Archy the cockroach and his friend Mehitabel the cat regularly appeared in the daily columns of Don Marquis, a reporter for the Evening Sun newspaper in New York City. They first appeared in 1916, with the conceit that archy snuck into the newspaper office after hours and would type poems or summations of daily events by jumping on the typewriter keys. Unable to strike two keys simultaneously, all of his missives were in lower-case but he successfully got his point across in his tales.
Archy (or “archy”) told of what was happening in the city with his tales, with the cockroach being fairly well educated and the cat as a child of the streets. Events of the day which affected average people would often have analogues for Mehitabel, and Archy would serve as a chronicler of and commentator on her exploits.
A cockroach’s lifespan is short – about one year – and while some cats live to be over twenty, the average feline lifetime, particularly for one that lives in city alleys, is less than half of that. This pair beat the odds, as their stories continued to be told for about fifteen years in the paper, and then continued in a series of books.
Their fame even outlived the newspaper which birthed them. The Evening Sun became The Sun, which was merged in 1950 with another paper and then finally shut down during the 1960s. By that time, Archy and Mehitabel had been the focus of a successful record album featuring Carol Channing and a troubled Broadway show, Shinbone Alley, starring Eartha Kitt in the Mehitabel role. After the Evening Sun – now the World Journal Tribune – closed in 1967, Allied Artists produced a version of the stage musical as an animated film. Carol Channing again voiced the cat.
The animated feature was about as successful as the stage play, which is to say it performed poorly despite critical attention. By the end of 1971, the saga of Archy & Mehitabel had drawn to an end.
…But cats notoriously have multiple lives.
This was demonstrated in 2007. The journal Science had published a scientific analysis of feline domestication. The efforts of the researchers had been fairly exhaustive, and it appeared that it would be difficult to refute their findings.
Then Mehitabel stepped up. After being away from the keyboard for almost a hundred years the cat returned to contest what she saw as offensive research.
“boss, i sent archy to the keyboard to say how upset I am about the terrible treatment of cats in the papers it’s because of a report in science telling all about how we cats got started pretty interesting but some of the papers are saying that’s how we got domesticated domesticated hell domesticated is for dogs not us boss action needs to be taken against this slander these scientist guys did a good thing they found that the first real house cat was not that pampered egyptian pussy instead they showed our relationship with people was much older thank god for that”Science
The letter continued in that vein, with the distinctive style first brought to public attention by Don Marquis.
Even assuming that Archy has an unusually long lifespan due to transmigration, as suggested in the animated film, Mehitabel’s survival skills best any other cat in history, with the cat clocking in at 90 years old.
Sure, it’s possible that someone besides Archy, at Mehitabel’s insistence, wrote the article… but then I’d have to concede that maybe the famed pair never existed in the first place, and what sort of fun would that be?
Question of the night: Who are some of your favorite literary creations?