Toy Hospital


Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy posts continue, as does the work in our compact apartment; I write to you from a very dusty computer this morning. I snapped a few quick photos of toys as I cleaned them and packed them for the duration of the ceiling work. Last week I featured Felix-es that could use some work in my post, Felix…the Bad and the Ugly, and it reminded me of a toy hospital that used to reside on Lexington Avenue, near Bloomingdales. I worked in the neighborhood, my brief stint at the Central Park Conservancy, and was of course curious. As you walked by you could see toys piled up in a second story bay window in a old building – a large sign declaring Toy Hospital. Therefore one day, when to my great horror, the arms broke off this Felix I knew exactly where I was headed.

On my lunch hour I chugged up a couple of flights of old, steep stairs in one of those incredibly narrow, dark stairwells you find in very old New York City walk-up buildings of a certain vintage. A glass door opened into a room which pretty much had toys scattered and piled helter-skelter, waist high with no visible path through them to the window. The shop ran the length of the floor, with about a third off it closed off as what appeared to be a workshop at one end. The toys strewn around were not of any particular vintage – all in various states of repair and disrepair. I did not see other antique Felix dolls.

An elderly man greeted me and I showed him the patient. Felix is held together by a wire armature – his arms and legs are meant to move. The armature was so very old, and rusty, that it had broken. The man took Felix and told me he would have a look and he would let me know how he would proceed.

This Felix was one of my early indulgences. It was in the relatively early days of eBay (I was just congratulated on my 17th year on eBay by them – I was relieved that they didn’t show me how much I have spent in that time) and this was the first time I saw this model of Felix and I had to have him. I paid fairly dearly as a result, but had a very deep affection for his real weirdness. I believe he is a Chad Valley made toy – as is my recent Christmas gift from Kim featured in Felix as Cat written several months back. Years after purchasing him, when they had become a bit more ubiquitous on eBay, I was at a grand antique toy market in Atlantic City and saw someone selling an entire basket full of them! The El Dorado of a certain kind of Felix. She said that they were prizes at fairs in Britain. I have never really agreed with that, I believe the quality is too high and they were only purchased as toys, but more on that another time.

When I was summoned to discuss the nature of the repair, I brought Kim with me, figuring that he would appreciate the unusual nature of the enterprise. The elderly doll doc went through his plan for a meticulous rebuilding of the armature. The fee would be somewhat astronomical. I can’t remember what I suggested he might do that would be more simple – I suspect I pointed out that the arms no longer needed to move, as we don’t actually play with him much, and instead just re-attached. The toy doc looked at me and intoned, “No! I must do what is right for the doll!” Of course, in the end, I meekly agreed and Felix was restored to his original glory there. I paid more for the repair than I had for Felix, but of course it was worth it to have him back – the integrity of his moving pieces intact.

Looking back on it, I feel that the fee included the price of admission to one of those dying New York curiousities, ultimately a victim to the toy doc’s advanced age and ever-rising rents. Sadly it was gone a few years after that, a nail salon in it’s place.


Felix from the side – note his hump back!

Felix…the Bad and the Ugly

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: One part of my toy collection that got packed earlier today was this stash of what I call Fraken-Felixes. Their sheer strangeness is what attracted me and I didn’t pay much for them. I don’t know what it is, but the stranger the Felix the stronger my affinity and these are certainly odd. There’s something wonderful about the blue eyes applied to the Felix at the top, and I contemplate (perhaps as a retirement project in years to come?) what I might do to bring these other two back to a semblance of respectability.

Sadly, I am not gifted in this area. Growing up I ruined every sewing machine bobbin I ever came near – to the extreme displeasure of many a Home Ec (and shop!) teacher. My sister, Loren, did teach herself to sew fairly well. (She was the exception however – I do not believe I ever saw my mother so much as sew a button on, although I have memories of my mother’s mother hemming the occasional thing.) If these are skills that are genetically passed I was bound to be challenged or at least limited. Other than an uncle who makes furniture and repairs electronics with skill (as did his father) we are a long line of artistic people who are somewhat inept in the areas of actual construction and repair.

Still, I do think that maybe even I can figure out an ear here or an eye there? New arms and tails will be more complicated though and I remain unsure where to start. I recently acquired a Mickey and a Minnie with severe condition issues as well and I have been contemplating what might be done to at least stabilize them. There’s a Popeye and Wimpy who are best if they stay immobile as well. We will see, but maybe I can challenge my grandfather and uncle and Deitch Studio Toy Hospital will emerge as my future calling.

Big Mickey


Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As many of you who follow our day-to-day on Facebook may already know, we are in the process of packing up our (tiny) apartment so that our ceiling can be ripped out and a new HVAC system installed for our building. In this case, the 15th and 16th floor, the top two, are taking a hit for the rest of the building for a more or less ten weeks. As I write this we are approximately halfway through the packing process. Kim packed books first, those boxes will go on the bottom while boxes of my toys will be piled on top. As a result these posts may cover some as yet not profiled toys as they get packed – and then eventually unpacked. We will be living amongst the boxes in the meanwhile.

This fellow, however, is too large to be packed in a box and will just be carefully wrapped up. He came to me via Hake’s auction as a splendid Christmas gift from Kim in 2011. I did the bidding and he came a bit less expensive than anticipated – perhaps because not everyone is willing to share their home with a Dean’s Rag Mickey Mouse the size of a toddler? In a way I have already examined here (see my recent post A Surprisingly Tiny Felix) I had a bit of dysmorphia when envisioning the size of things I bid on. I knew he was big – but I didn’t realize HOW big until a box the size of a refrigerator turned up in the apartment a few weeks before Christmas! While a tiny bit freaked out, I was far from disappointed when I opened him on Christmas morning. It was a jolly Christmas indeed.

Unfortunately, I do not know much about him and his history other than that he was some sort of store display. He is not all soft like a toy would be – his head is made of a harder substance. His snout may be paper mache or something similar to that and his feet are weighted to keep him standing.

I treasure my other Dean’s Rag Mickeys which were highlighted in my early post Starting Small with Mice, but my initial commitment to a small collection of mice (to satisfy the cat toys and give them something to do) would not seem to encompass this enormous, charming rodent. Nevertheless, shown below, he guards the foot of our bed and has since his arrival. He will be napping under some covers in the living room shortly however, and the bedroom just will not be the same without him for the duration.


Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!

Pam’s Pictorama: Flashing back to last November, you may remember I posted Just in – a New Aesop’s Fable Doll about an Aesop’s Fable toy I had managed to score for a bargain price on eBay under a poor listing. (For those of you who are uninitiated, these wonderful toys are like hen’s teeth to find. For background on my collection I suggest the former posts, Mine, all mine…at long last and Van Bueren’s Aesop Fables – the Toys, for background.) While researching the November post I turned up an interesting ad for an Aesop Fable doll contest being held in theaters. The ad featured a four foot version of the Countess doll. I offer a refresher of the image below.

Aesop Fable Doll Ad

So you can imagine my stunned delight when a version of The Countess turned up at a Hake’s auction a few weeks ago that claimed to be a theater prize! I have to assume that these were made special for this purpose as she is about 10% smaller than my other Aesop Fable dolls. She is what I call a blond version, instead of black velvet she is yellow. (It confuses me a bit, but I have come to accept that various doll parts seems to have been assembled in random order to make up the dolls. Perhaps this is how they designed the endless cartoon characters in the animation as well.) Her skirt is a fabric I love, with other Aesop Fable characters dancing across the gingham surface. Best of all, under her skirt, written carefully in ink is the following: I’m The Countess and Fox West Theatre – August 20, 1932 – Junior Reed – 1909 – Lucky Number. Can you imagine being the lucky winner on August 20, 1932?

With significant help from Kim, Deitch Studios (Toy Division!) made this magnificent acquisition, beating out several other determined bidders and adding her to my growing collection. Welcome home Countess!





Spirit of the Golden West


Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Of course I had to have this wonderfully whacky card. The giant cat with the curling tail would be enough, but the folks in the strange wizard outfits are also bringing something to the situation. I am interested in the man in front standing with his arms crossed – he’s almost falling out of the photo frame. The old blanket on the horse and the get up of the rider sets the tone too – and June or not, Portland is still looking a tad chilly and I am not seeing a lot of roses.

In the early days of this blog I opined several times on the evident greatness of early photos of Portland, Oregon as well represented in my collection. Among these Felix on Parade figured prominently, but Tom the Fire Boat Cat is a contender too.

However, it was researching this really splendid new card that I began to find out about the Portland Rose parade and the history of the parade and the roses. Evidently the parade started in 1905 when the mayor, Harry Lane, got the idea for a parade honoring Portland as The Rose City at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition – the first was held in 1907 and the parade, which was always held in June signaled the beginning of summer. Below is an excerpt from a website about the Rosarians which talks about the 1909 parade:

1909-In June, at high Noon, Rex Oregonus again coming up the majestic Willamette River from the greatest sea of them all, stepped ashore at the Stark Street wharf, masked and mantled in mystery, this time without a Queen. Great crowds of happy and enthusiastic people greeted his arrival. An epochal crowd, estimated by the press at 150,000, saw the stately floats glide by, among them the Queen of the Nile, the Palace of Perfume, King of the Artics, Fountain of Youth, Queen of the Flowers, and Father Time. The festival’s floats achieved national fame for beauty and cleverness of design. (See more at: The Royal Rosarians – The Early Years)

Roses aside – what about the use of black cats in the festival? In my post Cats on Parade I feature a card from this parade that is a bit a bit later than this one from 1909. That one seemed to be from about 1915 and in that image the black cats were riding in the car! Today’s card may provide a clue. Written on the back in a very neat hand is the following: Dear Mary – This is a floral representing the Fraternal Order of Hoo-Hoos, whose symbol is a black cat. Yours with best wishes, Tom (It was not mailed.)

This leads, obviously, to the question of who the Hoo-Hoos are and what’s with the black cat? The International Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo (according to Wikipedia) was founded in 1892 as young men’s fraternal organization for those associated (at least broadly) with the lumber industry, or forestry. (Men only – 21 or older originally. Now you can be 18 or older – I am fuzzy on the admission of women.) Their symbol is a black cat with the tail curled into a #9. Sadly, the story behind the cat remains shrouded in the mystery of the Hoo-Hoos. I have, however, supplied a copy of their symbol below – and even better, an early photo of the Seattle lodge with, yes, if you look carefully, a pair of black cats guarding the door!




Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a complicated relationship with posed cat photos. I find a lot of them (think cat weddings, cat hanging laundry, cats using a short-wave radio type Harry Whittier Frees photos) smarmy and the cats vaguely drugged and tormented looking. However, once in a while Frees and his wanna be’s hit it on the nose for me. (See a past post, Flying Dutch Kitties for a favorite example.) These cards by an unidentified photographer are another example.

Although neither card has been mailed, the second one has the following written in a neat script on the back, Mrs. Wm. Durrant, 810 West Fifth St, Plainfield, NJ.

I especially like the first shot – this cat looks nicely set up with the drinks and pipes, paws folded neatly in front of him. The cards seem a shade less than professional somehow and there is no studio marking or numbering system. The cat appears to be a gray tuxedo – a cat who is always in formal wear, by definition. Despite my disparaging of some of the Frees photos, I readily admit to a yen to pop a pair of specs on the kitties, bunny ears – or perhaps a well chosen chapeau. As I have mentioned previously, Kim has rescued the kits from this fate. I know it is undignified, but I can’t help but think it would be so much fun! I almost wonder if this was an early, similar attempt by someone with a well behaved cat.

This kind of dressing the cats up fiesta, always leads me to thinking about the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Dogville Comedy shorts. Made between 1929 and 1931, these shorts, enacted with an all dog cast, usually featured dog-centric remakes of popular recent films of the day. The selection of these on Youtube was a bit thinner than I expected. However, for those of you who have not experienced these before I will recommend you give this group of three a try, Dogville ComediesThe Dogway Melody is perhaps the best of the lot and is the last.

As with the cats posed in the Frees photos, sadly one has to assume not all was happy in Dogland when these were being made. Still, in my mind I imagine instead, a series of Catville shorts with all cat casts – all singing, all dancing cat productions!

To Ruth

s-l1600-9.jpgPam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card takes a few minutes to kick in. I was first attracted by the matching striped cats on either side, tails in the same position like bookends, and nice, white bibs. The mostly white cat seems to be younger and of a different origin, but it’s always hard to tell with cats.

This card was never sent, but written on the back, in a child’s writing in pencil it just says, to Ruth. In my imagination, Ruth was away and missing these kitties. (Maybe because I am just home from a long business trip – and missing my kits!)

Kim says he doesn’t see it, but I clearly see the people taking this photo, reflected in the window. There is a woman, hair up high, behind the larger of the two striped cats, and a harder to see one, perhaps a man, above the smaller one. In this way it becomes a sort of a family portrait. If your cat family is like mine, it is rare enough that three cats gather peacefully together long enough for a photo however. Definitely worth documenting.


I Digress


Art Smith earrings

Art Smith earrings

Pam’s Pictorama: Many years ago, my mother gave me these silver earrings. I don’t have pierced ears and therefore I don’t wear earring frequently, however for a number of years these earrings represented dressed up for me. I don’t remember my mother ever wearing them – she is not, never has been, a wearer of jewelry. I must have inherited my desire to drape myself in precious metals and gem stones from my paternal grandmother (Gertie Butler, as mentioned in my recent post Irving, Gertie and Elliott) because I have no memory of my mother wearing more than her wedding ring with only a few notable exceptions.

Recently while cleaning out some closets and shelves at the ancestral home we uncovered a jewelry box, and one of the things it contained was this interesting silver necklace which matches the earrings. It is one the few pieces of jewelry I remember her wearing although I had not seen it in decades. In the process of cleaning it I realized it was signed by the maker, Art Smith. On a whim I googled the name.

Turns out the Brooklyn Museum had a retrospective of his jewelry in 2011. His partner, Charles Russell, left the museum 21 pieces of jewelry and archival material including his tools, period photographs of models wearing the jewelry, and sketches. According to the site, The Brooklyn born Smith was known for pieces that were occasionally over-sized in scale, but wearable and featured semi-precious stones set in silver and gold.

Trained at Cooper Union, they offer that he was a supporter of black and gay civil rights. He opened his first store on Cornelia Street in the West Village in 1946. It is easy for me to imagine my parents wandering into his store, circa the early 1960’s, and picking out the necklace and earrings for my mother.

I cleaned them lightly (fearfully!) and wore them recently to the opening of the Met’s new location,  The Met Breuer, a building which is celebrating it’s fiftieth year as it enters its latest incarnation as a Met outpost. So here’s a small salute to New York of the 1960’s, and most of all to my mother, who has excellent taste even if she doesn’t often wear jewelry.




Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I found Bugs one day while doing a leisurely stroll through eBay of the kind I (perhaps luckily) rarely  have the chance to do. While looking through the listings for vintage character toys I stumbled on him. No one was showing any interest in him which was surprising for such a nice toy and he was an excellent price. I figured what the heck, and put a more or less minimum bid on him. The next thing I knew, he was mine and he has a place of pride among the cat collection.

In no way was I disappointed – he is a splendid toy in excellent condition. He is made by the M&H Novelty Company, NY, NY and is a Warner Bros. toy. His carrot is detachable with a small hook and eye of which the eye on the carrot side is currently lost. It unfortunately also looks exactly like a variety of catnip carrots I purchase for the kits which is filled with a heady mixture that makes them just insane.

Of course, Bugs Bunny cartoons played an enormous role in my formative years. Whereas a young Kim Deitch was being treated to television runs of silent Aesop’s Fable cartoons, for me it was Bugs, Elmore Fudd and The Road Runner. In some ways this makes me and my generation somewhat deprived by comparison, but nonetheless I retain a deep affection for Bugs. Kim and I agree that Bugs was the first to introduce us to certain early tunes – who can forget him singing about The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady for example? A snatch of As Time Goes By? Warbling a passage from It Can’t Be Wrong. Or singing I dream of Genie with the light brown hare… Kim has pointed out that these are generally tunes used in Warner Bros. movies which does make some sense. Other notable examples, Ain’t We Got FunThere is No Place Like Home (Be it every so crumbly, there’s no place like Rome…) and You Ought to be in Pictures to name a few.

Meanwhile, a quick internet search reminds me that while Bugs would memorably sing snatches of popular music, his roots in classical and opera run deep as well. Without drawing it to our attention, Bugs and company introduced us to everything from Wagner (The Flying Dutchman and Pilgrim’s Chorus featured in What’s Opera Doc?) to Strauss, Chopin (who can forget him singing I wish my brother George was here to the tune of the Minute Waltz in Hyde and Hare?) and Rossini.

Bugs thew off one-liners like a Borscht belt comedian, sang, danced and crossed-dressed his way across our televisions in an endless loop where we absorbed and memorized his vaudeville style lessons without realizing we had done so. Suddenly we found ourselves to be nascent adults, reciting whole passages of the cartoons during college drinking games or late-night first dates. There are whole websites devoted just to the music of Bugs Bunny – the lyrics of the popular songs (Looney Lyrics) and another which is devoted just to the classical tunes and opera (15 Pieces of Classical Music That Showed Up in Looney Tunes Cartoons.)

Is it any wonder that when I discovered popular music of the 20’s and 30’s I felt like I had come home? Nope – I was just following my nose down the road where Bugs lead me during my most formative years.