It happened almost like clockwork.
All across America, the movie houses began screening the Mammoth Pictures newsreels that arrived late Sunday afternoon. Produced weekly, the newsreels filled the gap left in the lives of people who would rather spend the afternoon at a movie house than read the paper. Studio logos appeared, followed by the shrill, yet powerful announcer's voice, narrating the title cards on screen. From New York to Chicago, Seattle to Hollywood, silver screens were lit up with the big story of the week. For many viewers, the biggest story of their lives.
"This is 'News on the March!', for the week of April 17th, 1939. Coming to you from Mammoth Studios in Hollywood, California! Friday was the gala premiere of 'Little Ark Angel' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, staring popular child actress Darla Dimple. But attention quickly fell from the littlest starlet when a group of animals took the stage, stealing the show." The newsreel faded quickly from a stock photo of Darla to a group of animals, dancing on stage. Two cats, a penguin, a hippo, a turtle, a goat, a fish, and an elephant, all grinning wildly.
"Orange tabby Danny, Siamese Sawyer and the rest of their gang proved definitively that the human-centered film industry might want to give the animal kingdom a second glance. Keep on dancing, Danny!"
"Cats Can't Wait"
In one particular movie house in Hollywood, the same orange tabby was excitedly squirming in his seat as the newsreel ended and a Dagmouse cartoon short began playing.
"News is really starting to get around, isn't it?" Danny whispered excitedly to Pudge the penguin, seated next to him inside of a jumbo bucket of popcorn. He threw a few stray kernals in his mouth before replying.
"Sure is. You think we'll be getting more work now, Danny?"
Danny laughed. "Are you kidding? I wouldn't be surprised if Farley Wink was up to his ears in phone calls, clamoring for us. We're celebrities!"
It was true. In the mere two days since the now infamous premiere, the collective phones of Danny and his friends had hardly stopped ringing for more than a minute. Newspapers seeking statements, agents attempting to sign them away from Farley Wink's Animal Agency, even human film stars wishing congratulations. Danny had nearly fainted the night that Gene Kelly called, and was barely able to speak from starstruck.
Once the Dagmouse cartoon ended, the program had reached the beginning again. Danny leapt up from his seat, and Pudge crawled out from the bottom of the now empty popcorn bucket.
Exiting the theater, Danny and Pudge stepped out onto Hollywood Boulevard just as the sun was beginning to set. As what was left of the sunlight shone on the art-deco tourist traps and boutique stores along the busy street, Danny grabbed hold of a passing trolley. Pudge, barely paying attention, held onto Danny's leg at the last minute and was swept up with the momentum of the street car.
Hollywood. The streets weren't as gold as Danny had been led to believe back on the farm in Indiana, but they were still beautiful to him. He looked up, watching as theaters, hotels and stores began switching on their neon lighting for the night. As much as he had loved the stars back home, there was just something about neon text that just made Danny's fur stand on end. In the distance, he could see his current residence, the El Greco Hotel, do the same, as well as the more towering Mon Signor and Hollywood Tower Hotel.
"When are you going to find a new place, Danny?" Pudge asked, after having grabbed onto the metal lip of the streetcar himself. Danny, still transfixed by the artificial lighting, shook his head.
"I'm not sure. I was kinda wondering about that myself."
Danny nudged his penguin friend with his tail to get his attention, then jumped from the streetcar. Instinctively, he took his trademark boater from his head, held it out, and caught Pudge in it before setting him down. Replacing the hat on his head, Danny began to dance his way down the street.
Whistling, he stopped to browse the selection of a floral cart along the street. Grabbing a bouquet of roses, he turned to the young swan standing near the cart. In his usual fashion, he was so caught up in his own ideas that he was oblivious to the somewhat shocked look on her face.
"How much for these roses?" Danny asked, grinning. The swan bowed her head sheepishly.
"Take them. Thank you so much," she replied quietly. Danny shook his head.
"Now now, I can't just take these!" he laughed. The swan just hugged him and turned away. It was now Danny's turn to stand looking shocked.
"Hey, come on!" Pudge cried, butting into Danny's stupor, "We're going to be late!"
Shaking his head, Danny turned to follow Pudge down the street.
Stepping into the waiting room for Farley Wink's Animal Agency, Danny and Pudge found themselves in the middle of a party in progress. Ragtime piano was coming in full force from Wooly the Elephant, as the various animal actors under Wink's management danced throughout the room. Always a big hit, Tilly the Hippo pulled Wink himself out from his office to dance, however begrudgingly. T.W., a turtle, nervously shuffled back and forth, looking around in constant fear that a jubilant animal might step on him by mistake. And Francis and Cranston, fish and goat, were locked into what appeared to be both a dance and argument.
"Shows what you know, you dried up old cod!" he shouted, laughing as he spun her around.
"Heh! I haven't seen dancing like that since my second husband went belly-up!" she retorted.
Danny laughed, doing his best to sidestep the crowd. He was grabbed by Wink, who managed to break away from Tilly long enough to spot the cat in the crowd.
"Everybody!" he called out over the music, "Danny's here!" Danny felt his face begin to heat up as the room erupted into cheers. "This cat has done the impossible! We're getting calls off the hook for animal roles like we've never seen! We've got parts for lions! We've got parts for tigers! We've got parts for bears!"
"Oh my!" Tilly called out, then giggled at her own joke.
"Yes, everyone, and now that the man of the hour is here, we can really get started!" Wink then brought out a box full of party hats. Francis and Cranston exchanged a look of heavy sarcasm.
Danny, managing to escape the cacophony inside, slipped out onto the catwalk. Sawyer, still dressed in her business attire, leaned against the iron balcony, looking out at the city.
"Nice night," Danny noted, sliding up next to her. Sawyer smirked and gave him a sideways glance. "Why aren't you in there?"
Sawyer laughed shortly. "Why aren't you? It's your party." Danny whipped the bouquet of roses out from behind his back and into Sawyer's face. She gasped lightly in surprise, taking them slowly from Danny.
"I only came because I heard this famous feline was going to be here."
"You're crazy, Danny."
"Maybe I am."
Sawyer shook her head, smiling as she turned back to the city again. "You know what you're doing about your living situation yet?"
Danny scratched his head. "Still no idea. I don't know what I'll be able to afford, what with the new jobs and all."
Sawyer took a slow breath in, held it as she closed her eyes, and then let it out slowly. She looked at the bouquet of roses in her hands, then gently put them down next to the two of them. Danny watched her closely, not sure what to make of her body language. He lost his train of thought when she turned back to look at him, and he found himself looking into her gorgeous brown eyes.
"Danny, I know you're excited about what happened at the premiere..." Sawyer began to speak, only to be cut off.
"I still can't believe it! We're finally going to be able to live our dreams! Pudge and I were just at the movies today, and Mammoth Pictures just released a..."
"Danny!" Coming off a little harsher than she had hoped, Sawyer sighed again as she watched the life and energy leave Danny's face. "What I mean to say is, maybe you should think about getting a day job. Just for right now!" she clarified, as Danny's eyes widened. "Just until the big roles start coming in, okay? You don't see me putting in my two weeks with Wink, do you? Give it a little time."
Sawyer wrapped her arms around Danny's waist, and put her head into his shoulder. After a moment, she looked back up at him to see that his smile had returned in full force.
"That's my Danny," she said softly.
The largest and grandest of the Hollywood movie studios was, without question, Mammoth Pictures. But very recently, a new studio had begun to take its own crack at the market. Wilbur Dagmouse, a cartoonist from Kansas, had come to Hollywood in order to make animated cartoons to run before the feature presentations of bigger studios. The cartoons had become an overnight sensation, featuring a cavalcade of lovable, dopey, animated animal characters.
"You see the problem, don't you?"
Dagmouse sat behind his desk, as he always did in the evening. His office, lined with cel drawings of his characters and Oscar statuettes won by his cartoons, was dimly lit. As his visitor had not been invited, he had no choice but to assume this was by design. "I haven't the strangest idea of what you're talking about," he replied, attempting to mask the unease in his voice. He couldn't see who was in his office with him, but he had a sinking feeling he had heard the voice before.
"All your money and fame. Your entire studio. It's built on stupid, useless, animals. The comedy that keeps people buying your dumb cartoons comes from stupid. Useless. Animals. If, perhaps, animals began getting staring roles, being portrayed as intelligent and rational, you'd be out of a job. Worse, they'd probably vilify you as an anti-animalist. Someone in the way of animal rights. And progress."
Dagmouse gulped. Besides his popular animal cartoons, Dagmouse was a devout believer in human progress, to the point of having some of his designers draw up plans for an entire planned community based on progress. "What do you propose I do?"
There was a flash of curls as the short girl in front of Dagmouse turned on her heels and walked toward the door. "Leave everything to me, Wilby. I'll let you know what I need from you later."
The door opened and shut. Pouring milk into a cup, adorned with an image of his famous cat character, Kitten Kenny, he shook his head. "Jiminy Cricket.."