This is a re-post in celebration of receiving the advance copies of Kim’s new book, Reincarnation Stories. If you haven’t read it already, this is my first ever contribution to one of his books – but evidently not the last!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I think I would have wanted to grab up this photo wherever I might have run across it. However, this image is actually of my uncle and was among the cache of photos I discovered in New Jersey last week, referred to in yesterday’s post. I knew the familial tale of my uncle entering the Howdy Doody look alike contest, but if I had seen the photo I did not remember. It evidently hung in my grandmother’s house, so I must have seen it as a child and just can’t recall.
Nor do I remember Howdy Doody since it went off the air in 1960, before I was born. There was an early 1970’s resurgence of interest in it that I vaguely recollect from being a small child, but why anyone would be interested frankly mystified me from what I could see. My own childhood was not without television puppets – Kukla Fran and Ollie made appearances and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was deeply beloved. (Full disclosure, watching the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers on an airplane recently I wept openly the entire time. There was a Danish couple next to me who were clearly concerned about the state of my well-being. Strangely however, many people have reported the same reaction.)
Puppets eventually morphed into muppets and the world got Sesame Street. Although my younger brother watched Sesame Street and therefore I know it well, I was a bit long in the tooth for it myself. However, I recently went to a performance at Dizzy’s where Wynton and Elmo had a conversation and played together. I had forgotten all the music was jazz – turns out I remembered all the music! The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will have an anniversary tribute concert to the show in the fall.
For Kim’s generation though Howdy Doody was the real deal. Kim has frequently opined that, despite his father Gene’s involvement in television, he was never able to leverage a spot in the Peanut Gallery on the show. Kim did make numerous childhood and teenage appearances on a variety of kids shows – The Magic Cottage, Allen Swift was a family friend and there was his show Captain Allen among them. In addition, Gene utilized a flipbook Kim made to illustrate the persistence of vision which Gene showed on national television – so it was natural that he would aspire to a spot in the audience of the Howdy Doody show. (Meanwhile, Kim has just told me that the flipbook was on display at the Museum of Modern Art for an exhibit on UPA – however, sadly it seems to have been subsequently lost.) Kim has touched on early television and cartoons in numerous stories he has written and drawn. (Most obvious of course, The Search for Smilin’ Ed and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Those can be found here and here.)
I gather there were multiple cartoon jockey entertainment tv shows in his youth and Kim credits Howdy Doody with introducing him to silent films. I remember Bob McAllister and Wonderama best – also Bozo the Clown – showing cartoons, but the idea of silent films on those types of shows seems exotic and wonderful. And I do remember the prizes on Wonderama (if I remember it was just sort of a lottery thing and a kid in the audience just won them, but I could be wrong, maybe they did something to win them) and therefore I can only imagine the sort of longing that must have been created by the haul proffered for the winner of the Howdy Doody look alike contest!
I looked for a full list online and that was unfortunately not available despite references to it. Kim remembers that there was a film projector among the loot – clearly this would have been at the top of the list for a young Kim Deitch with his budding interest in animation and film. I imagine the list was drool worthy indeed and clearly my mother’s younger brother, John Wheeling, was not immune. It wasn’t a time when a lot of photos were casually taken in their family so a certain amount of planning (wheedling) must have gone into even getting this 5″x7″ photo I imagine.
Hake’s auctions, eBay and sites now make it possible to have a good look at some of the merchandising and premiums from our childhoods and much earlier periods. Some hold up quite well – the Little Orphan Annie and Buster Brown rings – Captain Midnight’s Mystic Sun God ring brings a premium still. There’s something thrilling and deeply satisfying about actually seeing photos of all those things. I enjoy those sections of the Hake’s catalogues very much. (For a stroll through my enjoyment of these catalogues see an earlier post, Ode to a Toy Catalogue, here.)
Sadly, Howdy Doody merchandise and premiums do not hold up to 21st century light of day! They are plastic, cheap paper and of a lower order. I offer a brochure of their premiums and some of the higher end examples below.
However, being the beneficiary of the toy laden munificence of exotica proffered for this contest was not the fate of a young John Wheeling. Despite his very credible photo, needless to say he didn’t win the contest. Little Billy Oltman, shown below in Life magazine, won the 1950 contest, besting more than 17,000 rivals. He is younger than my uncle and it is said his mother enhanced his freckles to increase the likeness to the (rather dubiously homely) famous puppet. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps some sort of a fix was in. Of course it is a bit late for sour grapes almost seventy years later.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s blog post is about a bit of a mystery item. Last week I visited mom in NJ and was pawing through some recently unpacked items. With the move they made a little over a year ago, followed rapidly by my dad’s illness and ultimate death, there has been little time or energy for dealing with the boxes, furniture and whatnot stored in the garage and basement of the tiny house. A burst water pipe and a mouse colony setting up shop in both demanded that we shift our attention and energy to this project however. My immediate concern was the family photos (some which may show up in future posts) but this odd object also found its way to me and I brought it home for further consideration.
My mother doesn’t remember it and her inclination was to think that it wasn’t a family item and that my father picked it up randomly somewhere. My father loved silver, especially early American silver, and so it is very possible indeed that he purchased it at one of his beloved garage sales. Dad would go off happily on weekend mornings, sometimes driving somewhat far afield, and hit a series of predetermined sales, marked in a local paper, at various locations throughout the county, an excellent, much worn local AAA map book residing on the floor of the car, always at the ready. Yep, no denying that I am his daughter – no news to Pictorama readers that I inherited his love of digging through the detritus of others to discover gems.
His route completed and appetite enhanced, he would treat himself to a breakfast of bacon at a little luncheonette called Edie’s. (Edie’s probably deserves its own post as a tiny little eatery which somehow has survived with virtually no parking on a hugely busy road in an entirely residential area. My father adored it.)
The purchase of silver abounded from these forays and I (yes, in my studio apartment where these days I rarely do more than open a box of pizza for friends) own a full set of sterling flatware as a result. Having said all of that, this is an unusual item even for him although perhaps it came along with another item and he kept it. This appears to be a single napkin ring, silver but unmarked, leading me to believe it is perhaps coin silver. (For those of you who didn’t grow up around the antique obsessed, that is an early, lower than sterling silver alloy which reflect the same proportion of silver as is in coins.) The fact that it is unmarked also confirms some age as at some point labeling silver with its content became law.
While an early silver napkin ring is not at all unusual (although as noted, a bit odd for dad to have purchased on its own) the interesting thing is the engraving. It is hard to see, but the engraving reads DTA to LRL. (I apologize for the lousy photos, but anyone who has tried to photograph silver without distracting reflections will appreciate the problem.) While monogrammed silver napkin rings abound (because of course why wouldn’t you want your initials on a napkin ring?) the idea of a dedication on one is truly odd. I searched the internet numerous ways and didn’t find another example of this sort of dedication on a napkin ring, nor on anything except jewelry.
I did find another item very similar, identified as an Edwardian napkin ring, with the name Lucy written in script. It was on a site that was no longer accessible which appeared to have sold silver. Full names as monograms are less common than initials, but you do see some when searching such things online. Did DTA give LRL a full set of rings, now lost or at least separated for all time? I assume so, but it seems a mystery I am unlikely to solve, even as I try to imagine being seated at that long-ago table with heavy napkins in their engraved holders. Meanwhile, this single ring has come to reside among the toy cats and other curios here at Deitch Studio.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Kim and I are largely the stay-cation types and enjoy the quietude of Manhattan on holidays as a rule. This week we took a walk together in the late morning of July 4. One of the cat dishes had broken earlier in the week and, as our beloved family owned store on York Avenue, Calling All Pets, was closed for the holiday, we wandered into Petco on Lexington and 86 Street to see if we could procure a replacement. We did, almost immediately, scoring the exact small white dish with pawprints in a design around the outside.
While at the check-out counter with our purchase we noticed a single bright blue Fighting Fish, a Betta, in a container at the register. He was in the sort of one serving size container you get for take-out soup and seemed a tad forlorn. Never having gone further into the store than the catfood display at the front, I had not realized that they sold fish. We decided to wander back and have a look after a brief discussion about whether or not we should add this single fish to our lives – we decided that only Cookie and Blackie would win as a result of that decision. (Our only foray into fish ownership, such as it is, was the subject of an early popular blog post Ode to a Shrimp which can be read here.)
Let me begin by stating that there is an official broad Butler family prohibition on pet stores. Betty, my mom, has actively protested them and has especially been involved with the elimination of puppy mills, at the source and in stores. My mother’s animal rights involvement is indeed another future post as she is an amazing person, but suffice it to say, I have never purchased an animal from a pet store. However, Petco did host the adoption day where we ultimately acquired Cookie and Blackie so it is in a sense their ancestral home. We discovered a small ongoing adoption center for dogs at the back of the store and, although they sell birds, there was a sign encouraging the adoption of those as well and notification that they had a parrot available. The bird display was a bit low-key and sad. Although they seem to have a nice community here.
However, fish tanks fascinate me and remind me of my childhood, so after a quick look at the birds we went over to examine the tanks. I never did find the friends of the Betta and perhaps he was up front because he was the last to be sold. Siamese Fighting Fish, are in the gourami fish family and, although they are gorgeous, colored in deep jewel tones with extravagant long fins, they are called fighting fish because the males are so aggressive that they cannot be in a tank together or they will fight to the death. I always believed they could not be in a tank with any other fish, but my reading online for this blog states otherwise.
The fish tank of my childhood was a tribute to the tanks of my mother’s own childhood, informed by her experience and also eventual pre-med studies of zoology and biology in college. (Douglas College, the all-women’s division of Rutgers at the time did not have a proper pre-med program and she tells me that one took a dual major to achieve the closest possible coursework.) In retrospect it wasn’t glorious by some of today’s standards (I have been in homes and offices where amazing tanks take up whole walls, maintained frequently by visiting professionals), but ours had a variety of fish with live plants which fascinated us kids and our then cats alike. (Zipper was very fond of it and liked to “pat” the fish on the glass but never reaching in; Snoopy, a very dignified cat paid it less attention. If kitten Pumpkin had an opinion I do not remember.) Like most children, we’d started with goldfish won at fairs and the like, which had sadly abbreviated lives and I guess mom figured if we were going to do it we would do it right.
Even such a fish tank at the level of ours takes a considerable amount of care and in hindsight I am a bit amazed that my mother took it on knowing what it required. Periodically the fish had to be removed and the tank and any objects (I believe there was a sea chest with treasure in it) carefully cleaned in a way and with substances that would not harm them. Then fresh water had to be prepared, the tank and plants re-installed before the fish could be returned. All of this under the watchful eyes of three small children, as many cats and a German Shepard – most likely while my father was off at work or doing something else. I remember her explaining to me that saltwater tanks were even more complicated and that she had one when she was a little girl.
Nonetheless, mom ran a pretty tight ship on the fish tank and it is a glowing memory of my childhood. Neon tetras (which can be seen in my phone video below made at Petco the other day) made up the rank and file citizens of our tank and their winking color brings me right back to being about eight years old and staring at our tank, sometimes with Zipper in my lap, so he could have his polite look.
I’m not sure I remember all of the denizens of our tank but I know we also had a few Zebra fish, some guppies and some tiny shark variety of critter. (Internet swipes stolen below.) There were also snails and a catfish sort of guy to help keep it all clean. (I liked his “whiskers” and he was a favorite to watch, often attached to the side of the tank so I could see his tummy.) Lastly, something we called an Angel fish, but I cannot really find its likes online. Our track record with keeping them all alive wasn’t entirely unblemished – I do remember a few fish funerals held at the toilet of the coincidently well located, nearby bathroom. However, in retrospect and reading even a little about it online today I realize that ours was generally a well kept and happily balanced fish tank and that even as a small child I had a sense of how fragile that ecosystem was.
This lesson was dramatically brought home to us by the acquisition of a Kissing Gourami. Now, to mom’s credit, even online right now you will be told that this is a non-aggressive division of the species compatible with smaller fish in a tank – much like the tale of the fighting fish outlined above. Sadly, we were not to find this to be the case. This little fellow, bully that he was, began systematically eating his way through all the other fish! It wasn’t so dramatic that we realized it right away, but nevertheless it quickly became apparent – and what to do?
As hateful as this was none of us quite had the stomach to kill him outright, but of course we could not allow him to slaughter every other fish. Luckily someone my father worked with had a much larger tank (where our Gourami would not be the biggest guy on the block) and he was packed off to live with Jack Gray’s fish, leaving us to wonder how he fared matriculating in that larger milieu. (The Buddhists have a saying, big fish eat little fish and I reflect on that often. A favorite illustration of that -from the Met of course! – below.)
I do not remember the ultimate demise of our fish tank. I know it did not make the move to our next house when I was about 12. I assume it petered out – for which my mother was likely grateful.
After our adventure looking at fish, we had a quick tour of lizards before leaving. Generally speaking I have an okay relationship with lizards. It is a step up from rodents, for whom I wish a happy existence however I generally like to keep at arm’s length, but below furry critters who I pretty much universally want to get to know. Gecko’s proved endearing when traveling through Nepal where they ate the mammoth cockroaches in the hotels, “barking” all the while. I have a vague memory of my brother asking for a lizard and my mother saying she just couldn’t do it because all she could see was the day that she found one of our cats with a lizard tail hanging out its mouth.
I’ve always been particularly interested in chameleons. This little fellow, shown at the top of this post and below, took a real liking to me yesterday and he stood and waved at me for what seemed to be an extraordinary length of time. For all the world he did seem to be appealing to me to please take him home and I was tempted to heed his call. With Betty’s long ago words about cats and chameleon’s sadly I could not however really consider it.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Not sure what made me pick this up today and decide to share it with you, but here it is. I wrote about my Space Ship needle book in an earlier post (Needled which can be found here) but not Our Pals. Both were purchased many years ago, during a brief time when street fairs abounded on the weekends in New York and included flea market type vendors selling interesting junk. I loved it. A bonus was that chasing them all over town meant poking into areas I didn’t normally spend a lot of time in otherwise, admiring the architecture of old buildings, painted signs or just even shops I didn’t know. There were book sellers, people selling vinyl records, DVD’s and video tapes. I have a great love of pawing through the detritus of earlier times and for some reason I find it very soothing, even reassuring. Sadly while these still exist those more mercurial vendors have been pushed out in favor of a repetitious and limited diet of funnel cakes and cheap kitchen wares.
These two needle books were purchased separately, although around the same time. A quick internet search shows that I scored pretty high – while not rare these are probably among the nicest graphics I see for needle books. Having said that, an eBay shows a few obscure but interesting ones I may need to take another look at – numerous with a variation on Sewing Susan which do not interest, but some with motorcycles tearing across them that are more appealing. There are also numerous variations on space ships and atomic this and that. Surprisingly few seem to have been advertising give aways and I would have thought that a natural. A few seem to have been travel souvenirs – another category I expected to be more robust.
Our Pals seems to be everything I would expect from a book of needles from the 1950’s. The happy anthropomorphic trouser sporting Scotty and dress wearing, oversized kitten, grasping even larger needles and thread, would appear to be logical needle book fare – if such a thing exists. Our Pals notes it was produced in West Germany which helps to date it. I haven’t dug too deep but on the face of it there doesn’t seem to be a lot written about needle books, although I may find that information if I look a bit harder.
The prevalence of space ships, air planes and references to atomic are a bit mystifying. Is the implication that wherever we go in the universe mom will still be mending our clothes with these needles? The marriage of hearth and home and outer space – or the wonders wrought by atomic energy? Perhaps for faster sewing? While there is nothing intuitive about it I can assure you that a large percentage of needle books devote themselves to variations on this theme. While the vast majority of vintage needle books do fulfill stereotypes by depicting mom and the girls at work, the motorcycles and some that refer to the Army may have been a nod at those gents who were also responsible for mending their own togs.
The brightly colored foil insides of these books where the needles lay out has always been a treat for me when revealed. For some reason it is always a bit of a thrill. As you can see, both of these were used although they retain many of their needles – and the Space Ship version even retains its needle threading device. Both seem to want to impress you with being rust-proof and made of steel. The larger one fine tunes its needles by dividing them into the hand sewing versus darning categories.
Speaking practically, if these were not somewhat fragile I would press them into service. For those of you who, like me, have at a minimum the need to secure the occasional button, keeping track of those infrequently used needles can be problematic. (I should probably go on record stating that I am, at best, a bit ham-handed when it comes to sewing. A roommate who was working for a dress designer schooled me in button sewing years ago however.)
I do keep a small plastic travel sewing kit – unromantic but it more or less does the job. However, the charm of this version of needle storage is obviously greater and the reason for the traditional sewing box hits home. As I have opined previously, the world of sewing notions seems to be a shrinking one and sometimes even purchasing a needle and thread is a challenge, let alone keeping track of them in our cluttered apartment. Perhaps a small sewing box does hover in my future.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post kicks off with this lovely item a colleague gave me recently. My reputation as a collector of all things (frequently black) cat she scooped this little item for me while away for the weekend. Reader’s may remember that I chose to hang some of my cat sheet music in my office when I started my job, two years back now. (Some posts devoted to that sheet music cat can be found here, here and here.) Other cat related items have snuck in over time, a white cat here (I wrote about my sub-collection of white cats here in my post The Lore of the White Kitties) and a few black cats there. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Patricia produced this little gem for me, but I sometimes forget how evident my cat office theme is.
As you probably realize, this item (the mini emery boards are very handy indeed as well) is a nod to the popular Cat’s Paw advertising design below. I’ve included a nice example of their advertising, but an even nicer photo of one of their heels. (These from a A Brief History of Cat’s Paw Heels which informed me that Amelia Earhart supposedly died wearing a pair of Cat’s Paw-heeled loafers. Amazing!)
The most important feline acquisition for my office may be this lucky gold cat I picked up in Washington last fall. I am not an overly superstitious person, but I must say the financial fortunes at work began to improve substantially after acquiring him which I credit, at least in part, to this happy waving fellow. I tracked the history of these Chinese waving pusses awhile back (you can read it here in my post Come Hither Kitty) and this one, painted bright gold, has a big job for a little guy but he seems to be up to it. As a struggling fundraiser I embrace all avenues of revenue.
And as I write, today is June 30, the last day of our fiscal year at work, my second at this job. It has been a squeaker, but I would say we will just about make it over the bar this year. It hasn’t been the least bit easy – in fact there have been times I would say it has been quite grueling and I have been awake many nights running numbers in my head and wondering if it was possible. My colleagues have made it easier and of course in fact have made it possible so a big tip of my hat to them. Tomorrow morning we will drive a wooden stake in the heart of fiscal ’19 and kick off the coming year with some champagne (it’s in the fridge now guys) and bagels. I will cheerfully pay off a $10 bet to Ed who had more faith than I did in my ability to drive this one home. (Thanks Ed!) The coming year will not be easier, but with lots of hard work and what Kim likes to call some average good luck, hopefully we’ll be celebrating again this time next year. Gold lucky kitty, keep on waving!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is an actual photo, not a photo postcard, which weighs in at only about 3.5″x 3″. It was taken from an album which it had been glued into, black paper stuck to the back. It is an interesting photo when studied – the woman in the background is wearing a fully long dress, as I guess the woman with the cat is although that is a bit hard to see. This dates it early in the 20th century. Meanwhile, a man with a cap, somewhat obscured, is seated behind the woman and cat.
Of course I have purchased it because of this wonderful tabby. He appears to be an orange tabby – which means he is likely to be a he as Google informs me that males outnumber female orange tabbies about 80% to 20%. This photo has an interesting immediacy. When it is blown up large you can see that what the woman holds is a toy on a string, not food which was my immediate thought.
I have had close association with several orange striped cats in my life. My mother has a rather magnificent one named Red right now, who was devoted to my father and who presents his toys and acts as ambassador cat when I overnight in New Jersey. Pictorama readers my remember my childhood cat Pumpkin, an enormous and dog-like kitty who used to follow me to the bus stop in the morning growing up. He was much larger than this fellow, but had an amazing fluffy striped tummy and tail. He would roll and display his tummy in a come hither way – and then chomp down on your arm with all his considerable force when you tried to pet him. Bad kitty! We had to warn guests and even delivery folks not to be taken in.
Therefore, I can only say I was shocked with Cookie and Blackie arrived here with a very canine desire to have their tummies rubbed – since kittenhood they roll over and demand tummy pets multiple times a day. Cookie in particular needs some tummy rubs every morning to start the day. She will meow and stretch and roll with happiness when you comply. Blackie also invites an occasional tummy pet, but it is as if he likes the idea more than the reality and tends to roll over after a rub or two and send you on your way with a paw push. No biting though.
Our resident cats also perch on their hind legs more than any felines I have ever known. Like the cat in the photo I have had cats that would stand and reach for something, but not as willing to perch that way, sometimes for minutes, as our Cookie and Blackie seem to be. Occasionally they entertain me with their version of cat boxing this way. (If there is anyone out there who has not seen this video of cats boxing in slow motion doing patty cake with commentary – or if you just need a chuckle – have a look here.)
Kim and I have speculated that this is a form of kitty evolution, especially the hind leg standing. Shortly after Kim and I started dating I made him a Valentine drawing of my cats Otto and Zippy, them holding forth in a riotous anthropomorphic party scene while we were out of the apartment, but presumably to disappear magically somehow as we approached the front door. Oh to know the secret life of cats!