Feline of the Opera – in search of a tortoiseshell diva (Melbourne, Australia)

By Ian Cochrane, February 22, 2013

Outside there’s a neon finger-sign soaring skyward, the oversized letters reading `ASTOR’. The building’s not much to look at; the high facade brick, of cream and red. The veranda is low and squarish, the fascia lined with a string of bare light globes. From a street clogged with trams, trucks and cars, we step up and push through the bank of glass doors.

ex-Astor Website

The Astor Theatre – St.Kilda, Melbourne (from Astor website)

The door swings shut behind us; the clatter of traffic replaced by ambient music and dimmed lighting. We’ve gone from a mad Metropolis into an art deco opera house. The grand foyer is ship-like in warm beeswax tones; a colonial ocean-going liner afloat on orient seas. A scattering of large potted palms sit on shining terrazzo floors.

I’m inside Melbourne’s iconic Astor Theatre with my girlfriend; classic 1930s, with a single-screen, stalls and a dress circle. In continuous operation, this is the last of its kind here. But even more important, I’m told it’s the domain of Marzipan the cat.

From the foyer I peer up into a huge oval opening in the upper floor, a pink ceiling and central chandelier. On the far side, a grand terrazzo staircase leads upwards, parting flights sweep left and right. The ticket box window glows at the foot of the stairs. A long wooden counter lines one side wall and we thumb through theatre flyers and calendar programmes stacked on top. Oversized wall posters are glazed, mounted in ornate gilded frames.

We buy tickets from the seller, tucked-in behind her desk and surrounded by posters, then climb the steps. My fingers run along the smooth wooden balustrade and we step onto a carpet awash with splashes of geometric colour. There’s a wicker basket and cushion by the wall; Marzipan is not home.

Club chairs and sofas sit beneath framed posters, among further pots of palms. Dark sideboards are bedecked with tall vases of flowers. We walk to the balustrade, peer over the rail and down through the oval opening to the foyer now below us.

Around the walls there’s antique theatre projectors, radios and cinematic memorabilia. A grand piano sits off to the side. Rita Hayworth looks down from a wall, an amazon vision with flaming red hair and flowing dress of baby blue; a white stole is draped at her feet. I smell coffee and popcorn from the bar. There’s champagne, beer and homemade cake, along with the best choc-tops in town.

We’ve met Mathew – a photographer friend – and sit talking on a sofa. It’s Monday; a quiet night, with a Hitchcock double of Psycho and The Birds.

Mathew is a long-time patron. “Marzipan? Of course.” He looks around. “She’ll be somewhere about.”  We’ve been here before, but have never seen the famous cat. Mathew picks up on my girlfriend’s pout. “Never mind, she is her own cat, that one.”

Marzipan is over 20yrs old; enjoying the same fame in these parts as a Scarlett Johansson or Penelope Cruz. And – being a cat – Marzipan is not bothered by any perceived contradiction between feline aloofness and allowing hundreds of doting patrons to offer food and blankets. And it only adds to the legend how Marzipan magically appears when called for dinner, even though stone deaf. “You know,” says Mathew, “she once scared the hell out of an audience during a screening of Poltergeist, by running along the balustrade at an inopportune moment.”

Before the film, I ask Mathew where it all began. “Ah, there’s a story,” he says, “she waltzed in as a kitten, from under a parked truck. Still occasionally goes outside. These days she’s more likely to leap from the darkness during a movie and onto a lap of her choosing.” I look over at my girlfriend, worried about the famous Hitchcock shower scene we’re about to sit through.

My girlfriend asks if Marzipan likes horror movies. Mathew shrugs. “Well, you may laugh; but she does have a preference for some films over others.” I ask Mathew what they would be and he doesn’t blink an eyelid. “Oh, she likes some Tennessee Williams; and anything with Cat Woman of course.”

We present our tickets and make our way up more steps into the auditorium, dropping the folded swinging seats with a bang. They’re leather and squeak when we sit. The music stops and there’s the grind of the winch as the gold curtains part.

I spend most of the film peering into the shadows and around the seats, my girlfriend jumping at the crunch of a choc-top and the rustle of a chip wrapper. Another seat bangs in the gloom as someone jumps up, then trips on a step.

We stay for the credits, but alas, no Marzipan. I look down into the stalls far below. The theatre is gigantic, with downstairs generally closed off. She could be anywhere among the 1150 seats. She could be backstage, or up in the ceilings. Could she be outside counting traffic or just watching the world go by? Oh well, there is the second feature still to come.

Marzipan the Astor cat, 20yrs old - by Matt Elliott  photography

Marzipan the Astor cat – over 20yrs old. (by Matt Elliott photography)

At the end of the night we sit by the bar and chat. Eventually we trudge across to the top of the main staircase – the wicker basket still empty – then down to an almost empty foyer. There’s someone pointing; towards us it seems. Mathew nudges my arm and we turn around.

Marzipan has materialised from parts unknown and sits bolt upright, behind us on the terrazzo landing; resplendent in a tuxedo of calico tortoiseshell, white feet demurely together. Her purple and gold nametag hangs from a collar of lipstick-red. Mathew smiles at my girlfriend, “There you go. Where would a diva cat wait, other than on the exit stairs at the end of the night?”

Marzipan looks through us, then left; a bare wall obviously more interesting. Finally those wise pool-like eyes gaze down at my girlfriend’s feet. “So,” says Mathew, “meet Marzipan, the phantom cat with 500 Facebook friends and a collection of `wish you were here’ holiday postcards from all over the world.”

A sad Postscript – March 26th, 2013 – Marzipan has now passed away.

 

19 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Hello

    The Last time I saw Marzipan alive was in July 2012 she was a very friendly cat.

    Sad news to hear about her death on the 24 March 2013. She was 21 years old.

    Farewell Marzipan.

    RIP

    Chris

    • IanC says:

      Hullo Chris,
      So sorry for taking so long to publish.
      Very, very sad news. Yes, she will be sorely missed.
      I’d appreciate any details if you have them.
      Thanks for dropping by.
      Cheers, ic

      • Christopher says:

        Hello Ian

        The first time I saw MARZIPAN was years ago. She seemedvery much at home in the cinema going from aisle to aisle and sitting on the boxes.
        At the interval she was there for anyone to make a fuss of. I was suprised when she came and sat on my knees for a fuss, that was on the 2nd July 2012, the last time I saw her.
        We have always had cats at home and I seem to have a great affinity with them.

        It is quite upsetting when they pass away. I will remember her.

        Chris

        • IanC says:

          Much appreciated Chris.
          Yes, she was a gorgeous cat & obviously took quite a shine to you.
          I shall post a small piece late tonight, as there will be many who will be unaware of her demise..
          Thanks again.
          Cheers, ic

  2. Meran says:

    IanC WOW I have just read your article on the Astor and loved it. You had me right back there. I went to see Metropolis on the big screen (10 Feb 2013) at the Astor and as soon as I walked it was love at 1st sight. Reading this made me feel like I was back there agian. You’ve written it very well and for someone reading this for the 1st time who may not have gone there yet, no doubt will get a very clear picture of what the Astor looks like and Marzipan….. what can say except I got to meet her before the movie started and she was affectionate and a pleasure to be around. I could not believe she was 21 when I met her. I fell for her. I was so glad to meet her and I think the memory will stay for a lone time to come. I will be sad when she has to go. I aim to retuen to the Astor again and again and next time I aim to get a photo with her.

  3. Amy says:

    Marzipan is 23 years old, not 20!

    • IanC says:

      Thank you Amy for taking the time to comment. I have found Marzipan’s story varies.

      Nevertheless, I am confident that yes, she is in fact now over 20yrs old & have accordingly updated the photograph caption. Thanks again for dropping by. I do hope you liked the story.
      Cheers, ic

    • Meran says:

      Amy I was told she is 21.

      • IanC says:

        Thank you so much for the kind words Meran.

        Very much appreciated, & I’m so glad you liked the story. I have to say the Astor is one of my favourite theatres anywhere; with the bonus of a beautiful live-in cat. Isn’t she something else? (I’m sure her age is the source of much discussion.)

        Thanks again for dropping by. If you do get that photo, I’d love to see it.
        Cheers, ic

  4. JerseyLil says:

    Ian, what a wonderful post, really enjoyed it. Your descriptions are so vivid, I felt as if I was right there inside the Astor Theatre and I love art deco. Well, I laughed out loud at your description of a quiet night “with a Hitchcock double of ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds.’” Glad that you and your girlfriend finally had the chance to see Marzipan, diva cat. She’s a beautiful cat and resembles a calico cat I had years ago, Desiree. Twenty is a ripe old age for a cat, that’s incredible, and she’s a pretty incredible cat, waltzing in there as a kitten and sealing everyone’s heart. When the time comes for her to move on to the great catnip garden in the sky, she’ll be sorely missed I’m sure. Btw, “Feline of the Opera” is a great post title.

    • IanC says:

      Very happy you mentioned the title JL.
      I do agonize over titles, & can never be 100% sure if they work or not.

      I love Art Deco too, & architecture is one of my passions (& my girlfriend’s as it happens). I find architecture to be difficult writing though, having to get it just right re: recall, facts etc. I think I find gut feeling stuff much easier.

      & cats! what can you say? I think it’s the fact that we just cannot work them out. They are definitely survivors, & I don’t think they’d ever die of a broken heart. Now dogs? That’s another story? (I do love dogs too btw)
      Thanks for dropping by, & so happy you liked the story.
      Ceeers, ic

  5. umashankar says:

    Ian, I was overwhelmed by the graphic description of ASTOR. It was so intense it put me bang in the middle of the foyer, the oval and then inside the auditorium. I heard the seats creaking, the curtain opening up and the crunching of choc-tops and rustles of the wrappers. I expected Marzipan to spring upon a chosen lap any moment. The eventual sighting of Marzipan was literally climatic. Beautiful reading! Love the way you write.

  6. Mulled Vine says:

    A lovely descriptive piece, even if it is about a bloody cat.

  7. nothingprofound says:

    Wonderful writing, Ian. So descriptive. Your observation of detail is superb and really brought the Astor and Marzipan to life.

    • IanC says:

      Thanks NP.
      It really is a beautiful theatre, so very glad I could get that across. Melbourne is indeed blessed with several buildings like the Astor. & a 20yr old cat. What a bonus. Quite unusual I think.
      Thanks for reading.

  8. Helena Fortissima says:

    Aw, Marzipan’s quirkiness, especially the looking-right-throughness reminds me of our 18 year old cat, Boris. Glad you guys got to meet her! A wonderfully descriptive post, BTW. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • IanC says:

      I don’t think there’d be too many cats of 18 or 20yrs old Kris. Both in pretty good shape too, although they say Marzipan is totally deaf.

      It will be a shock for Melbourne when she finally drops off the twig. I bet the staff try & keep her indoors; but she is a cat & does have that aloof thing down pat.
      Thanks for dropping by,
      ic

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