Olive Oyl

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toy collecting is much like the rest of life, while you may head in one direction, opportunity may present itself in one you had not considered in another and take you there. My career has been entirely like that – who thinks about becoming a fundraiser when they grow up? I had not considered working for Jazz at Lincoln Center until suddenly here I am, almost three years later.

I don’t generally collect comic figures outside of the cats (Felix and Krazy) and Mickey (because you have to have mice if you have cats), but occasionally things present themselves that need buying. In this way I have a small enclave of Little Orphan Annie (those items can be found herehere and here, for starters) and a soft spot for Donald Duck I have never much explored in this blog. The occasional Pluto. Bonzo has proliferated, which might fall under the heading of if you have cats you need a few dogs too. However, I am perhaps light on the broader universe of characters.

When an acquaintance at Doyle Gallery told me that they were having a January toy sale I knew I would want to check it out for potential birthday fodder. It was a sale from the estate of a single collector and I felt like you could sense his or her eye in all of the choices in the collection which always interests me.

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An unintended selfie while aiming at this goat toy

 

Kim and I had a delightful afternoon looking at a large collection of toys, primarily early mechanical banks and early mechanical toys. People were stationed to help us by taking the toys out and showing the action of each. These toys, while utterly delightful, are another area of collecting I have never gone down, but I can easily understand falling in love with them. I was especially enamored of this swan toy and this tiger toy below which I did bid on.

 

However, one of the reasons I started collecting in the area I do is because, compared to these toys, mine is a relatively affordable avenue. The toys above ultimately went for several thousand dollars each, considerably above my humble bids. There was also a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark, but I knew it was out of my league in every sense including space for it in the apartment. (Among the surviving animals shown below are insects which sort of cracked me up.)

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However, there were two items which caught my attention, in part because they were very different than the rest of the sale, and today’s Olive Oyl was one of them. We all know Olive as Popeye’s paramour in Segar’s comic strip where Popeye makes his appearance in 1929. Olive had been around in the earlier Thimble Theater strip since its inception in 1919 where she was the youngest in the Oyl family, sister to Castor and Crude Oyl, and engaged to Harold Hamgravy; he who she eventually dumps in favor of Popeye, her true love. I have read some of those early Thimble Theater strips and would very much like to dig deep into them sometime. Olive starts her life modeled on the flappers of the day – a long, straight drink of water to the extreme and maintains her girlish figure, so to speak, throughout her life.

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Olive Oyl bank I was less interested in at Doyle auction

 

The toy collector whose collection was being auctioned had two Olive Oyl toys, indicating an interesting particular affection for her. The other item was a cast iron bank which could have been original or a reproduction and I didn’t care for it. But there was something about this Olive Oyl that I couldn’t resist. She appears to be a one of a kind but nicely made wooden toy. Her arms, feet and head are painted but her costume covers a simple wood and wire constructed body. Heavy wire connects her arms and legs enabling limited motion in each. Her head turns and her arms go up and down.

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Olive Oyl, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

For me there is something especially engaging in her outfit although I can’t really tell you why. I think if asked, she would have preferred far more fashionable garb. There is something endearing and specific about her cowl neck sweater and the somewhat oversized pattern on her rickrack trimmed skirt, probably a bit longer than she was wearing them in the day. She has characteristically large (but not clownish) feet. For me this is a Depression era Olive at her best in every sense.

I assume there is a Popeye mate for her somewhere in the world, or at least there was. (Kim pointed out that he is a heck of a lot more ambitious to have to carve. He’s also come up with a story where Olive is carved by a man in prison for his girlfriend…) I have looked online to see if there’s any indication that this is not a singular piece. At a minimum the person who made it was skilled and my guess would be that this was not his or her only rodeo in this area.

If you are wondering, Olive joins a very slim collection of a single stuffed Popeye and Wimpy dolls. I bought them from a dealer in Canada many years ago and was disappointed to discover that they had lost much of their stuffing (sawdust) on their trip to New York. They are now so fragile that I am loathe to take them down from their high shelf and photograph them, but will try to find a way for Olive to join them. Excuse the dusty chaos – I was perched on the edge of the bed taking this earlier!

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My Felix Heaven

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers and other Deitch Studio fellow travelers know that there is a wonderful tradition of Kim making me my very own special valentine each year. It is the most beloved manifestation of my uber Deitch fan status and today I share it with you all.

One recent year Kim drew the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a cat band for me (that one can be found here) and in 2017 Kim’s work on Reincarnation Stories had our minds focused on our 86th Street apartment building morphing into a rollicking toy museum for me, which in turn inspired the valentine that year. (Reincarnation Stories, that extraordinary missive, can be purchased here should you somehow be without a copy and that valentine post is here.)

Recently, I was strolling through ebay, looking over the array of Felix items and wondering specifically about a certain kind of china Felix I do not collect. Much of it seems to be promotional item give aways made by British Pathé Films. There are small ashtrays, match holders, miniature jugs, and things best described as gewgaws. They must have been universally saved as they are very available, almost a hundred years later.

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Pictorama readers also know that given the confines of our studio apartment (which I like to pretend expands magically to house an infinite number of toys, but in reality not really) and our two felines who race through (and up and down) it daily, I am somewhat discrete in my collecting and try to keep fragile items to a minimum. Therefore, there is a world of early Felix I have not really touched. In addition, there are tea sets and other space hogging items I must refrain from acquiring or threaten to tip the gentle ecosystem of our abode. (I have opined on my vision of a Felix filled home in my post Living the Felix Life which can be found here.)

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However, on this day as I was looking I was fantasizing about a seaside British cottage, filled to the brim, positively sparkling, with all these Felix items. As if somehow this woman collected them all in the late 1920’s and kept them all to perfection. Kim asked about my thoughts for the valentine right at that moment and over my morning coffee I conveyed that vision (very ineptly, I have to admit), to Kim who then somehow managed to translate it PERFECTLY in this valentine. Yay, Kim!

He asked me to do some image research so he could better see what I was talking about. And the real find during that research was this image from Getty below. Wow, wow, wow! This is one of the best Felix photographs I have ever seen. I must find a way to get a real copy from Getty somehow so I can hang it on my wall. (Look at the Felix dolls stuffed in their belts!) The big winking Felix in the middle finds a place of honor on my valentine and I get to wear the cool Felix girl outfit!

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Getty Image photo

 

Although in one sense I art direct the valentine, our largely unspoken division of labor means I generally do not make a lot of specific requests about execution concerning things like color. This year I think I surprised Kim with the request that my dress be orange. I think it mystified him a bit, but he has given me my orange dress and I do love it. Perfect.

Of course, Kim’s version of Felix memorabilia is far more ribald and raucous than any reality. Felix is tooting on a nippy hookah while I serve him tea; dancing animated Felixes make up the tablecloth edge (wouldn’t I love to own that); and Cookie and Blackie (who, as I write is trying to push me off the computer chair) make an appearance. Blackie is behind the hookah and Cookie is behind a Felix urn where she eyes her tail suspiciously. (Cookie, even as a very adult kitty, still chases her tail constantly. I think she’s convinced me that a demon really does reside there that periodically needs subduing.)

Of course, out the window is a jolly scene which is the East River version of my fantasy. There’s a Mickey Mouse running off the page and there will be more about him to come in future posts. (Think birthday gift.) A crazy Felix clock, the traditional one crossed with an especially good Norakuro one we were admiring online. Tea Time! Tea Time!

And there you have it, the 2020 Deitch Studio Valentine and it is a beaut! Thank you so much Kim! I am the luckiest wife in the world.

Meanwhile, I think maybe next year we need to make our way into the Felix tea room those women were beckoning us into…

February Festive

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Getting into a pre-birthday and pre-Valentine’s Day mode here at Pictorama today. I will report that Kim is hard at work on the annual Valentine which will debut (hopefully) next week, and I am here to say it is going to be a stunner! Meanwhile, I have a few commercial kitty-esque offerings to start the ball rolling today.

It seems that cats have always figured somewhat largely in the visual language of Valentines and I therefore always keep half an eye on what ebay has to offer in vintage Valentines in the weeks leading up to February 14.

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from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The cat and mouse card caught my eye early – there was something truly feline in the way this puss studies the mouse (a mousy looking mouse despite her anthropomorphic portrayal) and she seems is dancing in a strange little holiday dress. My valentine is written across the dress, with a little cheat of the nt in order to make it fit neatly. A nod toward the crueler side of feline nature is a bit surprising in a Valentine sentiment, You look sweet enough to eat. This cat means it folks, a bit of blood lust in his eyes. Nonetheless, it was sent To Jean From Lorraine as per a very childish pencil script on the back. We’ll assume it was taken in the best spirit meant.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

This second card is identified as having been made in Germany which seems to be the place of origin for some of the best early Valentines and is more traditional. I liked something about it’s wide-eyed kitten enthusiasm and bought it for a few dollars on a whim. I think I would have been pleased to receive this one. And I do hope it made the recipient, Elsie Minke, feel kindly toward Raymond, as per the inscription on the back of the card. It is a sweet card and has a tiny bit of cardboard in the back to enable it to stand up on its own and evidence of use tell us that it was employed to do that at one time.

Piles of childish Valentines were exchanged each year in my elementary school days. My memory is that class lists were distributed in the early years and we routinely wrote one for everyone in our class thereby removing the possibility of someone not getting any I would guess. We bought big plastic packages of tiny cards with envelopes and dutifully filled them out, collecting mostly the same in kind in return with perhaps the addition of the occasional box of candy hearts.

High school brought a gauntlet of single roses to be ordered in advance and delivered day of – a fundraiser for some group or other. This afforded an annual (somewhat ambitious) opportunity for anonymous Romeos to put a bid in, or even bolder declarations by others. Purchase by boyfriends was requisite. (We also did something similar in the fall with large white mum corsages – with purple ribbons, school colors – to be worn to the Thanksgiving football game. It always seemed to me like a tradition that probably dated back to the 1950’s as the 1980’s were not a corsage-wearing decade for the most part.) Yes, the holidays could be competitive affairs for adolescent affection.

Meanwhile, my father was always the very best Valentine and he would show up from work with boxes of candy and something special for us. I still have a silver heart key chain he gave me one year, a matching one for my sister, and which I used for years. Dad was a splendid gift giver. Despite never being equipped to remember my precise age after I turned 18, he was always very good about holidays and gifts.

On the (many) occasions he was traveling during a holiday he either sent missives in his absence or showed up with them a day or so later, but they were always great. As a news cameraman his travel was by its very nature unplanned so I am a bit amazed when I think back on it. Dad kept a suitcase ready packed in his locker at work so that he’d at least have a few days change of clothing if sent abroad without notice. He frequently would end up having to buy clothes when a story lasted longer than a few days. This lead to my father, who liked clothes and buying them, having a much more robust wardrobe than my mother, who is somewhat ambivalent about them. (I take after him.) Somehow, probably with my mom’s organizing help, he managed to hit all the holidays and birthdays splendidly.

Pictorama readers know that Kim has found a way of topping this, producing an annual, very personal drawing for me. I will share this year’s great Valentine reveal next week. (A few from years past can be found here and here.) You still have a few days folks, get out there and stake a claim on your Valentine, there is no time like the present.

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Felix Fun

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Seldom does a toy have the come hither play with me quality that this jumping Felix does. Like a kid, once I start playing with it I just want to keep going. Look at Felix go! For such a simple toy it mesmerizes. You press the wooden handles together and Felix jiggles and jumps – every few times he tumbles all the way forward or backward. Yay! It has a satisfyingly substantial quality, made of wooden bits and despite its age gives it heft. This fellow was found on ebay and is a belated Christmas gift from Kim as it took awhile to cross the ocean and arrived on our doorstep in mid-January.

The design for this toy has evidently been around for a long time. Light research shows reference to eighteenth and nineteenth century France and China, but frankly no one seems to have the precise lowdown on the inception. These are truly timeless toys. Instructions for making these proliferate even today with Youtube tutorials, but versions of this toy have long been available commercially as well as being made at home. It is loosely defined as a wooden acrobat toy – jumping jack might get you there too, but that seems better reserved for the wooden toys with a string that make the arms and legs go up and down, a sort of kissing cousin of this Felix toy.

This Felix came from Great Britain and my guess is that instructions for making this and other models were probably available in magazines like Popular Mechanics or in this case whatever the equivalent was in Britain at the time. When I say at the time I am also a bit flummoxed, but from what I have read I would think  it could have been made any time after Felix’s appearance on the scene through the 1950’s.

The Felix himself is a bit endearingly lumpy in design and there is not real question that he would not have qualified for the Pat Sullivan seal of approval in the day. His tail has a small chip and he has some signs of wear in his black paint – I assume his white face was brighter in his youth as well. Below I share a Mickey Mouse, sans legs, which I found on Pinterest which seems to share the same gray area of homemade versus commercial origin.

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For those of you who, like me, need to see things in motion – a brief clip of Kim mastering and playing with Felix can be found by clicking below. Go cat, go!

I think it will cheer you up…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We here at Pictorama feel the need for a good shot in the arm by this point in the winter. January was a grueling month to get through and spring is still so far off, alas. Therefore, as we stand perched on the threshold of February, I offer this entertaining Louis Wain tidbit, The Street Orchestra, to those like me who need a boost.

I have been much taken with Louis Wain recently and you may have noticed that I have been indulging rather freely in the purchase of his postcards. All of the elements of this 1904 street scene symphony remain relevant today – the children, (are the kittens also selling fruit? with a flag of Italy stuck in their cart?), the musicians, beggar and beg-ee, the laborer and onlookers. The fellow seated in the middle of the card could be taken either as a stump speech-maker (my first thought), or my preference is that he is Mayor of this block so to speak. Squarely in the middle of things he observes and comments on all. Every active block needs a Mayor it would seem.

The restaurant in the background is what really makes this card however. While the offerings are all very entertaining, some still have a tiny bit of bite by way of a kind of cat cruelty that Wain tends to lace through his work and specifically his postcards. Louis Wain does not just give us toothless, jolly felines – his kitties still exhibit some of their teeth and claws, their cat nature.

The restaurant offerings here include: Pickled Red Herrings and Boiled rats in sauce, (and my favorite albeit almost illegible) Cats Meat a la East End – where a plate of leftover mystery meat bits comes to mind, and we are Noted for our mice soup, with Best chicken patties and finally the appeal that You can milk your own cow – 20 cows to choose from. Cow milk is additionally advertised on the fence, somewhat cryptically, as Try our noted cow  – best milk, no pump kept on the premises. And finally, if that doesn’t work for you there is also, Good beer – best in town.

While some collectors might turn their noses up at a card that has been written on by the sender, I feel as though the neat script addition to this one adds to the charm of this card, If you look hard at this I think it will cheer you up. HMD. I couldn’t agree more! On the back, in the same hand it reads, So pleased you are a little better. Love to Sis as well as yourself. It is addressed to Miss N. Harrison, 6 Strensham Road, Balsall Heath. It was sent from within Birmingham in 1904, but the month on the postmark has been obscured. I am sure it did its job of cheering though.

So, happy February dear readers – and I do hope that if you look hard at this, it will cheer you up.

Just Whistle

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This ancient children’s whistle adds to my somewhat meagre, but slowly growing, holdings of toys related to Norakuro an early Japanese Felix-y cat-dog like character. (I have written about these toys previous and a few of those posts can be found here and here.) This whistle appeared, as things occasionally do, listed as Felix on ebay. Everything vintage associated with this character is extremely expensive – I just spied a DVD of the cartoons for $150 – which perhaps in part is exchange rate, but I also chalk up to a fairly limited and rarified collecting area. My quest for an early plush toy of this character (if such thing exists) continues – maybe I will make 2020 the year of Pictorama Norakura collecting. (Bank account beware!)

This humble whistle is in a style that seems to be from the 1930’s, but it continued with variation for a decade or two and who knows how long they were produced and exported from Japan. (This is marked Made in Japan in English and Japanese, so I assume it was made for export.) I think it is fair to say that the Japanese were significant contributors to the tin whistles in the US marketplace of this era.

In researching this a bit, I saw a few early examples of these tin whistles as premiums for kids for things like shoes. This snappy one below is for Poll Parrot shoes. (I never heard of this brand, but Kim has just told me he wore them as a kid and that they were a sponsor of Howdy Dowdy. Buster Brown was the property of Smilin’ Ed…) I must say I do like this image of a shoe clad parrot! I may have to find myself one of these, but most are much more beat up than this fine example shown here.

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In general the condition of these whistles seem to be pretty rough and it is easy to image that they spent much time in the grubby pockets of small children. Their survival at all is somewhat impressive when considered.

I do not have children, but I guess that giving your child a whistle is like giving your cat a toy with a bell, or that makes any noise. You should think twice about doing it if you don’t want to hear that sound a lot. (And in the case of kitties, probably in the middle of the night.) There is something about the very existence of a whistle that makes you want to blow it. This whistle wasn’t out of the package five minutes when Kim blew on it. It makes an awful sound and the cats freaked out. He said he’d never do it again, but did (repeatedly) a few minutes later. The cats did not run, but they remained deeply suspicious – ears perked and staring wide-eyed. Evidently adults are not immune to the appeal of tin whistles, but cats are.

I do not remember any significant tin whistles in my childhood. Sadly the world had moved onto plastic more or less entirely. I include a photo of the only whistle I remember from my own childhood, an Oscar Mayer Wiener one. I do not remember how I came into possession of it – I vaguely remember that it came to me in some sort of trade with a friend. Nor am I positive this was the precise design (several were in play in the early 70’s according to my friends on Google) of the one I owned. It was somewhat beloved though, however modest it now seems in comparison to these splendid tin affairs of childhood longer gone by.

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