People of my generation are very familiar with one of the most famous cats of all time, Morris, who starred in over 50 television commercials for 9 Lives cat food from 1969 to 1978. Rescued from an animal shelter in Chicago and considered the most finicky cat in the world, the feline cat food huckster acquired many fans before he died in 1978 from cardiac complications related to his age. Since then, there have been at least two other cats who played the role of Morris.
Another cool cat who was just as loved, although possibly on a more local basis, was simply known as Room 8, and lived in Echo Park, California from 1947 to 1968. He was a stray cat who went for a stroll one day in 1952 and wound up in a classroom with the number 8 above the door at Elysian Heights Elementary School. Teachers and school staff tried to shoo him away but the cat was having none of that and was back the very next day. And the day after that, and the day after that, until the late-1960s.
It didn’t take long for students and school staff alike to fall in love with the critter, who pretty much lived at the school during the academic year and then disappeared during the summer months when kids were on vacation. But when that bell rang for the first day of school every year, Room 8 was back.
He became such an ingrained part of the school that local television news crews were always on hand at the beginning of the year, waiting for him to make his appearance. As word spread, he developed a fan base and the school would receive as many as 100 letters a day address to the cat. His fame went nationwide when Look magazine ran a three-page feature on Room 8 in its November 1962 issue. He was even featured in a documentary titled Big Cat, Little Cat, as well as a children’s book titled A Cat Called Room 8.
Somewhat hobbled by injuries acquired in a fight with another cat in his later years, and suffering from feline pneumonia, a local family gave Room 8 a home. But that didn’t keep him from going to school every day, just like clockwork. And at the end of the day, the school’s janitor would carry him back across the street to his adopted family.
Room 8 died 53 years ago today, on August 13, 1968. His obituary ran in newspapers from coast to coast, including a three-column photograph in the Los Angeles Times. He was buried at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, California, but he was never forgotten by the kids he shared a classroom with. A mural on the outside of Elysian Heights Elementary School honors his memory and his paw prints are preserved forever in cement on the sidewalk outside the school. The Room 8 Memorial Foundation works to provide homes for cats coast to coast.
Morris might have sold a lot of cat food, but as far as I’m concerned, Room 8 left a much larger mark on the world that continues even today. Not bad for a stray cat, don’t you agree?
Note: My thanks to Brett Fernau for providing the photo of Room 8’s gravestone for this blog post.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Camp Timber View by my friend Jason Deas. This children’s mystery about two best friends at an amazing summer at camp is a rollercoaster ride of fun, suspense, and escape that the youngsters in your family will love. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – I can’t prove this, but I swear I used to be smarter, funnier, and less tired.