Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MATILDA III, REIGNING QUEEN AT THE ALGONQUIN (c) A Story of Fact and Fiction By Polly Guerin

When the exotic 4-year old blue-eyed feline was carted in a common carrier through the famed portals of the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street in New York she had no idea that her new home would be a world-class hotel that international visitors called home.The hotel’s major claim to fame was its dining room, the fabled long-ago hangout for writers and artists, literary wits like Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and ALexander Woollcott, who were among the celebrated ‘Round Table’ regulars. But this is a story about a not-so-ordinary-cat who shares equal celebrity with the legend of the Algonquin hotel. While every clever remark the famous wits uttered became the talk of the town, a solitary cat became the hotel’s star attraction.It seems that a majestic cat has apparently reigned as queen monarch/mascot over the comings and goings of the hotel’s staff and its international guests ever since, way back in the 1930s. Some say a stray cat wondered into the hotel others tell a different story recalling that the Algonquin owner, way back then, installed the first cat in his apartments. So as one cat departed for its heavenly reward, a strikingly similar cat quickly appeared to take its place. All of the felines were called, Matilda. There were, however, seven male cats called Hamlet (Hamlet for John Barrymore who was playing Hamlet way back then) who managed to paw their way into celebrity.
Matilda III Arrives The current arrival, an imposing four-year old feline had been acquired from the North Shore Animal League, a Long Island shelter but no one at first knew of her lineage, which was as posh as the hotel itself. This was no ordinary pussycat who would become Matilda III. She is one of those remarkable ‘rag-doll’ beauties a breed that was known to preen and to keep her magnificent soft tawny fur impeccably groomed. This exotic-looking beauty was about to become the latest cat-in-residence at the Algonquin Hotel. She had a most engaging way of looking out on the world through her perfectly lovely azure-blue slanted eyes. I could tell from her regal posturing that she must be some kind of a ‘royal and perhaps she had landed in the shelter after falling on hard times or perhaps abandoned by some senior individual.However, this new feline quickly won the hearts of anyone who saw her distinguishing features and she even resembled Matilda II, her predecessor. The new arrival was a real beauty, her face was framed in misty tawny fur and she had lovely gray-tipped ears and her luscious tawny-peach coat required constant grooming. As if painted by a Master artist a dab of snow white was brushed on her nose and on the tips of her tiny paws so they looked like little white booties. Below her face a ruff of white downy fur gave her a proud and regal bearing.
Becoming Matilda III With such well-groomed personal credentials this exotic feline had quite a self-appointed opinion about herself and said, “I may seem a bit haughty, but I am not in the slightest. I can be as modest as any pussycat.However, when she first entered the hallowed halls of the Algonquin’s Hotel, located in the heart of New York City, she took a quick look around at the historic and elegant surroundings and wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?”However, the maitre‘d soon set her mind at ease and gave her a gentle pat of assurance. Being a feline of obvious intelligence and apparent royal breeding Matilda was sharp witted. She quickly understood that she had been selected to replace Matilda II who had retired to the comfy home of a hotel staffer. With a note of glee, expressed by her audible humming and purring, she realized that her role as resident cat was to play the part of celebrity, while fulfilling some royal domestic duties as the hotel’s “Directfurr of Guest Relations.”To commemorate the occasion the maitre d’ put a pink paper crown on Matilda’s head and with that gesture it was declared that henceforth she would be known as Matilda III.“Thank you, thank you,” Matilda purred enthusiastically as she was crowned. In a queenly gesture she rose up to the occasion and puffed out her downy white ruff and accepted her new role as the Algonquin's cat-in-residence.Recognition like this was something Matilda had yearned for all her short life, which had been previously endured under rather simple circumstances. Living at the Algonquin Hotel as the reigning queen was a dream come true and Matilda continued to purr approvingly. “My angels must have been working overtime,” she murmured.
Matilda III also realized that she had been selected not only for her magnificent regal appearance but because her breed was known for its docile and placid temperament. Matilda III was quick to add,“Despite my royal lineage I never put on airs and I‘m never haughty but nice.” No wonder the hotel selected the new Matilda.The maitre‘d confirmed this fact, “Matilda III’s attitude is just the right impression the Algonquin Hotel wishes to convey to all its guests.”

Officiating at the Registration Desk As the new Directfurr of Guest Relations among her many roles at the hotel Matilda III became the official greeter at the registration desk. Always eager to please when guests arrived from their domestic and international travels Matilda III hopped up on the desk to give them a warm greeting. “Meow, I love to be petted." she purred. To many guests Matilda, was a homey reminder that the cat-friendly hotel was a soft-hearted place where they could thoroughly relax after their long journey. Children particularly wanted to claim Matilda as their own. With gentle patience she allowed them to pet her but if a child tried to pick her up she made a regal escape.“I avoid being kidnapped by the little ones. It’s just not the proper way to behave,” she murmured, purring her displeasure.
Matilda III acquired many admirers but she did not let it go to her head. With her warm and friendly manner she put out the welcome mat, so to speak, and gave everyone a pleasant‘meow’ greeting. Reigning with all the regal rights of a monarch Matilda would sit on the reception desk and help guests check-in. She watched as they signed in and sometimes she put her stamp of approval, a paw print, on the registration form.“Some people are so needy,“ Matilda explained, “they need to know that they are officially registered at the Algonquin Hotel and my paw print is a seal of approval.”The Registration Clerk was not pleased about that paw print business, but he always welcomed Matilda III to sit on the desk and greet the guests.

Matilda as Directfurr In the meantime the hotel staff was ready to serve and accommodate Matilda’s every wish. She was given a darling little canopy bed with cushy pillows to sleep in but when Matilda wasn’t officiating as Directfurr she much preferred, I might add, to curl up and nap in every corner of the hotel’s historic lobby. Like the hotel’s gourmet menu in Round Table room, dining was a posh experience and Matilda was not disappointed. Gourmet cat meals were served and she drank her milk out of a champagne glass. In a gesture of privilege a little cat-friendly entrance was made on the door of the hotel’s luggage room to give Matilda access to the litter box. The hotel indulged Matilda’s every wish and inscribed the litter box with the name, Matilda III, in solid 24-carat gold.“Thank goodness for courtesy," Matilda declared. “It’s the kind of privacy I crave and it gives me easy access to my litter box.”“She was guarding the luggage cart and decided to take a nap where she remained all afternoon.
The Oak Room Cabaret One day Matilda heard that the delightful songbird, K.T. Sullivan was booked for a two-week engagement in the Oak Room Cabaret.This was an opportunity not to be missed and Matilda knew it.“I love it best,” she purred, “to listen to all the nostalgic songs that K.T. sings so tenderly."Matilda could not resist taking up her place at the rehearsal on thepiano accompanist‘s bench. There were always rewards for paying attention. Miss K.T. patted her head and the pianist allowed Matilda to rub up against his sleeve.
“I have enormous responsibilities,” Matilda disclosed. “Quite often I help to audition other singers and musicians for the cabaret, but they rarely know that I am there because I sit very quietly and nod my head in approval.”

Adventures in the Hotel Every day guests were coming and going off to sightseeing or business appointments.“Sometimes I wonder where everyone is going.” Matilda declared.“They seem to disappear into big boxes and when the door shuts they’re gone, where I do not know.”One day Matilda decided to find out where the big box was going so she sneaked into the elevator along with a nice friendly lady, who even smiled at Matilda. “Hello, Miss Pussy,” the lady said. “My, my, aren’t you the pretty one. You remind me of my sweet Adeline back home in Indiana.” Before Matilda could utter a word, like a magic carpet the elevator box whizzed them up to the thirteenth floor.“Lucky thirteen,” Matilda thought approvingly and when the doors opened she jumped out and followed the nice lady into her suite.“Come here, my pretty,” the Lady from Indiana said. “You’ll be a comfort to me during my stay.Matilda jumped up and sat on a plush cushion right next to the hotel’s guest and purred her appreciation. “Let’s order tea,” the Lady decided and promptly called room service.
“Room Service, this is the Dorothy Parker suite, please send up tea for two and oh yes, be sure to add a separate bowl of milk.”“Yes m’am, but might I inquire, ‘Is the bowl of milk for the Algonquin’s resident cat, Matilda?’”“Why yes, how did you know that she is here?”“It happens every day, Matilda just loves roaming the corridors or spends time with our guests, but please remind our Directfurr of Guest Relations that the cocktail hour is coming up.“Dear me,” you don’t mean that Matilda drinks?” the woman said with indignant concern.“No, no I’m sorry I gave the wrong impression but people like to catch a glimpse of Matilda near the Algonquin Round Table or in the lounge, where anyone can order a Matilda cocktail.”“Oh, my dear, don’t concern yourself. She’ll be off and running right after we had had our proper tea.”
MATILDA AT THE ROUND TABLE After tea Matilda remembered that she had some unfinished business so she pranced regally to the door and the kind Lady quite reluctantly let her leave the suite.
“Oh I have so much more to do,” Matilda exclaimed. “I have my own Twitter account and Facebook page but thank goodness I have an able assistant to help me with the typing.”And so another busy day was approaching twilight hour and Matilda returned to the famous Algonquin Hotel lobby.“Ta ta darlings!!!” Matilda III exclaimed. "I’m dashing off to the famous cocktail lounge to resume my duties as Directfurr of Guest Relations."
The maitre'd had already taken up his place at the reservation post.
"Do you have a reservation? He inquired of some soignee guests. "Yes, I see a party of four for the Round Table, right this way," and off the guests went to the famous Round Table with Matilda following to make sure the diners would assume their right places just like Dorothy, Edna, Woollcott and Thurber did so long ago.
This is the typical day in the life of Matilda III and she told me personally,
"I hope you have enjoyed reading about the secrets of my dream job. Come and visit me at the Algonquin sometime. Fan mail is always welcome at

Polly Guerin
PollyTalk From New York

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