Wild Bill

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: These came as a bundle buy on eBay and I gather they had been kept together over the years. The only objection I have to this otherwise great photo is that it is overexposed, which interferes with my ability to study some of the wonderful images a bit closer which I are itching to do. Empress is a common name for a theater (which seems a bit odd if you think about it; I mean, why?) and from a quick search I was not able to locate one with an entrance that matched this so I do not know where it was or is. I only know that this is the Empress Theatre because of a holiday card which was also included in the sale. Hearty Xmas Greetings and Good Wishes – The management of the ‘Empress Theatre’ wishes it’s ever increasing circle of patrons and friends a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year. Unfortunately no address, nor is a year, is indicated; there is nothing on the back as this one was never mailed.

Clearly this theater was very excited about showing the William S. Hart film, Wild Bill Hickok because in addition to the poster with the lobby cards surrounding there is even an extra lobby card hanging in back – and somehow this postcard of him, below, has remained with this photo as well. William S. Hart, who rates near the very top of my list for silent film stars in Westerns, could be shown to better advantage than he is in this photo. He was a good looking guy, but could easily look like he is all nose and oddly proportioned if caught at the wrong angle.

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I wasn’t a big fan of Westerns when I met Kim. I had seen one or two in passing, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and that sort of thing, but despite an interest in early and silent film, did not count a Western among them. Kim quickly took care of that and Westerns of all sorts were daily fare pretty much from the first day we settled into life together. It took me a little while to warm up to them, but eventually the beautiful photography began to intrigue me and soon I too was a fan, especially of the early silents. I love the chance to see long vistas of untouched, wild looking countryside, horses running through them. William S. Hart was one of first I took to and I remember a glorious festival over several days devoted to him at the Museum of the Moving Image where I got a crash course under my belt over a few days. (Kim and I caught up with a few newly restored ones at the Museum of Modern Art a few months ago – they do turn up.) Below is a superior still from the film, Wild Bill Hickok (found at True West Magazine) and a nifty description of everyone in the photo. (Kim brought this one to my attention.)

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Bert Lindley as Wyatt Earp in 1923’s Wild Bill Hickok.
The studio caption reads: “The Dodge City Peace Commission meets the pompous buffalo hide buyers, the silk hat brigade, from Boston.” William S. Hart as Hickok, Jack Gardner as Masterson and Bert Lindley as Earp make up the commission, with unknown actors in the group playing Doc Holliday, Bill Tilghman, Luke Short and Charlie Bassett.

Of course, to my great joy an unidentified Felix cartoon is also playing at this theater and that is what led me to this photo in the first place. It may just be too overexposed to see the title, but I guess not. I think this was their generic Felix poster they put out whenever Felix was the cartoon that day or week.The theater team is a dapper looking group – from the woman with carefully done hair, to the bow-tie wearing gentleman, the older solid citizen who I am going to assume was the manager, and the young squirt with hair combed and a tie as well. That’s today’s tribute to festive theater going in an age past – W.S. Hart films, neatly dressed theater proprietor’s having their photo in front of their glorious entrance, and a holiday card sent to thank their patrons. Although Wild Bill Hickok is out there for viewing, it is not available online. I leave you instead with a jolly early Felix, also from 1923, which may have been shown that day – and no less, look for the cameo by our cowboy in Felix the Cat in Hollywood.

 

 

Feathers, the Fat Cat

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As you can see Feathers is a robust fellow and at 40 pounds an extraordinarily large one. Unlike most fat cats, Feathers seems to wear his weight handsomely and is well proportioned. I have a soft spot (so to speak) for cats with spotty noses and this further endears this guy to me. Interesting, an idle online search on Feathers turned up a fellow blogger (Another Enormous Cat with a Postcard of His Own) who owns this card, but with the added bonus that the writing on the back reveals that the people had actually visited Feathers, then 19 and up to 46 lbs. Go Feathers! Sadly, my card is postally unused without a great tale.

It is impressive that Feathers not only worked his girth up to more than 40 pounds, but also lived to a ripe old age. While my cat Zippy made it to 20 – with diabetes and other issues, and my mother has had several cats live into their 20’s – one would think that the size of the cat would have shortened his lifespan. (I can’t imagine the lecture one would get from a vet today.) Somehow Feathers managed to figure out how to have his cake and eat it too! One wonders if he was already rotund as a kitten as we will assume he was given his moniker of Feathers at a young age.

Longevity among cats seems to be on the rise and it now seems unusual if a cat doesn’t live into its late teens at least. Kim has pointed out that cat life was cheaper when he was young and that it is amazing how much longer they are living in these days of premium cat foods and vet visits. Cookie and Blackie are on what he calls the 20 year plan which includes a rather precise diet as prescribed by our vet who insisted that these kits take a few pounds off. (We are not even allow to speak the words cat treats to these kits.) Cookie in particular curses that day (and the vet) and she is clearly of the opinion that she would rather live well than long, but she does not really get a say in the matter.

I did search, but could not find articles relating to Feathers and his Colorado Springs family, Mr. and Mrs. James George; although clearly, given the evidence of the professional postcard and the family from another state having visited, word about Feathers must have spread via some form of media at the time. However, Feathers is not forgotten and we celebrate his evident long life as well as his place in the pantheon of cats as a very portly puss.

 

“Will write a letter soon…Mother”

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Sometimes I wonder about photos like this – in person it appears to be a homemade photo postcard, although the image did strike me as potentially professional. The bow on the cat, the reflection below – but then again, it is so poorly printed, over exposed and under-developed (Kim has actually given it a bit of a lift in Photoshop and darkened it some). There is the sense that it was some sort of pre-made card with the image supplied by the individual. What a fine looking fellow (or girl?) this is! Such a nice bow and well-defined stripes – if you look carefully you will note an extra toe on the left paw. I have written before about my polydactyl cat, Winkie, (blog post Tom the Bruiser and Good Doggie) and I have long held the view that they are special indeed. (You may remember I mentioned that Winks actually taught herself to use the toilet – my mother woke me up one night to show me and to make sure she wasn’t imagining it.)

For me it is always surprising when someone uses a photo postcard like this and does not refer to the image. You know, “Here’s Kit and we miss you…” sort of thing. Strange. I guess it went without saying that this was Kitty. Did a pile of these sit on her desk? Was it the only one? Instead she has written (sans punctuation), We are all well will write a letter soon hope you are well and having as good weather as we are Mother. It was mailed from Newport on December 18, 1905 at 9:30 AM and received in Louisville, KY on December 20 at an AM time I cannot read. It was addressed to Mr. J. Herbert Shaw, 2510 First Street, Louisville, Kentucky. (Today Google earth shows that as an extraordinarily anonymous brick building, although on a leafy street. I will spare you the image however.)

This postcard lived in a time of US residential mail delivery twice a day – businesses four times. (In Victorian England mail delivery peaked at 12 times a day! Not a wonder that so many postcards come from Britain.) The second residential mail delivery was dropped in 1950. While email today has taken a huge bite out of mail – certainly postcards are an anachronism let alone letters and occasionally those cards I send do take a week to travel from New York to New Jersey – the chattiness of early letters and postcards has returned with email. The snippets of news that my mom and I pass back and forth with our, mostly evening, emails reminds me a bit of these newsy missives. More immediate and without the middle man delivering – but sometimes even with photos of Cookie and Blackie, the grandkits!

Snowy

 

 

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My Snowy at home

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I am, frankly, a bit weak on the Tintin comics in general. I believe Tintin in Tibet might be the only one I have read – and as a traveler to Tibet I enjoyed it greatly. It hit as many of the highlights of Tibet travel as I could have hoped from a comic book and then some. (The Dalai Lama even liked it enough to present it with the Light of Truth award.) In addition, I almost never buy new toys, so it is a bit surprising that while traveling at a mad pace through the South of France on business recently I stopped dead in my tracks over a stuffed Snowy in the window of a store. However, my responsibilities of the moment did not allow for me to break off long enough to go in and investigate, but this is where living in the internet age is a great benefit. I tucked this image into my mind and upon my return home I found him online and Kim, being the very best husband in the world, purchased him for me as an anniversary gift. Snowy took his own good time getting here however and I present him to you now. Don’t you agree that he was worth the trouble?

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Seems that Snowy was on the scene from the first, appearing in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets in January 1921. He was a wry, wise-cracking sidekick with his own balloons of chatter for many years, evidently he gets demoted later in the strip and then only Tintin can read his thoughts. I read that he was inspired by a Fox Terrier at a cafe Hergé frequented, and named (Milou in the French) for his first girlfriend – despite the fact that Snowy is a boy dog and the translation – if that – is a bit mystical. Snowy, although an utterly dependable companion was, like most dogs has an extreme weakness for bones. (Who doesn’t have their Achilles heel?) In addition, I understand that he suffers from arachnophobia – I would prefer my dog (and cat) defend me against multi-legged intruders, but again, no one is perfect and if a dog constantly rescued me from all sorts of peril, saved my life and defended us against enemies many times his size, I could be forgiving on these points. I read that Snowy was known to frequently have a good snort and really tie one on too.

Somehow this toy seems to have the unusual characteristic of really embodying the drawing it is from. I find that is rarely the case – when it comes to Felix I enjoy the wildly off-model nature of the early British ones – but with many toys derived from comics I find it just annoying, especially in contemporary toys. Things are called Krazy Kat that bear no resemblance to even the film version of the character. There is a general disregard for the design of characters – so to find one that has the right spirit and appears to be well made alerted my radar.

Westerns have brought Tintin to Tibet in a big way and his image graces everything from bars to t-shirts, existing in high contrast to things like the Potala. (Until recently Kim was wearing one of these machine embroidered t-shirts with Tintin and Snowy, drawn somewhat free hand, that I brought back years ago.) It goes almost without saying that your average Tibetan has absolutely no idea who or what Tintin is (let alone Snowy), and I have wondered what they make of this persistent symbol of the West, lurking from far beyond their mountain home.

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Potala Palace, Lhasa

Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls and the Moving Picture Girls Novels

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: So I am going to go way off my usual course and take a moment to discuss some early 20th Century series books I have been reading over recent months. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and the availability of some of these books online, I have been able to read many more of these than I ever would have been able (or could have afforded) to do otherwise. I started some of this reading with the Honey Bunch books, but was buying the books which was becoming expensive and taking up considerable room. (I wrote about those in May in my post Honey Bunch.)

I began my online reading adventure with the Grace Harlowe books, first the four volumes covering her high school years and then another five taking place when she and her friends head to college. I have been unable to locate the six books that take Grace to Europe during WWI or the ten devoted to adventures out west, although I would love to at least sample them. The volumes I read were all written by a single author, Josephine Chase, under the name Jessie Graham Flower. (I believe some of the later ones were written by others.) Out of the three series I am talking about today, the adventures of Grace Harlowe were the best written. (I would happily scoop up the remaining books if I could find them.)  Grace and other characters are well define – Grace is sort of a girl’s Frank Merriwell. She is generous, smart and, even when it is at great personal cost, always does the right thing; she is noble. As a result, even those who start out hating her ultimately become her ardent defenders.

These books commence in 1910 and the last of Grace’s pre-war stories is published in 1917. This means it was written in ’16 and while war was on the horizon for the United States, we weren’t in it until April of ’17. Grace Harlowe is very much a young woman of her time, striving toward being a modern woman. However, they are careful with the character, and the most strident ideas – women voting, driving – are expressed through one of her close friends. In that way, Grace can remain a model for everyone. (Grace likes to run and that raises eyebrows – even riding a bike was still strange and questionable for women, as was attending college.) It is an interesting and sobering reminder that the move toward greater freedom and independence for women was not at all a straight line forward. Women were unsure of this path.

A bit more slapdash, but very charming nonetheless, are the six Automobile Girls books published between 1910 and 1913. Written under the name Laura Dent Crane and published by the Henry Altemus Company. I am very glad these have not been lost to the sands of time. Plucky, poor sisters Barbara and Mollie Thurston become friends with the wealthy Ruth Stuart who owns the fabulous motorcar christened Mr. Bubble. The sisters are fatherless and Ruth without a mother, but Ruth has an Aunt Sallie who chaperones the driving adventures. Ruth driving and the girls alone, even with Aunt Sallie in tow, draw considerable consternation throughout these stories. The tension between being a nice girl, but independent and becoming freer, is evident here too. Unlike Grace Harlowe, Ruth Stuart, while generous, very lovable and smart, does not need to embody propriety too – Babs Thurston balances her out somewhat – supplying some of the grit and simpler qualities and values of the time. (I found a postcard which, in a bizarre way, almost illustrates these books and can be found at Buster.)

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Pushing forward a tiny bit is the Moving Picture Girls series of seven books published between 1914 and 1916 by the Stratemeyer Syndicate under the name Laura Lee Hope – the famous pseudonym of the author of the Nancy Drew series. This series depicts the story of the DeVere family, father Hosmer and daughters Ruth and Alice, as they are drawn into the world of silent films in the making. The father, a stage actor, is initially forced into silent films due to a throat ailment (one that does not ever seem to clear during the course of the books) which leads to his daughters acting in them as well. There is a great deal of discussion about stage theater and vaudeville and movies – and the need to justify films as legitimate and those who make them not necessarily “improper” is ongoing.

This series – presumably written by numerous people – is a bit more uneven and the characters have less definition. However, the enormous charm of this book is the contemporaneous descriptions of the making of early films which they take great pleasure in describing. The head of the troupe, Mr. Pertell, takes the Comet Film Company on all sorts of locations and, aside from the occasional non-film related mystery, there are film patents to be protected and even other companies trying to steal shots of the Comet players at work. While this is less pointed about women (there is a bit of a line drawn between these two ‘good’ girl daughters acting and the vaudeville actresses also in the troupe) and their emergence, these cover the changing world as represented by film in its infancy here. It was a time when a couple of hundred dollars and some pluck and you too could set up in the film business.

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As we now know from history, 1917 comes and WWI changes everything, and the sort of wonderful emerging world of the infant 20th century is quickly shaken with massive changes and the world charges forward. For me these books are a portrait of that very vibrant incubation period before the war and especially revealing to see women finding their sea legs in a bold new world.

Sticky Wicket?

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Pam Photo Post: These bizarre Felix photos are like catnip to me and I went to the wall to acquire this one recently, despite its damage. It appears to have been glued into an album (Felix’s family album perhaps?) and somewhat rudely peeled away. It has left it somewhat crinkly. It is a wonderful trick of the camera’s focus (and a tiny croquette set) that makes Felix appear to be human-sized. It was in fact advertised as a child in a Felix costume. I am pretty sure I recognize (and own) the model toy here. (He was featured in the post Toy Hospital earlier this year.)

It is a fascinating photo – it is not a postcard, although it is roughly that size, a bit bigger. It sets my imagination ablaze – what exactly did the photographer have in mind and how did it end up in an album? Who had the doll-sized croquet set if my assumptions are correct? It would have been taken by a canny photographer which, as I mention above, created the illusion. Or am I wrong and it is an extra-large size Felix? It  does remind me of the utterly extraordinary larger-than-life Felixes in my post Greetings from Felix in Kuala Lumpur where he appears to be directing traffic or something along those lines on the streets of the city.

As for croquet – it was well established in the United States by the late 1860’s, although its origin is in Britain. Some folks might be surprised to know that Central Park has long been a permanent home to croquet and lawn bowling societies. Although a very long-standing feature of the Park, I doubt an original one dubbed by Olmsted who preferred only seasonal entertainments and no permanent playgrounds or facilities in his original design. Still, there is something distinctly British about our American man Felix here. As we know, the Brits embraced Felix even more deeply than we in his homeland and indeed, this photograph was wrested from a dealer in Great Britain.

I will seek some advice from friends who restore photos at the Met to see if there is anything to be done for this little beauty – or at least the best way to frame and preserve it from further damage. If we make any significant improvement I promise to a follow up post.

Humpty Dumpty

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Humpty’s tiny tag

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I purchased this fellow at an antique store in Seattle years ago while we were paying a visit to Fantagraphics. I guess I assumed he was a Humpty Dumpty even before finding the three quarters of an old tag at the back of him identifying him as such and also what appears to be Ross and Ross. I think it is safe to say that he is, by all measures, a bit creepy. I was only able to find one other image for a Ross and Ross Humpty Dumpty doll online and I show him below. (I could not find much on the company although it may have ultimately become a contemporary company just called Ross Toys.) The one below is equally (if not more) terrifying and I think fair to assume they are kissin’ cousins. Yikes!

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Another Ross and Ross Humpty Dumpty, not in my collection

 

It is clear mine is a nicely made toy – a wooly sort of felt. His arms and legs are fully articulated for movement, although fragile now. I always vaguely wondered if he didn’t have some sort of Princeton association – black and orange and all, like a reunion gift. I may have even bought him thinking I might give him to my sister. My fellow is a bit more primitive than the fellow in red I would say and his wool picks up all sorts of dirt and bits. His feet and hands were already well nibbled by moth when I bought him. I have done my best to clean him up for a photo – short of taking out the vacuum with attachment, he seemed too fragile even with the attachment. The nursery rhyme sort of bugged me as a kid and really I am not sure what made me buy him except he was so odd, early and well made. I know I didn’t pay much for him, a bit of an impulse purchase of the kind I am most likely to make while traveling. (I hate to regret not buying something in a city far away.)

I also found this Humpty Dumpty below on Pinterest for further comparison – I do not think he is the same maker, the definition of the hands and feet isn’t the same, but definitely more of the genre at the least. What is the SC for I wonder?

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Humpty Dumpty, probably a different maker, from Pinterest

 

So one has to wonder why people were buying these sort of terrifying toys. I mean, who gives this to your kid unless you want to give him or her nightmares? I checked out Humpty Dumpty’s history and discovered two main points – it was never made clear that he was an egg (there is some speculation that perhaps it was a sort of a riddle originally) and also that there were a lot of earlier versions of the rhyme. It was first printed in 1810 and much to my surprise became famous through Alice Through the Looking Glass where he is shown as a creepy egg man – not unlike these here. My favorite variation on the nursery rhyme we grew up with is:

Humpty Dumpty sate [sic] on a wall,
Humpti Dumpti [sic] had a great fall;
Threescore men and threescore more,
Cannot place Humpty dumpty as he was before.

Below I am including this sort of great sheet music I pulled off of Wikipedia. Otherwise, our Humpty will go back on his shelf where he will continue to keep an eye on us, as he has over the last decade or so.

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