Pamela Kellino and James Mason: Actors Cats Have Known

Actor James Mason and his wife, actress and author Pamela Kellino, were noted cat lovers and were very public about their affection for felines.

Pamela and James Mason with catsThis photo was taken in England circa 1945 before the Masons moved to the U.S.  Photo caption: In the usual order, from left to right, we see Toy Boy, Tribute, Pamela Kellino (Mrs. Mason), Whitey Thomson and James Mason, Britain’s No. 1 film heart-throb, whose latest picture, “Wicked Lady,” will be seen in this country soon.  The Masons live in a charming old house in Surrey where, when they’re not working before the cameras, Mrs. Mason writes and Mr. Mason paints.  Oh yes, there’s another cat in the family, name of Augusta Leeds, who was off chasing mice when this picture was taken.  The dog shown here, who seems to have his own way of expressing contempt for the camera, is just a visitor.

The news media often reported on the couple’s menagerie of cats which shared their homes, first in Surrey, England and then in Beverly Hills.  So popular were the stories of the famous duo’s felines that in 1949 the Masons published a book entitled The Cats in Our Lives, written by Pamela and illustrated by James, which is currently a hard-to-find and somewhat high-priced title amongst collectors.

In a July 3, 1949 article in The News and Courier, Howard C. Heyn reported from the Mason’s home:

      However acid he may have been in pictures or in print, Mason certainly is retiring enough in home surroundings. He’s polite, but apprehensive, with strangers.
      The Masons’ fabulous cats likewise were restrained.  They wandered in and out of the drawing room but they didn’t climb walls.  Mason said they had nine cats, including one “guest.”
      He and Pamela are enthusiastic about their new book, “The Cats in Our Lives.”  When inquiries about their cats become too numerous, she suggests, giggling, that you read the book.  Mason illustrated it, with line drawings.
      Pam did impart the information that the eight Mason cats have their own room at the rear of the house, reached by an outside stairway.
      When the Masons moved in, they stored the pasteboard cartons there temporarily as they unpacked them.  One day they missed the cats, and started searching the house.  They found all eight in the room with the private stairway.
      Each cat was sitting, possessively and with considerable dignity, in its own carton.  So the Masons merely furnished the room with eight fresh boxes, and considered the family installed.

Pamela and James Mason with Siamese catThe back cover photo of the Masons from their book Favorite Cat Stories.

The legacy of the Masons and their cats dogged them (if you’ll excuse the expression), as evidenced in a column by Earl Wilson published in the Miami Daily News on January 16, 1950:

      Nobody had written anything about James Mason’s cats for 5 minutes, so it was up to me.
      “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” I purred as soon as I stepped inside Mason’s enormous home, for there on the steps sat a pretty cat with pretty eyes.
      The pretty kitty didn’t answer, nor get up and rub my legs, because the pretty kitty was a dummy — porcelain, perhaps.  But very real-looking.
      Mason came in — unaccompanied by any cats (by the way, I’ve always found him a nice, friendly, co-operative chap) — and I asked him how he liked Hollywood by now.
      I kept wondering, where were the cats?  I only saw one running around the room here in this big rambling home that Buster Keaton built on a three and one-half acre plot right in Beverly Hills for Natalie Talmadge, oh, about 20 years ago.
      Only one cat.  I thought there’d be 15 or 20.  It kept weighing on what I called my mind.
      Mason was having some tea.  Where were the cats?  I thought this was a cattery, practically, but only one cat.  Mason finally said a few silly stories about his cats have been invented by studio publicists.
      “We are just people who keeps cats, that’s all,” Mason said.
      “We have 9 cats at the moment,” said attractive Mrs. Mason, who was playing with their daughter, Portland, who was named for Mrs. Fred Allen.
      “And if you’re fond of cats,” Mason said, “You’re always getting more.”
      “Mrs. George Sanders goes flitting off to Europe and asks if we’ll take care of her cat.  She comes back and sort of forgets her cat, so her cat becomes one of our cats.”

But it wasn’t all happiness.  In an article in The Spokesman-Review dated April 11, 1949, it was reported that James Mason’s cat Lady Leeds, which had traveled with him from England to Hollywood, was killed by a coyote in Beverly Hills (apparently the coyotes lived well on the pets of Hollywood’s elite even back in the early days!)

Over the years the couple received letters from fellow cat fanciers around the world, many of whom shared their favorite cat-related short stories with the couple, who openly admitted that while they were fans of cats they weren’t necessarily fans of cat literature.  But when the couple were expecting a child they finally read the stories sent to them and were won over by the writers and their tales.  As a result, they compiled a book entitled Favorite Cat Stories of Pamela and James Mason which was published in 1956 by Julian Messner, Inc. and beautifully illustrated by Gladys Emerson Cook.

Favorite Cat Stories book coverThe dust jacket cover for Favorite Cat Stories of Pamela and James Mason, which was published in 1956

The book contains ten short stories by a variety of writers, each telling the story of a particular cat.  The stories range from very humourous to absolutely heartbreaking.  Cat lovers would appreciate the way the writers truly encapsulate the mannerisms and characteristics of cats in each piece; clearly they were cat lovers themselves and very familiar with the subject at hand.  However there are moments in some of these stories which would warrant a Kitty Carnage Warning were we reviewing the individual tales.  Many of them are told in an unblinking, realistic style, and we all know the lives of many cats (all nine of them) are not easy.  But if you can find a copy of this collection from a book dealer or at your local library it’s well worth a read.

Plutarch's Lives illustration by Gladys Emerson CookOne of the many beautiful illustrations for the book by Gladys Emerson Cook.  This drawing was for the story Plutarch’s Lives.

Despite their shared love of cats, the couple divorced in 1964.  James Mason passed away in 1984 at the age of 75 and Pamela passed away in 1996 at the age of 80.  But the couple, both together and apart, certainly left a legacy for cat lovers to enjoy.

Share this with your cat and movie loving friends!