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A star isn't born — yet

Vito Vincent wowed everyone in New York, but Hollywood is a much tougher town with lots of competition. Still, he draws a crowd wherever he goes and maybe one day he'll be discovered.

March 28, 2012|By Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
  • Michael LeCrichia, 42, left, heads into a Crate & Barrel store at The Grove with his ginger and white tabby.
Michael LeCrichia, 42, left, heads into a Crate & Barrel store at The… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Poor Vito Vincent, who came to Hollywood chasing a dream.

He's been in L.A. for nearly a year without landing a single acting gig.

Once he was homeless in New York. But before he came West last May, Vito was living a Cinderella story there.

His career was taking off. He'd appeared in print and TV ads. He'd been on a pilot, guest-starred on "The Colbert Report" and scored a small spot on "30 Rock."

Even now, emails arrive with offers on the other coast. But here, nothing — and not for lack of trying.

People all over town have Vito Vincent's head shots. And whenever he's out in public, he generates buzz.

When shoppers at The Grove spy him sitting on a patio or going up the glass steps at the Apple store, they inevitably stop what they're doing to gaze, snap cellphone photos, try to touch him.

Still, Vito Vincent doesn't have an agent. He can't even get an audition.

What exactly does a talented tabby cat have to do to catch a break in this town?

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Vito's biggest acting role to date is Christiane Aman-purr.

He played the feline version of the famed foreign correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" last year.

Stephen Colbert lifted him onto his desk and questioned him for two minutes. The lights were bright. The live audience of 150 was loud. People kept laughing as Colbert urged Vito to take a stand on the protests in Egypt.

Colbert pushed the cat to choose between two bowls of food — one marked "Democratic Uprising," the other "Islamic Power Grab." He tossed some food right at the animal, jiggled a laser pointer and waved around a colorful feathery toy.

Vito didn't flinch. He barely moved.

Try that with your average cat, says his stage father, Michael LeCrichia, who crouched under Colbert's desk.

A few months later, LeCrichia crossed the country to further his cat's career.

Vito Vincent, he says, makes people happy. He wants him to reach the widest audience.

LeCrichia supports himself and Vito working as a personal assistant, cook and butler, right now helping an elderly man in Beverly Hills recover from surgery. But his 5-year-old ginger and white tabby, rescued from an animal shelter, is the center of the 42-year-old's universe.

He thought people in the business in L.A. instantly would see why. But most haven't bothered to look, he says.

"It's like there's a wall up," he said one evening as he and Vito sat outdoors at a steakhouse at The Grove.

For more than an hour, Vito perched on a bistro chair as babies cried and pop songs played and a never-ending stream of people passed by.

Vito is a certified pet therapy animal, calm enough to visit with, and be held by, ailing strangers, LeCrichia said.

But he also has great range — for a cat.

He walks confidently — and rapidly — on a leash. On command, he can come, spring from the ground to a higher spot and move or jump from Point A to Point B. He also knows how to ride an escalator.

He wasn't born knowing, LeCrichia says. Just teaching him to walk on a leash took a year. At outdoor sessions almost every day, LeCrichia would squat behind his cat, urging him on, inch by inch.

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One day LeCrichia read a New York Post article about pets getting into movies and on TV shows. It mentioned some local agencies. LeCrichia thought a serene cat would stand out.

He began calling and writing, and finally got a face to face.

The women at All-Tame Animals on the Upper West Side were blunt. Vito was overweight. He was nearly 19 pounds, and had to get down below 15. He also needed to expand his skills by learning to come and to stay on a mark.

Once he did, said All-Tame's office manager Sharon Halley, the tabby worked steadily. He has a look that is popular in ads, she said, and when she sent out his photos, he almost always was hired. Basic jobs, without a lot of extras, pay about $500 a day plus expenses, she said.

Vito posed with a prescription-pill vial for a Prevention magazine article on how to avoid poisoning your pets. He was ray-gunned in a skit for the College Humor website. He did a Black Friday TV spot for Macy's and "Animal Planet," in which he zigzagged across a kitchen counter crowded with forgotten Thanksgiving leftovers. For a Comedy Central pilot, he sat on a very large woman's small lap as she tried to resist ordering more tchotchkes from a TV shopping channel.

"The cat is fabulous. The cat can do anything," Halley said. "We hope that it works out well for him in California. Certainly, he'll be warmer. But we hated to lose him and we would take him back any time."

The All-Tame agency keeps rosters of animals. It doesn't have its own. In space-poor New York City, Halley said, there simply isn't room for most companies to maintain their own menageries.

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