The above gallery features some familiar feline-friendly faces: There's a 1959 photo of writer Ernest Hemingway, who collected six-toed cats, with a cat helping itself to a glass of water. (Hemingway's cats may have drunk more than water, with one letter suggesting the author fed one named "Friendless" whisky and milk when he was feeling lonely and wanted to drink with somebody.) And there's Fred Astaire palling around in 1962 with the Siamese cat that fellow film star Kim Novak, also pictured, had given him. "Animals loved Daddy," his daughter Ava later told Vanity Fair's editor-at-large, Sarah Giles.
But it's also clear that a cat can be a star whether or not its owner is famous. For example, in 1958, when Navy doctor Dietrich Beischer used magnet boots to train a kitten to chase a mouse upside-down, to get a sense of how humans would deal with weightlessness, the cat played an important role in the history of space travel. And as for a cat in a funny hat or a cat eating corn on the cob — well, some things never change. After all, every day is cat day in the age of social media.
For the International Fund for Animal Welfare's International Cat Day this Tuesday — a purrfect excuse for such a gallery — here's a look at 25 of the best feline photos in LIFE's iconic archive of 20th century photography.