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SCOTT SIMON, host:

New York's Algonquin Hotel has a rich history. For decades it was home to the literary lions of the roundtable: Dorothy Parker and George S. Kaufman. But the hotel has also been home to another kind of feline, as Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN reporting:

When you walk into the Algonquin Hotel, you enter a plush world of yesteryear. The lobby is filled with overstuffed chairs and sofas for the guests, but just at the left of the entrance is a miniature chaise lounge, home to the Algonquin cat. Alice de Almeida is an administrative assistant at the hotel.

Ms. ALICE DE ALMEIDA (Administrative Assistant, Algonquin Hotel): In the 1930s, Frank Case was the general manager and he was like the epitome of the host. And the story goes that a stray cat wandered in off the street, and it was all raggly-taggly and everything, and he felt sorry for the cat, and he kept it.

LUNDEN: That first cat reportedly drank milk out of a champagne glass. Actor John Barrymore insisted he have a theatrical name, so he was called Hamlet, and it stuck. When the Algonquin cat is male, he's Hamlet. When it's female, she's called Matilda, nobody knows why.

Doorman Mike Lyons(ph) has been at the Algonquin Hotel for 45 years. He clocks his service in cat lives.

Mr. MIKE LYONS (Doorman, Algonquin Hotel): I think about five Hamlets. And this is the second Matilda.

LUNDEN: Matilda is an 11-year-old Burman, an exotic breed that looks kind of like a fluffy Siamese.

Mr. LYONS: Oh, this cat is very friendly. The only thing you can't do with this cat is pick her up, but anything else - if she gets annoyed, she gets up and walks away and goes into her little room, and that's it.

LUNDEN: Over the years, the Algonquin cat has been memorialized in a children's book, a 24-carat gold pendant, and in a nod to the 21st century, now you can even send Matilda an email. Administrative assistant Alice de Almeida is Matilda's ghostwriter. She has a book filled with Matilda's emails, some clearly written by kids.

Ms. DE ALMEIDA: Hi, Matilda. Aren't you pretty? What is the address of your hotel? I never heard of you but I found your story very amusing. Do you catch a lot of mice? Do you have a boyfriend? I can find you a nice male cat. What are your daily duties around the hotel?

Hi, Paulette, this is Matilda. Thank you. No mice around here. What kind of cat would I be if I allowed any? I do everything around here. I nap. I purr. I prance. I jump. I nap. I pose. I nap. And no boys for me, I am too busy.

LUNDEN: Every email ends the same way.

Ms. DE ALMEIDA: We always wish them a perfect day. But it's a purr-fect day.

LUNDEN: Matilda will be having a purr-fect day in November when she takes a limo to White Plains, New York and is crowned Cat of the Year at the Westchester Cat Show.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

SIMON: Find out how to send Matilda an email at our website, npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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