“Master Cat; or, The Booted Cat” (early French: Le Maître Chat, ou Le Chat Botté), commonly known as “Puss in Boots”, is a French literary fairy tale about a cat who uses trickery and deceit to gain power, wealth, and the hand of a princess in marriage for his penniless and low-born master. The tale was written at the close of the seventeenth century by Charles Perrault (1628–1703), a retired civil servant and member of the Académie française. The tale appeared in a handwritten and illustrated manuscript two years before its 1697 publication by Barbin in a collection of eight fairy tales by Perrault called Histoires ou contes du temps passé. The book was an instant success and remains popular.
Perrault’s Histoires has had considerable impact on world culture. The frontispiece to the earliest English editions depicts an old woman telling tales to a group of children beneath a placard inscribed “MOTHER GOOSE’S TALES” and is credited with launching the Mother Goose legend in the English-speaking world. “Puss in Boots” has provided inspiration for composers, choreographers, and other artists over the centuries. The cat appears in the third act pas de caractère of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, for example, and makes appearances in other media.
The tale opens with the third and youngest son of a miller receiving his inheritance — a cat. At first, the youngest son laments, as the eldest brother gains the mill, and the middle brother attains the mules. The feline is no ordinary cat, however, but one who requests and receives a pair of boots. Determined to make his master’s fortune, the cat bags a rabbit in the forest and presents it to the king as a gift from his master, the fictional Marquis of Carabas. The cat continues making gifts of game to the king for several months.
One day, knowing the king and his daughter are traveling by coach along the riverside, the cat persuades his master to remove his clothes and enter the river. The cat disposes of his master’s clothing beneath a rock. As the royal coach nears, the cat begins calling for help in great distress, and, when the king stops to investigate, the cat tells him that his master, the Marquis, has been bathing in the river and robbed of his clothing. The king has the young man brought from the river, dressed in a splendid suit of clothes, and seated in the coach with his daughter, who falls in love with him at once.
The cats hurries ahead of the coach, ordering the country folk along the road to tell the king that the land belongs to the “Marquis of Carabas”, saying that if they do not he will cut them into mincemeat. The cat then happens upon a castle inhabited by an ogre who is capable of transforming himself into a number of creatures. The ogre displays his ability by changing into a lion, frightening the cat, who then tricks the ogre into changing into a mouse. The cat then pounces upon the mouse and devours it. The king arrives at the castle that formerly belonged to the ogre, and, impressed with the bogus Marquis and his estate, gives the lad the princess in marriage. Thereafter, the cat enjoys life as a great lord who runs after mice only for his own amusement.
The tale is followed immediately by two morals: “one stresses the importance of possessing industrie and savoir faire while the other extols the virtues of dress, countenance, and youth to win the heart of a princess.”
Nila Mack (October 24, 1891, Arkansas City, Kansas – January 20, 1953, New York, New York) was the creator and director of Let’s Pretend, the long-running CBS radio series for children. She was the Director of Children’s Programs for CBS from 1930 to 1953.
Born Nila Mac, she was an only child. She added a “k” to her name because she felt “Mac” looked like a nickname. However, some sources, including her obituary in The New York Times, said her birth name was Nila MacLoughlin. Her mother, Margaret, was a dance instructor. Her father, Don Carlos, was a railroad engineer who died in a train accident when Nila was very young. After his death, she attended an Illinois finishing school, Ferry Hall in Lake Forest, and later took classes in both Arkansas City and Boston, financing her education by playing piano at her mother’s dance studio.
With the success of Let’s Pretend, CBS appointed her Director of Children’s Programs. The series ran from 1934 to 1954, garnering numerous awards, including two Peabody Awards, a Women’s National Radio Committee Award and five Radio Daily Awards.
Nila Mack died of a heart attack on January 20, 1953.