Famous Felines Of The Silent Screen.

Posted by Theresa Blood on

This is a blog dedicated to cinephiles & cat lovers both and pays tribute to long forgotten famous feline film stars of the silver screen...

Sometimes they’re cute, and sometimes they’re creepy, but a film is always more interesting with a four-legged friend. You may have heard of Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow, Mary Pickford or Greta Garbo, but have you ever hear of Pepper, Puzzums or Whitey? No? Then read on...

Pepper: The Very First Feline Film Star. 

Charlie Chaplin, the Keystone Cops, and fatty Arbuckle and the beautiful Marie Provost were well-known names of the silent screen. However, what is not such common knowledge is that these stars of the early days of cinema often found themselves starring alongside a gray maltese cat named Pepper - the very first feline movie star and the most famous cat in silent cinema.

Her story began when Silent-comedy producing mogul Mack Sennett noticed a tiny gray cat which was wriggling through a loose floor board one day during filming. The gray ball of fur emerged from the dark crawlspace into the bright klieg lights and kinetic stage, and Sennett watched in amazement as the kitten calmly strolled into the scene and appeared as though she had been written into the script. Sennett just knew he had a star on his hands.

In 1913 Pepper received her first big screen notoriety as her name was emblazoned across “A Little Hero.” In that same film Pepper would be paired with her lifelong acting partner, the first movie star dog, Teddy the Dog (aka Keystone Teddy, America’s Best Friend, and Teddy the Wonder Dog). Pepper received 17 credited movie roles and at least as many un-credited appearances during her career. She could learn to do tricks and was a very smart cat, even famously playing checkers onscreen with the great comedian Ben Turpin and starred alongside Turpin in a total of six films.  When her canine co-star, Teddy the Dog, passed away sometime after 1923 Pepper went into a period of deep mourning and never acted again.

Puzzums: The First Feline To Have A Signed Studio Contract.

Puzzums was the first — and only — feline to sign a studio contract. Literally, he signed with his paw print dipped in ink. He was trained to cross his eyes, suck from a bottle, and even laugh on command.

After appearing in the 1927 Los Angeles Cat Club show, Puzzums caught the industry's eye when the Los Angeles Times published photos of his antics. While the cat show featured many pure-breds, Puzzums stole the show with his tricks. 

Puzzums was a gray maltese who was a huge celebrity in his day. His three-year contract was for $50 per week. At Puzzums peak, it was loaned out to studios and was making $250 a week as a feline freelancer. Puzzums could cross his eyes, suck from a bottle, and even laugh on command, and stole scenes from the likes of Carole Lombard, Jeannette MacDonald, and Maurice Chevalier. Unlike movie dogs Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin, Puzzums was not the focus of a franchise of any kind, but he appeared as a standout moment in films, unique to each setting and often offered comic relief. 

While other movie felines require doubles (for example, Bell, Book and Candle used 13 different Siamese cats to portray Kim Novak's Pyewacket) or voicing by human actors, Puzzums stood alone. Cats have a mind of their own; they're not trainable like dogs, but this cool cat was a once-in-a-lifetime special situation.

Today, it can be difficult to track down much of Puzzums’ work, since many of his films are lost. When he died of a tooth infection in 1934, he was honoured with a lavish funeral and his death was covered in the newspapers like the passing of any other great star.

Whitey – The Super Star Alleycat

The film ‘Stage Door’ of 1937 boasted an all-star cast which included the beautiful and very famous Carole Lombard, but there was one veteran on the set who did not receive a credited role – a white alleycat by the name of Whitey. Present for many of the scenes in the boarding house is a young Eve Arden playing Eve (the actress would say that this film was her big break) and with her is another major movie star, none other than Whitey the cat, already a veteran feline actor, this time playing a cat named Henry. Eve is often seen throughout the movie with Henry, either sitting with him in her lap, or carrying him around, or most notably wearing Henry like a fur stole in an early moment in the film.

Several specific jokes are told about Henry, such as when Eve points out to him what will happen if he is a bad cat, making him eye a white fur coat. Whitey received some press for his role.  One article in The Milwaukee Journal from July 4, 1937 stated:

“There is one veteran on the set whose name probably will not appear on the credits.  He is Whitey, an ordinary white alley cat, whose salary is $25 a day. Whitey was a “find” of a master who, in a burst of generosity, paid 25¢ for him as a kitten.  He has been trained for two years and apparently has no nerves. Being white, he can be (and has been) painted in several designs.  He responds to silent signals and will meow or purr readily on cue.”

Final Thought.

The next time you click on a cute cat You Tube video, remember that there once existed three very special stars of the silent screen from long ago: Pepper, Puzzums and Whitey. They were well known stars of their day, and brought joy to many. This blog is dedicated to their memory.

Pepper:

  • A Little Hero 1913
  • Bow Wow1922
  • A Bedroom Blunder 1917
  • Those Athletic Girls1918
  • Bow Wow 1922

Puzzums:

  • Love At First Flight 1928
  • The Girl From Everywhere 1927
  • Run, Girl, Run 1928
  • The Girl From Nowhere 1928
  • His Unlucky Night 1928
  • The Chicken 1928

Whitey:

  • Hands Across The Table 1935
  • Stage Door 1937

0 comments

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published