Film noir feline stars: The cat in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “Bell, Book and Candle” 1958

Name: Cy A. Meese

Character Name: Pyewacket

Kim Novak catches James Stewart with help from her cherished pet.

Bio: Kim Novak and James Stewart starred in two movies together in 1958. One was the classic Hitchcock neo noir “Vertigo.” The other, now lesser known, was the lighter-toned “Bell, Book and Candle” by director Richard Quine, based on the hit Broadway romantic comedy by John Van Druten. In the film, Novak plays Gillian Holroyd, a stylish New Yorker and successful store owner with a knack for witchcraft.

But, despite her busy schedule and relentlessly chic wardrobe, Gillian is tired of spending her nights, especially Christmas Eve, talking shop at the campy Zodiac nightclub in the Village with her fellow sorcerers (witch Elsa Lanchester and warlock Jack Lemmon). You know, eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog. Blah, blah, blah.

Gillian much prefers the company of her lovely cat Pyewacket (Cy A. Meese) and flirting with her tall, gray and handsome neighbor Shepherd Henderson (Stewart). After Gillian learns that Shep is engaged to her rival (Janice Rule), she calls on her blue-eyed, gray-furred companion for help in turning the romantic tables.

As the witch’s “familiar,” the role of Pyewacket is pivotal to the film and surely one of the most significant feline roles in Hollywood history. Not only is Gillian’s beloved Pye the agent for casting a spell on Shep, this stunning and eminently self-assured kitty manages to reunite the lovers after they hit a few bumps on the road to bewitchment.

The real-life puss who played Pyewacket later became a Manhattan legend. A life-long New Yorker from a prominent family, Cy was a classically trained actor and had worked steadily in theater before trying his paw at movies. Still, despite his success on stage and screen, Cy’s first love was reading and in 1960 he left acting to open a shop on Greenwich Avenue named “Book, Bell and Candle.”

Besides his excellent taste in titles, he was known for his uncommonly cushy sofas and for encouraging customers to nap in between browsing the aisles. (Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and John Cheever were regular snoozers.) In 1968, Cy opened a second location on London’s Cheshire Street and divided his time between the cities until he died peacefully in his sleep in 1982.

Need a bigger Jimmy Stewart fix? Don’t forget the Christmas Eve classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which offers a healthy dose of noir amid the heartwarming joy.

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Film noir feline stars: The cat in ‘Postman Always Rings Twice’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” 1946

Name: Sasha Pirster

Character Name: Curiosity

Though her screentime was brief, Sasha Pirster made a memorable impression in "Postman."

Bio: “I like cats, they’re always up to something,” says the motorcycle cop as he looks admiringly at a full-figured kitty climbing a ladder in “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Directed by Tay Garnett and based on the famous novel by James M. Cain, “Postman” is a seminal film noir.

Sadly for Curiosity (Sasha Pirster), platinum blondes with nice legs are also always up to something. The blonde in this case is Cora (Lana Turner) who plots with her lover Frank (John Garfield) to kill her husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Curiosity is on screen only long enough to be noticed by the cop and make Frank nervous before she meets a rather brutal end.

The lovers’ first attempt to do away with Nick is staging an accidental drowning in a bathtub. But when the power fails, their plan is foiled and poor Curiosity, who happened to be an innocent bystander, is electrocuted. “I never saw a prettier cat,” says the cop. “It killed her deader’n’ a doornail.” This strange omen does not deter the killers in the least and they proceed to Plan No. 2.

Lana Turner

Despite her character’s grim fate, feline actress Sasha Pirster was a joy to work with. Known for her wry one-liners and practical jokes (she was fond of offering cash rewards for mittens), Sasha was popular with both cast and crew.

In fact, Lana Turner was between husbands during the filming of this movie and the two actresses frequently went out on the town; their drink of choice was kahlua and cream. It was on one of these outings that Sasha met the love of her life, a wealthy fish merchant (well, ok, he was a fat cat) named Felix Kurllup, whom she married in 1947.

Sasha said goodbye to acting and became a homemaker; the couple had 13 children. After raising the kittens, she launched a popular line of turbans inspired by Turner’s elegant toppers in “Postman.”

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Film noir’s feline stars: The cat in ‘Femme Fatale’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat on the Control Panel in “Femme Fatale” 2002

Name: Funk Soul Furrier

Character Name: Clouzot the Control Room Cat

Funk Soul Furrier has long been famous in the south of France.

Bio: Funk Soul Furrier is a part-time actor and full-time DJ, creating the intense, kit-kat rap that critic Naught DeClawde calls “the edgiest sound yet from the alley.” His album “No Mo’ Kow-Tow to the Bow-Wow” sold 24 million copies worldwide.

With his sultry good looks and haute high-tech, Funk Soul was a natural to play Clouzot the Control Room Cat, a key staffer at the Palais du Cinema, the primary theater of the Cannes Film Festival, and setting for the suspenseful opening of “Femme Fatale.”

While he may be new to American audiences, he has long been famous in the south of France, particularly in Nice, where he owns and runs Le club de Chat et de Souris (The Cat and Mouse Club).

Since playing in “Femme Fatale,” he has landed starring roles in several high-concept cat-food commercials as well as cameos in a handful of Polish art films.

“Femme Fatale” director Brian de Palma said of Funk Soul’s performance: “His honesty and emotion just knocked me out. He did an amazing job with very little input from me.”

Image from http://catsinsinks.com

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