Pigeon

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s joyfully back to toys today and I have been sitting on this beauty for a few weeks, waiting for the chance to share him with you all. Those very devoted early readers may remember a post about pigeons (which can be found here) where I first mentioned my fondness for the fine feathered fellows. Despite quite bad publicity here (rats with wings, etc.) I remain their champion.

Pigeons live quietly among us here, rarely kicking up a fuss, eliminating tons of garbage annually by consuming as their daily repast. For most New Yorkers they are ubiquitous fellow denizens, thought of with derision if thought about at all. However Kim and I share an affection for pigeons and I have always appreciated that I could point out a particularly nice one or pair to him for admiration. (There are some commonalities that married couples should share in my opinion and a fondness for pigeons is one is one in our case.) I have told this story before, but I love the idea that when Kim was a child and first came to New York he thrilled to find these birds just walking sedately among the humans.

When I worked at the Met I had a nesting pair out my window which returned over several years. I worried about them as we had many hawks nesting in the rooftops there as well. Whenever I saw one without the other I hoped for the best. Their nest was not visible, further down the glorified airshaft that I overlooked. I understand that they are casual nesters at best, eggs frequently lost or broken. As all New Yorkers know, they largely manage to nest out of sight and nests, eggs and baby pigeons are rarely on view.

While researching this I did find a rather delightful story from 2017 about a woman in Greenwich Village who returned home from vacation to find a pigeon nesting in the pasta strainer in her kitchen. She allowed her to stay and created an Instagram account for her. The story can be found here. Evidently young pigeons are almost adult size by the time they leave the nest and then blend with the adults, leading to the idea that we never see young pigeons. (It is said that they are identifiable by a patch of downy feathers at the back of their neck.)

When I saw this tin pigeon on auction I must say I immediately set my cap for it. Luckily for me and the old bank account, only one or two other folks had interest and I didn’t end up going to the wall to acquire him. He is marked VEBE on his chest, which appears to be one of the divisions of a French toy company Victor Bonnet. I couldn’t find out much about the company other than they produced high end friction and wind-up toys from early to mid-20th century. With a few exceptions, they seem to have made beautiful race cars and trucks – and pigeons. The pigeons appear to have been made in the early 1950’s and a number of them are extant, although generally much more beat-up than mine. (Children played hard with their pigeons I gather.)

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I thought this was a friction toy when I purchased him, but upon examination he turns out to be a wind-up. He was sold without a key but I found one in my collection that works, and he has a wonderful life-like pigeon head motion, life-like enough to capture Cookie’s attention this morning. I find his practical and almost industrial design very satisfying. If he only cooed he would be perfect indeed. For a quick look at his motion have a look below.

 

The concept of the homing pigeon, housed atop a New York apartment building has long lived in my imagination, fueled by period films. And as it is Memorial Day weekend I close with the reminder of how these birds, carrier pigeons, did military service in WWI and WWII carrying wartime messages across enemy lines. In fact, their military service did not end until about 1957. So consider a salute when you pass a pigeon on the street this weekend – his or her fine feathered forefathers did their bit too.

Under My Skin

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Another evening at Dizzy’s

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Much to my surprise, today seems to be a day when I decide to let the toys and photos pile up for another day and instead give Pictorama readers a few thoughts I have been mulling over recently. I recently hit the two year mark at my job, which after thirty years at the Met remains feeling “new” to me.  I will consider this a two year check-in for those who are counting and have been following.

I have come to realize that spring is an especially tough time at this job – struggling to make budget (fiscal year ends with financial reckoning on June 30) while taking out our crystal ball and doing our best estimate of income for the coming year at the same time. A clutch of important events culminate in these weeks, kicked off by our Gala and ending with our final concerts in June, and 24 hours and seven days do not seem to be enough time to get it all done.

Not surprisingly, after almost countless late work nights, much budget fretting mostly at 3 AM on sleepless nights, and weekends worked, I fell prey to not one, but two viruses making their way through our office. The stomach version utterly flattened me and resulted in Kim quietly but firmly urging me (peeling me off the bed and then escorting me) to the urgent care facility down the street after 24 hours without improvement. The second of the one-two punch virus is a head and chest cold. (Faithful readers know I was battling this when we arrived at the Meadowlands last week for the East Coast Comics Convention – that post here. It grew into a proper cold and knocked me out on Sunday and Monday.) I continue to sniffle and cough as I type this.

Like all foolish mortals, I thought I had this cold on the run after three days of relative care and corresponding improvement – better known as willing it away. Wednesday night I attended a gala event in honor of a board member who has been extremely helpful and nice. It wasn’t a late night but much to my dismay, although I guess not surprising, I woke up Thursday feeling lousy again. The work day was devoted largely to doing the stressful final edits for an enormously important and detailed grant proposal between meetings, and the day was to end at our club Dizzy’s. It was a performance, the Bill Charlap trio, which I had looked forward to and a dozen guests were booked to come to dinner. Enormous downpours and thunderstorms throughout the day, along with increased coughing and cold laden wuzzy-headedness, did not improve my state (mental or physical), and really home in bed was the only desirable, albeit unobtainable, conclusion to the day.

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A daytime, nearby view of Columbus Circle from a similar perch near Dizzy’s, snapped on a recent day.

 

However, a dozen guests for dinner is not something easily ignored and I did my best to rally as I headed over to the club after work, tributaries of water like streams overwhelming storm drains, a tentative and watery sun finally making a late day appearance. A less than promising start to the evening, however no one canceled and the night began to unfurl. The guests, almost all people I was meeting for the first time, arrived and they were all lovely and interesting. None of them knew each other but in a rare bit of chemistry they immediately clicked with us and each other. Something unexpected started to happen. Suddenly conversation was lively and sparking across the table. The sun grew bolder as it started to set, the way it sometimes seems to do, and we were treated to the reflection of it reaching across Central Park as it melted downward. Drinks in hand, a first course was passed family style around the table and the evening was off and running.

Then Mr. Charlap and the two Mr. Washingtons, on (Peter) bass and (Kenny) drums respectively, came out and started to play. Slowly the room began to fall under the spell of the music, a sense of enchantment and elation stole over us. It was the music, the view, the food – a uniquely New York moment someone said later. Everything else melted away. Listening to the opening bars of Stardust, with a mouthful of very good, hot and gooey macaroni and cheese, looking out over the room and the stunning view of late spring Central Park, when an extraordinary sense of well-being washed over me. One has those moments of knowing that you are in exactly the right time and place that you should be and that you are fortunate to be there. (The best I can offer is a Youtube clip of Bill Charlap playing Stardust but with a vocal can be found here.)

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Kenny Washington, Bill Charlap and Peter Washington, far right

 

As I looked at both our guests and my colleagues at the table, and across the room, I realized that sometimes sharing music in this way is incredibly intimate. The woman on my right, a writer, was so inspired that she had grabbed a menu and was jotting notes on it. I understood the inclination. Each person was off in their own world listening, some with eyes closed ecstatically, others looking off in their own way, a few of us tapping our feet or swaying gently with approval and connection.

At that moment I reflected on whether or not there were experiences at the Met which were similar. As much as I deeply loved spending time with people looking at art I am not sure there is a parallel experience – such an intimate, shared experience.

When I think about the Museum and my many years there I remember good times and bad, and many wonderful moments as well as ongoing challenges met. However, it did not have the dramatic highs and lows of this job – often coming at the same time. Frankly, this job is like riding one of the bucking broncos on Kim’s beloved westerns. And I often wonder if I am built for the ride, barely hanging on it seems, having always been a sort of even keel person myself – an innate cat-like in a desire for the sameness of daily routine and organization. I cannot say I am comfortable with it (as my exhaustion and virus prone season prove) and yet, as the title of this post suggests, it has gotten under my skin. I wrestle with this – as frankly do those who are closest to me (ask Kim and my mom) – and wonder if I am running too hard and fast to sustain. Meanwhile, Thursday night I remember thinking to myself, was a typical day at Jazz at Lincoln Center – amazing and unpredictable peaks and pain, amazing and all stuffed into fourteen or so waking hours, one in a string of many.

Steiff

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I think it is fair to say that given any opportunity where I might ferret out a Pictorama worthy toy I am likely to achieve. After the first five minutes at yesterday’s East Coast Comic Con (Deitch Studio was fully represented and I did a somewhat real time post of our day which can be found here – for those of you who are wondering the cold I was fighting bloomed overnight, now complete with chesty baritone cough) I rapidly assessed it as not the kind of gathering that would produce much antique toy fodder. While I was generally right about that, I did find this little guy stuffed away on a shelf while Kim and I took a break wandering the con.

This little bear breaks several of the Pictorama essential guiding principles of toy purchase: he’s a teddy bear (I own very few and I have written about those here), made by the Steiff company, and a reproduction. Don’t get me wrong, teddy bears are wonderful and it is only because they are such a deep rabbit hole to go down that I generally have excluded them as potentially overwhelming my limited resources of space and funds. (Some early examples of Steiff bears have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, but I could easily do a lot of damage at the hundreds of dollars level myself.) I have seen several that would indeed tempt me, but fortunately I generally don’t run across those rarified items and do not go looking for them.

If I did buy teddy bears many would actually probably be Steiff, as I have always felt that somehow the antique Steiff produced bears have an extraordinarily life-like and human look in their eye. They are unquestionably, beautifully made. For those of you who aren’t in the toy know, Steiff is sort of the gold standard of early stuffed toys, marked by a metal button and tag in the left ear of the toy. Started in Germany in 1880 by a Margarete Steiff, a seamstress who created a line of elephant pincushions which evolved into toys, Steiff evolved into a world renown toy maker. Margarete’s own story is an interesting one of perseverance as she was left paralyzed and never walked after an infantile illness.

With the help of her siblings and others Margarete attended school and ultimately bought a sewing machine, starting her own tailoring business which morphed into plush toys. A favorite nephew drew animals at the zoo for designs (hence the elephant and then the introduction of other animals) and his bear was turned into a plush toy, purchased in volume by an American company. It was this mohair fellow that was, in 1906, then christened the Teddy Bear in honor of Teddy Roosevelt. The toy company, whose motto was, Für Kinder ist nur das Beste gut genug! – for children, only the best is good enough! Well over a hundred years later the company still thrives today. (There is a strange and wonderful silent short from the teens where Steiff bears are animated into a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story – the toy bears are shot at the end by a Roosevelt-like character.)

So, now my Pictorama friends are wondering, why isn’t my collection chock a block full of Steiff cats? They did indeed make cats, including one model of my friend Felix, which has long eluded me as a very expensive item. Strangely, while I find the teddy bears very alluring and compelling, I have never been that charmed by their cats. A few small examples have wandered into my collection and I posted about them once before. (That post can be found here.) However, there is not much variation and somehow they lack an essential humanity (so to speak) of some of the bears.

Lastly, I rarely buy contemporary toys. The quality and sometimes patina of old toys is generally what interests me and I am rarely charmed by new toys. I have occasionally made exceptions however, for something especially well made or otherwise compelling. (I made an exception for a few toys by a company called Hansa which makes beautiful toys representing a vast variety of animals. I own a rooster and a beaver and my post about them can be found here – definitely an avenue of collecting that could easily swamp my resources!)

I have been aware of this line of reproduction Steiff bears. These were expensive toys when they were sold new and used fetch a generous amounts in resale too, as much as a few hundred dollars. I had never seen one in person and frankly I was amazed at how well the reproduction matches the quality and feeling of the original toys. Steiff was clearly aware that their reproduction was good enough to fool a casual observer and therefore it is well marked with its ear tag as a coll ed 1987 replica 1913.

According to the tag which Steiff used mohair and traditional (kapok) stuffing, pads of felt, as well as hand embroidery. As someone who handles antique toys daily, for me he truly has the look, feel and heft of an original toy – slightly prickly mohair and all. I am very impressed with all aspects of him. His arms and legs move independently, although his head does not turn. The label mentions a voice box which I find no evidence of – neither functionally, nor can I locate by feeling his body.

As I mentioned, he has his original tag with some history as well as his ear tag. Our fellow is identified as a Circus Bear. He was available in a selection of colors; green and yellow variations are available online, but a photo shows blue and red too. For the princely sum of $30 Kim purchased him for me yesterday and now he resides in the Pictorama collection, welcomed among his antique and largely feline brethren.

Comic Con: On the Road in NJ

From the car on leaving the west side this AM.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an unusual and somewhat experimental post as I attempt to take you on the road with us to the East Coast Comic Con this morning. As I sit in our Manhattan apartment, pajama clad, sipping coffee and pounding a green smoothie, it is a bright sunny day. In less than two hours we will hop in a car (hired driver – we are a non-driving couple, something largely only found in New York City) and leave the island as a former boyfriend used to say. As a Jersey girl myself it is a trip to the Motherland, not that I have more than a passing acquaintance with Secaucus, but Jersey is Jersey.

Kim is a guest signing books and on a panel for this comic con and I am tagging along to spend the day basking in the glow of being Mrs. Kim Deitch. Unfortunately, I have a nascent chest cold blossoming. Hopefully it will not impede me for a day of poking around comics. There’s a rumor that there may even be toys. For now I am tossing down some coffee and scrounging around the kitchen for a fulsome breakfast for the road. Prepare for some comics geeking out today.

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Paul Karasik, Peter Bagge, Kim and The Pam of Pictorama

I have some experience with Comic Cons by now. If they are here in NY I will often trek over toward the end to help Kim pack up and have a fast look around. I usually arrive to find a line of, mostly, men and boys lined up with books in hand, from the well worn to the just purchased. On many occasions I man the box of original art for sale, keeping an eye on it and also plying our wares. I am bad cop when it comes to selling, driving harder bargains and reluctant to drop prices.

It is safe to say that when I hooked up with my hubby I had not considered the question of fans. Now, please understand, I consider myself the Queen of the Kim Deitch fans so I certainly understood that such a thing existed, however as a girlfriend or spouse it is something to consider when a sort of ongoing line of female fans appears online, at cons or even occasionally in your home. I consider myself pretty easy going, but I also have never seen a reason not to stake my claim and make myself known. I’ll let things go to a point but then, like a big old pussy cat who is sitting and quietly watching, I slam my fat cat paw down.

I remember being at San Diego, the big Comic Con, and wandering off to find us lunch while Kim hung at his table. I returned, hard won sandwiches in hand, to find a hoyden woman in what I can only describe as a wench costume, in my chair, making eyes at Mr. Deitch. Needless to say, I asserted my spousal rights and sent her in her way.

San Diego May have been my first big out of town con experience. Although I may have had passing experience with occasional costume clad people, nothing like the high-end costumes – from anime to Star Wars – that I experienced there! Of course, film and other media have jumped on the Comic Con bandwagon so these are now with increasing frequency multi-media extravaganzas.

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Kim and I hanging at the pre-start of the con

Okay, our ride got us to the Meadowlands way early and we joined the queue outside. Chilly and mindful of this chest cold I quietly muscled us inside. We curled up to watch the con come to life!

Below is a parade of costumes spied from my perch today.

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Felix in the Palm of Your Hand

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As a determined and fairly thorough collector of Felix the Cat items, variations on these dexterity puzzles have come and gone over the years without my taking the plunge – or at least never landing one. I am always a sucker for this question mark tail pose myself and I have always liked Felix a bit squared off as he appeared in his earliest cartoons and reproductions. (He gets rounder and rounder over the decades until he is looking like Mickey Mouse by the 1940’s or early ’50’s – this seems to be an issue with cartoon characters as they age – they round off over time, a sort of gelding in my mind. I will write about this at greater length some time – I have theories!) He is also toothy in his early incarnation and I like the fiercer, cattier version of him best.

Here is is shown in quite a mood indeed. A (presumably) empty bottle labeled scotch whiskey at his feet with these sort of exclamation lines radiating out from his head. Felix is ready to take on all comers! Not so much angry as just very wound up. The scraggly mouse figure next to him exclaims, What O! Felix has the Kruschen Feeling! At the bottom is also marked Germany. There is no further information on the back.

Our friends over at Google inform me that Kruschen Feeling was an advertising campaign for Kruschen Salts, a popular packaged remedy of the day. This series of ads boasted visuals such as elderly gents leaping around and exclaiming something along the lines of – if this isn’t you it should be! The product and the company still exist today. In case you are wondering the salts in question are ingested.

The whole thing sounds a bit wretched to me, but evidently they turned the trick for Felix. This image and saying was also used in a series of game cards that were made with Felix. The version I have and have written about were more like premiums that came with chocolate and I wrote about them here. These were made of a flimsy not-quite-cardboard paper. As below, the top two are mine and then there was a boxed set you could purchase and those images are taken from the internet, the box from a Hake’s auction. These same images were also repurposed for a series of popular postcards that remain widely available but pricey.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Box for Felix card game, not in Pictorama collection.

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Felix playing cards, not in Pictorama collection.

 

It is not clear to me that this item was a premium to advertise the products, although I admit it is certainly a possibility. Weirdly the feeling I get is that it was a popular phrase of the day and aptly described the early ill tempered version of Felix and they adopted it. I sort of like the scrubby mouse as a sort of alter ego for Felix. He does chase mice in the cartoons – presumably with the intention of eating them. This one is remarkably undefined – ears, tail and whiskers readable, as are five fingers on each hand (unlike the four fingered look that most animated and cartoon characters sport) and even toes, but no face. There was no fear that the Mickey Mouse crowd would get their backs up with this fellow, if that was a concern.

This toy has seen many years and miles in pockets and undoubtedly in the grimy mitts of small children. It looks a tad more fragile than it actually feels and I immediately started trying to place the three balls. (It is hard to see, one needs to land in his mouth, one in his left eye and one at the bottom of the question mark.) It is harder than it may look. So far I have failed to nail it, but I have all the time I need to figure it out.

Ellington is Essential

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a quick post today as I am dashing off to Rose Hall (the House of Swing) where I spend much of my time since taking up my post at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Having recently hit the two year mark, now it is hard to remember that there was a time when the labyrinth of our backstage confounded me. But this post isn’t so much a reflection on that as how I will spend my day today. This weekend in May belongs to a competition of fifteen of the finest high school jazz bands the nation has to offer fighting for the title of the best in the US.

Among the somewhat myriad educational programs we run, this one is called Essentially Ellington. Born out of the realization that most of the arrangements for Duke Ellington’s music were lost, Wynton Marsalis began a journey of recreating them (a band member actually does this each year) and distributing them for free to high schools all over the country. Many of these high school jazz bands then compete regionally for the opportunity to be one of the bands chosen to come to Manhattan to show their stuff and compete for the national title which happens over a three day period in May – this year culminating today in the finale of the 24th year of the program.

The first year I attended I thought – man, a whole day of high school jazz bands – I wonder if they are paying me enough? I was very quick to realize how very wrong I was. These kids are amazing – think Olympics of jazz band competition. I’m telling you – people would pay to hear most of these kids play.

Although it is a competition they are generous with their praise for each other – great solos are met with thundering applause and approving cheers, each school’s performance given an enthusiastic standing ovation when it completes its rounds. Last year when a young female trumpet player hit what is sort of the triple crown – winning the composition award, top achiever award and her band taking best in the competition – the approval of her peers just about brought down the house. Additionally, the ovation of the kids for their band directors at the end of the festival went on for seven minutes – there is love to spread around in that hall on Saturday night.

Since I am a fundraiser I know the details and demographics well. Half of the schools that compete nationally are what are called Title 1 schools which is the designation of those which are financially disadvantaged. Understanding the lack of resources at those schools, and even with the assistance we can offer (financial as well as providing some on the ground educators to train band directors and do some clinics with the bands locally at the schools), it is nothing short of a miracle what these chronically under-resourced schools achieved in order to arrive here this weekend.

While all the students are all of a high caliber, there is nothing like the moment when one of them takes a solo and suddenly the judges all sit up a bit and start to smile. As jazz musicians themselves they can’t help responding to the music. Yesterday during a trumpet solo by a young man from Rio Americano high school in Sacramento began his solo, I too found myself sitting forward in my seat and when the group from Snoqualmie, Washington took the stage next we were all blown away by a young woman who took her turn soloing, singing and playing the trumpet. Memorable.

By the end of the weekend new friendships will have been forged among the students – and for some of them, especially those who pursue a career in music, those are the seeds of cohorts that will inform the professional relationships of a lifetime. Many of the band directors will send love from the stage to wives who are chronically deprived of husbands on Mother’s Day again and again over the years. (The competition is webcast on our jazz.org site and many of the competing schools are watching it and cheering their school in auditoriums back home although a variety of parents and teachers travel with the kids as chaperones.) My colleagues from all parts of the organization, from the Chief Financial Officer to assists, will each be responsible for one of the bands throughout the competition. Seeing them in the civvies for long days and evenings in the hall is part of the drill.

It is all as American as apple pie, if also somewhat exhausting. As one fan said of the festival, there’s something about it that is very democratic, and for this and other reasons we will all find ourselves wiping a tear here and there over the course of the three days. So it’s 7:00 AM and I have to get to midtown. Let the finale begin!

The Big Wind-up: Part 2, the Funny Face Man

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy procession continues today with the crowning glory of my birthday gifts which eluded the star role here until today. (Earlier posts about the magnificent birthday haul and our trip to my friend at The Antique Toy Shop can be found here and here.) Kim and I spied this fellow early in our birthday visit and Kim indulged me by purchasing him. Much to my surprise, he even came with his original box, shown below, carefully wrapped in plastic. I’m always a bit hinky about owning these original boxes as I am a nervous custodian of them (see my post about the Aesop Fable doll and it’s box here) but nonetheless it is interesting to be able to study.

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Our tin friend, who by tacit agreement online appears to depict the silent film comedy star Harold Lloyd, was produced by Marx toys. Back in January of this year I opined a bit on the history of Marx toys – founded in 1919 and meandered all the way to about 1980 – as one of the lead makers of early 20th century toys. Their mission was to produce quality toys for less money than other companies, and the vast amount of their early toys that remain with us almost 100 years later is a tribute to their conscientiousness and success of their mission.

Our man was one of an early line of walkers (tin figures that hippity hoppety walk when wound up) depicting a variety of popular characters of the time – some of these now mostly forgotten. Among the ones I found were: Popeye, Amos & Andy, Mortimer Snerd, Pinocchio, Charlie McCarthy, and B.O. Plenty of Dick Tracy fame.

I find it interesting that all the other examples I can find name the actual character on the box, unlike this one which does not name Harold Lloyd, but instead calls this toy the Funny Face Man. Was copyright not forthcoming in this case? In addition, I note that this particular character was repurposed for several others with a slight litho painting change. This figure repainted does turns, at a minimum, as a black face entertainer and a policeman as far as I can tell. Even beyond those doppelgangers, the tin parts were produced to satisfy many characters – for example Amos & Andy have the same bottom as Harold – with the faces changed a bit and the litho design slightly altered to suit. A cost effective presto-chango.

Harold’s charm is largely in his wind-up motion and his side to side walk, eyes rolling, as shown in my very homemade video below. Later versions of walkers did not wind up, but instead were designed to toddle down an incline. This mechanism lasts into my childhood and plastic versions, still depicting popular characters of the time like Donald Duck. I remember finding them fascinating.

 

I have a soft spot for Harold Lloyd. Although I grew up with silent film comedy, I came to Harold late in the game. In my childhood my father had supplied a diet of W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton, but I was left to discover both Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd on my own in adulthood. As I remember, Chaplin came to me via the production of a boxed set and documentary series (The Unknown Chaplin) in the 1980’s. Harold Lloyd was a bit later for me and many of those films were viewed at our great New York movie theater institution Film Forum in my young adulthood here. Great discoveries, both.

As an aside, their comedic talents notwithstanding, I have always thought that both Chaplin and Lloyd were extremely handsome men. However it is their comedy that draws me into all those films again every time I see them. (As recently as a few weeks ago, TCM sucked me into a Chaplin I have probably now seen a dozen times.) And now I have my very own Harold, sitting high on a shelf amongst the Felix-es, where I hope the kitties cannot take a swat at him.