Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2002

By James Verini

PERHAPS you’ve heard of Carol Connors. A singer-songwriter and scorer of movies, she was once a member of Phil Specter’s first hit concoction, the Teddy Bears, who scored in 1958 with “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” She dated Elvis Presley for nearly a year. Later in life, she was responsible for such classics as “Gonna Fly Now,” the Oscar-winning title theme from “Rocky,” and of course that soundtrack to televised insomnia, “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams” from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Then again, perhaps you haven’t heard of Carol Connors.

Truth be told, Carol Connors doesn’t much care if you’ve heard of her. Connors is more concerned that you’ve heard of her cats.

That’s why, last March, she sought out the services of Tribute Films, a documentary production company in Santa Monica that specializes in the filmed memorialization of pets, and paid more than $10,000 for a film about her two Abyssinians, Music and ‘N Lyrics (“It’s like ‘N Sync, because I wanted him to feel comfortable in the 21st century”). The result is “Carol Connors and Her Cats,” a testament to Connors’ ailurophilia: love of felines.

“Hugh Hefner once took some pictures of me,” said Connors, who would not reveal her age. “He said, ‘Carol, I want to do this so you can look back and see how beautiful you were.’ Well, that’s what I want to do. I want people to see how beautiful my cats are.”

“Carol is an amazing polymath,” said Sebastian Doggart (that’s his real name), director and head of Tribute Films. “She’s a bit bonkers too — and she knows it and revels in it.”

Tribute (www.tributefilms.com) offers pet-lovers looking to connect with eternity two avenues: the Paw Print Package, which includes a short film of photographs and footage of the animal, and the Purrfect Package, which might be called the Cadillac of filmed pet memorials. It includes unlimited actuality and archival footage, music, location shooting, the works. It starts at $10,000. Needless to say, Connors got the Purrfect Package.

“Carol Connors and Her Cats” premiered to great acclaim last Thursday at a luncheon party in the cavernous Century Club in Century City. A private room upstairs had been done over in leopard print: leopard-print tablecloths, leopard-print snap bracelets on each plate, and at least one leopard-print item or accessory on each of the two dozen or so immaculate Holmby Hills doyennes and semi-starlets of yesteryear whom Connors counts among her friends.

Doggart introduced the film as an “epic tale of ambition and desire and cats.”

Connors stood by, petite and clamorous in skin-tight leopard-print knickers and jacket, heckling herself. “You’re going to see a lot of rocky moments in this film!” she cracked, as the “Rocky” theme played over the opening credits.

It was all there, the whole story of Connors and her cats. Her first encounter with an Abyssinian — she keeps only Abyssinians and has had six in all over the course of 25 years — in the early 1970s, when she was too poor to afford a home of her own, much less a special Egyptian breed of house pet to keep in it. The dream she had auguring the death of her first cat, Songbird, and the arrival of its successor, Harmony. The glory years of post-“Rocky” royalties with her favorite, Minstrel. “He was my soul mate, my Clark Gable,” said Connors, who has never been married.

Yes, it was an 18-minute A&E-style melange of home video, zoomed-in stills, gold records and cat paraphernalia, and it provoked constant laughter and not a few stray tears. “This is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” moaned Charlene Tilton, during the segment commemorating the late Minstrel (1985-2001). You may remember Tilton as the paramour who stole J.R. from Sue Ellen on “Dallas.” Then again, you may not. Not five minutes earlier, Tilton had pronounced the film the funniest thing she’d ever seen.

After the film, Connors’ friends opened up about their pets. Barbi Benton, a former Playboy playmate and live-in companion of Hugh Hefner, admitted that her primary residence in Aspen abuts an elks reserve, so she cannot have dogs, a fact that saddens her. But she is considering engaging Tribute Films to commemorate her husband, George Gradow, the trailer-park magnate.

Deanna Lund, of short-lived ’60s sci-fi series “Land of the Giants” fame, has two Wheaton terriers, given to her by Larry King, to whom she was engaged briefly years ago. But would she pay $10,000 to make a movie about them? “No,” said Lund, summarily.

Cheryl Post, one of the original Mousketeers, felt differently. “If my Australian sheepdog Schroder was still alive, I’d do it in a flat second,” she said.

Doggart, 32, conceived of Tribute Films while having a picnic in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. An Eton- and Cambridge-educated documentarian whose typical previous projects included a series on the history of Christianity made for British television, Doggart wanted to get into more personal filmmaking. “You get to know someone so well doing this,” he said. “It’s like a love affair.”

In Connors’ case, probably even more so. “Outside of my music, I love my cats,” she said. “I love them and they love me.”