The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 10, 2013

December 10, 1946

Damon Runyon (October 4, 1880 to December 10, 1946) wrote of a New York City which saw itself as a world of the urban tough guy, never far from a brawl and priding himself on his clear-eyed look at the real world. Runyon's short story, "Lillian" was first published in 1938, in a collection titled Furthermore, and is the rare Runyon story involving cats.

The story starts this way:

What I always say is that Wilbur Willard is a very lucky guy...what is it but luck that has ...[him]all mulled up to a million, what with him having been sitting out a few glasses of scotch ...Because if Wilbur Willard is not mulled up he will see Lillian is nothing but a little black cat and give her plenty of room, for everybody knows that black cats are terribly bad luck, even when they are only kittens.
     But being mulled up like I tell you, things look very different... and he does not see Lillian as a little black kitten scrabbling around in the snow. He sees a beautiful leopard; because a copper by the name of O'Hara who is walking by about then, and knows Wilbur Willard, hears him say:
     "Oh you beautiful leopard!"
     The copper takes a quick peek himself, because he does not wish any leopards running around his beat, it being against the law, but all he sees, as he tells me afterward, is this rumpot ham, Wilbur Willard, picking up a scawny little black kitten and stuffing it in his overcoat pocket, and he also hears Wilbur say:
     "Your name is Lillian."
     Then Wilbur teeters on up to his room on the top floor of an old fleabag in Eighth Avenue that is called the Hotel de Brussells, where he lives quite a while, because the management does not mind actors, the management of the Hotel de Brussells being very broad-minded indeed. ...
      Of course when Wilbur comes out from under the ether the next afternoon he can see Lillian is not a leopard, and in fact Wilbur is quite astonished to find himself in bed with a little black kitten, because it seems Lilllian is sleeping on Wilbur's chest to keep warm....
     Now where Lillian came from in the first place of course nobody knows. The chances are somebody chucks her out of a window into the snow, because people are always chucking kittens, and one thing and another, out of windows in New York. In fact, if there is one thing this town has enough of, it is kittens, which finally grow up to be cats, and go snooping around ash-cans, and mer-owing on roofs, and keeping people from sleeping well.
     Personally, I have no use for cats, including kittens, because I have never seen one that has any too much sense, although I know a guy by the name of Pussy McGuire who makes a first-rate living doing nothing but stealing cats, and sometimes dogs and selling them to old dolls who like such things for company. But Pussy only steals Persian and Angora cats, which are very fine cats, and of course Lillian is no such cat as this. ....

City streets, snowy slums, stray cats, in the 1930s.  Where we were. 

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