The Radio Girls and the Campfire Girls: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stumbled on the four Radio Girl novels advertised in the back of a Ruth Fielding novel which must have been a reprint as these were published in the 1920’s and that volume dated from 1915. (You will find my brief survey of Ruth Fielding in a post here.) Just a note that all four books are available on ebooks – I believe I read them all on Google Play rather than Project Gutenberg.

Although this clutch of novels was later repackaged with the Campfire Girls novels, they are more of the breed of The Automobile Girls or The Moving Picture Girls, (my prior post on those can be found here) than what turn out to be rather distinct novels devoted to the Campfire Girls and that real world movement which was picking up speed at the beginning of the twentieth century. (It should be noted that it is spelled both as one word Campfire and two, Camp Fire, at various times. Without really being able to lock it down I would hazard to say that the one word spelling is the earlier spelling. The contemporary organization uses two words.) While all belong to what I think of as the plucky young girl genre, the idea of exploiting the new inventions of the times – the new world opening up with the advent of the automobile, films and also radio – is the jumping off point for each of these.

As I have written about previously, the thrill of a changing (modernizing one if you will) world is at the center of each of these – and the evolving role of young women, emerging from their teen years pretty much at the same time as the century itself. It reminds us that society evolved slowly and these novels go to some pains to show that these are nice and average girls, in this series they are fairly affluent. (Unlike Ruth Fielding and some other plucky young dames who are of the poor and/or orphaned variety.)

It is boys not girls climbing onto the roof on the cover of this magazine from the same period.

I deeply regret that the Radio Girls series is only the four volumes because I liked the characters and the writing, as well as finding the topic endearing. These novels were published in the early 1920’s although the dates when penned are hard to figure out since the first three volumes all have publication dates of 1922, the last volume 1924 – I deeply suspect that at least the first three volumes, or even all four – were produced all at once like a long book. These were written under the pen name of Margaret Penrose, a Stratemeyer Syndicate nom de plume for a number of authors writing under a single name. I cannot find further information about who actually wrote them although they do seem to have all been written by the same unidentified person.

While it may sound surprising to say, these are chocked full of the thrill and excitement of radio as it was dawning. It amazes me how much mileage the author gets out of it. Most charming for me is where Jessie and Amy (our protagonists) speculate on what the future might look like – a world with radios and telephones you carry around with you – television! (I could not help but wonder what they would have made of the iPad I was reading the book on in bed that evening.) They reflect on the radio’s place in a world that was still reeling from the establishment of the telegraph and telephone not all that long before. Telephones and radios were just being adopted by middle class American families and were still indeed novel.

At the heart of the plot of each is a mystery of sorts – kidnapped girls, raising needed funds for a worthy cause, or perhaps alternatively being stranded on the water, an island or on a sinking boat and the radio helps save the day! It is worth noting that the author goes to great pains to make Jessie and Amy, but especially Jessie, the master of all things radio, where she outshines both her college aged brother and his friends.

Jessie’s mother, Momsey, tends to fret a bit about the radio – however it does seems that there was the very real possibility of the set-ups attracting lightening strikes so she wasn’t exactly foolish in her fears. (It comes to pass in one of the volumes where a fire is started in a house via lightening strike and an open circuit on a radio set-up.) Meanwhile, Jessie eschews purchasing a kit for her radio and uses instructions (from a magazine I believe) to set up her rig – which includes climbing a tree and out a window in front of their large home, in order to string the wires. In the end, both mother and father are in full support of the endeavor. Once an acoustical horn is acquired for the radio (at first each person had to wear headphones) the whole family and their guests endeavor to listen ongoing – even a ticketed demonstration for the community to raise funds for a hospital project takes place in the first book.

In a later volume the young girls get to perform on the radio too and we get a glimpse of the mix of the behind-the-scenes performers, professional and amateur vying for radio time. Kim turned me onto some of the radio magazines that existed at the time, ones that seem to mix the upgrades in equipment and mechanics with the emerging star power of the day – sort of a film star magazine for radio. These are very appealing and I may pick up a few on eBay and wander through them.

How the Radio Girls are repackaged as Campfire Girls and the republication schedule of these is a bit of a mystery to me – the original copyright is on the volumes I read. I see some evidence that maybe the subsequent publication was issued in the 1930’s. Each was originally published with the double name title convention such as, The Radio Girls on Station Island or The Wireless from Steam Yacht. Campfire Girls replaces Radio Girls in the titles and they are repackaged and presumably sent out again to another generation of young readers by the new publisher. I can only imagine that they must have been somewhat confusing to girls who were expecting not just plucky heroines, but some actual reference to the Campfire Girls – those novels are chocked full of Campfire Girl lore.

While a tad resentful at first that my Radio Girls were subsumed into another entity, I gathered a few early volumes of the Camp Fire Girls on my iPad. I hope to eventually see if the original characters and story lines of the Radio Girls were picked up – they do not appear to be. However, the very different charm of those lured me in and in a subsequent post I will write about the first volumes I have tackled in that very long and interesting series, the genesis of the series which predates the Radio Girls with the earliest volumes coming out around 1912. As I like to start at the beginning of things I am still in the early volumes published before 1920, so more to discover and come on that.

Belated

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As is sometimes the case, a birthday post has been nudged forward by the great Deitch Valentine reveal. My birthday comes right before that holiday and has a way of getting mashed up with it. As Pictorama readers know, my idea of a birthday celebration in the before time was for Kim and I to spend the day poking around an antique toy store here in Manhattan, and checking in at a few places I would happily classify as junk stores and then grabbing lunch. (Past birthday posts can be found here and here and always resulted in a pleasant acquisition of stuff.) Covid times do not allow for that and I wonder what merchants of that kind will still be with us when we get to the other side, as well as restaurants.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Kim gave me this rather splendid ancient Halloween toy which I found at auction and is the first of its kind to enter my collection. His head is paper mache and his body is a woolly felt. His red ruff is a bit of silk and he is perched on a wooden handle. He can be moved gently like a puppet and I think he would have been a jolly addition for a child celebrating the holiday and is the right size for that. Unwrapping it in the morning, along with some birthday cards (yes, I still send them via the mail and receive a few in turn) launched the day nicely.

I was born in a snow storm. My mom often tells the story of her decision to go to the hospital as soon as she sensed it might be the day and having a look at the weather forecast. (We Wheeling women are planners!) It was a good decision because the snow piled up rapidly and by the time I was born in the late afternoon, the New Jersey town of her own birth and where they were staying with her parents, was under a deep blanket of snow.

My father brought her a large box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. (Dad always brought us boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – Whitman Samplers and puffy heart shaped boxes of Russell Stover ones.) As the story goes, the long-standing family doc visited her in the evening (he had not delivered me, an obstetrician had) and sat on the edge of her bed and ate his way through the entire box of chocolates! Much to my father’s surprise when he showed up, the empty box remained and he gave his wife a sideways look (it would have been quite an accomplishment after giving birth only hours before) until she realized and let him in on the demise of the candy.

Carl Schurz Park in the snow the day after my birthday.

Having a mid-February birthday has meant a regular routine of canceled or rescheduled plans over the decades. I won’t say there is snow on the ground for everyone of my birthdays, but several major snowstorms stick out in my mind including one where I stubbornly went down to the East Village to meet someone and incredibly found myself in drifts of unshoveled snow waist deep. A few years later, there was a weekend trip with a then boyfriend that sadly had to be canceled, but instead he booked us into a wonderful old-fashioned hotel in midtown where we watched the snow pile up around us.

Snowy February view from our apartment.

To be honest, I find birthdays a bit overwhelming. When I turned 21 I decided to take matters in my own hands; I invited a friend to join me and I concocted a worthy day of celebration. Once I had a job, my sister insisted that I take the day off from work and to reinforce the idea Loren also took the day and we spent it together a few times. The first time we visited the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (it was endearing to me that she went despite the fact that later I found out that they actually freaked her out) and had lunch together. Loren also had the habit of calling me at the crack of dawn on my birthday, stating that she wished to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. (A good friend of hers keeps the practice via text and email rather than phone at 5:30 or 6:00 – although the day at Deitch Studio is already well underway by then these days.) I still miss it every birthday.

Many years ago I founded the practice of a series of dinners with friends and colleagues who also had February birthdays throughout the month, a birthday club of sort that embraced people from all aspects of my life. Sadly in recent years it has whittled down to just a few (fellow Aquarians, feel free to speak up!) and of course this year bringing all more or less to a halt. Covid combined with piles of snow! Still, I look forward to catching up with those folks annually and have the space to just relax and check in with each other.

Eileen Travell at a birthday dinner last year.

Somehow even my game of pretending outdoor eating is like being on an Arctic expedition couldn’t meet the challenge of the weather for outdoor dining this year. (My last outdoor meal was at the end of December and there was snow piled on the ground already. We sat under heaters and were offered blankets sealed in bags. My layers and boots combined with the consumption of a hot toddy and hot soup kept it festive for a bit more than an hour before we decided we were done.) My birthday week the restaurants were largely in agreement with me and weren’t even trying as they dug out from what the snow plows dumped in their al fresco dining areas. I think I will bring my own polar fleece blanket if I tried again before spring.

This year I did however take the day off from work and despite being home I really came as close as I have since last March to unplugging. My office was very thoughtful and flowers arrived from one faction and a lovely bag of cheese and treats from another. I purchased a new chair for work as I have been perching on a very worn one sans arms and my back has been in violent protest. (My trainer, Harris Cowan, told me that no arms on the chair was a big no no as he tried to get me to stretch my way out of the lower back pain.) While I had intended to buy it for myself for my birthday my mother stepped in and made it a birthday gift from her. Several days prior to my birthday it arrived and Kim and I put it together which, while challenging, we managed handily.

Cookie in full possession of the new office chair earlier today.

I deeply suspect that buying a desk chair is a bit like buying a new mattress – it can be a very expensive mistake and it is hard on the face of it to judge how spending hours in it is really going to work out. Going to office supply stores to try them out seemed out of the question under the circumstances, nor do I think you can really tell what it will be like to sit in something for hours on end by just sitting down in it. It is a decision you are going to live with and therefore somewhat intimidating to make. I researched them online (there were none without complaints, but I decided on which things I thought I could live with if true), decided on a medium sort of price range (they quickly go from inexpensive to more than a thousand dollars), and picked one. Sadly, I was told about four days later that the chosen one was no longer in stock and I went with my second choice.

Cookie on the former chair favorite, now a lesser perch.

Although I am still adjusting things around it (table height of the drafting table I use as a desk still isn’t right) it was a fine choice. The cats fight me for it daily in fact (they adore it) and as I write this at our “big” computer (I work on a laptop during the week) Cookie is curled up in it. She has been asleep in it since last night and she has one eye half open staring at me wondering if I am going to take it away from her. She and Blackie go to war over it almost daily – war hoops and boxing over the right to claim it. In general I would say Cookie has the edge in the amount of time she spends in it – she is very determined. When shutout Blackie goes back to sleeping on the bed, Cookie often to the chair I am sitting in now – which used to be the chair of cat choice. When Cookie and Blackie allow, I sit in it for upwards of ten hours a day and I am very glad for the arms in particular – especially when work requires I be on camera for long periods of time.

In the spirit of birthday, I also purchased myself the pin below. Last year I had purchased an old school medal which declared, Improvement in this very different year I bought this one with hearts from Great Britain which instead offers Best Wishes. (This purchased from an Instagram seller I am very fond of following, @fiorisfinds. Hey Marco! Thank you!) Nice to give myself encouragement where I can.

I have not resigned myself to the idea that I won’t still figure out a birthday meal of sorts with at least one determined friend, and perhaps at least a call or a Zoom call with another. A few of the elderly ones will have to suffice with cards and emails this year. When the weather warms up even a smidge I will see if Kim and I can’t get out of the apartment for a day in another part of town – everything outside of the immediate environs of Yorkville feels exotic these days. And when we do, I promise to tell you all about it.

Hankering for Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Buckle up for a very, very Felix day. For new readers a chance to catch up on part of my collection dedicated to the early representations of the famous animated cat and for dedicated readers some highlights of the past along the way.

I don’t think it would surprise long-standing Pictorama readers when I state that I look at a lot of Felix items and generally have a sense of what is available. Therefore when I come across something I have never seen before I’m pretty sure it is indeed unusual indeed. If I am unable to acquire it I more or less assume I will likely never see it again – we do find there are exceptions. However, it was in this spirit that I must have broken my own rule (one that I generally only write about objects and photos in my own collection), when I wrote a post on a Felix handkerchief that I lost at auction back in November of 2018. (They are shown in a slide show below – these are sadly of course not in my collection.)

I paired the post with another on some handkerchiefs that belonged to my Dad which I carry in my purse, or did in the before time when I carried a handbag daily. (Those two kerchief dedicated posts can be found here and here. Strangely my forays outside, limited that they are, seem to mostly take place with a credit card tucked in the back of my phone now, unless I am required to provide my own shopping bags at the store. No one seems to want cash these days.)

Therefore, much to my surprise, I was able to score this single, but rather wonderful item which I share with you today. Unlike the frolicking, mouse chasing Felix in the earlier post, my hanky shows Felix deep in thought, doing his famous Felix walk. What I think of as Felix’s I’m thinking walk, has its origin in the earliest Felix silent cartoons and was his signature pose -for some reason I always think of Einstein when I see it. Felix knew how to strike a pose and there is also a sort of Ah ha! pose that frequently follows the walking and thinking. (And of course there are the wonderful things he does by disengaging his tail and using it for various purposes. We’ll perhaps discuss that another time given the opportunity.)

Felix sheet music from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The then very popular phrase Felix Kept on Walking has its roots in this famed animated walk. (Although it also came to have a slightly racier meaning – as depicted on the plate below.) The Felix walk was celebrated in song, sheet music, song of the same name is shown below, but also in pins and other ephemera in the early collectible period. (An instrumental version of the tune can be found here, but in some ways for the full experience of the novelty tune you need the vocals which can be heard here. Or you can just chuckle over the lyrics here.) Some of the stuffed dolls from the 1920’s have Felix with a hump on his back and I have wondered if somehow it didn’t tie out to the bent over walk in deep thought, hands behind his back.

Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

Kim believes Buster Keaton satirized a few minutes of the Felix walk in Go West, 1925. An animated Charlie Chaplin, who obviously had his own trademark walk, does the Felix walk in the rather splendid Felix cartoon, Felix Goes to Hollywood. (It can be found on Youtube here. All these external links only good at the time of writing – they tend to come and go, especially the Youtube ones.) The Felix walk was known by all, a popular culture icon of the day. And, despite numerous redesigns over the decades, some remnant of the deep in thought walk stays with Felix right on up to the newer cartoons I watched as a child in the 1960’s.

Felix Lucky Bucks cut-out. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com Collection. Felix making clever use of his tail.

The handkerchief I acquired is small as seen here, definitely child-sized, and not quite as white as the image appeared in the photo provided. No matter about the condition of course and what to expect of such a fragile item which is rounding 100 years in existence. Hard to imagine a time when small children were encouraged to carry a hanky – and perhaps the lure of Felix helped keep them from losing it? I especially like the thought marks emanating from his head.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This handkerchief, like so many other fascinating early Felix items, hails from Britain. The embroidery is fairly small and concise. I don’t know much about embroidery but my guess is that it is hand done, but probably by an adult. Although I have not seen the evidence, I assume there were some sort of kit or template you could acquire. I wrote about an embroidered apron, also lost at auction, which must have similar root. The Felix apron post can be found here, also a 2018 post. It was called Breaking the Rules and I would be perfectly happy to have another shot at purchasing it too!

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

A Deitch Studio Valentine

Pam’s Pictorama Post: At a quick count this is the seventh Valentine reveal we’ve had here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama. The actual tradition of Kim making me Valentines goes back to the first year Kim and I were together though and this November we round the two decade mark.

Cookie, currently in possession of my work chair.

Of course, like many folks, we’ve spent the past year knitted tightly together in our one room, with our two kitties, Blackie and Cookie. My days are punctuated by doing the small stuff, like fighting the cats for my desk chair (Cookie is sound asleep in it right now, I swear she’s smiling), or making us grilled cheese with jalapeno peppers for lunch. Somehow talking about our home life always comes back to food for me and my at home days have given birth to a revived interest in cooking – necessary and nurturing, it is at the heart of home.

My newly persistent home life means two distinct meals a day here – breakfast happens on our own (I myself am partial to yogurt and berries and the occasional sumo orange, Kim is on an avocado toast kick at the moment), but now lunch and dinner are more proper meals. Sometimes lunch is a bit of a pick up of leftovers, soup or a large salad, and sadly I have been known to eat mine while on a call or Zoom meeting. But more often than not is is taking a break and sitting down together at least briefly and consuming something nutritious. (I think back to many years ago in cooking school when a French chef-instructor, Guy, saw me eating standing up and he found me a chair and then lectured me on the importance of taking the time to appreciate the food and to focus on eating it. Very sweet and oh so very French!)

Easy to make, cheesy olive bread!

Dinner is really a proper homemade meal now with a couple of veggies and a protein. As some of you know, I passed through a baking phase early in the pandemic, recreating some of my grandmother’s recipes and finding some of my own. (A few of those posts along with quarantine life musings can be found here and here. Oh, cheesy olive bread!) I have moved into soups as part of my part two pandemic diet. These are hearty affairs which are closer to stews and are the centerpiece of the meal. Some recent recipes and thoughts on my confinement cooking can be found here and here. (Keep a weather eye peeled if you are a fan of the food posts, I’m currently dreaming up a vegetarian version of matzoh ball soup and my paternal grandmother’s split pea and veggie soup.)

A spicy clam chowder I invented recently.

Post-bookcase installation and re-arrangement of our apartment, my desk (an old and not especially beautiful drawing table that a friend was throwing out many years ago and has somehow stuck with me) is now placed about three feet from Kim’s large, wooden table he uses as a desk. (This table was acquired by us at the 26th Street flea market in the early years of living in this apartment. It was newly made and is substantial, although now one leg has been scratched on a bit by Blackie and it has its wonkinesses and weaknesses around the drawers too. I remember being somewhat amazed that we were making such a big purchase – what if we measured wrong? What if it didn’t hold up?)

Cookie enjoying some desk time recently.

As a result of our newfound proximity, Kim knows every aspect of my work life, fundraising for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and I hazard that he could easily take over for a day if pressed into service – repeating phrases and numbers he hears again and again. He knows the exact percentage we are at in our annual income budget and rejoices with me when the percentage point creeps up a notch or two. I sometimes consider if he ever really wondered what I did at work all day, as he himself has never worked in an office such as mine, but man, he sure does know about it now.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection, by Kim Deitch

When I look at last year’s Valentine, memories of last year’s life (in the before time) come rushing back. The fantasy of a Felix-filled cottage at the British seaside, like the locale of many of my posing with Felix photos. It is a reminder of how much change a year can bring and we have certainly all seen it in a variety of ways. I was in the midst of hectic domestic travel to some very snowy locations and I was exhausted from it and frankly welcomed the time at home. Of course, it begs the question of where we will all be when this time rolls around next year and we are presumably in what I call, the after time. I am sure many of you are thinking along the same lines.

This year’s card focuses in on my domain – our 600 square feet we call home and office. I get to sport a sort of semi-animated Felix necklace (Kim has a way of inventing bits and outfits I would love to own), but otherwise the players are (almost) all denizens of our tiny corner of the world. Cookie and Blackie are there, of course. Giant Mickey Mouse (a huge Dean’s Rag Doll display who inhabits the space near the bottom of our bed) waves his arms.

A line-up of a few of my favorite Aesop Fable dolls, along with a rather excellent Bugs Bunny I purchased randomly on eBay making an appearance. They are lined up behind Kim on his desk, in front of the ever-growing stack of finished pages of art that resides on his desk. A tiny Dean’s Mickey (Minnie really) Jazzer fills out the group on the desk. (They were designed to sit on the arm of your record player – yep, there’s a lot to absorb in that sentence and probably a bad idea for the records, which would have been 78’s at the time.) Kim is like the master of ceremonies – he has gathered the group to pay tribute!

Some of the Valentine participants shown here.

Meanwhile, Waldo is there and he is checking out Felix’s girlfriend, and while she is a creation of Kim’s mind, the Felix is not. He is a splendid, sizable example I purchased at auction because, although I have other somewhat similar examples, I couldn’t resist the bargain he was. (Of course, I have never regretted the purchase.)

What can such a fortunate girl say? I’m very pleased to be at the heart of this particular kingdom. Although not always absolutely peaceable, there is nowhere I would rather be. I hope to reign here, benignly of course, for many years to come.

Blackie (top) and Cookie as a matched set eating dinner recently.

Hard to Find the Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tomorrow we will have our annual Deitch Studio Valentine reveal (one of the highlights of the Pictorama and Deitch Studio year – if you are new to Pictorama or just need to see a Kim Deitch Valentine right now, last year’s can be found here), but today we are back to a Felix photos. This 8″x10″ came to me via @missmollysantiques on Instagram (a fascinating source for things Halloween and exotica from our nation’s great Midwest), and although it was a rollicking good Halloween photo, I didn’t see the Felix at first.

This interior from the early decades of the 20th century is homey and nice. The window dressings form their own patterns in the background, and the piano on one side and mantel on the other frame the group nicely. There is no carpet on the floor, it is shining wood beneath the bent knees of one of the young Indians, but perhaps it has been rolled up and put aside for this shindig. It is hard to imagine that this well-appointed room didn’t have a carpet most days.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

These folks have embraced the costume spirit with a fair amount of enthusiasm. If I was the judge for Best Costume I would likely hover around the gypsy fortune teller (second row, second from the left, holding a tambourine, sassy sash at her hips), or perhaps the clown in the back corner behind the piano – but I am a sucker for a period clown costume and her pointed hat has a nice Halloween pumpkin and black cat. (You can find an earlier rather splendid similar Halloween clown in the snow photo post here. It heralds from the same Midwestern source. Those folks really knew how to celebrate Halloween.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

The men have largely, although not entirely uniformly, embraced cross dressing as their fancy dress and I count four of those here. Others seem to have adopted funny suit clothes without a self-evident definition – comical hats and ties largely. One fellow got into the spirit fully and is in a sort of jester costume, although he looks a tad unhappy, sad jester – he holds something in his hands I can’t make out. Maybe being next to the flashy gypsy à la flapper has him put out.

If you look closely at the back row you spot several men and one elderly woman who are not in costume, tucked in among the more colorful celebrants. Dad and Mom as I think of them, are wedged between a straw hatted and bespectacled (not to mention jaunty) fellow striking a pose on the end and a well-dressed younger woman who may or may not be in costume. Dad is clad in vest and tie, mom with her hair up, eyes downcast, but wearing some lovely long beads, dressed up if not in costume.

Two other younger men who don’t appear to be in fancy dress are to the back. One with a loosened tie behind Dad and the other in a plaid flannel shirt is on the other end. Flannel shirt guy is taller than everyone else and good looking. Perhaps he is in costume but my guess is no. Meanwhile, he looks a bit grim at the prospect of this photo.

On the floor we have our small fry representing a sort of jester, the aforementioned Indian (feathers in her headdress vaguely askew), and a third little girl whose costume, if she is wearing one, is indistinct. She may be sporting something on her head that I can’t quite make out. It’s easy to imagine them running around wildly before and after this shot. I can almost, but not quite, assign them as siblings or offspring of the older generations in the photo. (Does our Indian look a bit like Dad? Does the jester look a bit look a little like the heavy set man with the huge, flowing tie in the middle row?)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Meanwhile, if you haven’t found him yet, Felix takes the form of a posable toy, likely of the Schoenhut variety held in the hand of the woman to the far right, perched on the piano. Although she is in party dress, she does not appear to be in costume either and perhaps grabbing Felix was her attempt to be more festive. Perhaps after this photo she sat down at that piano and started to bang out some tunes, apples were bobbed and the party got underway.

The Girls on the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is a cold gray February morning here in NYC as I write. Snow (I think of it as more snow), which just commenced, is expected throughout today. Somehow it seems like a good opportunity to consider these pretty young women in spring dresses taken in July of 1912.

They are wonderful and somehow that shines through the fact that this photo was an unusually ham-handed product. Perhaps it is the sheer number that these photographers took at fairs or seaside resorts, but they are usually of at least adequate execution, if occasionally showing signs of exhausted chemicals (dunked in a nearby bucket a few too many times) or an image not washed of developer properly and fading over time. This photo would be the exception to the rule – the bottom of the image is out of focus and the top physically cropped crudely – although reading it, that seems to have happened later. Maybe it was cut down slightly to fit in a frame – there is no evidence that it was in a photo album. Perhaps the slightly slovenly execution is why this card was actually sent rather than just saved as a memento as is most often the case with these, at least those which are generally seen and collected today.

For all of that these two are charmers. One grasps the nose of the moon – poking him right in the eye! And the two hold hands. They are both enjoying themselves mightily and smile broad, sincere grins from their moon-side perch. One looks at the other and she looks out, at us and into the future.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

The notes are charming too though. Written at the bottom it says, This was taken in Muskogee. We had the finest of times there going to the parks & shows & most everywhere. On the back, also in pencil but lighter and very hard to read, it appears to say, Dear Ma, Say have you sent me any money? if you haven’t pls send some to Aunt Pearl’s for me. I’m leaving this afternoon for K.C. I sure had a grand time here especially…[arrow to the part about money] If you have sent it I will get it alright…will forward it for me. Jane. It is addressed to: Mr. Densel Brown, 2255 E Street, Granite City, Ill. (Yes, she has written to her mother but addressed the card to her father. Welcome to 1912 I guess.) In her hand it is dated 7/19/12.It was mailed from somewhere called Gibson and one wonders if these two are cousins.

A play on the typical Moon photo which I purchased years ago.

I have collected a few of these cards. One of my very first posts was devoted to an early acquisition. (It can be found here. A post about the other photo below can be found here.) They are a competitive area of collecting however so I only dabble a bit. They are a special joy when excellent examples are pulled together and framed or shown collectively – more is more – something I have seen well executed a few times. Much like my beloved posing with Felix photo postcards these always seem to be joyful. As if to say, who wouldn’t get a grin on their face when, in the midst of a fine day at a fair or seaside resort, dressed in your spring togs, you got to sit on the moon or mug with a giant Felix?

A happy group enjoying themselves for a pose on and around the moon.

As huge flakes of snow obliterate our view now (cartoon snow is how I think of these giant pieces, chunks really, floating and blowing around) accumulate outside my window, I am grateful to have spent an hour in July, 1912 in Muskogee, Oklahoma with Jane and her pal.

More Mainzer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post is devoted to the heir to the Louis Wain wacky anthropomorphic cat throne, Eugen Hartung. Hartung is sort of the Otto Messmer of cat postcards. Hartung is a Swiss artist (1897-1973) whose career blossomed in the United States after WWII somehow became know by his publisher’s name, Alfred Mainzer. Was it post-war anti-German sentiment? Was it conscious like Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, or did it happen of it’s own accord? For whatever reason, Mainzer’s name is the one prominent on the back of these cards it is the name I knew them by until I started digging a bit for a blog awhile back. I wrote about one of these cards I purchased back in 2019 and recounted some of this history. (That post can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Much to my surprise, two handfuls of these cards found their way to me back in December. After retrieving a mysterious package that had been left for you in the parlance of our doorman’s communications, I discovered that a friend who lives on the other end of 86th Street (and who I haven’t seen in person given our pandemic times) had dropped off a packet of these cards for me. Evidently she had found them years ago when cleaning out her parent’s house and put them aside for me. In a recent apartment renovation she discovered them again and brought them over. When I emailed my thanks she said that she remembered thinking when she found them that I was the right home for them and she was glad she had finally united them with me.

Oddly enough though within the month, another handful of these cards showed up in a Christmas card for Kim. I want to say it was either Rick Altergott or Evan Dent who sent them along. I apologize for this slip of mind and not remembering better. I was struck by how odd it was that two bunches of these cards should find their way to me at the same time. If you’re reading please raise your hand so I can correct this and thank you properly!

These cards were still widely available when I was a little kid and I always liked them – purchasing them when I could although those particular ones are long disappeared. They have a texture to the paper, that I remember with tactile memory, and the deckle edge lives in memory too, somehow rooted in the 1960’s in my mind. It turns out that, on the other side of the country, a young adult Kim Deitch was purchasing them in Berkeley. All great minds think alike it seems. Little did either of us know that decades later Deitch Studio and Pam’s Pictorama would unite to be the blissful cat laden bower that it is today.

I have long wondered why, although extremely popular, Hartung’s cat cards have never risen to the level of Louis Wain. (I have written several times about the cat artist genius and some of those posts can be found here, here and here just for starters.) I think in part, although plenty chaotic and wacky, they lack the underlying maniacal frenzy of the Wain universe. They are beautifully choreographed compositions and there is a prettiness that Wain’s drawings don’t have. As Louis Wain himself began to descend into mental illness, the drawings had an increasing edge to them – until of course they become almost entirely abstract. At least this is my theory. Even at their most frenzied they are a bit polite and well bred in a way that Wain isn’t.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

I give you a selection of a two of my favorites out of the group, more to come. This Western scene above – a cat cowboy evidently breaking a bucking bronco goat – was a evidently a much beloved one. It has multiple push pin holes in the top edge where someone kept it on view. (None of these cards in either bunch were ever mailed.) A girl cat is using a home movie camera (circa the 1950’s or ’60’s) to film the action and she’s right in the midst of it, tail politely poking out beneath a short skirt. In the top right, one cowboy pushes another off his perch on the rails and a Siamese cat is amongst them for diversity. I once owned an Annie Oakley jacket like the one worn by the fleeing fellow in the lower right – was my favorite jacket for years and I wore it until it fell to pieces.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The next one is this family scene of kitty chaos. I think it is very funny that these cats are dog owners and it is the dogs that are causing today’s troubles. The cats are exceedingly genteel and the cafe scene is decidedly European. The spilled drinks appear to be hot chocolate (the children were drinking it) and the waiter’s spilling tray is full of petit fours. (The one young fellow, strategically under the tray, is preparing to snatch them up as they fall.)

Comically, two birds watch the action from the lower right – none of these well-bred felines pays them any mind. The cats are civilized and all the others are playing their animal roles. This card is heavily faded along the very top edge, but only a persnickety collector would have issue with this. It too has many pin prick holes, top and bottom, from being on view somewhere.

I end today by saying I would expect that at least a few more of these will find their way to the pages of Pictorama so cat card lovers stay tuned.

Stormy Weather

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Ah, yes. A return to photos today and this recent acquisition which exceeded my expectations when I purchased it. I have discovered, the hard way, that purchasing photos off of Instagram sales is different than buying them on eBay. One must act very fast and can’t really study and consider a thing the way I like. Therefore, there’s been a fair amount of leaping and some purchases that have left me scratching my head when received. Such is the life of an online photo collector. Nonetheless, it has broadened my horizons and this example is a gem of the non-cat photo variety.

It is a smallish photo, the actual image is three and a half inches, square. It is permanently affixed to the white decorative cardboard mount. I am inclined to say it is a cabinet card, but I defer to some of my readers who are more specifically knowledgeable in this area to offer a correction or fine tune that assumption. On the back it reads, Brown’s house in pencil in one hand, and in pen below in another script, Medef’s Camera, Dec 16, ’01. I purchased it from a seller in the mid-west and I would make a guess that it depicts a scene there, but hard to tell of course. It was sold to me by a woman who runs two accounts, one for antique clothing and jewelry (@spakeasachildvintage) and another I first discovered her under, @_wherethewillowsgrow_, for old photographs. I frequent both.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

What I find somewhat remarkable about this photo is both the subject matter and the ability of an early photograph to capture it so well. I not sure I envy the early photographer, perched on the shore, capturing this roaring and roiling body of water. It is winter, there is snow on the hillside on the other side of the water and if you look carefully you can also see the icy banks across from they stood to take the photo.

The moving water is in sharp focus meaning it was a pretty fast exposure for the day. The Brown’s house is presumably the pleasant looking house across the way, a bit hard to see but visible. Hard to say if their property was threatened by the rising, violent water. There appears to be a whirlpool, or perhaps just a deep cavity formed by the waves, to the right side of the photo. It is quite a maelstrom.

Pictorama readers know I grew up on the Jersey shore, on the Shrewsbury River and only a few minutes from the ocean. River flooding and occasionally violent hurricanes, were not uncommon and dot my childhood memories – mom picking us up early from school before moving the car to higher ground and walking home in advance of a storm; watching the river burst up over the bulkhead and into our yard and around the house; the cold feeling of the water rushing under the house during a flood; geese paddling by and peering in the back door.

Despite that, I don’t remember seeing our river in quite this state – perhaps because the Shrewsbury was not contained by the same sort of deep embankment as is shown here, maybe made yet more active by a nearby falls. (Hurricane Sandy was the first time my parents evacuated during a storm and after a lifetime there they moved not long after, being too elderly now to deal with the extremes of life on the water. Mom lives nearby but definitely inland now.)

The sun playing on the water is always lovely.

As recent readers know, I have taken up running along the East River (attempting to anyway) as part of my pandemic exercise regime. (That post, Running Slowly can be found here.) The moods of the river remind me of my childhood and it is fascinating to watch its many moods each day. In general I am shocked by the current which almost always seems to be very strong and fast. Even without boats (and there are boats in winter, a more or less steady stream of ferries, tugs and cargo ships) small waves, sometimes eddies and whirlpools. On a very windy morning the water can slap the bulkhead and spray as I jog by. The extremely calm day is a rare exception. I find it irresistible to photograph in all its moods and record it ongoing, as seen here, often with the early morning sun playing on it. Being near it now reminds me of my childhood and endless days of watching the water out our windows.

A strangely still day on the East River recently.

Living by the water you are quick to learn that, much like life in general, one day it can be as calm and smooth as glass – and the next it can whip itself into a fury.

Strong currents in the East River in November.

A Tiny Trip to the Future

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is a contemplative work/life missive by way of warning to my readers. (Toys, photos and Felix to return shortly.) We haven’t had one of these in a long time. And while I have posting a bit about things like setting up my office in the apartment, (some of those posts can be found here and here) I have not written about my job since New York shutdown, our concert hall closed and tours canceled, almost a year ago now, last March.

Toy cafe in Shanghai

In the past I have written occasionally about my work at Jazz at Lincoln Center, often reporting in from trips with the orchestra to far flung places (some of those posts, from trips to Shanghai, London and South Africa can be found here, here and here), but I have not written much about our quarantine times professionally. (The photo above of the outside of our hall was taken in June on my first trip to midtown since March.) Frankly, I figured I didn’t have anything to add to what everyone was probably struggling with in their own way, living their own version of quarantine imposed issues and addressing them in your work life. Also, it has been exhausting to live it and I have not had much time for reflection. I will start though by saying that I know I am very lucky to be able to work from home (be it ever so humble), and of course to have a job at all. I think about both those things often. (For those of you who might be new to Pictorama and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I work for the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra and Wynton Marsalis, fundraising for the organization.)

As we march toward the one year mark, one that seemed impossible and I among those who refused to accept as even a possibility last spring, new rhythms and routines have of course been established. The work day starts very early here at Deitch Studio and I have adjusted to Kim’s program. It is rare that I am not at the computer and having my first look at the day around 6:00. Some mornings find me working out in a nearby park, jogging and doing some of the exercise that is hard in our confined space, working off early pandemic pounds. Other mornings might instead mean lifting weights here in the apartment – trying to make it possible for Kim to work in on the mat between rotations. (My posts about teaching myself to run and working out at home can be found here and here.)

Dawn recently at Carl Schurz Park, the site of my outdoor workouts.

If Wynton has calls he is making during the day ahead, to thank people or sometimes to ask for a gift, he gets his notes from me early. Sometimes there is an official briefing on the schedule, other times a spontaneous call early after reading my notes. (When I was walking instead of running sometimes I could multi-task and do a call then, but talking is beyond me while trying to run.) Then the long day of being at my “desk”, an ancient drafting table, commences. (I have recently ordered a new desk chair, one with arms, which will hopefully relieve what is now a chronic aching lower back.) Kim is subjected to a never-ending litany of calls and meetings, which he is required to endure my end of, my office now used to mutterings that occasionally come from his side of the room. Him now deeply versed in my work, where we stand to goal and each and every gain and setback daily. Wynton’s voice via the phone has at times seemed like another resident of the apartment.

Cookie and Blackie nearing dinner time recently, Kim, out of view the object of their scrutiny.

The work day continues, with a break to eat a quick lunch which Kim and I try to do together, until about six o’clock when Kim usually knocks off work and Cookie and Blackie get their (long awaited; by then they are on my desk and staring hard at the back of Kim’s head) dinner. I usually start our dinner around then, we eat together and then sometimes I drift back to work for awhile, or it might be another good time if Wynton and I need to talk. Sometimes there are events, me in front of Kim’s work table on Zoom doing a welcome and introductions.

Like everyone else, my days are now spent clad in variations of comfortable clothing. There are evening “events” such as online concerts and conversations, and those demand rare forays into applying make up (I really thought I had forgotten how at first), putting on a nice top and maybe even a pair of earrings. I, who always dressed for work and a roster of evenings out, who rotated a beloved array of rings on multiple fingers daily, and faithfully applied make-up every workday, I have embraced the soft trouser (think sweat pants; the Addidas ones are for dressy events although no one sees them) paired with a hoodie, or the workout clothes from an interrupted or abandoned exercise session earlier in the day.

I have worn variations on these moccasins for years, but never wore through a pair before.

I have worn out one pair of sneakers, the only shoes I wear these days, and I found recently that I had worn through my moccasin slippers which I wear in the house. Wore right through them and we started finding little diamonds of the soles around the apartment. The replacement, below, arrived yesterday and I am wearing them, quite contentedly, now. My feet resist the discussion of eventual progression back to hard shoes. I have coaxed my feet into snow boots on a few occasions as needed.

The photos over Kim’s desk which are now a frequent background for my greetings on Zoom evenings.

Earlier in the pandemic, Wynton was doing a live show, Skain’s Domain, on Monday night and each week kicked off with a night of 90 minutes of interviews followed by just regular folks who had logged on asking questions and telling stories. (A sample posted on Youtube can be found here.) It was usually about music, but politics and world events would creep in. People welcomed a chance to just be with other folks, even if it was more time on Zoom, late in the evening. It ran until the summer when we decided to take a break.

I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that a performing arts organization that once earned more than half of its revenue from concerts, touring, a jazz club and hall rentals, which suddenly found fundraising as its only means of income (and many of its expenses still pressing) has struggled mightily. That means me and a somewhat dwindling but devoted staff have been very busy for the past eleven months. As a fundraiser it is the challenge of a professional lifetime like I thought I would never have and that can also be exhilarating if exhausting. Someday I might write about that part of it, perhaps after I am not in the thick of it.

Wynton has, not surprisingly, been a great leader under these extreme circumstances. Although he has driven the organization hard and at times the staff almost to the point of breaking, as a result we have remained disciplined and continued to produce and remain in the public eye, despite the obvious limitations. He encourages, nags and at times if needed will even taunt us into action. A steady flow of online content, live shows, education programs, new music and archival concerts have been marshaled into being. My colleagues, who I always realized were amazing professionals each in their own field, have been incredible. I reflected the other day that among the very few people I have seen in person in the last eleven months (other than Kim and cats) have been folks from work. The absolute joy of in-person encounter leading to jumping up and down in excitement since hugging them was not possible.

Chateau Le Woof where I met a colleague for a outdoor drink this summer.

Needless to say, there is no victory lap here though and like everyone else, we remain unsure of where we even are in this process – halfway through? Almost there? My mantra has been not to look ahead, but keep my shoulder to the wheel, easier not to speculate beyond immediate needs. The race, clearly a marathon, continues.

This week however I found myself required to live in the future for a bit and it was interesting to go there. I have been writing proposals for an audience development project, one to take place after we return to our hall, whenever that turns out to be. For the purposes of the request we are assuming we are back, playing live music in January 2022. The request is to help underwrite the cost of concerts so we can offer deeply subsidized tickets for a returning audience, re-engaging with post-pandemic live performance in a hall, and also use the opportunity to grow our audience. Around each of these concerts would be an Open House style festival with school kids, families, local mid-town vendors and restaurants. All kinds of people together in a space – mingling and enjoying music.

In the process of writing I realized that, while of course I reflect occasionally on what I call the time before I have yet begun to construct a vision of what the time after might actually be. I mean, I suppose we all have some vague idea about aspects of it – what will a commute look further than ten feet across a room look like, how will we arrange swing shifts in the office, will we ever sit in conference rooms again. (How much will I travel for work? Will I ever return to purchasing nice clothing and make up?) But to really imagine a time when we are gathering inside in groups again and listening to live music, all presumably without fear of infection, is both hard and liberating. Can we just throw off more than a year of how we are now living and working? Surely there will be residual changes from it, but moments of living in that time in my imagination has helped the future start to take root.

Cookie basking in the desk light on my makeshift work space recently.

I am by nature a planner. I like to anticipate and know where I am going and how I will get there. I have had to release my grip on the need to know over this time which has not been easy for someone a bit compulsive like me. Still, suddenly it seems like maybe it might be time to start to let the future, the after time, to cultivate that glimmer in my mind and let it grow.

Framed Again

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is my second installment of framed photos that have wandered into the Pictorama collection recently. This little treat was a Christmas gift from Kim’s brother Seth who always sends especially thoughtful holiday gifts.

Gift from Seth Deitch featured in a 2016 post, link above. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Much like yesterday’s post (which you can find here for those not following in real time), this hotsy totsy item is a wonderful object as he has assembled it, frame and decorative paper behind it spot on. It now has a special perch near my desk. While he has numerous talents, Seth has a great eye and came up with an equally special Christmas gift of a photo a few years back and I featured that one in a post you can read here, Merry Christmas from Seth. (Shown above.)

This year’s gift from Seth Deitch. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

These mandolin playing women stand on either side of this Christmas tree, which is done up in holiday decorating charm of an earlier era – the lead based garlands and tinsel which sparkled a bit brighter I think, but must have been banned at some point. (I found someone selling new old stock of it this holiday season and you can see it has more heft as well.) The Butlers were a garland and not a tinsel family probably because of the numerous cats we had, although my mom may have been mess adverse as well.

I remember my cat Otto eating some tinsel the first year I had her and had placed a tiny artificial tree in my apartment. (She gobbled it before I could do anything – hell bent on it – she was a nutty cat.) Luckily it didn’t kill her or make her sick – no tinsel after that. Meanwhile, I do remember that my grandmother had ancient tree garlands that were heavier and brighter than what are sold now. They seemed old-fashioned even back in the 1960’s and early ’70’s, but I remember the hard, crinkly feel of them.

The women and the tree are set up in front of a mural of a pillars, sky and sweeping drapery. They are clad in somewhat sensible low-heeled shoes atop a patterned carpet. The mural and even the carpet makes me tempted to guess that this locale is a ballroom or other commercial venue rather than a home. Both are dressed nicely, albeit somewhat subdued – the woman on the right has a necklace on, the other a pin at the neck of her dress.

I itch to hear them play those mandolins. I admit I had not given much thought to mandolin playing until I started working at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I was introduced to the wonders of the mandolin at several concerts, but Marty Stuart really made me take notice. I notice the guitars at the ready in this photo, and somehow I just get the sense that we could hear these women in a great swing band.

Some of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members, from left Kenny Rampton, Marcus Printop, Carlos Henriquez and James Chirillo. Taken on tour in 2017, on the porch of Cracker Barrel after a breakfast stop.

Although the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra does not have a guitar player as a persistent member of the band, we are often fortunate to often have James Chirillo join us, and he was on the Big Band Holiday tour I joined on the road back in 2017. (You can read about that trip early in my career at Jazz at Lincoln Center here.) James was recently a guest for a Zoom member evening and it was nice to see him and talk with him again. Like all of us he is chomping at the bit to be back in our hall and playing live music again. (Someday I think people will wonder what the heck this Zoom was that we all talk about during the pandemic. Zoom, which I spend most of my days and some of my evenings on, tends to make me feel like I’m in a sort of bubble where I am almost with people, but alas, are not really. Ironically it is like the television phones of the future we all imaged and thought would be so wonderful. I just read speculation about such things in a 1922 volume of The Radio Girls series. More to come on that.)

This has set me off, thinking about the past and wondering about the future as I consume my second cup of coffee so I will leave it here for now, but with another final tip ‘o the hat to my brother in-law who can pick a mighty fine photo – with thanks!