It’s Friday The 13th: Revisiting LIFE’s 1961 Bad Luck Black Cats!

By on March 13, 2015

Today is Friday the 13th, the unluckiest of days, a factoid we’ve been reminded of for our entire lives, or at least since the first days of our individual internet access, although no one really knows why exactly (we’re sure there are lots of places where you can read that it can be traced all the back to the Christians or the Druids or maybe even Zeus himself, but no one really knows for sure, trust us).

We thought we’d also share the trailer for the film where this lucky black cat made his or her film debut, and this wonderful review of the film, which tells the tale much better than we can:

This triple treat of terror is a three-episode blood-dripping that includes murder, necrophilia, dementia, live burials, open tombs, exhumation, resurrection, zombies and feline vengeance, resulting in nothing less than juicy entertainment and spine-chilling cinema. Mix in three of horrordom’s greatest villains, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone, and you’ve got a shocker you dare not watch alone!Price stars in all three episodes, including Morella, in which a man is haunted after blaming his young daughter for the death of his wife. In The Black Cat, a pair of illicit lovers are buried alive by a jealous husband, and in The Case of M. Valdemar, a sorcerer’s spell backfires when he sentences an innocent man to living hell.

BLACK CAT 1

BLACK CAT 2

Those of us who find ourselves living in the so-called western culture are well aware by now that there are certain things about life that we are simply asked to accept without question, and we’re told that there are reasons for certain behavior on days like today, and that we should, for instance, avoid anything associated with bad luck on Friday the 13th, and that bad luck would include avoiding black cats, although we must recognize that avoiding them is largely unfair to our feline friends who just happened to have been born black. It’s not their fault, and we think it’s rather silly, don’t you think so too?

BLACK CAT 4

And so, we thought we’d celebrate this black cat bad luck silliness, and turn the image of the unlucky black cat over on its pointy little ears today, and share with you these wonderful images dating all the way back to 1961.

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These photos were taken by LIFE magazine photographer Ralph Crane, who was dispatched to an open audition — let’s call it a cat call, instead of a cattle call, shall we? — which took place somewhere in Hollywood. Crane’s assignment was to snap photos of hopeful black cats, lots of them, who wanted to be in the movies. 152 of them, according to LIFE‘s little write-up about the photos, which were published in the Dec. 15, 1961 issue. Well, maybe they didn’t want to be in the movies, but their owners did. Poor unlucky Ralph, having to cross paths with so many of them on one day! We hope things turned out for him okay. Lucky for us, though.

Here’s what it says over at Time magazine’s page:

When it comes to four-legged thespians, canines have generally achieved a greater level of fame than their feline rivals. We fondly remember Lassie, Benji and Toto, but cats seem to face a steeper path to Hollywood stardom. Blame it on the lack of good roles.

One role, however—the title character in Edgar Allen Poe’s 1843 short story The Black Cat—offered theatrically inclined kitties a chance to break through. In the story, the cat’s owner plasters him into a wall, along with his murdered wife. Eventually, the animal’s mewing from beyond the grave leads investigators to the woman’s body. The film adaptation, which would appear in the 1962 horror compilation Tales of Terror, adjusted the storyline by weaving in elements of another Poe tale.

BLACK CAT 5

Exactly 152 cats showed up for the audition, all of them “considerably less nervous than their owners.” Several were disqualified thanks to white paws or noses, but even for those left in the running, the day left dreams largely dashed. The lead role, it turned out, had already been filled by “a well-known professional cat.” Seven lucky extras, selected on account of having the meanest looking faces, were chosen as understudies.

Their owners, whose ambitions for their pets might just have exceeded those of the pets themselves, couldn’t help but let superstition get the best of them. Although they acted naturally around their own cats, “many took pains not to let any strange black cats cross their paths.”

BLACK CAT 8

BLACK CAT 7

BLACK CAT 9

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.