Kim’s Favorite Photo

M*F #2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Hoo-ha! When I first spotted this photo on eBay and showed it to Kim, he said, “That’s my kind of cat photo!” Despite his enthusiasm, I purchased it anyway. It is a pretty great card.

It is sort of hard to say anything about this photo that isn’t fairly self-evident – but really, what a kick in the head! How crazy – posing that (very nice) black cat toy and a mouse on this French babe while she reads a book on a stand! (What could she be reading?) I have a mental image of the photographer and the model, doing these postcards day after day and trying to come up with something – anything! – new, until one day it came down to the cat and mouse. This comes from a long tradition of so-called risqué postcards produced by the French – there are dozens of cards on eBay right now of partially or fully unclothed women holding cats so this is a bit of a play on that as well I think. And of course, presumably some, um, cat puns.

I believe the cat is a popular Steiff model that came in a myriad of sizes. I don’t actually own one of them – unlike their teddy bears their cats do not have an especially expressive face. They feel cookie cutter to me. The mouse was probably the hard part – he or she has a nicely distinct mouse shape. Our apartment houses a large number of life-like mice – Cookie in particular can play with them for hours. Right now we have some in lurid colors – she is especially fond of a bright red one. But life-like though they are – this one has an especially mouse-y form.

Okay, I know I am probably the only one out here analyzing the toys. But remember boys, toys are catnip to me like this image was meant to be for you!

Mistinguett – Felix Goes to the Dogs

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Shown here is a recent acquisition. A press photo of a French stage star posing with her dog – and Felix! Plenty of evidence that, in addition to regular folks, stars enjoyed posing with Felix to help burnish their public image. (My Felix Makes the Picture Better illustrates this point, and look for several of actress Lilian Harvey that will be future posts.)

This one is undated which is unusual for a press photo. Glued to the back is a scrap of paper that reads, MISTINGUETT, the French musical comedy star, concluding her appearance here in ‘Innocent Eyes,’ sailed yesterday with her ‘million dollar legs’ for home abroad the Paris. She was accompanied by her dog, Alfred! And his stuffed playmate, Felix. staff Photo-Steffen

Okay, more about Mistinguett in a moment – but the Felix belonged to her dog? As a toy collector I am, needless to say, a bit horrified. We will assume that, if true, those particular toys are unlikely to show up on eBay today – although an interesting story for someone who finds one with little dog-toothy tears. How often did the Felix-es need replacing I wonder – Felix is almost as big as Alfred. I take comfort in the fact that I deeply suspect that it was a put up job for the photograph and that the pristine Felix toy went on his way with the photographer awaiting his turn with Dolores Costello and others.

There is a huge amount of information about Mistinguett on the internet. Born on April 5, 1875 as Jeanne Bourgeois she evidently decided to be an entertainer at an early age. She took the stage name Mistinguett and became the toast of Paris – the highest paid entertainer of her day. Her actual skill as a singer seems to be questionable, but clearly she had something and was quite the ‘It Girl’ of her time. The lover of Maurice Chevalier and King Alfonso XIII of Spain, she was a famous dancer of the Apache – one of France’s contributions to socially acceptable S&M entertainment. The IMDb database claims that her legs were insured for a mere 50,000 francs – but let’s not quibble. Her long filmography starts in 1908, but with only one film in the sound era, the 1936 Rigolboche, which appears to be available. One review sites her as a bit long in the tooth for the part – understandable since she was 61 at that point. (In all fairness, there’s a leggy photo of her when she was 50 that is pretty hotsy-totsy. It can be viewed, with much additional information on her at www.yodaslair.com/dumboozle/mist/mistdex.html) There are several fuzzy dupey clips of her singing on Youtube and I have spared you any of these.

Innocent Eyes, the show mentioned on the photo, was mounted to feature her and introduce her to American audiences and was pretty soundly panned. She never clicked here. Mistinguett seemed unperturbed however and I snatch a quote from the above mentioned website, In her autobiography, Mistinguett recalls the results of her efforts to learn English for this engagement:  My pronunciation was a great success.  ‘Innocent Eyes’ on my tongue became ‘Innocent Asses.’ I was begged not to improve on it. She was, as my grandmother used to say, a real piece of work.

And I can only guess that she was perhaps less than entertained with the idea of posing with the American film super star, Felix. Perhaps that is how she came to demote him to the role of dog toy!

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Are those cat ears? An early poster image borrowed from the Google photo file.

Wooden Novelty Co.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Wowzers! Can you image walking into this place and trying to take it all in? Enough eyeball kicks for a lifetime here. I know I purchased this on eBay – not that long ago, but it was at the bottom of a pile that was upturned recently. I don’t remember how I found the listing since it has no easily discernible cats here – some over to the right if you look carefully. It was most likely the Mickey Mouses on the top shelf. It is an 8″x10″ photo, no information or identification on the back.

I believe kits and plans for the ashtray stands were widely available and the stands are very prevalent at flea markets and antique stalls – executed with varying skill. Mine, shown here with Blackie examining it, was purchased at the end of the day at the 26th Street garage flea market here in Manhattan. I had barely shown interest in it (despite what impression I may have given, I actually do try to be mindful that we live in a very small apartment) when the dealer, clearly desperate to pack up less than he still had, threw out some ridiculously low figure and I felt compelled to make it mine. As with most things of this kind once purchased, I have not regretted it.

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Not long after, I attended one of the Pier Shows dedicated to antiques and saw a stall of what must have been thirty or more, all variations on the cat design, lined up together. It was a magnificent display and when I win the lottery and retire very wealthy I fully intend to recreate it. There is something about these wooden cut outs which does make a group as a whole more impressive, perhaps than the parts alone.

My affection for this genre has extended beyond cats and below I share the other two I own. The parrot, which holds my house keys with a nail, my addition, has been my key holder for more than twenty years. He was purchased off the street some place, as was the other bird acquired subsequently, which has never quite found the right spot in the apartment. He (or she) is actually a tiny shelf.

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Whirligigs seem to fall loosely into this category too – and I have adored those since I was a child! There was a man in a neighboring town who made ones for the backyard to move in the wind, set on a pole. We purchased a much beloved little man sawing logs. I think he may have met his end in one of the many hurricanes or nor’easters of my childhood. There’s a Felix version that I admit to having my eye on, but again, we do live in a very small apartment…

 

 

Ahoy! Cats at Sea

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card is kind of messy, even in the printing process – the scribbles and whatnot making it even more tatty over time. (Did someone nibble on the edges of the neg before printing?) However, there’s something appealing about these two boat kitties, their images printed together. Homemade looking, but loved enough to have been stored away somewhere all these years. The one on the left looks like quite the man around town and the one on the right very dignified and in charge.

As you may know, I have expressed my ambivalence about cats at sea (it never seems to end well for them), but let’s face it, even on this blog, it is a sort of a genre. (See also, Kitty Rescue at SeaTom the Fire Boat Cat and Sporty among others!) While I may express some unease about cats on boats, they seem to frequent them and even enjoy them. When you consider how little cats like water this seems like an odd choice. Perhaps it is the potential for the consumption of fish?

Growing up on the waterfront in New Jersey, I had a huge fat orange tabby named Pumpkin. Pumpkin was the size of a small dog, adored me and had a bad tendency to bite most other people – usually after inviting them to rub his fluffy striped tummy. We would warn people, but they often didn’t believe us or move away fast enough. More to the point, over time Pumpkin had figured out that at certain times of the day he could jump from our floating dock to the sailboat we kept moored there. Evidently he discovered that tiny fish could be found on the deck which he would happily consume. He would then have to wait for the tide to swing the boat back to the dock so he could get off.  (I am unclear if these fish landed on the deck jumping from the water, or if the seagulls, which routinely dropped their oyster shells on the deck and dock to break them, were also responsible for the fishy build up.) While not seafaring, Pumpkin was, in his own way, one in a long line of maritime kitties.

April Fools?

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I bought this because it is just a nicely jolly card. A rough Google translation of the saying on the bottom seems to be something about if you have a wriggling fish by April 1 you’ll have joy in your house. Seems logical – the cats would agree. Still, I had to suspect it had something to do with April Fools Day.

And I was right – somehow April Fools and fish blend together for the French. I found the following on Hoaxes.org:The theory goes like this: In 1564 France reformed its calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Those who failed to keep up with the change, who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish — which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools — and so the tradition was born. Here’s a fish on your back! Take that!

(While researching this I discovered another little known fact about April Fool in Britain. Evidently it was the tradition for the tricks to end by midday or you were considered a fool yourself. I will have to keep that in mind this spring.)

Jokes not withstanding, I like these happy and industrious looking kitties and their enormous fish. The interesting and rickety fish carrier car sums it up nicely. You can just see these fellows getting home and having a nice big fish feast – no fools these cats.

Hunters

Group shot outside

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  I purchased this photograph in Seattle a number of years ago. Kim was doing a reading out there and I tagged along and made my one and only foray, to date, to the Pacific Northwest. I killed a day or two in junk stores there and came home with surprisingly little under the circumstances. I have already pointed out on numerous occasions how splendid Portland, Oregon is for early photographs – by rights Seattle should be its kissin’ cousin, but that was not readily apparent on that trip.

This is a good size photo, 8×10 – I should know how it was made, but am not sure. My best guess is that it was made from some sort of dry plate process and it is a contact print of some kind. It is utterly unmarked – no maker, no date, absolutely no information whatsoever. It is a serious looking group – hunting I assume with all those rifles. No leisure trip this however – these men (and single boy – is that ammo on his chest?) mean business. The two guys with ties and suit jackets mystify me and some of the hats look a bit out of place for hunting as well. I am not sure why, but I believe I thought more about mining than hunting when I first acquired it although there’s really nothing to tie it to mining. It is an odd photo for me to own, no cats, not even a dog! Yet for some reason I could not resist it.

Strangely, it has remained in a place of pride on a table by our front door. I can’t say it is one of my favorite photos, but there is something compelling about it and I do stop to look at it occasionally and wonder. There’s something great about it – a window to something in the past.

 

 

Living the Felix Life

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This plate is the single piece of Felix china I own. Sometimes I fantasize that if I was very wealthy our daily dishes would be a full set of Felix china – perhaps switching off occasionally for Mickey on special occasions. The appealing image of drinking my coffee out of a Felix mug comes to me periodically and I have considered purchasing one for this purpose alone. However, we are a bit hard on the things we use daily around here – cats always leaping and knocking things over, stuffed cabinets where things collide, daily dishwasher wear and tear. Although admittedly the actual destruction of household dishware here is fairly low, the idea of worrying about it is more than I can deal with. Sadly, in such a small apartment, we have little room for displaying china as well so I remain reticent about investing in it.  That is too bad because there is a wealth of it available and the charm for me is seeing it in large quantity and with all the small variations.

My plate is unmarked and I have some question about its origin. I believe I have landed on Wellsville China of Wellsville, Ohio as the maker.  Wellsville China was founded in 1902 was in business until 1959. I believe it was then sold and was in existence in one form or another until the demolition of the building in 2004. Frankly though, the history of the company is a bit hard to piece together. A competitor in the Felix dishware race seems to have been Baltimore’s Bennett China – although the design very similar those dishes seem to be distinguished by an apricot colored edge to their plates whereas mine still has traces of gold around the edges. The Felix images and sayings seem to come from the postcard series – which is huge and I believe British in origin.

A very desirable variation is the Royal Rudolstadt design. I pulled this one off the internet – for sale on Rubylane’s site as I write this – as an example.  (Maybe I need to buy this as a birthday gift to myself…but I digress.) I like this Felix design – squarely between the earliest bony-looking Felix and the later rounded one.

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The reality is that we actually do eat off of historic plates – heavy blue and white wear sectioned plates, made in Britain – hard even for us to break. I love them. They came to me through my mother’s family. My great-grandfather owned a bar at the Jersey shore throughout my mother’s childhood and those plates were used to serve the daily blue plate special. Oddly, our other dishes are decorated with a series of New Yorker cartoons and fell into our hands via my father who purchased them, in the box, for under five dollars – his purchase limit on most things. And the tradition of novelty china continues.

Willow plate, our daily china

Willow plate, our daily china

 

Alfred Latell

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  I had my eye on this postcard on eBay for a while – holiday purchases needed to all be complete before I could justify the splurge and buy it. I adore animal imitators from the turn-of-the-century – starting with the 1907 Dancing Pig from France (possibly the very best short film ever) to George Ali as Nana in the 1925 Peter Pan – and all those wonderful early Wizard of Oz films. I love them all! Kim knows my passion for them and this is one of the first drawings he ever gave me – Animal Impersonators – a play on the idea.

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This postcard was used. Addressed on the back to The two Brothers “Mathuss” Cassimo si Paris Theater, Burner Pesth, Hungary. The postmark is illegible but the message reads, in English, Dear Boys, good wishes to you. great success. My sincere good thoughts. Your father. The photo studio is Atelier & Bromsilber which seems to have been a well-known studio.

This photo is my introduction to Alfred Latell whose career evidently started in 1902 and lasted into the 1940’s. Online I found a 1936 ad for a show with Alfred Latell as, yep you guessed it, Bonzo Dog – which is how this card was also advertised. An online Encyclopedia of Vaudeville calls Latell one of the most curious acts in vaudeville. It says, He specialized in the impersonation of animals, not only dressing in various guises but also providing the appropriate noises. He began his career in 1902 and by 1909 had gained considerable notoriety for his imitations of monkeys, billy goats, bears, and dogs. It was the last animal that Latell found the most difficult to imitate, for as he explained in an article in The New York Dramatic Mirror, ‘To play the part of a dog and not to buffoon him, one is obliged to make a close study of his every action. The dog is so close to mankind that he is know more intimately than any other of the domestic beasts, with the exception possibly of the horse…The cat is a difficult animal to impersonate, though not so much as the dog, because of the fact of its slower movements. I have gone out at night with my cat suit on and have sat for hours watching the smaller back yard cats as they stalked along the fence or sat watching the moon rise o’er some neighboring buildings.’

He went to great lengths – rigged up a hind leg, improving his dog movement, and had a special tube made for his mouth which allowed him to appear like he was lapping up milk.  With a string he could raise the fur on the back of the cat suit! He also impersonated birds, ‘The parrot was one of my first bird impersonations, and I found it one of the most difficult of all, because of its crouching posture and the consequent tendency to fall over while walking.  There are nine strings which have to be operated in working the head, bill and wings, and the work is laborious in every sense of the word.” (The Art of Animal Acting, The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 1, 1909.)

Evidently Latell had an act with one and then a subsequent wife – his characters did not speak and he had to perform with a partner who would introduce him and do the talking. The internet is spotted with a mention in Green Book here and an ad in a theatrical paper there. His career peters out with a random performance or two on Broadway in the 1940’s. I was not able to find any film clips of him to share. For another photo of him and a bit more information, I refer you to another WordPress blog post Stars of Vaudeville #561.As a salute to great anthropomorphic animal entertainment, a link to the wonderful French dancing pig below!

Comfort in Our Shoes

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This one has been nagging at me for quite a while. I saw it immediately after it went up for sale on eBay, but it was just too expensive. I made an offer – it was refused. I sulked and waited. Luckily my brother in-law, Seth Deitch, saved me by sending me an eBay gift certificate for Christmas and I decided I would apply it to the card which was available and I still had a yen for. Yay! Thank you Seth!

This fellow who manages to hang onto his cat dignity while tucked in this comfy shoe just delights me. My goodness, he’s a real little fussbudget, yes? He would give Cookie a run for her money, I think. He looks so very comfortable and at home in that shoe – I like to believe he really liked sleeping there and they captured him doing it. As cat owners know, for some kitties there is simply nothing like a smelly old shoe.  Mine are still kittenish enough to go for the laces first and foremost – you can barely tie a shoe in this house without tussling, mostly with Blackie.

This card was never used and I was unable to trace the photographer, Mr. or Ms. Porter. No date to be found and we do wish the photographer had managed a slightly higher contrast in either the taking or the printing. I was able to find evidence of the Boston Shoe Store in Maine from the 1910’s.  In a 1913 issue of the Boot and Shoe Recorder (yep, an early shoe store trade mag now digitized online) there is reference to it in Calais, Maine. At the time it was under the proprietorship of N. A. Olsen and was noted to be a good up to date shoe store with a modern front. It continues, Lewis, the shoe man, is a great believer in advertising. He uses a number of novel methods of advertising successfully.

Since this card is undated it is a bit hard to put the picture together, but on the same page you can read about our friend, A. T. Smith, when this photo was taken and he had just returned from a trip to California according to the shoe pub. He is mentioned under a section devoted to the shoe business in Houlton, Maine. Seems he was the then shoe man for something called McGary’s Co. the only significant competitor to a larger farmer owned corporation (and department store) called The Grange – and they seemed to have most of the local shoe business sewn up. After noting that only high shoes, in tan and black, sold well in Houlton (I take this to mean high on the leg, not high-heeled) the author goes on to say about the other local shoe stores, All they need is a little time, and they will be satisfied to quit the shoe game. 

Assuming our card is post 1913, his prediction was wrong and A. T. Smith was ultimately the proprietor of Boston Shoes in Houlton. (I will spare you the details but there is further evidence that Mr. Smith and his wife were prominent citizens in Houlton, ME and were active in city policy, etc.) Or this is earlier and the Boston Shoe Store did indeed migrate to Calais. Either way, I wonder if this great card is the work of the snappy advertising guy Lewis!

Houlton, Maine, a farm community, was noted to have a population of 5,845 in 1913 and said to be located in the potato belt. It has grown modestly in all these years and only boasted a population of 6,123 in the 2010 census. A map shows it sticking way out on the furthermost edge of the state, surrounded by water. I include an early postcard of the business district pulled from the town’s online historical site. Sadly, no other cat images were to be found in association with the town or the shoe stores – I believe that is a dog in the photo below.

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The Cat Card Comes Back

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a story of one that got away, but came back and gave me another shot. I loved this card, but lost it to an insanely high bid on eBay several months ago. I was very unhappy about it – it combines my favorite elements of early photography and, of course, a great, dignified cat who seems to know something about posing for the camera. Last week what I assume is another copy showed up on eBay and I bid as high as I could – and won it! It is wonderful – a crystal clear photo. I took a loop to it in order to check out the strange doll in the carriage – yes, it appears to have a monkey head. I guess that got the kiddies going with a smile if Mr. Cat could not. The tag line reads COME ALONG WITH US.

Like so many of my best photo postcards, this one hails from Portland, Oregon, the origin of great, early photo postcards. The copyright is 1910, also inscribed on the front and it was taken by D.A. Ovens. It is unused and otherwise undated. I did not have brilliant results in finding out about our photographer, Mr. Ovens.  I found some copyrights on his photos with no images and this one image below off a Oregon library history site:

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Assuming he had a photo studio in Portland I am unable to uncover any information about it.

For myself, I fantasize that Mr. Ovens traveled around pushing this baby carriage with doll, cat and camera and stopping to take your photo. How splendid that would have been to encounter on a downtown street in Portland, Oregon in 1910 and pose to have our photo taken with the kitty!