Friday, 8 August 2014

Orangey the Cat, Feline Film Star

Orangey with Rhubarb director Arthur
Lubin and costars Jan Sterling and Ray
Milland.

Today is World Cat Day so it seems as fitting a day as any to write a post about one of the few cats to achieve stardom in movies. Orangey was a male marmalade tabby with a remarkably long career in film and television. He may be best known as Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but he also appeared in such films as This Island Earth (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), and Village of the Giants (1965).

Orangey would be the first real success for famed animal handler Frank Inn. Frank Inn had served as an assistant to Rudd Weatherwax, who trained Pal, the star of the early "Lassie" fiilms (starting with Lassie Come Home in 1943). He would later go onto train Higgins, the dog who starred on Petticoat Junction and the film Benji (1974), as well as a host of animals for other TV shows and films.

Orangey made his film debut in the 1951 comedy Rhubarb. Orangey played the cat of the title, who inherits a baseball team from his owner, eccentric millionaire Thaddeus J. Banner (played by Gene Lockhart). Not only was Orangey the first cat to play a title role in a film, but he also won a PATSY for his performance as Rhubarb (the PATSY is the equivalent of an Oscar for animal actors). It was the start of  a rather long and illustrious career for Orangey, who would appear in films and TV shows for the next fourteen years.

Orangey would perform on both television and in film. Despite the fact that he was male, Orangey played Minerva,  a cat belonging to Connie Brooks' landlady on the TV show Our Miss Brooks. He had a significant role in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) as Butch, the cat who threatens his miniaturised owner. Of course, his most famous role would be that of Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's. He also appeared in the films This Island Earth (1955), Visit to a Small Planet (1960), and Gigot (1962). His television work included an episode of Shirley Temple's Storybook, episodes of My Favourite Martian, and playing Rusty the Cat on The Beverly Hillbillies. His last role was as a giant cat in Village of the Giants in 1965.

Like many movie stars Orangey had several "stunt doubles". Because cats can be notoriously hard to train, multiple cats often stood in for Orangey in the films in which he starred. For Rhubarb Frank Inn used 36 cats, teaching each one of them one or two tricks necessary to the film. In Breakfast at Tiffany's twelve different cats were used. Indeed, although Orangey is often credited with playing Cleopatra in The Comedy of Terrors (1963), it seems likely that the primary cat used in the film was one of his doubles. teh kitteh antidote has a post discussing how Cleopatra in The Comedy of Terrors looks different from Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Also like many movie stars, Orangey had a reputation for being difficult. Although he was known to behave during scenes, it was not unusual for him to scratch or bite his co-stars the moment the scene was over. A studio executive actually called Orangey "the world's meanest cat". And while Orangey was known to stay on set while his scenes were being shot, even if it meant being around for hours, he was also known to flee the set the moment his scenes were over. Of course, this often meant shooting had to be shut down while he could be found. Once Frank Inn actually posted guard dogs at the exits of the studio to prevent Orangey from attempting one of his usual escapes!

It is often the case that the most difficult actors are often the most talented, and this was true of Orangey as well. Not only did he have a long career for a cat, but he was also the only cat to ever win two PATSY Awards, one for Rhubarb and one for Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Orangey's last film was Village of Giant's in 1965. While I have been unable to determine when Orangey died, given the average lifespan of cats it might not have been too long after that. Regardless, Orangey would be given a final resting place befitting the star he was. Reportedly his ashes were buried with Frank Inn in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. One can only hope he gets along better with his co-stars in the afterlife than he did while making movies.

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