mill. "When Tiki had a reproductive problem, [the breeder] didn't want her any more," Maples told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. Tiki made her film debut in 1993's Homeward Bound, a remake of 1963's The Incredible Journey. With her calm personality and her ability to perform tricks on cue and sit still for up to 45 minutes at a time, Tiki earned a reputation as one of the best cat actors around. After a run on the big screen, the fluffy feline took to TV, appearing in the '90s comedy series Caroline in the City as a charismatic cat named Salty. "She is more professional than most actors," Amy Pietz, who starred on Caroline, said of Tiki. "Tiki is a hard worker. ... She is definitely a more experienced actress than I am in front of the cameras."
6. Ted Nudegent
Riffing on Blofeld’s fluffy white cat in the James Bond films, 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery's Dr. Evil appeared with a hairless Sphynx on his lap, played by a bald feline named Ted Nudegent. For his first film role, Ted had to be trained on-set by Maples, and while the role didn't require the cat to do any major tricks, he had to learn how to remain calm during star Mike Myers’s antics. That means sitting still for at least 45 minutes at a time—a challenge for any actor, cat or otherwise. "It helped that he had been a show cat and was used to having lots of people around," Maples told the Philadelphia Daily News. "And also that he just loved Mike Myers. Mike always took time to talk to Ted. It wasn't just 'sit down, roll cameras.'"