It was a Ragdoll-to-riches story: she was stuffed in a box and dumped at the front door of North Shore Animal League, and now she is the official feline hostess of the famous Algonquin Hotel. Matilda III is the tenth Algonquin cat in a dynasty that spans over eight decades.
The Algonquin is New York City’s oldest operating hotel and during the 1920s and 1930s, it gained fame as the gathering place for the brightest wits of the literary and entertainment world. It was in the 1930s that Frank Case, then-owner of the hotel, found a stray orange tabby. He brought the cat in from the rain with the intention of naming him Rusty, but his friend, actor John Barrymore (one of a long line of thespians that includes his granddaughter, Drew), insisted that Hamlet was far more befitting a moniker — after all, the cat insisted on drinking its milk out of a champagne glass. Hamlet was the first Algonquin cat, and all subsequent male cats who called the hotel their home were also named Hamlet. In 1987, the first female cat took over the job, and she (along with her successors) was named Matilda. Matilda III takes over from Matilda II, who had a 13-year-long reign.
Although Matilda III has one of the highest profile positions of any cat in the world, her background is quite mysterious. Nobody knows what the four-year-old Ragdoll was doing or where she lived before she wound up at North Shore Animal League. But she has proven herself to be a natural hotelier, and has adjusted to life at the Algonquin with a blend of good taste, charisma, and some classic kitty curiosity (she has a fixation with the hotel’s 13th floor, for some unknown reason). So I am quite fortunate to have landed an interview with Ms. Matilda III!
I hear that the Algonquin sent a headhunter to the North Shore Animal League in search of a replacement for the retiring Matilda II. Can you tell me a little bit about the job interview?
Actually Matilda II called North Shore to tell them she was ready to retire and could they find a replacement — I appeared — Matilda II went there to interview me and then taught me everything I needed to know about my new job.
You are still pretty new to the Algonquin. How long have you had your position now?
I arrived on December 10, 2010.
Was the job what you expected, or were there surprises?
I cannot believe what a cushy job I have!
Matilda II had a long and celebrated reign. She was also a pedigreed cat. Are you a little intimidated by having to follow in her pawprints?
Not at all — it is a privilege to be her successor and carry on the tradition of the Algonquin Cat.
Why did Matilda II retire? And does she ever check in from her new home in Brooklyn?
Matilda was 15-1/2 years old — that is 80 in human years — she knew it was time to sit in the sun and watch the birds. She is doing very well and is happy — has a windowsill all her own to stare out at trees and birds, sleeps in a four poster bed with a human — life is wonderful.
I know the story about the first Algonquin Cat, Frank Case and John Barrymore, but can you tell me any other interesting anecdotes about the Algonquin Cats before Matilda II?
Rusty, the first cat — who became Hamlet — only drank milk out of a champagne glass. Matilda I was napping one day in the flower box outside the hotel one day and some one came up and robbed her jeweled collar. She also used to steal food from guests’ plates (I would NEVER do that). One Hamlet fell in love and would visit his girlfriend at the local stable (way back when). One cat used to jump into taxicabs if the doorman wasn’t quick enough. Matilda II jumped into her birthday cake one year.
Considering that you came from the North Shore Animal League yourself, are you planning on continuing the tradition of throwing a birthday party to benefit them? Will it still be held in August?
CATsolutely — except this year, because I am new, we will have my grand debutant ball… my coming out party!
I think it’s important that my readers know the Algonquin is pet-friendly. Can you tell me a little about what your four-legged guests receive when they check in?
Everything needed to make them feel at home including a special welcome letter from me!!
Thanks, Matilda, for being part of my birthday month celebration!