LIFE photographer Ralph Crane captured these photos in 1961 that document the audition for a black cat role in Hollywood. One hundred fifty-two black cats attended an audition for the movie ‘Tales of Terror’ by Edgar Allan Poe following a newspaper advertisement. The Los Angeles Times reported that many cats attended the audition, all of whom were “considerably less nervous than their owners.” Those with white noses or paws were immediately disqualified.
The sidewalk in Hollywood’s 600 block of N. Bronson Ave. turned into a catwalk Monday. More than 100 black cats lined up–as many as cats will line up–for an audition for a movie part in response to a newspaper ad seeking “a sagacious black cat.”
The film portrays Montresor Herringbone as a man who hates his wife Annabelle and her black cat. On a ramble about town, he stumbles upon a wine tasting event and challenges Fortunato Luchresi, the world’s foremost wine taster. Herringbone becomes drunk. As Luchresi escorts him home, he meets his wife. Upon discovering Luchresi and Annabelle’s physical intimacy, Herringbone interred them alive behind a wall in the house’s cellar. After hearing a meow from the basement, police break down the barrier and find Luchresi and Annabelle dead, along with the cat.
There was already a professionally trained black cat filling the lead role. For publicity purposes, seven additional cats were also needed; they were selected based on the look in their eyes that suggested they might be mean. Black cats have been associated with superstition and folklore throughout history. In the Medieval Period, sorcery also caused hysteria and fear. Several innocent women (and men) were accused of using magic and persecuted. Black cats were believed to be used by witches to carry out evil deeds and communicate with the devil. In other myths, witches were said to transform into black cats to hide their identity or cast spells in secret. When Europeans immigrated to America, superstitions about black cats spread. More than 200 people were accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials, during which witches and cats were persecuted. Black cats were often charged with assisting witches in conducting spells during this period and even performing witchcraft themselves. Even today, many black cats are mistreated and feared, especially around Halloween, which is why black cats should remain indoors during this time of year.