Morris the Cat: The First Famous Feline

Sure, those felines made famous by YouTube are all the rage this week with their new documentary, Lil Bub & Friendz, in the spotlight at the Tribeca Film Festival.

But before there was YouTube, Buzzfeed recently reminded us, there was Morris.

Remember him? The big orange cat was made famous by his 9Lives commercials. (Below is a classic from 1978.)

What you might not know is that Morris was a rescue cat, who was “discovered” in an Illinois shelter in 1968.

As legend has it, Bob Mardwick, an animal trainer who worked for the Leo Burnett advertising agency, found Morris when he wandered into the Humane Society shelter in Hillsdale, Ill., according to Morris’ 9Lives biography. Mardwick brought him in for a casting call for 9Lives.

Morris “jumped on the table… and he walked right up to the art director, the big cheese, and bumped him in the head. And then Morris just sat back,” Mardwick said. “The art director said, ‘This is the Clark Gable of cats.’”

The Making of an Icon

He went on to film a whopping 58 commercials as “the world’s most finicky cat,” who would only eat 9Lives, between 1969 and his death at the ripe old age of 19 in 1978. The Morris character was later played by other rescue cats.

"Hard to believe this $5 stray from an Illinois humane society pound is a national hero,” said Mardwick.

The talented original actor went on to have roles in two movies — The Long Goodbye and Shamus — and “authored” three books with his name in the title.

Much like today’s animal stars, he was once photographed with animal advocate and actress Betty White. And he went on to have lots of products featuring his face, including coffee mugs, T-shirts and even ties.

Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub — among others — certainly have their fair share of merchandising too. But what remains to be seen is whether they'll have Morris’ staying power?

Below, we'll leave you with a little more Morris. This gem is from 1972.

Read more Vetstreet articles about celebrity pets.

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