The Boys and Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have periodically opined on how much fun it would be to have your photo taken with a nice Felix the Cat doll and this one looks like a third child in the photo. Felix is such a handy size I wonder if it is a prop (probably) or actually belongs to these youngsters. I know if it was I as a tiny tot, I’d have been bellowing for him to come home with me; greedy, thankless child that I was. These two kids look quite jolly, the older one downright debonair – perhaps best not to meet him as a gent (or cad) around town later in life. The younger one appears to be trimmed out in fur which seems all odd from today’s standards. Even in our own decadent times – fur trimmed outfit for your toddler?

This photo seems like the sort of studio shot taken for the purpose of eventually ending up on grandma’s table of treasured family photos. My mother’s mom had studio portraits, large ones, of my mother and her brother, both in graduation cap and gowns, as I remember. The one of my mother had hand colored tinting, and it was the first time I ever saw that in a photo. As a kid I was endlessly fascinated by it. I can see it in my mind now, hanging in the dining room (housing a table which occasionally held food, but we absolutely never ate at – that was done in the kitchen with a table and space which both somehow magically expanded to fit an infinite number of family members as required) on a flocked print wallpaper, gray with a green design. The photo did not look like my mother, mostly because her nose was broken and not set properly shortly after high school when the photo was taken. I didn’t know that until I was older and wouldn’t have thought to ask for an explanation for the transformation. My uncle looked exactly the same – his Howdy Dowdy resemblance following him into adulthood and beyond. As the younger brother his photo was true color and his bright red hair and freckles stood out.

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into a nursing facility, much was disposed of and a small number of things were absorbed by my mother and uncle – who by that time was living down south, but collected a number of things. I do not know what happened to the photos, my mother was not overly fond of hers so she clearly did not claim them. I do not know if my uncle did. I must think to ask my mother when I call her later today.

 

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Canton Ohio Photo Studio

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a sweet and interesting photo. The gentleman on the right appears to be in a WWI uniform – are they brothers? A fair guess that they are. The idea that that they posed this photo with their cat is of course extremely compelling for me. Nothing is written on this card and it was never sent. It is oddly filthy, with dirty fingerprints both front and back. Now that I have photographed it I will see about cleaning it, but am afraid I might damage it. Not like I know much about that sort of thing. These gentlemen pose in front of a faded background scene, their sharp shadows belying any illusion of realism.

Of course if I were to take a photo before leaving for war, of those dearest to me it would include my kits as well as my humans. This fellow was of course transported to said photo studio, M. Mimi’s to be precise, for this purpose. (I have my doubts about the quality of M. Mimi’s work, I must admit.) Those of us who live with cats are aware that, while the level of distress varies from feline to feline, in general they do not approve of involuntary locomotion and their distress runs from what I call end-of-the-world meows to mere dark muttering of malcontent.

I understand that some people have cats that travel contentedly (don’t look so smug!), but I have never been acquainted with one of those well adjusted fellows, not in my many cat relationships. Cookie and Blackie do not transport especially happily, but they are far from the worst felines I have known in this regard. When they were oh-so-tiny we transported them together in one carrier. This seems utterly impossible to imagine now. Anyway, I will assume that the cat’s appearance in this photo was a non-negotiable issue. Perhaps a copy of the picture went with the soldier and this one stayed here, as did the cat.

While I have often noted the tendency for people to grab their cat when they are being photographed, the idea of a posed portrait with one is much more unusual. In this case they had to also convince puss to sit still for the moment – and he or she did as it isn’t blurred at all. It’s odd, but the cat seems to be taking it seriously. In fact, all three are pretty serious. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe he has a cigarette in his left hand, uniform of the day pulling in some places, prescribed bagginess in others.

The man in the overcoat is a bit unusual as well, at least by today’s standards. He has kept this very long coat, hat and his gloves on for the photo. Under it he sports a full suit and tie, scarf. He smokes a cigarette. Unlike the cat he seems to be in a bit of a rush and they are awkward in their pose, not quite touching. The story is forgotten as far as we know, but the photo will be cared for to the best of our abilities at its current resting place here at Pictorama.

Tea, Oil, Milk

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This mystifying little photo was one of the more random purchases at my postcard convention foray a few months back. These gents seem to be enjoying a private joke of sorts with their marked bottles of booze, tea, oil, milk – those on the table and the presumably dead soldiers (which appear to be champagne bottles) on the ground around it. There is nothing written on the reverse of the card and it was never mailed. It is a bit amateurish with the feet on one cut off and his head grazing the top of the frame, but it is very jolly and even sort of ambitious in its own way.

It’s a silly little postcard, but in some regards it illustrates what I love about this period of photography. Photography was novel enough that people would take the trouble to put together a whole scenario and pose for such photos. A statement of themselves and of purpose as such. In this case it is about boozing for these somewhat formally attired gentlemen represent their beverages as tea and milk and then the third bottle – of oil. The idea of getting oiled we’ll assume? Google tells me that the term is originally of British origin, for getting drunk of course, and perhaps derived from the thought behind a well oiled machine. Makes me think a bit of Popeye cartoons for some reason, although admittedly there was not booze in those. Although he had Olive Oyl of course, – a special oil, er Oyl unto herself! There was an Oyl family and Olive had siblings named Castor and Crude; my memory is that, for better or worse, they do not play a significant role in the strip however.

The photo postcard phenomena makes up the lion’s share of my collection. Either journeymen photographers who would take the image and presumably send it to the recipient later – or do a fast developing in a, more often than not, worn bucket of developer resulting in a faded image years later. One like this seems more homemade – both in the intention and execution, and I imagine it was a kit or something like a friend with a camera where the photos were sent off to be developed and printed on the postcard stock. We’ll imagine that a merry time was had by all in the making of this photo – meanwhile, it is hard to imagine people setting themselves up to take such a photo today, despite the ease of photo taking and ever present selfies that abound. Perhaps just one way the world is a tiny bit less fun than it once was.

 

Tiny Mug of Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Sometimes I run into Felix items online that just surprise the heck out of me. And after looking at Felix china in various forms for years I thought there will be nothing new – until there is. Not surprisingly, it is often the Felix loving Britons who seem to cough up a surprising new tidbit and today’s purchase is no exception in that regard.

This mug is unmarked, but unlike my prior post Dishing Felix, which featured a bowl I deeply suspected was hand painted, this little item may have been factory made. The Felix is charmingly off model and there is some smudging of the glaze, and when I look very carefully there is a extra daub of blue on the handle. which means even if it was made in a factory, it was likely to have been the product of human hands. (Felix seems to have been a cottage industry there. I imagine lines of early 20th century British women seated and painting scores of these.)

I was quite surprised to discover how small this cup was when it arrived. It is a bit larger than doll size or toy size, more like the size of a cup of espresso, no saucer. There are no factory or maker marks on it anywhere. I especially like the way Felix’s ears and paw touch the lip of the cup, like he is ducking under. His whiskers are jaunty as well and his design seems to be stenciled on rather than painted freehand, like the bowl mentioned above.

If I had hopes of sipping my morning coffee out of this guy, it is disappointingly small, although charming. I don’t remember playing with a tea set when I was little, but think I would have found this cup endearing at any age. It leaves me wondering if there was a full set that went along with it – coffee or teapot, saucers. However, this may have been a sole gewgaw that sat on a shelf, or perhaps someone did indeed drink small bitter coffees from it. Since I am known for wading in deep, plentiful cups of coffee (for an ode to my love of coffee a post about it can be found here at Coffee) this tiny mug will not serve my purposes. If I want to drink my daily joe from an ancient Felix mug I will need to continue my search.

 

Felix mug 2JPG

 

Christmas in July – Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I decided that this summer weekend deserved some cooling down with recent Christmas finds. For many years when I worked at the Metropolitan Museum they had Christmas in July, a preview of the holiday line for the gift and bookshop. It would be set up in our boardroom and senior staff would be invited up to have a look. Anyway, the phrase stuck with me and ignited the holiday feeling with the British Felix card I shared yesterday. (It can be found here). Today’s treasure is a card that I saw a variation of quite awhile ago (same set and different photo? I wish I remembered), but it was priced very high. I snagged this one for considerably less.

Although this was a photo postcard it has traces of photo album paper stuck to the back of it. It does not appear to have been mailed. However, written neatly on it is Erma & Fred from Millard. While I think we can assume that Erma is the little girl perched on this grand beast, who is Fred? Is he dressed up as Santa? (Don’t suppose he could be the reindeer?) If you look carefully Santa is atop a box to make him sufficiently tall for the composition of this photo – and perhaps also to make him a little bit more grand?

If  you look carefully there is a small sign, on a little stand, which reads 1237 – December 1937? or a number to track which photo take this was to attach it to a person later? Of much more interest however are the toys scattered below, including a small Felix doll which is one that I neither own nor have seen previously. The dolls are generic from my perspective, but I say that understanding that perhaps to others they are as fascinating as Felix is to me. It is in some ways a sad and dry little set, yet I bet from Erma’s perspective it was pretty great to be there.

My own family wasn’t one for posed, studio holiday photos. We never sat on Santa’s lap for a photo or to tell him what we wanted for Christmas. We celebrated Christmas (and Hanukah), but in a secular way, and additionally we were never taught to believe in Santa Claus. My mother (raised Christian, but agnostic) thought lying to children about such things was an awful practice and told chagrined stories about her brother leaving the front door wide open on Christmas Eve to accommodate Santa better. My dad, as an atheist and ostensibly Jewish, was extremely ambivalent about the holidays and therefore no unnecessary pageantry was added. (Additionally, my younger brother Edward was born on Christmas Eve so we added a birthday party in there as well.) I don’t believe as a kid I felt like I missed much by not having the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap or to mail lists to the North Pole.  We had a tree, there were toys and big family meals – but alas, no toy-filled Santa photos!

 

 

Christmas in July – Part 1

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: A month or so ago, someone on Facebook sent me some photos via Kim of really unusual Felix Christmas cards. They were not for sale, but on a site where they were on display as part of a collection. I had never seen them or anything like them before and loved their strangeness. I save the images for my own edification (shown here above), but unfortunately have lost both the link and the name of the person who sent them. (Apologies – and if you remind who you are I will happily update this post!) Shortly after, in that way that the universe seems to have sometimes, one of them turned up on eBay, in mint condition although used, and I snatched it up.

These cards are British and there is a tiny embossing at the bottom of the back of this one which says Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd. Publishers to the King & Queen Produced in England with a crest of sorts which is very hard to see. A quick check online tells me that Raphael Tuck and his wife Ernestine, started the business out of their home in Bishop’s Gate in 1866. They received the royal nod in 1893 and carried the royal imprimatur from that point on. Evidently the company rode the crest of the Victorian novelty postcard and book craze and published the likes of my friend Louis Wain. The business stayed in the family, first bringing Raphael’s brothers in, and then Raphael and Ernestine’s sons. It flourished until their headquarters was severely damaged in WWII during the Blitz and, although they stay in business until 1959 they never fully recover.

Also, printed on the back is “Felix – Pathes Famous Film Cat” in tiny black letters. The outer wrapper is the glossy printed image of Felix and the inside is a separate piece of paper – held together by the ribbon like a tiny four page book. The inside is printed on slightly different stock. In case you cannot read it, under the black and white cats it reads, Snice World this! It is not technically the most festive holiday card I have ever seen – the front, Felix gets the Bird! Lucky! anyhow! doesn’t exactly scream Christmas to me. It is a nice, early Felix though, squared off and pointy the way I like him. Those exclamation points emanating from his head are cartoon great and embody his spirit nicely. If it wasn’t for The Compliments of the Season on the inside, and in spite of the jolly red ribbon, we would never know to mail this for the December holidays. This card, in splendid condition, was used and is simply signed on the left, inside, from Frank, in neat script.

inside xmas card

The other cards, supplied from the original link and shown on a loop above, are also super strange images for holiday cards, but nonetheless bear tidings for Christmas and the coming New Year on the inside of each. It almost seems as if the company printed a random series of Felix illustrated outsides and then neatly, if somewhat haphazardly, tied them together with holiday greetings insides. Felix being so popular at the time that appropriateness of message and image mattered not perhaps? In one, Felix with a sort of strange turnip which looks like a monster; Felix wearing a radio headset, and of course mine where he talks to a bird. The messages on the front of each are equally odd, Felix Gets the Bird! Lucky! anyhow! on mine and the others A Turn-up for FelixGood Luck to You! and Cherio! The supporting characters, inside and out, appear to belong to an entirely different inking hand. More mysteries of Felix here to uncover, but jolly for a Christmas in July I think.

 

Rock ‘n Roll Blues

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The ear splitting sound of electric guitar and flashing, colored lights – fans standing and yelling. Radio City Music Hall on a Wednesday night on a chilly, wet summer night. How on earth did this big band girl end up there?

Pictorama readers know I have occasionally taken to reporting on various aspects of my life, and lately that has mostly taken the form of writing about my new job at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As someone whose interest in music has rarely budged beyond a stubborn point after 1940 or so since discovering early jazz and dance band music in college, it gave me some pause to take a job where, by its very nature, I would be immersed in not only contemporary jazz, but all of the decades between.

I was very upfront about this concern throughout my interview process, often declaiming unwarranted into much of the first months of my job, until I realized that in reality most of the people I work with also have strong preferences and being open to things in a general way is the only musical mandate of the job. Over the intervening months on the march through my first year, I have discovered that I really don’t have to love everything. While my ambivalence about be-bop may be shocking to some (it really is) it is true that I don’t have to love everything. For all of that, there has been very little I didn’t at least find interesting – there was one painful night at Dizzy’s with what I will describe as abstract sax, but for the most part it has been an interesting ride.

Therefore, in the spirit of exploration I will try most things and as a result I have learned a lot. So the recent offer of a ticket to hear Steve Miller, who plays a blues program at our venue annually, resulted in a trip to Radio City Music Hall where I have not been in more than a decade. I met him recently and he seems to be a lovely person. His music is sometimes described as an entry point between rock ‘n roll and blues and with this in mind I accepted the offer of a ticket.

My most recent visit to Radio City was to hear the Dalai Lama. The long line and wait to get in for that was sort of epic, although he was fascinating as always and worth the wait. I had not thought about that particular talk in a long time, but it came back to me when I arrived at Radio City on the Wednesday night of my late June vacation. (The only other time I remember being at Radio City was to hear Frank Sinatra shortly before he died. My then boyfriend Kevin, who had the tickets, had gotten the date wrong and we had to rush to the theater, arriving late with the concert underway.)

The flashing lights and shock of the opening act, Peter Frampton, knocked me back even further, to my childhood. After the initial shock, and admittedly thoughts about running immediately from the room, I was surprised to realize oh-my-gosh, buried deep in my brain were many of these songs, as if planted there by aliens. Not all of it, but about a third of what he played kicked off a sound track in my brain, of long forgotten AM radio. (This coming to mind recently with the death of Dan Ingram. DAN’ Ing-ram, his intro playing from another soundtrack in my brain.)

Popular music blared daily from the radio in our sea green Pontiac station wagon, and from the large brown and gold affair of a radio (a bit out-dated even then) atop of our refrigerator – as soon as my sister was tall enough to change the dial from the constant news radio of the day. (WCBS I believe. My mom favored them as her brother worked for the station at the time. News was a family business.) Music of the ’70’s also blared from my bedside clock radio, (the clock radio which I later, if only briefly, discovered jazz on but about that another time), and of course from a series of small Sony transistor radios I kept with me to the extent the batteries held out. Later, in high school, top 40 music would follow me to parties at the beach at night, and ring in each New Year with a countdown of songs. WABC, top 40 radio. Little did I realize that a small tape recorder was going off in my brain and decades later someone would hit the playback switch.

My co-workers filtered in around me shortly before Steve Miller came on. When Steve Miller started the tape recorder revealed a greater knowledge and memory of his music – albums on my sister’s turntable. Then he and Peter Frampton played some blues together, blues of course being what I really came for after all, and I started to get it – not so bad for a big band girl.