The ad above appeared in 1910 seeking cats for a scene in Oscar Hammerstein’s comedic opera Hans the Flute Player. (Hammerstein was the grandfather of the lyricist you are familiar with.) The scene was one in which the titular flute player would lure all the town’s cats away, which required a herd of cats. The ad went on to say that no acting experience was required, and that cats should be brought to the stage door of the Manhattan Opera House the next morning. What could possibly go wrong? A followup article on the eve of the opera’s premiere gave more details.
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According to this article, the plan was not to have the cats come snooping from behind doors, but to have them suspended from wires above the stage. As explained by stage director Jacques Coini, when the piper marched toward the painted river, the cats would be lowered with a rush. The reporter noted, “They were counted upon to become frightened and utter the usual unearthly yowls.”
The morning after the help-wanted ad for cats appeared, a young man drove up to the stage door of the Manhattan Opera House with a wagon filled with a few hundred cats. He began selling the cats for $7 each to people who thought they would get a higher price from Hammerstein.