A star isn’t born — yet
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?
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.
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.
Need a cat or a dog for a movie shoot in L.A.? Chances are you’ll go to one of fewer than a dozen big outfits. Most have large spreads, mini-zoos and in-house animal trainers, said Steve Dayan, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents 140 animal handlers, trainers and wranglers.
“There are companies that handle exotic animals like alligators and lions down to dogs and cats and even squirrels and skunks,” Dayan said. “Someone with just a cat is kind of limiting his desirability.”
The studios know whom to contact, he said. “It’s not like they’ll usually do a casting call for an animal.”
What with animatronics, computer-generated imagery and the decline of the Western, there are fewer spots for animals and their trainers, he said. “It’s a very small and very specialized pool of talent.”
It’s also a close-knit one, said Jennifer Henderson, operations manager for Birds and Animals Unlimited, which worked on “Hugo” and “We Bought a Zoo,” and provided Crystal, the capuchin monkey for “The Hangover II.”
When one company doesn’t have an animal, it asks the others, she said.
Henderson has met Vito. “He’s a good cat. He’s a really good cat,” she said. “But generally it’s not really a personal pet kind of thing.”
In the rare case when you need a cat you don’t have, said Debbie Pearl, owner of another company, Paws for Effect, you tend to look close to home. She thought of a friend’s pet, for instance, when “Glee” wanted a fat cat to play Lord Tubbington.
Sometimes, she says, she might call breeders for less common animals, such as a Bernese Mountain Dog. If a project needs a dog that is good at Frisbee, she might contact Frisbee clubs.
But no one needs to search for a tabby cat, said Pearl, who also has heard from LeCrichia.
In Los Angeles, there is always, of course, the dream of being discovered.
The man walking past Vito at The Grove might be a big director in search of the perfect big-movie cat.
Then, too, fame might come from seeking it, a la Angelyne.
On a recent morning at The Grove, Vito kept turning heads as he visited boutiques, skulking under displays of designer purses, bras and books.
Small crowds formed, cameras clicked and a paparazzo scanning for stars got curious.
“So the cat’s famous, huh?” asked Jose Reyes.
“Well, he’s working on it,” said LeCrichia.
Reyes walked away, then circled back. “You never know,” he shrugged.
As Vito stood outside the Coach store, Reyes focused and called out:
“All right, Vito. Let’s go, baby. Right here, baby. Don’t be shy.”
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