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It was fairly early in his career, but Robert Loggia, then 36, was already seen mostly as a villain,, though his most noticeable work was as a swashbuckling hero, Elfego Baca, in 10 episodes of "The Magical World of Disney" from 1958 to 1960.

In 1966, Loggia was given an NBC prime time series with an overly cute title, "T. H. E. Cat," in which he played a former cat burglar-turned-bodyguard.

The network tested it before focus groups, and believed the show was a certain hit. It wasn't. Loggia suspected it was too late to save the series, but during a two-week break in the filming that November, he hit the road to publicize the show:

Akron Beacon Journal, November 20, 1966
He’s a strange character, all right . . . perhaps too strange.

No one knows where he lives . . . where he comes from . . . where he’s going.

A loner . . . whose only friend is a weird — and I mean weird — gypsy named Pepe . . . a kind of a creepy guy who wears a gold ring in his left ear.

Oh, our hero likes women . . . or seems to . . . and lots of women at that. But he’s never THAT interested in them. He’s cool . . . supercool . . . even cold.

And he spouts poetry . . . and esoteric quotations difficult to understand.

HIS NAME is T. (for Thomas) Hewitt Edward Cat, and he has a problem: Everyone out there in television-land is supposed to be crazy nuts about him — but they aren’t.

It could be a reaction to the forced cuteness of his program’s title, “T. H. E. Cat,” which looks like a misprint which gives the impression it’s a cartoon series, perhaps a rip-off of “Tom and Jerry.” However, NBC expected “T. H. E. Cat” to be one of the hit shows of the 1966-67 season. It was test-marketed during the summer, and results indicated this was one of the few new shows that couldn’t miss.

But it has . . . so far.

The program, perhaps inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock-Cary Grant film, “To Catch a Thief,” also owes much to “Peter Gunn” in the way it is filmed and how the action is supported by a catch musical score, not by “Gunn’s” Henry Mancini, but by Lalo Schifrin, who also composes music for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” and “Mission: Impossible.”

THE HERO — let’s call him Tom Cat — does everything. He walks tightropes, scales tall buildings, swings fro building to building like an urban Tarzan, and even does the Errol Flynn bit with swords. He’s tough, fearless and cunning, and everything else you’d want from a television superhero.

So why isn’t he getting good ratings?

No one is more puzzled by that question than Robert Loggia, the actor who plays the role of T. Hewitt Edward Cat.

“I think the big reason is the movies we’re competing against,” said Loggia. “Movies aren’t the whole problem, but they are the big one. I’ve also had people tell me the show is too ‘arty.’ They don’t understand what we’re doing. They don’t like it because they don’t know anything about the hero. They can’t figure out what he means.”

THAT'S WHY Loggia was on an eight-city tour to explain his character and generate publicity for the series, which took a two-week break after completing 16 episodes. Loggia could have used the rest, but the actor decided his time could better be spent giving interviews.

He admitted he didn’t think it would matter that his character’s background was so mysterious.

“We intended to create an interesting program by presenting weird and interesting characters in offbeat settings. Apparently not too many people even notice them,” he said. “People who watch the show are either women who dig T. H. E. Cat because he’s cool, or men who dig the action.”

ALAS, SO FAR there aren’t that many of either. And the program has little appeal to teenagers, something Loggia and his producer hope to change.

“When we resume shooting, we’ll try to broaden the show’s appeal to reach the teenagers,” he said.

Among the changes will be the elimination of Cat’s sometime sidekick, Capt. McAllister, a policeman played by R. G. Armstrong.

“A lot of viewers don’t like to see me hanging around with a cop,” said Loggia, who doesn’t seem to understand the reason. “I guess I’m supposed to be a dark, sinister hero who, one, isn’t supposed to like cops, and, two, is supposed to be able to handle things without police assistance.

“In any event, our audience didn’t like it, and neither did Armstrong. He asked to be let out of the show even before the producer decided it was a good idea. We’ll finish out the season,” Loggia added, “but it’s doubtful we’ll return next year. Something has to happen soon. Our ratings aren’t bad, you understand. They’re just not good enough.”

LOGGIA SAID he was really bushed by the time he reached Cleveland, and admitted he’d rather be sleeping than talking. But he kept at it — talking with journalists at every opportunity. The reason is obvious: “T. H. E. Cat” is a big investment in time and effort; Loggia will do what he can in an effort to keep the show alive for the three season needed to make it profitable.

Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat is supposed to be a one-time cat burglar who went into the bodyguard business. His only weapon is his body and how he moves it — smoothly, silently and swiftly.

Loggia, a slim fellow an inch shy of a six-footer, looks the part of a cat burglar, confessed he’s really not that way at all.

“I’m a physical wreck. I’ve broken both legs, have water on both knees, a touch of bursitis, and more ailments than I care to list. I’d never attempt the things my character has to do as a matter of routine. In our pilot show, for instance, I used a double for the tightrope scene. And even the double didn’t want to do it. He had to walk about 50 feet across the ripe about 100 off the ground. He was protected, not by a net, but by a pile of cardboard boxes about 25 feet high that would break his fall. Once he did start to fall, but caught himself.

“The one thing I did in that show that I wasn’t too crazy about was swing from one building to another on a rope about 40 feet in the air.”

IT WAS A STUNT in Walt Disney’s “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” eight years ago that started Loggia on the road to becoming T. Hewitt Edward Cat.

“In one gunfight scene I ran up a couple of steps and dove into a saloon, whirled around and started shooting. A Hollywood stunt man saw the show, liked the way I moved, and remembered me. He’s the man who later recommended me for the role of Cat. Actually, the producers of the show show talked with several actors before I was considered.

“Elfego Baca” was probably the high point of Loggia’s career until this season. He has done several other things, particularly on Broadway, that had given him more satisfaction, but “Elfego Baca” is the role that brought him the most attention.

SINCE THEN, however, Loggia has been more noted for portraying villains on a number of TV series.

“Villains are certainly more interesting and challenging than heroes,” he said. “Most of the big male stars got started playing ‘heavies.’ Look at Marlon Brando. His first break was as Stanley Kowalski in ‘Streetcar Named Desire,’ and he had a movie hit as the motorcycle hood in ‘The Wild One.’ Humphrey Bogart is another one. He started by playing gangsters in films.”

That’s why Loggia had little objection to T. H. E. Cat. The character is mysterious enough to be interesting.

Loggia said he stumbled into acting after he was discharged from the Army. He joined Stella Adler’s acting school in New York, then became a charter member of Actor’s Studio.

“People have strange ideas about ‘the Method’ and about acting in general,” he said. “They think to act you have to do everything with a flourish.”

He picked up a cup to demonstrate.

“Actually, a good actor doe this on stage or in a movie just the way a person would do it at home. To learn how to act, you must learn about people. That’s why it is important to understand the role you are playing — you have to make you character real.”

He smiled.

“I guess that’s why I’m more at home playing villains. I understand them better.”

He had a distinctive hoarse, gravelly voice, that seemed better suited for older characters, which may be why Loggia's career improved steadily as he aged into some interesting supporting roles. He continued to play many bad guys of various ethnic backgrounds — the actor himself was Italian-American — but countered these roles with good-guy parts in some short-lived series, "Mancuso, FBI" (1989-90), "Sunday Dinner" (1991) and "Queens Supreme" (2003).

He balanced his work on television with several supporting roles in films, where he played a wide range of characters, most notably in "Big" (with Tom Hanks in 1988) and "Jagged Edge" (1985). which earned hin an Oscar nomination for his performance as an investigator for the lawyer played by Glenn Close.

His other films included Blake Edwards" "S. O. B." (1981), "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982), "Prizzi's Honor" (1985), "Necessary Roughness" (1991), and "Independene Day" (1996). He also appeared in the 2016 sequel to "Independence Day," but died in December, 2015, before the film was released.

Loggia was married twice, 27 years to his first wife, Della, and 33 years to his second wife, Audry. He had three children by his first wife. He died a month before what would have been his 86th birthday.

 
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