It is difficult to say what actress Bebe Neuwirth is best known for. I guess it depends on who you ask, as some might say for playing Lilith Crane on TV shows Cheers and Frasier. Others might say for one of her Tony-winning performances on Broadway in Chicago or Sweet Charity, and still some might say for her current role of Nadine Tolliver on the CBS show Madam Secretary. To Catster readers, though, she might be best known for being a cat lover.
Brian Fischler for Catster: When did your love of animals begin?
Bebe Neuwirth: I have always loved them, all of them.
Tell us a little about your current cats?
Bobby is a 14-year-old boy — a sleek black sweetheart — who was rescued from the street by a friend of mine. Bobby and his two brothers were found at the age of two weeks in a cardboard box; my friend bottle raised them. Another friend, (another Broadway dancer) adopted his brothers. My husband Chris and I adopted Tallulah, a long-haired calico, from PAWS, a wonderful animal shelter in Philadelphia. She is an adorable little four-year-old demon with crazy copper eyes. She absolutely adores Chris and follows him like a dog.
Billie is a two-year-old Siamese mix we found at another wonderful shelter called SAVE in Princeton, New Jersey. Billie is a feral girl, who is nothing but sweetness and affection. She is still a bit fearful; the wild instinct to hide is very strong, but we are gaining her trust, and the Siamese part of her is very social. She is crazy about Bobby. She follows him, talks to him, rubs up against him, licks his face and ears. It was love at first sight.
Was it always cats for you? Why do you prefer cats to dogs?
Cats are my first love ever since I knew they existed. I hesitate to say that I prefer them more than dogs, I just relate to them more than dogs. Also when I was a very little girl, the first dog that I met was very frightening, so I think it took a while to get over that. I could not say what drew me to cats first. Their quality of movement, their mysterious inner life, their sense of humor? I do not know, I just loved them.
Did Lilith Crane have cats? She seemed like she would be a cat lover.
We never saw Lilith with any animals except one of her lab rats to whom she was very attached. So attached, in fact, that when the rat died she carried him around in her pocketbook. Aside from Whiskers — that was the rat’s name — I like to think that Lilith would have liked all animals. She felt very awkward around people, she was sort of shy in a way, and animals as we know can be a lot easier than people.
Nadine Tolliver also seems like she would be a cat lover. Even with such a hectic job as hers, would she have time for cats in her life?
We do not yet know if Nadine has any animals at home. I like to think she’s got a couple of rescues, maybe a dog and a cat.
With your background in ballet, do you find cats to be graceful?
The quality of movement in cats is extraordinary, and they stretch before they move. Their balance, their line, their agility, the height of their jumps — it is all so effortless. All of it is inspirational. Long ago I heard that Balamchine [a famous Russian ballet dancer] was inspired by his cat.
In all your years of working on stage and screen, do you have any interesting stories about working with animals?
Here is an awful story. Many, many years ago I was in an off-Broadway show with a dog. I had one scene with this cutie. One night by accident I stepped on his paw, not too hard but enough so that he let out a little yelp. I was absolutely horrified and felt so terrible for the poor little guy. When it happened, the audience let out an Awww. It was just terrible, but fortunately the dog was okay.
I read that if you had not become an actress, you would have become a vet. Where would Bebe Neuwirth the veterinarian be these days?
I do not know where that quote came from. I must have once told a journalist that I loved animals and wish I could have been a vet, but not seriously, I could never be a vet, as the things they see are too heartbreaking. I love my vet, by the way, as I have been bringing her my different cats for well over 20 years.
You have long supported the animal charity Broadway Barks. What do you enjoy most about what they do?
I love how the community comes together through our love of animals. I love the fact that it is consistently an extremely effective adoption event. So many animals find homes that day year after year. Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore (the Founders of Broadway Barks) are heroes.
Any other animal causes that are near and dear to you?
I have an association with Equine Advocates, an equine sanctuary in Chatham, New York. It rescues and houses horses, mules, miniature horses, Mustangs, ponies, and donkeys on beautiful property. These equines are rescued from abusive situations: Some of them are retired race horses rescued from their way to the slaughterhouse. The people who run the sanctuary are also true to their title; they advocate for the equines and are working diligently with national politicians to eradicate horse slaughter in this country. No one rides any of these animals. The animals are fed, housed, and cared for and are allowed to live out their lives in peace. Equine Advocates also hosts educational field trips for school children and others.
What is the best part about having cats in your life?
That Bobby sits on my lap as I do this interview, purring, and rubbing his little nose against my hand. It does a heart and soul good to be able to rescue animals, give them a safe and healthy home, and love them to pieces.
Tune in Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBS catch Bebe on Madam Secretary.