In an introduction to John Theodore Tussaud’s 1920 biography of his illustrious grandmother, The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s, French historian Hilaire Belloc wrote, “This continuation of the great collection—so long as it is maintained without too much yielding to momentary fame—is…a thing to be very thankful for.”
In surveying the world for a worthy subject yet to be immortalized in wax, Madame Tussauds—or rather Merlin Entertainments, which acquired the Madame T Group in 2007—recently settled on Grumpy Cat. Finally, a convergence of two of the world's most polarizing topics: cats and wax figures. Seen here in her December debut at Madame Tussauds San Francisco, the Internet-famous feline's doppelgänger is set to embark on a five-city U.S. tour.
Belloc continues in his introduction, “Already those of us who, like the present writer, are well on into middle age, can judge how the younger generation is beginning to regard as historical these simulacra, which, when they were first modeled, seemed in our own youth insignificant because they were contemporary.”
Look, mine is not to question why an Internet-famous cat and, if so, then why Grumpy. I might have gone with Maru; Henri, Le Chat Noir; or even the Pattycake Cats. While I acknowledge that they’re all a little one-note, aren’t all Internet-famous cats kind of limited? No offense intended, but Grumpy doesn’t really demonstrate a life skill beyond looking permanently peeved. Meanwhile, Maru jumps in boxes, Henri speaks French (!), and the Pattycake Cats play pattycake—which brings me to animatronic potential.
Grumpy Cat’s waxwork is animatronic! If you’re thinking, “Animatronic? A wax figure?” get ready to have your mind blown. Some of the earliest wax figures, including many from the original collection of Madame Tussaud and her uncle (perhaps dad), mentor, and benefactor, Philippe Curtius, were mechanically enhanced. The oldest surviving Madame T figure is a recumbent Sleeping Beauty, said to be modeled by Dr. Curtius on Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry. Her chest rises and falls and reveals a glowing, beating heart.
Thinking that perhaps such animation might help to defang wax figures among people who associate them with corpses, I asked one such person, my wife, who said decisively, as if she had been waiting her whole life to be asked, “Sleeping Beauty is a fictitious character, so I wouldn’t be bothered one way or another. Wax figures of real people are creepy because other people knew them and loved them, and if people didn’t love them it’s even sadder.”
Grumpy Cat’s figure is the first to be mechanized at Madame Tussauds in over a century. If the plan is to reintroduce animatronics to the museum's waxworks, probably best start with a less-than-dynamic personality.
Does the addition of an Internet-famous cat represent the untenable "yielding to momentary fame" Belloc presciently warned of in 1920? Well, yes, but no. Madame Tussaud, even when alive, constantly refreshed her collection to keep attendance up, unveiling effigies of executed murderers before their corporeal bodies had even been cut down from the gallows, all to satisfy the basest curiosities of her public. By comparison a cat seems harmless enough, and just like any other subject of a fame that burns bright and brisk, Grumpy can always be cycled into storage should interest wane. Come to think of it, that's the Madame Tussauds collection I'd most like to see!
All images by Madame Tussauds Group