Felix Tallies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased today’s item for purely aesthetic reasons – I like the design of this blocky, early Felix. His toothiness especially appeals to me and his orange nose and strange wings baffle me a bit. (On careful examination it is actually that he is sporting a very large bow.) He appears to be pointing into his mouth – feed the kitty! Felix is well drawn, but I find no copyright information on this and I suspect it is just an extremely good rip-off.

In addition to the bridge score the following is written on the back in tiny letters, Halloween Bridge party given by Ginny, Lillian, Lowthur & others. Oct. 19 – ’29. Five tricks. The player was Betty W. at table 1 couple 2. Their score totaled 1224 and I have no idea at all if that is good or bad. A very quick look at bridge scoring would lead me to believe it is good. This card was either kept and still exists almost 100 years later because of a high score or the charming Felix. (Most likely both?) However, I know less than nothing about the game of bridge and a quick look at it online made my head ache this early in the day.

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Among the small bits of information I have about bridge are that while it is still considered popular it was once wildly popular, and it was a social necessity to at least play adequately. (Those of us who watch films from the ’40’s or even read a certain kind of novel from that period know this.) I have also been informed that it is generally highly competitive and a poor partner or player will not be countenanced – despite whatever your relationship is to that person otherwise. However, I assume that it is a bit like tennis in that you would like to play with people slightly better than you so as to improve?

From what I read and have been told, I think your relationship to your bridge partner is at its best the ability to intuit each other. Part of me wonders if this lead to a lot of affairs among bridge partners – not to mention divorce amongst serious players whose spouses were not up to snuff or went off the game. Bridge is played competitively and for money by some I gather, although not a gambling game. A quick search tells me there are three public bridge clubs in Manhattan, but many, many private ones. I remember being told of two private clubs years ago by elderly friends who were devoted to the game. I can remember bridge columns published in the local newspaper when I was a kid.

We were not a bridge playing family – in fact aside from the occasional game of Parcheesie, Candyland, Go Fish or Monopoly as kids, we were not a game playing family at all. As the children of immigrants neither of my parents were raised in an atmosphere concerned with that layer of society. It is just as well, my limited exposure to games leads me to believe it is not a skill set that would be easily developed in me.

Meanwhile, Felix as an image and totem seems to have crossed over with the bridge craze, and although this is the only piece of Felix bridge ephemera I own, I feel as though I have seen other Felix bridge related items for sale over time. Perhaps other tally cards? Card holders? An internet search does not turn much up in this line, but Pictorama readers know I always have a weather eye cast.

Gentlemen with Cats and Chicken

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the ramping up of holiday madness all around us and spending a little time with these fine fellows today. Men with cats has long been a favorite sub-genre of my card collecting. (A few earlier examples can be found here and here.) This card was never sent, but someone wrote what appears to be the name Robert Hersir. (On a whim I looked the name Hersir up and discovered it means Viking King.)

I like these guys, and not just because they were smart enough to immortalize their cats and chicken when having this photo taken. There’s something frank and fun about them – the rakish guy with his askew bow-tie in the middle especially. Hat thrown down in front of him, shiny button boots of a day gone by fashion thrust forward, young striped tabby cat in his arms, looking somewhat alarmed or at least admittedly peevish. He stares right out at us from his day, back in the early part of the last century.

My father would occasionally hold one of the cats in the manner of this man, and he would inform the cat that he or she was in “cat prison”. It is a term and strong arm approach I have sometimes adopted with my felines as well when grabbing them up and holding them hostage in this way. (Despite or even because of this, the cats adored my father. I can’t say mine seem to enjoy the experience as much.)

Our guy’s suit, like the kitty, is striped and the photographer gets credit too for the symmetry of the image and how well the image works. It appears to be a photo set when I examine it carefully, a much worn one though it must be said. It also leaves me wondering who takes their kitty and rooster to a photo studio? I can only imagine a world that was a slightly different (more interesting?) place back in that time. Oddly, this is not the first rooster booster pet photo in my collection. I wrote about roosters as pets in photos at least twice last year. (Those posts can be found here and here.)

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The chicken in question, held by a fairly natty fellow with a posy in his buttonhole, looks calmer than the cat. He is somewhat indistinct and it is a bit of a call on my part to say rooster rather than hen, but I believe it is a fellow fowl.

Our third gentleman, who sports a sort of sweet smile, has an almost imperceptible black cat curled up in his lap. Like my kitty Blackie might have, this kitty has made himself comfortable for lap petting during the duration of the session. No stress for him. This man and cat are perched on a small bench of sorts while the guy with the rooster seems to be squatting, but it is hard to tell. All three men wear suits, the paper collared shirts of their day and ties.

I hardly need to mention that the painted backdrop is stained, peeling and generally tatty beyond imagination. The floor covering appears to be much in the same state. It suits these guys fine, but I can’t exactly imagine who came in next. Hard to imagine newly weds or vacationing duos lining up after, but it seems a fitting setting for these guys and their pets.

 

We Are Very Comfortable

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Much like yesterday’s toy post, full access to my stuff has allowed for the first photo postcard post in quite awhile. For all of that this is a fairly recent purchase from ebay and it just entertained me. Cats lined up, each a variation on a striped tabby design, displaying varying degrees of contentedness on some sort of fur declaring, We are very comfortable in Colo. 

I will start by noting that the only time I have seen a cat encounter real fur was decades ago when an elderly friend wore a fur coat (equally elderly) to my apartment. My cat Otto made it clear that shredding that coat was now her new found life’s ambition. Ultimately the coat had to be closed in another room, protected from her mania, but I have never forgotten her enthusiastic reaction.

The card appears to have been made in the early somewhat homemade process where a stencil was applied for the shape of the image and the lettering done by hand. I assume it was produced on a small scale – wouldn’t make sense for it to have been a one-off. It was never mailed, nor is there any writing on it. I guess this was for the vacationer who wasn’t willing to commit to having a great time or wishing you were here. Were they available for sale, a small stack of them, at a homely hotel somewhere there?

Today I am packing (warm clothing) for a quick trip to Milwaukee this week. I wrote about another trip to Madison recently (available here), and the opportunity to travel through parts of this country that I have never visited before is one of the aspects of my job, following the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to strategic points on their tours. This is our Big Band Holiday tour, a favorite everywhere it goes, which will wend its way to Manhattan in about a week. I am so pleased that almost a hundred friends will join us for the concert followed by a reception. (My first shot at this tour was on the road by bus with the band through the Southeast and you can read about it here.)

Colorado is a state I have never explored – only changed planes in Denver. I have agreed to speak at an event there in August so I will see Denver then. This kind of travel brings my father to mind. His job as a camera man for ABC News meant driving across the country, up and down and across constantly in the early years of his job. (Over time local news bureaus shared more of their own coverage with the national affiliate and there was less of this domestic travel and more international and confined to the East coast.)

Like Wynton and the orchestra Dad drove or rode, in his case equipment loaded into a car or SUV rather than a bus, three or four person crew crammed in. Dad did a lot of the driving, in retrospect I am not sure why except it didn’t bother him to drive; he probably preferred it. Long rides in cars, not to mention heavy camera equipment and his height, eventually contributed to a long-life struggle with back problems and in later years his car was littered with back cushions and devices. Dad liked to eat good food and he could suggest restaurants in locations all over the country, from Newark to Pittsburgh, to St. Louis. He remembered them all – and remembered those places where none could be found.

So today I will pack my bag; I suspect it is never as spare and economic as his. (But in fairness he wasn’t a woman who will host events over the entire course of his visit.) And I will wonder if there is a restaurant in Milwaukee that has been there for decades that I really should be trying.

 

Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

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Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

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The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

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Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.

 

 

 

Siamese Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is the first photo post in quite awhile and it is with a nod to Kim who noticed it surfacing on my desk as the last of the kitchen detritus has finally been reinstalled or taken to a new life via Housing Works thrift store. The apartment has not instantly returned to normal (where did these stray boxes of books come from?) but the tide of possessions has gently shifted and the original strata of things is coming back into view, this photo I purchased earlier this fall among them. It was clearly made from a small negative on a roll of film of early vintage and likely contact printed. Visual information is missing and the crowd gathered to watch is largely unreadable. Still, it is a record of a time and a place – and a pretty great cat balloon.

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Felix stereocard.

 

Like the Felix balloon in my earlier post, Felix Floats (which can be found here, photo above) this two-headed cat balloon might have been made by Tony Sarg, famed early balloon maestro of the Thanksgiving Day parade. The balloon in today’s photo appears to be on a dolly of sorts to be moved into place. Sarg was a German American puppeteer by training but is best known for birthing his Seussian-like balloon creations for the early Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since his assistants ultimately opened their own studios and other competing studios appeared (this eventually forced him into bankruptcy in 1939), and without a date, it is hard to say if this was a Sarg balloon or not. Nor can I say for sure that this was for the Macy’s parade as the photo seems to be taken in a staging location. I have never seen this particular balloon in other photos before. It is certainly in keeping with his style though, and if I was a betting woman (alas, I am not) I would say it is by him.

These gents in clown suits are dragging kitty along by ropes on what appears to be a snow dappled day, attached to the rolling platform he (it?) is perched on. Like this year, I bet it was a cold one. I love the way the sort of cynical head is eyeing the smiling head with a smirk. It must have looked great floating down the streets of New York. The original route of the parade starting at 145th Street and Convent Avenue, down to Macy’s on 34th Street. In those days the parade lead to the unveiling of the holiday windows at the store – it must have all been quite delightful.

This is a particularly good description from the History.com site:

By noontime, the parade finally arrived at its end in front of Macy’s Herald Square store where 10,000 people cheered Santa as he descended from his sleigh. After being crowned “King of the Kiddies,” Kris Kringle scaled a ladder and sat on a gold throne mounted on top of the marquee above the store’s new 34th Street entrance near Seventh Avenue. With a bellow from his trumpet, Santa sounded the signal to unveil “The Fair Frolics of Wondertown,” the Christmastime window display designed by artist and puppeteer Tony Sarg. As soon as the police lowered their crowd-control lines, children rushed to the 75-foot-long window to see the miniature Mother Goose marionette characters on moving belts frolicking in their own parade in front of a castle-like façade.

A gold throne for Santa atop of the 34th Street entrance! Wowza! This kitty, probably in a subsequent year, would have added significantly to the visual fiesta I think.

I have never attended the parade despite living in the greater New York area and always having a yen for it as a child, (my father who was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career and had covered it, freezing on the streets endlessly early, on had absolutely no stomach for it as an observer), but after moving to Manhattan as an adult I used to like to see the balloons getting blown up the night before over on the westside. I haven’t done it in years now and this year it poured rain which made me sad for those who were looking forward to it. Regardless, I would have been there if they were blowing up this two-headed cat balloon though, I assure you.