Charley’s Aunt

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Poster from the Chicago run, not in Pictorama collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I consider today’s item a real treasure. I found it while trolling idly on the internet and snatched it up. As objects go, it is splendid, a cast metal with some heft to it, about eight inches high. The cat’s expression is great, with an almost but not quite winking eye – a wicked look. His lashing tail, curled precisely around his feet. There is a tiny ring at the base of his collar and I wonder if a small ribbon or something was originally adorning him. There are traces of red on his face and the base and there is something inscribed on the back of his neck I cannot make out. (See below.) The seams on his casting are evident – he was after all inexpensively made. Kitty is perched on a pedestal which is inscribed, Charley’s Aunt 100th Performance Chicago Hooley’s Theater Wednesday July 25th 1894. I do wonder what sort of jolly world Chicago 1894 must have been if you were lucky enough to go to the 100th performance of this play and receive this great cat statuette? My mind boggles at such riches.

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Having said that, I am not entirely sure Charley’s Aunt would be my cuppa tea. However, it clearly has fans. Written by Brandon Thomas, it opened in England in 1892 and it has enjoyed a phenomenal run that first stretched across the Atlantic to Broadway, made its way across this country in theaters, was then snatched up first for a 1915 silent film (rumored anyway, I couldn’t find a trace of it), an extant 1925 film version starring Syd Chaplin, followed by a 1930 early sound and 1941 (Milton Berle in this one) films. Then came musical adaptations and several made-for-television movies proffered through the late 1970’s. (And I am sparing you the litany of foreign versions, numerous in Germany, even one in Egyptian.)

To this day Charley’s Aunt continues to be revived (think dinner theater in suburban NJ) and one review said that continuously, somewhere in the world, it is always playing. Quite simply, as far as I can tell it appears to be an early cross dressing farce which has something to do with men in dresses trying to get engaged and having issues with chaperones.

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Program from the play two days earlier, cat souvenir mentioned!

 

The playwright, Brandon Thomas, hailed from Liverpool originally, born in 1848. He started his professional life in commerce and as an occasional journalist. His real ambition was acting and he realized it, eventually becoming sought after as a character actor. He wrote more than a dozen plays, none with the record breaking appeal of Charley’s Aunt however. He continued acting, mostly in comedy until his death in 1914.

Kim had heard of the play; I had not. He attached it to Oscar Wilde, which was an accurate impulse as they were contemporaries and Charley’s Aunt launched with The Importance of Being Ernest in London and the two are often thought of as a piece. Most notably, I have absolutely no idea why this play is so winningly represented by this grinning feline, both on poster (shown above) and my recently acquired statue. Frankly 100 performances doesn’t seem quite worthy of such outstanding recognition, not to say I am not extremely pleased that it did.

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A barely legible photo of Hooley’s Theater exterior

 

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Frances Bowdon & Josyfeen

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo postcard is of a kind that is just like catnip to those of us at Pictorama who are in charge of purchasing. Frances Bowdon and her cat Jo (short for Josyfeen) is an excuse to stroll down a path of time when radio ruled and the gossip of the day, which filled hard copy newsprint, was devoted to the comings and goings of the likes of the Boswell sisters, discussions on if Russ Columbo was really a tenor, and the interesting news that Paul Whiteman didn’t like to ride in elevators. (This via the December 19, 1931 edition of Radio Guide which appears to have been a weekly publication.) Of course, an interesting photograph of a girl and her cat is enough to pique my interest. But one of the other reasons I enjoy collecting and poking around about these items are these moments of time travel they afford as they lead you down some strange byways that Google hardly even knows it has.

Frankly, Frances Bowdon rated pretty low on this fiesta of radio news and I believe only showed in my searches because radio listings were included and her evening show, fifteen minutes daily except Sunday as noted on the card, of down home mountain talk from what I can discern, appear in the listings. I couldn’t find any little snippets of news about her in the sea of commentary. Ultimately I only found this small article on her shown below, which appeared in the Ithaca Journal, November 20, 1931.

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Sadly for her, Frances did not seem to make enough of a splash in radio that I could easily find tracks of her career much beyond this, although listings here and there for her show seem to wander into the mid ’30’s at least. I do wonder, at a minimum, how this young woman managed to make her cat part of her radio show. In fact, for that matter, I sort of wonder how she got on the radio – but sadly these tidbits do seem to be lost in the morass of time. Her history and what happened to her later is swallowed up. I couldn’t come up with an obit for her.

In my card, if you can read the script at the bottom, she is opining on Jo having moved while taking the photo, although I personally think it isn’t bad for a kitty on the shoulder photo. The card was sent with a commercial indicia so we don’t have a stamp or cancellation for a date, but then appears to have been hand typed and addressed to Miss Flo L. Roland, R.F.D. Kenmore Sta. Dellwood Road, Buffalo, N.Y. (I do wonder how people were chosen as the recipients of such cards – what sort of mailing list was that at the time?)

The writing at the bottom of the card says, R U disapointed n me and Jo? Frances and Joseyfeen P.S. Josy wood move whin the picture was took F. In addition, the card below, which Amazon is evidently selling along with a version of my postcard, sadly, thanks a listener for their condolences on the death of Joseyfeen. (I too am sorry of course to hear of the death of her kitty.)

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I am puzzling a bit over the studied bad spelling on both of these cards. Part of the act and the Ozark’s charm that was being put forth clearly, if a bit heavy handed. I also like the phrase invisible big time from the article above – and also that she asks if the recipient of the card is disappointed in how they look. (She and Jo seem more than passingly attractive to me.) Funny that in some ways the internet is like radio in this way – while imagery does abound, many of us have regular contact with people via things like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook who we generally never see. It is different of course, but recently a few internet friends have had reason to reveal their real names, and even that is a bit surprising if you have been thinking of this person for years as Movies Silently or Popculturizm and suddenly they are Fritzi and Rob. For those of you who didn’t read my fall post Camperdown (found here) I share a recent photo of me and Kim together…just in case you’re wondering!

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Images from the Boathouse, including a bonus one of me and Kim!

Christmas in July – Part 1

Some Felix-y Christmas greetings from earlier this year. Have a Merry Christmas all!

Pam's Pictorama

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…

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And a Merry Christmas to You!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Forgive me as I’m out of order this year as yesterday’s Deitch Studio card post was for New Year’s and this little gem I’ve been hoarding for a couple of months is for Christmas. Devoted readers may know that I am a fan of the photo collage postcard, although I generally collect more primitive examples. (Click on these for examples: Well, wouldn’t this make you exclaim! and the very seasonal, Dawn of a New Year.) However, there is something still goofy and charming about this more mass produced card. This hand drawn young couple, separated by photos of a fluffy and proud looking cat, a happy woman with a tea cup, and a dreamy young girl – surrounded by Christmas decorations – go figure. Clearly someone’s ingredients for a happy holiday. I cannot argue.

This card was mailed from Birmingham, on December 25, 1912. It is addressed in neat penned script to Mifs Lucy Oliver, 139 West Parade, Lincoln. (Our friend Google tells me that Mifs is an early way of writing Miss. Definitely my fact for the day.) In a loopy, but carefully child-written pencil is the message, With love and kisses from Douglas.

The Christmas postcard seems to no longer even be in existence as a genre – the hold on physical cards in general even seems a bit tenuous these days. (Maybe it is just our own popularity flagging, but alas there was a real falling off this year.) Collectors of future decades beware – much as I opine that our digital photos don’t get printed and the physical evidence of this time will be paltry in the future, this is true of cards (photo and otherwise) as well.

I do love receiving fat enveloped cards in the mail this time of the year – I remain a bit of a child-like sucker for the holidays and the trappings of the holidays. I like to see midtown Manhattan all dressed up in holiday finery – Christmas balls, lights and garlands sized appropriately for the home of a giant or giantess hung between buildings or plopped down on their plazas. I love Christmas lights – especially the old-fashioned bubbling ones, but also the newer ice sickle ones. I regret that our studio apartment is too small for even a small tree (I used to have a small, fake one I would cram in here and the cats would sit under it like we’d brought a forest in for them) or much decorating. I am sad when it all comes down in January, which therefore seems very dull.

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Holiday decorations on a plaza near Rockefeller Center earlier this week.

 

For a fundraiser, the last week’s of the calendar year also represent a balancing act between festive celebration (our Big Band Holiday concert has its last performance this afternoon), while turning our hand to getting the last of the calendar year-end gifts into our coffers. It is a busy time. More on that as the New Year draws near in Pictorama’s next post, poised to ring in 2019. For now – Merry Christmas to all!

 

Best Wishes for the New Year!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: 2018 is being rapidly ushered out the door and today I offer the annual Deitch Studio-meets-Pictorama card reveal. When I designed this year’s card I am not sure I was thinking about making it a New Year’s card, but it seemed to make itself and that’s what it turned out to be. Frankly 2018 was a tough year and I am not sorry to see the hind end of it – good riddance! Meanwhile, this was a rare season when I had an idea for the card and I pretty much sat down and out it came, exactly as I was imagining it. Kim, already deeply immersed in his new book, made some adjustments and inked it up and here we are – ta-dah!

If anyone reading this is post is new, welcome to this Deitch Studio annual tradition. Kim and I have collaborated on a holiday card since the first year we started dating. (May I note, such was the thrall I held over him, even in those nascent days, since it turns out that in reality he isn’t a fan of Christmas in the least.) Anyway, that makes 24 cards. We cannot seem to locate anyone who has good ‘ole number one which we hand colored. (Kim is rumored to have one in his files – somewhere.) By the second year we started rolling them out to a wider audience and a bit more efficiently. The card is generally drawn the day after Thanksgiving – although executed more expeditiously some years than others. I always start the card. Some years Kim adds more, some years less. Generally speaking we each draw ourselves, although this year Kim remains sort of Pam-esque as Kim Deitch fans may note. (Some former card reveals can be found by clicking on: Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio! and Merry Christmas 2015.)

The boat theme is a nod to my father who liked to sail. Born a city boy, something about sailing always intrigued him and throughout my childhood he always kept a sailboat, docked or moored in the river behind where we lived. Since he grew up in Washington Heights, I have no idea of the origins of his love of being on the water. My sister Loren got the sailing bug from him and she and her husband devoted much of their free time, summer and fall, to sailing. I, on the other hand, did not. While I am not as bad as my mother who, despite being the daughter of a fisherman and repairer of outboard motors, goes a bit green just watching a boat bob up and down in the water, I cannot sail a boat any more than I can drive a car. I see the appeal – the quiet of being on the water under sail can be thrilling and beautiful. (My father and sister were both overwhelmingly impressed that I had several trips on the enormous sailboat the Sea Cloud II when working at the Met and it was pretty amazing!) However, the time and money that one needs to devote to this pastime is beyond me and my somewhat inadequate swimming skills mean that I was never destined to be a fan.

One of my father’s trips to the hospital last year landed him in a room with a beautiful view of the Navesink river – we lived on the other side of town on the Shrewsbury river, but both rivers are lovely, if somewhat different. The hospital is built along the river and the views of it seem to be a more or less luck of the draw situation and we won the lottery that time. We looked out and talked a bit about how we’d rather be out on the water sailing than sitting in that room. I think I was thinking of that a bit when drawing this year. I plunked a sailor’s wool cap on my character’s head like dad wore in winter, and set Kim, me and the cats in this tiny vessel sailing and looking forward to the New Year, leaving 2018 behind.

Tin Hats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I stumbled onto this photo, somewhat outside of my usual bailiwick of cats and toys, and purchased it for its slice of life from the past quality. The woman is identified on the back where, despite evidence that it was pulled from a photo album, the neat pencil writing is still legible, April 1927 Marion Goodall 1495. West Adams Street. 

Marion, in her best bib and tucker, stands next to lobby cards for Tin Hats which, according the the IMDB database was a WWI comedy, made in 1926 starring Conrad Nagel and Claire Windsor. Although partially lost there is a rather detailed outline of the plot penned by a devoted individual who took the time to do so. (The author had seen some of it and filled in with a period description.) Roughly, it is a comedy farce that follows three soldiers who somehow get separated from their army unit in France just as the armistice is signed, and acquire bikes as a mode of catching up to them. Along the way, one falls in love with a German woman, they drink a lot of beer, and are hailed as heroes of the Occupying force (yes, there was a time when the French were really happy to have us there) and essentially have a jolly time of it. Spoiler alert – everyone gets happily married in the end.

Tin Hats was directed by Edward Sedgwick and his sister Eileen has a lesser role, as a second love interest. As an aside, Eileen’s twin sister was Josie Sedgwick who was a bit more of a rip roarin’ good time according to Kim. (A morning discussion about the merits of Josie is taking place as I write this.) The twin girls were born in Galveston, Texas on March 13, 1898 to a theatrical family which had a vaudeville act which ultimately incorporated the children, The Five Sedgwicks. While the girls were eventually plucked from the act, Edward on the other hand completed a university degree, went to a military academy, and contemplated a career in the military, before deciding to follow the family path into the theater and films as a director. Although Eileen made more than a hundred films (mostly serials) neither of the twins makes the transition into sound. Josie ultimately opened a talent agency. Eileen lives to be 93. Edward continued to work as a director however, until the 1950’s. His last listed credit is an episode of I Love Lucy in 1953.

Meanwhile, Marion Goodall’s interest in being photographed with these lobby cards is now lost to us. In her strappy shoes, good coat and with her marcel curled hair, she is indeed a snapshot of a woman of her time. More and more I notice silent films that are slipping into the category of having been made 100 years, or more, ago and even in my lifetime that seems amazing. It didn’t seem like they were made all that long ago when I started watching them with my dad in the 1970’s. These films, photos and music of the time remain little time capsules, ready to transport us back in time, at least for the flicker of a moment and these days at the touch of an internet button.

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s card arrives from the shores of France, although it appears to hail originally from Marienbad, a town of film fame and described as a Czech spa town by our friends at Wikipedia. (It is embossed with a photo studio name, as well as Marienbad, which I can’t quite read in the upper left corner.) It was, of course, the small and somewhat odd Felix toy in the foreground that brought it to my attention initially.

However, it was the seriousness of this fellow (or gal) posed here with Felix, ball held under one paw, that made me acquire it for the Pictorama archive. This is a formal portrait of Fido, beloved pup, and from the quality of it a high-end pro production, my guess is that it dates not much earlier than the 1930’s. Of course, the evidence of Felix being featured might point a bit earlier, although that is a pretty off-model version of the great cartoon cat. There’s no writing on this card and it was never sent – it is pristine. Marienbad, it seems, was a high end resort before the WWII, but suffered after and fell on hard times. I would guess this photo was the endeavor of a fairly wealthy person from whenever it was executed.

Much of the Pictorama photo collection is made up of attempts, good and bad but always sincere, to document beloved pets – those folks who scoop them up for a photo, or who tried to capture them from the early days of daguerreotype and tintype forward. The earlier methods of photography were of course less effective to catch an impatient puss or restless dog. The sweet spot of the photos I have amassed is largely the photo postcard, of which this belongs to the high end studio version. I see fewer early studio portraits of cats and dogs than I would imagine really. 

I believe I have mentioned that here on the east side of Manhattan I occasionally walk past a photo studio that features some animal portraits in their window, right next to charming photos of babies, small children and pregnant women. Of course dogs are much more likely to be hauled over to a photo studio for a portrait. The idea of loading Cookie and Blackie into carriers and finding them photo ready on the other side of that trip is not at all palatable or likely – and I will assume that our cats are not alone in that regard. My guess is that both the little Felix and the ball are the photographer’s props, not beloved objects of this pooch. However, I think that the sweet look in his or her eyes was all about pleasing a master, just on the other side of the camera – posing as requested, but happily trotting home after it was all done.