One of my favourite moments ever in a cinema was here at the Astor, just last year. The double was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Two for the Road. But it wasn’t Marilyn or Audrey who stole the show. There was a third leading lady, another female icon who captured not only my attention and whose brilliant comic timing surpassed even that the feminine sass Marilyn displays onscreen.
A friend of mine had gotten up to visit the ladies’ cloaks and, foolishly, assumed that when she returned her seat would be as empty as she left it. Unfortunately for my friend, when she returned, her seat was taken.
Having Melbourne’s most famous calico cat steal your seat is something of a dilemma. First of all, there’s a movie playing and disrupting fellow patrons is a no-no. but, worse than that, this is no ordinary cat you can’t just ask, and you really can’t force, Marzipan to move.
So, sitting rather awkwardly on the step in the aisle for a good couple of minutes my friend waited for Marzipan to decide in her own good time that she was ready to get up and wander across the laps of others.
Clearly moving only because she had finally decided she required a more human inhabited seat, Marzipan rose and was on the move. The tinker of her bell suited Marilyn’s curvy saunter as both ladies sashayed to and fro in unison. A movie moment from the heavens.
And then the most magical of all moments occurred: Marzipan picked me.
Some 21 years ago now, a kitten no larger than the palm of your hand was found outside the Astor on Dandenong Road under a truck (or so the story goes). Looking up at the projectionist and cinema worker who found her, this kitten was about to claim Melbourne’s largest, most opulent and best-loved cinema for her home. Spending her first days up in the projection booth, the young kitten was soon introduced to a lifestyle where late nights and popcorn reigned.
Having won over the hearts of the projectionists and staff of the theatre in the early 1990s, little did the world know that this kitty would soon steal the hearts of an entire city …
Though she wasn’t the first cat to live at the theatre (there was Magenta and Magenta’s mother before her), there was something special about this ‘90s stray who’d sauntered in and soon claimed the art deco gem as her own.
Maybe in the early days she watched too many leading ladies in stubborn roles in all those classic movies, or perhaps she just bought into her own myth as it spread through the streets of Melbourne – all those stories about her running across the balcony, leaving a silhouette and the too quick pitter patter of a her paws against the jarrawood banister right in the most tense and terrifying moments of any horror movie – including Poltergeist “she’s heeeeeeeeeeere” but whatever it was, this kitten grew into a cat who was more than just a cat who lived in a theatre. This cat became Melbourne’s most popular and well-loved diva.
Once we hit the digital age it was impossible to stop her. She joined Facebook and hit a friend count that would rival local celebrities. As the years wore on she established a daily routine; greeting customers on one of the busiest street corners in Melbourne, completely in control and unperturbed by the loud, smelly traffic; counting change in the ticket box as people purchased tickets; slinking in after intermission to check out the second feature and saying goodnight on the couch by the ticket box as patrons left for the evening. She even had chose favourite customers whose laps she’d seek out by running under the seats in the dark. The tinker of her bell a familiar and comforting sound.
Keen to explore the local area and determined to be in charge of her own destiny, there was once a fear that this special feline had become a ‘lost cat’. Pictures of the calico appeared up and down Chapel Street and tear-stained projectionists worried about the four footed wonder. A couple of days later a call confirmed she was not at all lost but had apparently was a little hungry. Having trotted down the street to the local Thai restaurant this cat wanted a taste of fine dining.
As the years rolled on the cat’s fame and notoriety only grew. Soon she was the focus of photo shoots and interviews. And despite the humans who worked in the beautiful building she’d taken as her home, she still wandered about Chapel St without a care in the world. Phone calls from frantic newcomers and passersby who hadn’t yet met the great famous feline came through almost nightly and the conversation was always the same:
Passerby: “Hello? Hello? I’ve found your cat – she was just sitting on Chapel St, right near the main road!!”
Astor Staff: “Oh hello, thank you very much, where are you?
Passerby: “We’re outside a place called The Astor Theatre – do you know where that is? If not, we can bring her to you”
Astor Staff: “Oh that’s quite alright, we’ll come and get her.”
Moments later an usher would appear…
These games only amused Marzipan who found it entertaining to continually trick the foolish humans.
For my own part my memories are many and varied; I had to throw away my favourite vintage Valentino skirt because one such special cat had clawed away it until it was nothing more than a few shreds of wool. After I stopped wearing the skirt she stopped sitting on my lap for at least a month before she finally forgave me and then started to tear up its replacement. Hating her visits to the vet no matter what kind of music I played in the car – and I felt sure she’d be a David Bowie fan – I could always rely on her to soil the blankets that lined her carry case. And in the latter days when I played nurse and applied her nightly medication I found myself reduced to an often exasperated madwoman who could be seen in the wee hours running around Melbourne’s grand old dame chasing a very fast, very clever, kitty..
These memories are moments to be shared; they don’t belong only to me or to you – they are ours. Marzipan wasn’t my cat and she didn’t really belong to anyone, rather everyone belonged to her. We all loved her, we all have heart wrenching moments and too much hilarity to cover in a blog post. But there is one thing that is absolutely certain – Marzipan was very special. Having lived one of the most colourful and spectacular lives a cat could ever hope to live, Marzipan was loved by all of Melbourne.
Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre originally read out as a tribute ahead of a screening of The Aristocats on July 14 2013.