Pudgie Wudgie's fame lives on in documentary premiere in Oakmont
Frank Furko's costume-wearing, trick-performing tabby cat gifted him many things, including a trip to the Bahamas, a feature on Maury Povich's television show and an overall unique friendship.
Pudgie Wudgie was a local, national and international celebrity before his death in 2001. He and owner Furko frequently visited Pittsburgh landmarks such as Kennywood and Three Rivers Stadium, never leaving home without one of Pudgie's 200 costumes. Check out Pudgie's website, pudgiewudgie.com, and you will see him pictured with legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll and dressed to kill while appearing on an Italian talk show.
“This cat went everywhere with me and he was well-known to everybody around here,” Furko said. “I knew he was special from the day that I got him.”
And nearly 16 years to the day after he passed away, Pudgie's fame lives on in a documentary that will make its local debut Aug. 26 at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont. “Frank and the Wondercat” is a movie made in 2015 by Canadian filmmakers that highlights the life of Furko's famous feline.
“It's going to be a great story,” Furko said. “I'm hoping that the theater gets crammed with people because Pudgie deserves it.”
The film is structured around video archives documenting Pudgie's life with Furko. Tony Massil, an actor and the movie's director, said the emotional friendship between the two is what drew his interest to making the film.
After traveling from Canada to Plum and spending several days with Furko, Massil and co-director Pablo Alvarez-Mesa knew the documentary would be more than just the story behind the unique cat; it would also explore Furko and his lifetime itch to entertain.
“We started to realize that he was an entertainer early on in his life,” Massil said. “He said he had always wanted to be in a polka band, but we saw that because life held him back, that kind of entertainment was funneled through Pudgie Wudgie and bringing joy to people that way.”
The documentary travels to some of places that Furko and Pudgie once used as their stage.
“They came all the way from Vancouver and took me to places like the Pittsburgh Mills, Heinz Museum and Kennywood,” Furko said.
Prior to the start of the movie in Oakmont, the Humane Animal Rescue will be at the theater with adoptable cats and kittens, the same place from where Furko once brought Pudgie home.
The documentary for Furko is just another way that Pudgie can give back and bring joy to people.
“I always thought that if you can make somebody smile, well, make them smile,” Furko said.
The ‘Boys from Canada'
In 2011, a Facebook thread from Oakmont drew the attention of the two directors in Vancouver.
After researching Furko and the talented Pudgie Wudgie, film school friends Massil and Alvarez-Mesa made the just more than five-hour trip by plane to Pittsburgh to get to know Furko a little better.
They almost immediately knew they wanted to pursue a film surrounding Furko and the “wondercat.” The pair made several trips to the area between 2011 and 2014, documenting the past with Furko as their tour guide.
They were introduced to Furko's friends and fans, eventually being dubbed the “Boys from Canada.”
“We essentially got to see it all through Frank's eyes,” Massil said.
The documentary premiered in 2015 at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
“For people on the other side of the continent to get to see Pudgie Wudgie, it was a surreal moment,” Massil said.
Although the documentary has been screened at film festivals across North America, Furko and the directors are excited most about its local premiere.
“We can't wait to be there for the ending chapter of where it all began,” Massil said.
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.