Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Cat Lady, a Bewitching Mystery

Ever since the day the Disneyland Mansion opened, the far right picture in the changing portrait gallery has been the Cat Lady (called "Cat Girl" and "Cat Woman" on the blueprints). I hadn't really planned on devoting an entire post to it, because (1) there are few surprises to be found in the cultural history of the image, so its background is not particularly intriguing. Not only that, but (2) the history of the development of this particular piece is pretty straightforward and unremarkable as well. But hold. There is a startling correspondence between this particular painting and a piece of then-contemporary pop culture that has never been explained, so I thought it might be worthwhile to do a Cat Lady post after all, in the hopes that someone out there may have a key to the mystery. Plus, she's bound to be somebody's favorite, so even if it's not Post of the Year material to the common herd, there will be those who bookmark it.

As Marc Davis originally conceived it, the Cat Lady was an attractive and somewhat exotic female flashing back and forth with a human-sized black panther, that is, a big black cat. I don't suppose anyone will be surprised to learn that the association of black felines and sinister females goes back a long way. Black cats are familiar to us as, well, familiars, animal manifestations of spirits who assist witches in their magical praxis. The association of black cats and witches is still running strong in common Halloween decor, of course.

1908 postcard

If any proof were needed for the antiquity of this motif, it could easily be demonstrated from a multitude of sources (although you soon discover that the blackness of the cat was optional until relatively recent times). We'll limit ourselves to two good, fun examples, and move on. In this first one, the cat is reading a recipe book for the "sorcerer's unguent," which will, if liberally applied, enable you to fly.

Think of it as the pixie dust of the Dark Side.

"Meow.  Okay, one of you has to swing over to Trader Joe's and pick up some
newt's eyes. And this time try to remember to get the organic kind, please?"

This cat looks like it's having a little trouble getting used to broom
travel.  I suppose it's harder than it looks, like riding a unicycle.

Curiously enough, in modern culture the black cat is associated with bad luck, but according to Émile Grillot de Givry, in the olden days the good luck charms we call talismans could sometimes be living animals, and "black cats especially had a talismanic repute for bringing good luck" (de Givry, 337). I can testify that my own black cat is ambiguous in this regard.  Cleo is just too, too cute, and affectionate as she can be, but she blupps out hairballs like a Gatling gun.

If we want to trace the idea of a cat woman into modern pop culture beyond the boundaries of Halloween decoration, we can hardly do better than Batman's foe bearing exactly that name. I could post some artwork from Batman comics at this point, but I'll probably get more traffic if I put up Julie Newmar:

I could continue in this vein with pictures of Halle Berry and Michelle Pfeiffer, but Batman the TV show puts us smack dab in the middle of mid-sixties pop culture (1966-68); or just the time when the Haunted Mansion project was moving off the back burner. In those days, visions of Julie were dancing in more than a few heads, one supposes. (Yes, yes, I know that the Cat Woman was also played on the show by Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt, but Julie is the one people remember.)

So much for background.  In his concept sketches, Marc Davis had the lady turn into a solid black panther, like I said.

But for the paintings used in the attraction, they decided to limit the transformation
to the lady's upper half. I don't know what you would call such a hybrid.  A purrmaid?

As of November 2015, we know that in fact the Davis two-parter was expanded to a six-parter before being shrunk back
down to a two-parter again. The images chosen at that point were images one and four, rather than the expected one and six.

As you know, all of these portraits originally transformed with the
lightning flashes, going to a slow morph effect sometime later.

When the new-style portraits debuted in January 2005, following the seasonal HMH overlay, the Cat Lady had undergone a color
reversal.  She was now dressed in black, not white, and the black panther was now a white tigress.  She also had a bone to pick with us.

The color reversal was necessary for the new technology to work.  The secondary
picture is all white, and for contrast purposes the primary picture must be fairly dark.

And of course, we're back to the lightning flash.

Incidentally, it may be possible to trace plans for turning the panther into a tigress back to 2002 at least, since
the Cat Lady portrait used in the Haunted Mansion movie (then in production) was a tigress, not a panther.

Unlike many other denizens of the manse, Cat Lady has never to my knowledge picked up a nickname—
nothing, at any rate, that has successfully filtered into common usage. Now that she transforms into a tigress,
allow me to suggest she be named Euphrates (yoo-FRAY-deez).  Some of you will get that.  Some of you won't.

And now for our mystery. Return with us to the first season of Bewitched, the famous sixties sitcom. In the 21st episode, Darren (Dick York) is having difficulty finding the right kind of model for an advertising campaign. He needs a beautiful, exotic-looking, Asian girl. Wanting to help, Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) turns a stray cat into just such a model (Greta Chi), but forgets to take into account the persistently feline nature of "Ling Ling." As they like to say, "hilarity ensues" as Ling Ling dazzles everyone with her mysterious beauty but also exhibits embarrassingly feline behavior like lapping milk and gobbling down sardine hors d'oeuvres.

For the main photo shoot, she reclines on a sofa, and I'll be danged if the
Bewitched cat woman doesn't look a lot like the Marc Davis cat woman.

This could simply be a remarkable coincidence, of course, and at the moment, I think the smart money's on that option. If there is a connection, however, the problem is to figure out not only how, but which way the influence ran. "Ling Ling" aired February 11, 1965 and was filmed December 16, 1964, according to the list of episodes at Wikipedia. When did Marc execute his sketch? That's hard to say, but it was up on the wall at the WED studios when they filmed the Disneyland "Tencennial" special, which aired January 3, 1965.

Cat Lady can also be seen in a concept painting for the "Grand Hall" which appeared in the 1965
Disneyland souvenir guide and in the concept sketch that preceded it, but these may be later than the TV special.

The January 3rd date is our firmest point of reference. Work on the Mansion really got going again in the latter half of 1964, after the hectic World's Fair projects were over. That's when Marc was enlisted. So "sometime in the latter half of 1964" is a safe bet. That is well before the Bewitched episode aired, so it is not possible for Marc to have seen the program on TV and to have gotten the idea from there. By the same token, how could the Bewitched producers have seen Marc's unpublished sketches before December of 1964, when "Ling Ling" was filmed? Was Marc chummy with someone involved in the production of Bewitched?  

We may never know what connection there was, if any, between Ling
Ling and the Mansion's Cat Lady.  It remains an unsolved meowstery.


  1. I feel it *has* to be more than just a coincidence: The overall pose, flowing white dress, and even the necklace are just too much alike in both the painting and the TV episode. Question is, who copied whom? My guess would be that the Bewitched episode was inspired by Marc Davis' painting, and that someone on the production knew Mr. Davis.

    1. I agree that if it is not simply a remarkable coincidence, then your explanation makes the best sense: Someone in the production of Bewitched saw Marc's painting. It is a fact that Bewitched director William Asher knew Walt Disney and famously "borrowed" Annette Funicello from Disney for the first of what would be several successful beach party movies after sharing the script with Walt. But that connection seems awfully far up the food chain to be the one we want.

  2. BTW: on an interesting, quasi-related side note, Bewitched often recycled scripts, some re-shot verbatim, and others were updated versions of previous episodes. Episode 240, "The Eight Year Witch", is a bit of a mash-up between episodes 11 and 21. It features Julie Newmar as "Ophelia", a cat-turned-human by Endora, who in this case is also a "familiar" with some powers of her own. In it, there is a photo shoot with Ms. Newmar in a cat suit as a model for Topcat Tractors.

    1. I didn't know that. Kinda fun. (Incidentally, before anyone gets excited, that show has no relevance for the problem at hand: episode #240 takes us to the year 1971.)

  3. When I first started reading, I wondered if "Bewitched" was going to figure into it! You never disappoint, HBG2. (Also, "purrmaid" is my new favorite word.)

    1. Yes, "purrmaid"! :-D And yes, HBG2 never disappoints. :-)

  4. Great as usual:)


  5. I've been silently following your blog for a year or so now. Fantastic! I was looking for another way to post this to you, buyt I'm afraid I need to put it here for lack of another spot. I saw this on YouTube and wasn't sure if you had seen it or not. I found it to be a great piece of film that you and your readers might enjoy.
    Missing In The Mansion – Fan Film

    1. Thanks, Deborah. And yes, it's a clever and entertaining film.

  6. Could Bastet figure in some how? Egyptian goddess of the hunt? Often depicted as a woman with the head of a cat, or a cat wearing a large amulet on a necklace. The amulet in the portrait does not seem to resemble an ankh or anything obviously Egyptian. Still, it is an ancient mythological connection.

    1. It's certainly possible that figures like Bastet figure into the mix.

  7. Why change her from a panther to a white tiger? Last I checked, the Haunted Mansion movie didn't do so hot, so why remind people of it? I still don't get the fast lightening flicker effect. Is it supposed to be subliminal scares? You barely have time to process it. This is a haunted house, not a rave.

    1. The story I heard is that the original lightning effect was abandoned for the slow morph because it could trigger fits for people with epilepsy. The new portraits return to the lightning effect, but they use a faster flicker effect that apparently doesn't cause problems. A number of people, like yourself, don't like the new effect. It doesn't bother me too much, because it seems to me that real lightning can cause a similar flicker effect.

  8. Surely the imagineers (and Mr Davis) were influenced by the 1942 movie Cat People.

  9. Surely the imagineers (and Mr Davis) were influenced by the 1942 movie Cat People.

  10. I'm a new subscriber and have really been enjoying these posts. I wanted to offer another possibility. I think the original Cat Lady painting may be a direct reference to Edouard Manet's 1863 painting, "Olympia." The painting depicts a courtesan lounging on a couch with a flower in her hand. At her feet is an aggressive black cat. It seems that the HM image was an amalgamation of these features. The telling detail for me is the bifurcation of the background with a vertical line down the middle, separating the red wall and yellow curtain. This was a clear feature in Manet's painting, which he included as an intentional reference to Titian's "Venus of Urbino" from 1538. What do you think?

    1. I had never noticed the black cat in that painting before. Must have been looking at something else. Besides, the painting is often cropped in reproductions, and the kitty gets cut out. But yeah, Marc certainly knew his art history and would certainly have been familiar with this famous painting, so it's possible that it was an influence.

  11. The resemblance is indeed uncanny! I have a new theory. It seems entirely possible to me that perhaps neither work inspired the other, and in fact both were influenced by a mystery "Q source" Cat Lady that has yet to surface. Hmm? HMMMM? Well, I thought it was a neat idea...

    It's too bad that this is all hypotheses and conjecture for now.

    1. That's certainly a possibility. If both were inspired by the same older source and both followed it closely, you could easily get this kind of result.

  12. Found this little gem recently-Pamela Colman Smith, 1907 ‘The Blue Cat’
    That really caught my eye.

  13. I always thought of the Haunted Mansion cat lady as the closest the ride had to a werewolf until I saw an episode of the Haunted Mansion show infamous lost souls of the dead.

  14. The movie version of the Cat Lady is heavily based on the painting "Madame Recamier" by Francois Gérard.

  15. Another cat lady from pop culture at the time was in the 1968 Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth". Gary Seven had a black cat companion, Isis, who could take the form of a woman.

  16. Permit me say the cat lady is as mysterious as the guardian demon from the Hellraiser movies.

  17. There’s one more very likely influence I’ve discovered: the episode, “Jess-Bell,” from The Twilight Zone (aired 2/14/1963). Check it out if you can! The titular Jess-Bell has the exact same hairstyle and looks identical to the original concept art for the Panther Lady. The only difference is that Jess-Bell turns into a regular leopard, and our Panther Lady turns into a melanated leopard (black panther).

  18. Quite late to the party here, but thought I'd revisit this after watching "Cat People" (1942). It's never fun to pull out the principle of Occam's razor, but a movie centered around a woman specifically turning into a panther is hard to deny as direct inspiration for, at the very least, the concept of the painting. The film is borderline unwatchable and has no "smoking gun" (you never get the Cheney Wolfman-esque transformation scene you'd hope for) so, so far as aesthetics go Ling Ling seems as good as any guess. The lounging pose is a pretty standard neoclassical motif and the clothing depicted in Marc's painting can either be interpreted as the same or something modern. Personally though, from a designer's point of view, my money would be on just having the figure in the plainest white garment possible to make the transformation into a black panther as stark as possible.