Felix and The Ebony Room

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little item is about twelve inches high, homemade out of a thick piece of wood, at least two inches fat. It has just enough accumulated grime to make me think it sat on a wall somewhere, undisturbed for a long time. The whites are somewhat yellowed, although if you look closely you can still see the ancient pencil lines used for the lettering. I have no idea how old it is. The eBay seller hails from Indiana which may indicate this sign’s place of origin – or not. A quick search of Indiana clubs with The Ebony Room in their name turns up a Facebook page for an Ebony and Ivory Dance Club there, although meanwhile for all I know this sign sat proudly in a home bar or rec room or other bar.

Felix’s tail is a bit fluffy and his nose is a bit off kilter. The overall design used makes me think of a late 1940’s or 50’s Felix. Having said that, the execution is neatly done and I want to say there must have been some sort of a semi-professional template used. A glossy paint finished him up and there is a long toothy wall hook on the back for secure hanging. I love the red lettering, so neatly and painstakingly done in a sort of faux Gothic style.

I admit I am unsure what made me purchase this. (I’m not sure, but I think Kim sort of looked at me sideways when I unpacked it.) Granted it didn’t cost much, but anything larger than a photo tends to get some consideration in our cramped quarters. I am unsure of the impulsive exception made. There is something about these homemade items that I like though, slightly off-model and askew they show the hand of the maker and remind us that copyright or not, Felix was a cartoon cat of the people. It is a one-of-a-kind, homey piece of popular culture. It just makes me think about sitting in a dimly lit, but cheerful spot with a draft beer in hand.

As bookshelf building is still hopefully in our (post-bunker life) future I have not considered where and if we will sport this item on display here at Deitch Studio. Still, it has found its niche here, among the ever-growing collection of Felix items beloved.

June 1927

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Frankly I don’t remember exactly when this Felix family photo wandered into Deitch Studio, but when I was clearing a work space for myself it turned up. It is a small photo, sort of 3″x5″, and June 1927 is all that is written, in ink, on the back.

There is great contrast in this photo between the family sporting their best summer bib and tucker and the pleasantly rundown and overgrown yard they pose in. Why they have grabbed up these two good size composition Felix-es is of course also utterly mysterious. Each is held by one of the be-suited men. The third man has one of the women perched on his knee and the second woman is tucked between them, all posed on these inviting broad steps – just meant for sitting on.

The porch is inviting, or at least it is to me from the limited environs of Deitch studio at the moment. There is a deep wooden rocking chair almost out of sight and a less comfortable chair where a newspaper was hastily abandoned in a heap atop of it – the reader perhaps hopping up to pose for the photo. The early summer is unfurling into lush, green overgrowth around them. I think of upstate New York, but it could be many places. (I tried to check but I cannot find a purchase history to see where it even shipped from.)

The phenomena of having your photo taken with Felix is of course the original premise of this blog. However, even as someone who has collected many photos of people posing with Felix (usually the human-sized stuffed ones of seaside resorts and fairs – an example can be found here if you are new to Pictorama) these sorts of family snap shots with Felix remain a bit cryptic to me. Had they just won them at a fair perhaps?

I remain somewhat baffled by family photos where folks just snatch up a Felix statue or toy for the family photo – was the message that Felix was an important part of the family? Or just such a part of the times – they probably didn’t realize that it would eventually mark their family photo as somewhat iconic of the period.

Meanwhile, I cannot imagine the equivalent for my family growing up. (Despite having been the daughter of a photographer we didn’t do a lot of family photos and they were sort of starchy compared to these folks and their Felix dolls. There are no photos of me and Barbie – there is only one of me with a toy that I can think of and I wrote about it a long time ago here and I once again share me and the much loved Squeaky below.) I have a clutch of other photos from the late 1920’s and early ’30’s with Felix joining the family for a photo. Off the top of my head though, I want to say those photos are all from Britain and it is usually a stuffed Felix that gets the place of honor. (One of those posts can be found here.)

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Me with my beloved toy dog Squeaky, probably around 1968

 

Whatever the early 20th century motivation for posing with Felix toys, I am glad to see these treasure turn up today – sometimes finding new ones in my own apartment. Let’s see what else turns up here at Pictorama, shopping in our own closet as it were, for items of interest while enduring and also enjoying bunker days here.

Borrowed Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: A general rule of thumb at Pictorama is that I only post about items I actually own. However, I have lifted the ban today in favor of an item I missed on ebay recently and in light of fewer items finding their way to Deitch Studio due to our current bunker lifestyle and a strict money diet. So with apologies to whoever was lucky enough to purchase this card I offer it to you today.

I was willing to make an exception to the money diet in favor of this item, but I just didn’t act fast enough on it being a bit distracted from my usual endeavors. This photo hails from Great Britain and the location on the back is identified as Easterton Wilts in penciled print. (This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nor is anything else written on the back.) The location appears to refer to Easterton, Wiltshire, a small town not terribly far from places like Bath and Bristol it seems, at least according to my reading of Google maps.

While I located this photo because of the rather splendid Felix costume clad individual, I am especially enamored of the two person horse (donkey?) get up, with those fellows sporting such serious oxfords, as is the gent in the gorilla mask. Felix could be man or woman, feet are hidden and hands in gloves. (Since all shown appear to be men I will assume Felix is as well.) I will just say, I would REALLY like to own that Felix head mask! (Yes, I would find room for it despite space being at a premium here at Deitch Studio these days.)

The splendid horse costume has a semi-professional look, as do the other costumes, although the gorilla suit (mask notwithstanding) seems a bit thin on detail. It puts me in mind of one my favorite posts (and items) about a book of fairly ambitious circus costumes you could make yourself – provided you are smarter than I am and much handier in general. The book and the post are called How to Put on a Circus and it can be found here.

The countryside stretches out behind them as far as the (camera) eye can see – just some thatched cottage and a small grove of trees in the distance. A nice little marching band is tuning up behind our group, you can almost hear them. Last, there is the blurred image of a man moving too fast behind the “woman”. I don’t know if this was a little parade or some sort of a fair or festival. Perhaps a bit overcast (much like it is here today as I write this, looking out over the East River) but a very jolly day I am sure.

Piercing

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her  – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.

Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.

For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.

It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.

Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!

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My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.

In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.

 

Postal Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post comes with thanks via Christina Valenza, a west coast Facebook friend of Deitch Studio. I am sorry to say it had disappeared into a nook with a cache of photos and was just rediscovered as I was pushing cats and photos aside to make a desk for myself to use during the course of our current captivity. It found its way to Deitch Studio from Oakland, California last year and while I usually don’t find contemporary cards of interest I do love the documentation of this artwork.

As you can see, someone has painted a cheeky tongue out Felix on the side of one of those boxes that the post office uses to hold the mail on the street. I don’t claim to really understand that process – actually I should ask Kim as he did a brief stint with the post office in the East Village in his youth. This one is a rusty brown – they are generally army green in New York City. What I really like about it is that he is an old style toothy Felix and reminds me of the early dolls of the 1920’s.

The photo is identified as having been taken by Albert L. Morse in 1971. Christina Valenza has a book of his photos available here. It appears that Mr. Morse was an attorney in the Bay Area, as well as being a self-taught photographer. A young Albert was given a camera by his father and started taking photos at the age of 12 and as an adult he took it upon himself to document that early ’70’s comics scene. Below is a page of photos which includes a sort of mug shot-ish one of Kim and a less than flattering one of Simon on the end of the top row.

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Albert Morse acted in a legal capacity on behalf of numerous cartoonists in the greater Bay Area in the 1970’s. According to Kim, if you asked a favor of Morse he would ask you to do a page for his anthology Morse’s Funnies, shown below with a Crumb cover. Kim tells me that there is an interesting Simon Deitch page within, but that he never did a page for him because (imagine Kim here, deadpan) he never asked him for a favor.

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Without getting too specific or colorful, suffice it to say that Kim was not a fan of Mr. Morse (who it appears died in 2006) as he feels that Morse took advantage of some of his comics colleagues. Enough said, just in case some of the litigious relatives of Morse roam the internet today.

So with thanks to Christine and apologies for the long wait for a Pictorama nod. Wowza! I thought I was going to spend the morning on Felix, but instead was taken down an entirely different tributary of Kim’s life, long before me.

Judy Bolton Mysteries: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: While bunker-style living here in Manhattan during our modern plague has not resulted in an increase in reading time (quite the opposite as days seem to somehow blur into seven-day-a-week, 14 hour day work-a-thons), I do make time every night for a bit of Judy Bolton before bed. With the last few volumes looming on the horizon I know I will miss her and the dollop of her 1940’s daily life when I eventually finish the last volume. However, today I offer this next Judy installment as suggested reading for those of you hunting a little escapism from your current reality.

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I have always believed that in stressful times that one should be extremely thoughtful about what one is reading. (Kim is currently deep in Max Brand – I thought he’d already read all of him – and of course Little Orphan Annie on weekends, but none of this is different, just business as usual for him.) These days I read only what I feel is necessary of the newspaper in the morning and quickly move on.

In the evening, I need something to lead me into a relaxed enough state to sleep. Therefore, I try to put down the phone (Wynton Marsalis, please take note) and pick up my Judy Bolton novel to read a chapter or so. I am finishing up volume 20 currently, The Warning on the Window, and am fascinated by the fact that my copy, with a 1949 copyright, sporting a dust jacket and purchased on ebay, had never been read! I found several pages that had never been split. Imagine this book being passed from hand to hand over seventy years and never read. Extraordinary!

 

As I mentioned in my first post about Judy (which can be found here) about halfway through the series Judy marries one of her two suitors throughout the earlier volumes. While Judy’s role is not diminished to one of housewife, some of the aspects of 1940’s pre-feminism jabs at me in these latter volumes. Judy’s husband leaves his nascent law practice to join the FBI after one of their adventures and somehow the series that was about her with him occasionally helping becomes about her helping him. Although hers always does end up being the star role the author now feels the need to work at storylines that allow for this. (Meanwhile, reality has never been a strong suit of these books, but the evidence of this sticks in my crawl a bit.)

Meanwhile, Judy and Peter have acquired a child along the way, Roberta, whose father is mysteriously “at sea” and from what I can tell they have never heard a peep from him. As a result they now have a ready made family and Roberta’s mystery solving abilities, given her age, somewhat make up for Judy’s post-marital status.

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As part of this shift in storyline, I was a bit worried about Judy’s black cat, Blackberry, who seemed to be meeting his demise in The Living Portrait. A puppy, Tuffy, was introduced in this volume as Roberta’s pet and I was quite peevish when it seemed that Blackberry would be sacrificed for him. I hope I am not giving away too much plot when I assure readers that he makes a strong eventual comeback and remains part of the family. (In fact up next, The Black Cat’s Clue.)

The thing that interests me most about the second half of the series is that Margaret Sutton’s writing style seems to morph in tandem with Judy’s role as wife. Almost immediately the books become a bit more complex. The mysteries go from being excuses for a storyline with unreal plots to more logical storylines. They are still stuffed with really bad criminals and if anything Judy appears to be in actual danger in some of these stories. In particular The Secret of the Musical Tree managed to have me a bit worried about her at one point. (Even if harrowing at times, all is of course viewed from the safety of knowing that Judy appears in another volume, waiting patiently for me next to the bed.) Judy as an adult clearly meant that Sutton could step out a little in a different direction.

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Undated photo of Margaret Sutton

 

To both Judy and Sutton’s credit, Judy spends little if any time worrying about her appearance (Judy’s attire is only ever noted if it is a plot point) and only glancingly makes mention about things like cleaning the house or cooking a meal. Judy’s mother tends to worry about Judy’s mystery solving ways and one gets the sense that this is the evolution of young women of the times moving yet another notch out of the home and into the working world.

Still, plot devices are needed in order to get Judy away from her husband and let her do her stuff, which by today’s standards is unnecessary and even insulting. Peter can therefore expect to be conked on the head unconscious, or to find that somehow Judy is off in another town, unable to phone, and turns out to be knee deep in trouble. Despite being dated in this way, these books are a more or less perfect antidote for the stresses of the spring of 2020 for me. Just intriguing enough to lead me peacefully down the garden path, again and again each night. I highly recommend them if you like me need a bit of evening escapism.

 

 

Letters from a Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today feline dedicated post was a birthday gift from my good friend Eileen Travell. She acquired this precious, slim volume at a store I long to experience one day and that I wrote about in an earlier post, 3 Little Kittens, which can be found here, and describes that gift purchased there as well, The Salem, New York shop is 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here). It has set me to dreaming about a future summer day digging through their wares. My copy is stamped School Library, Saranac Lake, N.Y. on both front and back fly leafs.

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While this book is clearly meant for children, complete with very large and easily read text, I am not sure I would say race out and grab this book to read to your small child. Suffice it to say life was cheaper and harder in 1879 and that is evidenced in this book. The overall premise of the book is that while a little girl is away visiting her aunt she receives a series of letters penned by her puss in her absence. (Yes, the remarkable nature of a cat writing letters, however sloppily printed, is covered in the story, although never fully explained. The methods of post are detailed however.)

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Sadly kit has a hard time of it in the absence of her mistress with everything from a spring cleaning of the house, which terrifies her, to an accident with a barrel of soft soap, which I assume is either lye or the lye and fat makings for soap, which almost does her in. All about the plot is is given away in the first part of the book which is penned in the voice of the young mistress now grown.

However, when the little mistress describes how much she loves her kitty and what a glorious cat she is you know that H.H. was herself a cat lover and an understander of the feline nature. (Kim speculated that the timing is right for this book to have inspired Archy and Mehitabel, first created by Don Marquis in 1916 and collected first in 1927. As many of you know, it is best known for being illustrated by George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame.)

Letters from a Cat Published by Her Mistress for the Benefit of all Cats and the Amusement of Little Children has an original copyright of 1879. My edition is from 1930. It has seventeen illustrations by Addie Ledyard. The author H.H. turns out to be Helen Hunt Jackson (b. 1830 and d. 1885, née Helen Maria Fiske) a famous poet and writer of her day.

Jackson was the daughter of a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College. Her mother having died when Helen was 14, she and her sister were fully orphaned three years later. However, the father had provided for Helen’s education and she attended a boarding school where she was the classmate of Emily Dickinson with whom she corresponded throughout her life. Helen Hunt Jackson was very much a part of the interesting and broad group of writers and thinkers in the greater Amherst area of the day.

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Jackson begins writing after the loss of husband and sons over a handful of years and before she was much more than 30 years old. (Hunt was the surname of this husband, she eventually remarries while taking the cure for TB in Colorado years later and takes the name Jackson.) Her earliest works are published under the H.H. nom de plume. She became interested in issues surrounding the poor treatment of Native Americans after hearing a lecture in Boston by Chief Standing Bear in 1879 (interestingly, the year Letters from a Cat was published).

Her best known work, Ramona, published in 1884, is a story of a young woman of mixed Scots and Native American heritage, was hugely popular and spawned five films and even was thought to expand the tourism industry of Southern California at the time. While it may have been the romance of the story that made it so popular, Jackson wrote it as a way of showing the plight of the native people. She kept up a very real and fierce lifelong battle with Washington over the treatment of the Indians and fighting for the return of their land and rights.

Of the illustrator, Addie Ledyard, there is really no information except for the trail of books she illustrated which are still available. At a glance I would say cats were a specialty, although she seems to have illustrated at least one volume of Louisa May Alcott stories. Following my nose on her illustrations may lead to some other interesting discoveries.

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This illustration shows Ceasar, the handsome, huge black cat who arrives in town and is an  important plot point.

 

I am reminded of an obscure, antique volume I had years ago and gave to my mother, written by another poet who also wrote from the perspective of her cat. If I can remember it and find it I will share it in a subsequent post. I always think of it when I see a cat watching out a window as her cat called that reading the newspaper daily.

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Letters from a Cat is available on Project Gutenberg (with illustrations) and Google Books, as well as in reproduction and various earlier reprints over time. With renewed thanks to Eileen, I suggest all you cat collectors get on this one.

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Earlier volume of the book.