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New York, L.A., Paris--This Cat Goes Everywhere

November 20, 1991|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — The President likes to stay at the Four Seasons Hotel. So does Peter Gethers' cat, Norton.

Their paths nearly crossed recently in the hotel's marble lobby. Extremely serious-looking men were lurking about everywhere in uniform or in suits. The air hummed with walkie-talkie buzz.

Suddenly, a man in a trench coat appeared. Despite his federal-friendly attire, the man seemed instantly out of place. It could have been the shoulder bag. And the gray kitty face poking out of it.

Gethers crossed the lobby, parting a sea of T-men. Someone mentioned that Bush was in town, and for an instant, a wry look scampered across Gethers' own furry face.

"I thought all this security was for Norton," he said.

This is a story about a boy and his cat. The boy is Gethers, 38, a book editor, screenwriter and native Angeleno who prides himself on being "the only person who left L.A. to move to New York to work in television and movies." The cat is Norton, 8 1/2, a Scottish Fold extraordinaire.

What makes this cat so special is that he breaks one of the first rules of felinedom: Norton is--against all odds--portable on demand.

He's a cat on the go, and he goes just about everywhere with Gethers--on dates, on planes, to the office, to the beach, to discos, to writers' conferences, even to France. Norton has crossed the Atlantic a dozen times or so, enough to merit his own book, "The Cat Who Went to Paris," a biting look at some of the more cuddly and cloying things in life.

This could be the stuff that celebrity is made of. But Gethers isn't worried that fame will turn Norton's head.

"He's always acted as if he were to the manor born," Gethers says.

Indeed, at Norton's first book party, nothing turns the animal's head. Norton is parked atop a table in Spago's back room, and he is the picture of feline passivity. People come over to pet and coo, but despite their rapture, the cat remains preternaturally calm.

A Spago caterer named Johnny dangles a wire-haired fox terrier over Norton's head.

"I wanted you to meet Tina," he says.

Norton is unmoved.

The dog has better things to do anyway, Johnny sniffs later. "Tina and I have been invited to a dinner party, actually," he says.

Soon, Barbara Lazaroff appears in full feline regalia. She is wearing a cat on her hat--a green topper with a black-and-white stuffed kitty teetering on the brim. A large kitty face adorns her intarsia sweater. Black kitty slippers encase her tiny feet. Lazaroff is mother to 28 animals--including six cats, three dogs, two llamas, a bunch of bunnies and six parrots, one of which sings "God Bless America." In tow is the star of her large brood, Cameron Puck, her 2 1/3-year-old son with Spago meister Wolfgang.

Despite Cameron's tender age, this is not his first party at Spago. It is not even his first book party at Spago. It is, however, Cameron's first cat book party at Spago. This fine point seems to be lost on Cameron.

"This is the cat party," Lazaroff instructs her charge. "Here's the cat."

"No," Cameron rebuts. "This is Spago."

Norton's room at the Four Seasons is frankly more to his liking than the surroundings of Spago. The room is quiet. It is stocked with such cat basics as a litter box and Pounce. Except for the relatively brief intrusion of an interviewer, it houses Norton and Gethers, max.

While Gethers talks, Norton huddles on the floor, curls up in a chair and creeps along the couch behind his head. Then he vanishes. Gethers and Norton don't feel they have to be on top of each other to be with each other. Gethers nonetheless feels he must be with Norton more than he is not.

"I hate leaving him behind," he says. "I love this cat. It's completely demented. He's just great. When my girlfriend brought him, she said when she was picking him out, she and my brother had looked at this cat and they went: 'There's something different about him. He's not a normal cat.' "

The pertinent difference to Gethers' then-cat-hating mind was that Norton acted much like a dog.

It wasn't long before the peripatetic Gethers began packing Norton for his many trips.

Their maiden flight raised cabin pressure, judging from the reaction of a stewardess who was unamused by the sight of Norton looking out the window. Gethers writes:

" 'You've got a cat!' were her exact screaming words.

"I looked up from my book. Norton turned away from the window to see who was making so much commotion.

" 'Get him out of here!' she hissed . . . .

" 'Why don't you open the door,' I suggested, 'and I'll toss him out over Cleveland.' "

That happened on a domestic airline. Norton has had better luck with the French, who ferried him to Paris for his owner's meetings with Roman Polanski. (Gethers wrote the screenplay for the film "Frantic.") In fact, the flight was so smooth that Gethers fell asleep.

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