I’ll Make ’em Laugh: The Spice of the Program

Pam’s Pictorama Felix Post: As promised, today we have a very Felix day! These two sheets were a long time coming to Pictorama. First they sat on eBay for a long time while I was distracted by other things, and then I finally purchased them and then it took several weeks for them to arrive. I tend to hesitate before committing to very fragile paper items, but in the end I claimed them as mine. I am spying a spot at the top row above Kim’s desk, a bit hard to access, but not too much light. Could be just right. They are great. Here we have Felix at the zenith of his come hither appeal plying his trade to good use.

Both of these sheets of advertising are from Moving Picture World magazines and I will admit that I find the cutting up of these journals to sell for separate pieces distressing, although I understand some are likely worth more for their parts individually. These are fascinating journals in their entirety and I have purchased many a copy of the ancient periodical for Kim, mostly from the ‘teens, and I believe there is even a bound volume of them in the house, that I dimly remember picking up as a gift for Kim, out of an apartment somewhere in Chelsea. These pages have been carefully removed by the staple being taken out of one and a clean cut on the other. The one emblazoned, Felix the Cat Cartoons is from November 21, 1925 and the other is from July 7, 1927.

In the first Felix shows all his moods, like an actor auditioning for a part: thinking, musical, angry, worried and intellectual. He is shown horizontal on all fours (in what I think of as a catty pose) and even chasing a mouse at the bottom. Although he might be going through his paces for this ad, he was already at the height of his fame and auditions were hardly necessary. Here he proclaims, Put me on your screen and see what a bright little fellow I am. My tricks will put your audiences in the best of humor – and I’ll make ’em laugh nine times as many times as a cat has lives. I’m doing it now in five thousand theatres. Felix And below that the added encouragement, Felix means extra profit for the showman who exploits him.

Felix had recently made the jump to Educational Films (the spice of the program) which is mentioned here prominently at mid-page, as is a produced by credit for Bijou Films, Inc. EW Hammond is presenting up at the top (President of Bijou Films) and of course Pat Sullivan gets a huge credit with Cartoons by right next to a Felix running right at it. (That’s a lot of credits for one animated cat, even one as big as Felix. Not surprising, but sadly of course, no mention of Otto Messmer, Felix’s true progenitor.) Felix made 20 cartoons in ’25 by my count via Wikipedia’s filmography (about half before switching to Educational Films for distribution that year), and more than 20 the year before alone so production was in full tilt and there was plenty to watch.

One real gem from 1925 that I uncovered while doing some light research on that year was a nifty full length cartoon made for Mazda Lamps, The Cat and the Kit. It is 98% cartoon with only a smidge of commercial and is definitely worth the watch below. The story follows Felix on his wedding day and the drama around the headlights on his car (called lamps at the time and were much more like lamps than the headlights we have now) which keep going out. He is forced to buy inferior replacements and those don’t focus – requiring Felix to resort to snatching the moon out of the sky – only to be told by a policeman that there is no driving with moonshine in the car!

I can’t resist detouring over to Mazda Lamps for a moment, I’m sure Kim and I are not the only ones still shaking our heads over the beautiful Mazda Lamp display uncovered awhile back on the television show, American Pickers. One is shown below from a site called Design is Fine. History is Mine.

The second sheet, from ’27, shows a parade of Felix-es bringing us all the short features Educational Film Exchanges had to offer. As an avid fan of silent shorts I recognize some – Larry Semon and Lupino Lane. (Kim knows more of them and reminds me that John Arthur was Darla’s father of Little Rascals fame. Remember, Feed ’em and Weep, featuring Mr. Hood on his birthday trying to eat his celebratory meal?) Some are a loss to me such as Tuxedo Comedies or Mermaid – evidently series of comedies that folks, such as Snub Pollard and Lloyd Hamilton, would have come and gone through.

Felix’s own shorts are listed at the top and the large sign he holds up front, mounted on a striped pole, is for Educational Pictures. Meanwhile, I especially like the sign which is pointing toward 1927 and ’28 at the bottom. Pat Sullivan only gets a signature credit here (as if he had drawn it). I see 26 films listed in 1927 for Felix so he was certainly going full steam. I include one below in order to give equal time to 1927, Whys and Other Whys, which kicks off with a soused Felix leaving a nightclub. Watch these while you can – these links to Youtube don’t seem to last forever! (Although a quick search may turn up another source if these have disappeared.)

We are invited to Fall In! and Travel with the leaders of the short features parade. The art on this advertising sheet is hotsy-totsy – it is always a favorite moment of mine within the cartoons to see a virtually never-ending cycle parade of Felix. If studied carefully, two Felix-es on the sheet have been a tad mangled, you can note that the second largest (holding the Lupino Lane placard) and one about mid-page (with the Larry Semon ad) have had a bit of what looks like ham-handed revisions around the eyes. Not sure what anyone was thinking to improve upon Otto Messmer’s genius. (Just a note as well that some of these Felix’es only sport whiskers on one side of their face.)

The back of the ’25 sheet sports an article entitled, The Bar-G Mystery, New Western Patheserial Now in Production (Kim checking that one out in a book now), and ad for the Charlie Chaplin release of A Dog’s Life to be released on November 22, and a rather terrifying ad for Buster Brown with Buster and Tige looming large. Short pieces appear on the recovery of Walter Hiers from an injury sustained during filming which almost cost him his hand according to the article, and announcing Clyde Cook to appear in a new comedy. The verso of the ’27 sheet is an add for volumes on photography by the folks at Motion Picture Photography – one for professionals and the other for amateurs.

Tommy José Stathes (@tomatitojose) has just released the latest in a series of brilliant Cartoon Roots DVD’s featuring some new restorations of rare early Felix cartoons! It can be purchased on Amazon here. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for mine to arrive. His earlier DVD’s are also being re-released and can be purchased here. A bit of a review of one of those earlier DVD’s can be found in a prior Pictorama post here. And on that note I believe I have kicked off the year of ’21 as a Felix friendly one – enjoy!

Specs

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card is one of my recent purchases. When all is said and done about this time one of things that I think I will remember is how I started purchasing things on Instagram. I had never even thought about it before, let’s say, April or so. I have always loved Instagram – my feed devoted to seeing what a handful of folks I follow are doing and of course, many cats – rolling, playing, posing. I don’t have interest in famous folks and I don’t want to know much about the sad state of the world while I am on Instagram – it is largely escapism for me. I realize that other folks have been buying on it for ages, just never occurred to me that I would find interesting old stuff there.

However, in checking out a new follower of mine, I realized she sells old photos and antiques, from there I realized another follower sells vintage photos, a third sells jewelry and other bits (some clothing, pin trays and the like), from the early years of the 20th century from her home in the British Countryside. (@MissMollyAntiques, @spakeasachildvintage or aka WheretheWillowsGrow, and @Wassail_Antiques respectively.) Over time you chat a bit and now I realize that one is a musician (as is her husband), selling out a space in an antiques mall she used to have, another is photographer of musicians, that work largely gone – a theme here. (I received something from her the other day and it was wrapped so lovely – like a gift!) The new economy evolves.

I’m sure other office supplies will find their way into this box over time.

Anyway, this bit of cat advertising turned up recently and I snatched it, along with a cute little box that was made to sell spools of thread which now houses binder clips on my desk.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Today we boast this proper Victorian Mrs. Kitty who is both sporting and advertising eye glasses – fine steel specs according to the back of the card. These were available with Blue and Bronzed Colored Frames…Filled and Sterling Silver Filled Noses. Strangely the actual advertising on the back was printed and with only a rough approximation of the cat outline and therefore words are cut off in places. However, we can also make out that you could have beautiful styles of lorgnettes in shell and (probably?) celluloid.

Casually executed advertising copy on the back of the card.

She is wearing a locket in the fashion I opined on in a recent photo post, she models an out-sized hat in the style of the day, and of course she is bespectacled. (The photo locket post was the recent one which can be found here.)

As it happens, I was shopping for eyeglass frames yesterday so I pulled this card out of the pile from the recent haul. During quarantine the rimless frame glass I have worn for several years began to loosen, started sitting crooked on my face, and I began to fear that they would truly come a cropper while the world was closed down. I do have a spare pair, but they are behind one prescription – the lenses for my eyeglasses are very expensive and those frames aging, therefore right now these glasses and a pair of sunglasses are the only current ones I have. (Some of you might remember my sad tale of woe concerning losing these eyeglasses during a trip for work to California. It can be found here. You would think I would have learned my lesson!)

My specs – not so different from Kitty’s. Hard to see the smashed bit here, right side.

One of my very first forays into the post-quarantine world was to the East Village, to have these frames tightened. When they started this delicate manuever the guy on duty warned me about the possibility of the lenses breaking – tighten at your own risk. They managed to do it successfully but, alas, I noticed the other day that they are starting to shatter near where the screws are, so back downtown we went to begin the cycle of purchasing frames and updating prescriptions.

I purchase my eyeglasses from a shop in the East Village, Anthony Aiden Opticians, which came highly recommended by someone, cannot remember who now, on the basis of the execution of the lens measuring and fitting to be especially thoughtfully done. Having once, a long time ago, strayed and purchased a pair of glasses with my graduated prescription elsewhere I learned my lesson and never tried that again. Yes, you pay a premium for quality, but seeing is important and we are talking about something you wear on your face everyday. (Zoom presents its own challenges for the eye glass dependent. I have trouble finding a viewing range where I can both read notes and see participants. I could be wrong but it doesn’t seem worth adjusting my prescription for although I will ask the eye doc when I see him.)

Yesterday I discovered that Anthony Aiden Opticians had made it through the quarantine period by doing individual appointments, something to remember for the future although I think I would have been loathe to take the trip on the subway at the time.

Photo of their establishment pulled off Google.

It is a small store, just east of St. Mark’s Place. When we arrived they were too crowded and asked us to return in a bit. We complied by having lunch, somewhat precariously perched at a table outside of the B&H Dairy (where a stern but friendly woman with an Eastern European accent oversaw the delivery and consumption of our food), and wandered back after.

B&H from the inside, back in the days of indoor dining.

Trying on eyeglass frames with a mask on was interesting of course. Once I had a few finalists for Kim to help choose from, I unmasked. They also measured my eyes without a mask – their request. I believe the gentleman who waited on me was the owner – Mr. Aiden himself? I purchased gray plastic and metal frames. My long buying and prescription history was on file and I was able to order lenses for my sunglasses as well.

I have an appointment with my eye doc in about ten days and now am just babying my glasses along until I can have the prescription called in and lenses ordered. Hopefully I can be back in business, fully eyeglass-ed up within a month, all ready for whatever fall and winter brings.

Reliable

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Ah, pray make no mistake, we are not shy. We’re very wide awake, the Moon and I. So declares Missus Kitty, accessorized with exotic fan, but also claw paws and sharp teeth, albeit casually exposed. I don’t know why, but I think of her as on her way to the opera – but I guess in reality she is getting ready to give a full moon caterwauling performance of her own instead. She is our star performer this evening. Perched on a snowy rooftop chimney, her supporting cast in the form of a parasol-wielding kitty behind her, she is ready to tear into it.

In the newly quiet Manhattan, during these pandemic days, the occasional spring and summer evenings brought the disturbing sounds of cats howling. It did make me reflect on how often I write about these types of images, (for one of my favorites have a look at the sing-a-long portrayed in a post that can be found here), but that I rarely actually hear it. Since I moved to Manhattan a few decades ago now, the number of stray cats has been drastically reduced which is a good thing, and not that many cats have sanctioned outdoor space to meet other cats. I can’t say I like the racket – I’m always concerned that someone is getting hurt or is in trouble. My ears remain attuned until it ceases, contributing to my growing tendency toward periodic insomnia.

Meanwhile, occasionally Blackie will begin his own evening muttering and wailing in the apartment and has to be asked to keep a lid on it. Cats will be cats.

The back of this card is interesting. ADMIT BEARER To any Grocery Store, to examine the beautiful assortment of Imported Ware, such as Bohemian Vases, Decorated Fruit Plates, China Cups and Saucers, and China Cream Pitchers. And TWO of these articles and one pound of “SAFE AND RELIABLE” Baking Powder for only 50 cents. Ask for it. and added at the bottom, Chas. W. Smith.

The somewhat grimy back of the ancient card.

As someone who has recently rediscovered my baking muscle I have a newfound appreciation for the reliability factor of baking powder, although I wonder a bit at the safety part – what does unsafe baking powder do? Early on in my baking efforts I used some very old stuff and we had a very low rise on a loaf of cheesy olive bread – which we consumed regardless of course because all cheesy olive bread is good. (The recipe can be found here. I cannot recommend it highly enough.)

Weirdly baking powder and its kissin’ cousin baking soda have remained a tad hard to find in the store since the big pandemic shutdown. Much like the fact that I can still only buy paper towels and toilet paper in packs of a dozen. (If you live in a studio apartment a dozen rolls of each of these is a bit like adding a coffee table to the apartment.) Yeast seems somewhat unobtainable although I admit I have stopped trying.

My wonderment at these exotic early advertising efforts remains unabated – yes, I am making the argument that there should be more operatic felines advertising baking powder today. (I have posted about another series of cat related advertising from this period and some of those can be found here and here.) I regret I find nothing as entertaining these days. Meanwhile, I am equally charmed by the mental image of this general store where I had the opportunity to buy Bohemian Vases, Decorated Fruit Plates or China Cream Pitchers as well as baking powder. (I also find the somewhat creative use of capital letters of note.)

Despite continued social distancing (places in line marked supposedly six feet apart, mask wearing, etc.) going to the grocery store has become something less of an ordeal here, although we continue to get most of our food delivered from Fresh Direct (as we have for many years – it is the rare thing I was an early adopter of), I head over to Fairway or Whole Foods every other week or so. For the first time the other day it actually felt…crowded, like the Fairway of old. Perhaps it was the upcoming holiday weekend, or that more people are returning to Manhattan with kids in school and a nascent return to offices. There is a nip in the air, the days are getting shorter again and forward we go it seems, into Fall.