A cavalcade of famous cat fanciers

Salvador Dalí and Babou the ocelot photo: Roger Higgins / library of congress

OK, so what do Ernest Hemingway, Marlon Brando, and Pablo Picasso have in common? Yes, all were highly creative, outsized personalities and internationally famous, but that’s not the answer we’re looking for here. Think feline. Yes, they were cat lovers. They all thought cats were the cat’s pajamas.


You would think Hemingway, noted for his hyper-masculinity and bombast, would surround himself with dogs — big dogs, like bullmastiffs or St. Bernards with kegs of brandy around their necks. But no, what did Papa Hemingway surround himself with? Cats, and lots of them. When he lived in Key West a friend gave him a six-toed tomcat. Cats with six toes are called polydactyl. Too long a word? Hemingway called that six-toed cat Tom. And Tom fathered generation after generation of polydactyl cats. When I was in Key West a few years ago, I visited the old Hemingway house, and the place is full of cats, all with six toes. They are protected by terms in Hemingway’s will.


Another macho guy with a soft heart for cats was actor Marlon Brando. He was frequently photographed in his pad with a cat. When Brando was filming the Godfather, he found a stray cat on the set. Director Francis Ford Coppola picked it up and set it in Brando’s lap. And that’s why the opening shot in the movie includes a cat.


Throughout much his life the artist kept cats as companions — as well as women, you may recall. In his 1941 painting Dora Maar au Chat, his mistress has a small black kitten on her shoulder.


Dali, the surrealist artist, also had a thing about cats. He was photographed with them frequently and included them in many of his paintings. He once led an ocelot on a leash through a hotel lobby on the Monterey Peninsula. Nice kitty!


Poet Ginsberg loved cats, perhaps because he felt they were sympathetic Beats as he was. He loved photographing them. His Beat buddies Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs were cat guys as well. Kerouac mourned when his cat died. Burroughs had seven cats, according to Kerouac, and actually wrote a book about them called The Cat Inside.


I couldn’t resist this one. Jazz giant Charles Mingus who played the stand-up bass, taught his cat to use a regulation toilet. He said it took him one month to train him. But his cat, Nightlife, got the message. In case you want to try this with your cat, go to the official Mingus website and click on Charles Mingus Cat Toilet Training Program.


Snoop Dogg is a cat guy. He has two Siamese cats — one named Frank Sinatra and one named Miles Davis.


Marie Antoinette hoped to escape the guillotine during the violent French Revolution by fleeing to America. She didn’t make it. But she would have been glad to know it is said that her palace household cats were put aboard the escape ship and made it across the Atlantic and became good mousers in America.


Former French movie idol and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot once said, “I really am a cat transformed into a woman.”


I don’t really know if Audrey Hepburn was a cat fancier, but I couldn’t resist including her here. In the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn, has a marmalade cat with no name. She calls him Cat. At one point, musing on her fate as a high-priced call girl, Holly says, “I’m like Cat here, a no-name slob.” The cat that played Cat in the movie was a famous actor-cat named Orangey who won two Patsy Awards, which honors animal performers in motion pictures.

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Our cat-man Ernest Beyl has a classic tuxedo cat named Aramis in his family. E-mail: [email protected]