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Kitty Glitter : Mail-Order Business Offers Practical and Bizarre Feline Novelties

February 07, 1993|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HOLLYWOOD HILLS — Socks is in. Millie is out.

"It's about time we got that dog out of the White House," says Los Angeles' own Crazy Cat Lady.

Susan Lee, a k a the Crazy Cat Lady, is a Hollywood Hills woman who has a made a business of catering to others like herself with a witty mail-order catalogue of hip, designer-like catware.

The doyenne of feline-o-philes predicts that the next four years will be Years of the Cat.

"Politically, I think that it's a sign that the country is no longer going to the dogs," says Lee. "Cats and cat people are finally getting their day. It's a nice change because George Bush seemed like such a dog person."

Her tongue-in-cheek catalogue carries an array of the practical along with bizarre feline paraphernalia aimed at the "cat sophisticate with an anti-bourgeois aesthetic." There are postmodern litter boxes made of faux granite, minimalist black ones bordered with geometric cat images in white and a Roman-style throne that 16-pounder catalogue cat Mr. T says: "is no cutesy litter box." The cat club chair, cut to scale, is also shown in the catalogue with a white cat named Oliver mid-yawn and a brandy snifter full of milk perched on the arm. And the most popular cat toy, Kitty Fishin', is a fishing pole replete with a caster and lure tipped with a tassel. A white cat wearing a camouflage bait vest and canvas fishing hat is pictured next to the pole, propped up on one elbow while his chin sits atop a can of Miller Lite beer. The bait, as is apropos, includes catnip filled squid, worm, goldfish and mouse lures.

Lee, whose mission it is to bring new respectability to the term "crazy cat lady," is--contrary to popular stereotype--hip, gregarious and young. How young? "A cat lady never tells her age unless it's in cat years," chirps Lee, who's dressed in skin hugging black-on-black adorned with kitty head earrings and a cat watch. And for the record, the Crazy Cat Lady who lounges on an oversized couch with Mister Bill and Clementine, the two cats she ministers to, is married.

She is making the best of the serendipitous presence of the presidential cat. In her latest catalogue, she offers inaugural bonuses: a pack of six "Uncle Socks Wants You" greeting cards that have a photograph of a Socks look-a-like donning Uncle Sam attire, a Millie the Dog Scratching Post, and a Kitty Elvis Outfit replete with a flip up collar. There is also grow-it-yourself-catnip that is "OK to inhale."

Lee says: "Socks doesn't know about our Millie the Dog Scratching Post. We're sending it to him as a surprise."

Maybe, Lee says, we should send along the "No Dogs Allowed" doormat for the entrance of the White House--an appropriate message to all who enter.

Apparently former presidential candidate Ross Perot is also a customer. A Perot assistant requested a Christmas catalogue for Perot's daughter's cat, Honey.

Having just had the best Christmas season of catalogue sales ever, Lee speculates that the surge was due to the presence of the future First Feline, who has by association brought new esteem to cats and the people who are kind of nutty about them. The biggest sellers, she says, were kitty yarmulkes followed by Santa hats.

A former copy writer for advertising agencies, including Chiat/Day and Della Femina McNamee, Lee has parlayed her skills into her anthropomorphic catalogues and newsletters that speak directly to cats (translate: owners). She counsels them about an assortment of kitty conundrums and invites them to join the Crazy Cat Lady in the "fight against boring-looking cat toys, doggie-looking litter boxes and mousy-looking cat beds."

On flea prevention, she writes bluntly, "The awful truth about fleas: you're the host, and the party is at your face." On obesity, she asks: "Exercise: Is it really necessary?" Cats can then take the "Tubbies Test," a Cosmopolitan magazine-style fitness yes/no quiz: "When I sit up, I can't see my paws; people are always asking me when the litter is due; and exercise is for dogs."

Clemmy, Lee's cat who is a frequent cover girl for "the first catalogue for cats with finicky owners," gives out beauty tips under the heading: "How to Keep Hairballs From Spoiling Your Looks."

Lee, who telephones her cats and talks to them on the message machine when she is away on a trip and admits to kissing them on the lips, said she came up with the idea for the business when she got married and bought a pristine two-story house in the Hollywood Hills replete with marble floors, high ceilings and a view of the city.

"I wasn't going to put a pink plastic litter box in the marble-floor bathroom," she says. "So we put all my money into litter boxes and it kind of started out at the bottom so to speak. And I was looking for a way out of advertising and the 'find 200 ways to say hot, steamy, cheesy pizza' dilemma.' "

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