Felix and the Seashore

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I always like to say it is an especially wonderful day when one of these photo postcards finds its way home to the Pictorama collection! Long time readers know that my nascent collection of these photos inspired this blog as an activity while bed bound after foot surgery many years ago. I added toys from my collection and it grew like topsy from there. Still, nothing makes my pulse race like coming across one of these – by their very nature each is different of course. I am like a kid about these and I believe passionately that I should, quite simply, own all of them. (There are obviously many earlier posts about these. A couple can be seen here and here.) Woe be to the person who tries to get in my way!

That these cards exist at all is a sort of a miracle. On beaches across the United Kingdom and a handful of places in New Zealand and Australia, folks paid to pose with Felix dolls ranging from just large to that of a good size child. Somehow here in the United States, his place of origin, it never caught on and so it is the world of the internet that allowed me to amass my collection. They were however routinely saved as photo souvenirs. Most, like this one, were never mailed and remain more pristine as a result.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This particular card features these two women who are wonderfully fashionable. My internet friends, especially those in Britain who deal in vintage clothing, can probably date this pretty accurately from what they are wearing, but the late twenties or early thirties I would think. (Any thoughts wassailantiques.com?) I love that women would be dressed so nicely for a day of seaside enjoyment and it makes me think of boardwalks, cool drinks and salt air – cotton candy and saltwater taffy – and most of all my beach-y childhood. I always sort of like that in these photos people generally stomp around on the sand without worry for their shoes or clothes – men in suits, women in lovely cotton or linen dresses.

Collection of Pams-Pictorama.com

Part of one of those comfy beach chairs can be seen to one side and somehow they are perfectly designed for reading a book and napping. I always used to fall asleep at the beach, stretched out face down on a towel. Must have be the sound of the water and the warm sand. I always brought a book but usually didn’t read much. Can’t say the number of times I woke to find that I had parked myself too close to the water and suddenly the rising tide found its way to me and my possessions which were suddenly floating around me. The beach has always immediately relaxed me and I think my attachment to walking by the East River daily gives me a bit of that these days.

The East River on a recent morning.

This Felix is among the smaller, but not smallest of those who worked this beat. The women have gotten into the spirit of the photo, throwing their arms around his shoulders like an old friend. Felix has a natty bow and one leg off to the side gives him a sense of animation. He too is enjoying his role center stage.

The bobbed hair of these young women is another indicator of the years this image falls within. They feel very up to the moment for the fashion of the day, visibly pleased with the knowledge that they look good. The photographer has captured them nicely. With their ascending order of heads, they (along with Felix) form a good composition in the middle of the picture – Felix has one errant ear up which adds to his always roguish charm. The people in the background are all blurred, but they also add to the festive sense of the day in their different beach and swim garb. There are folks wading and swimming and it is a busy and glorious day. I think I would dearly love to join them.

Felix Summer in the City

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo comes from the Midwest (it found its way to me via @missmollystlantiques who discovered her) and hails from the earlier decades of the 20th Century. I tried to date this photo by the Felix toy which is a Yes/No Felix but couldn’t find anything definite. (However, I am pleased to say I have one of these little fellows and I have written about the acquisition of him for a birthday gift back in 2017 and that post can be found here.) I am going to put this photo at the late 1930’s, but I am open to the opinions and interpretations of you all as well.

Yes/No Felix. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The other toy is maddeningly hard to see. I think it is a monkey, a step up from a rag doll, but with very long arms and sporting a little uniform of sorts.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The age of the girl in the photo eludes me as well – dressed a bit childishly, how old or young is she? Of course I myself often pose with my beloved toys so I cast no aspersions if she is a bit older. Her gingham sunsuit and pigtails trimmed with ribbons seem young on her, but that could also just be by today’s fashion. One sandeled foot sporting a striped sock is barely visible. Although it could just be a wall of a building it feels like a rooftop to me, something about it says roof to me. A hot summer day at midday.

There is nothing written on the photo and the back is clean – it was not ripped from an album. I like the border of dots around the edge. That sort of border and the later scalloped edges were nice touches. A photo feels more like a finished product even without a frame with those added bits.

Kim and a reluctant Cookie.

Her toy-pride has earned the photo a place in my collection. The impulse to pose with your toys is almost as strong as scooping up your kitty for a pic.

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As an aside, for those Pictorama followers who know I recently broke two fingers, I am pleased to report that I was set free from my (somewhat hateful, hard plastic) splint yesterday by the good Dr. Mir, who also said I don’t need to see him for a month. (The post about my mishap on Memorial Day can be read here.) I am not allowed to run for three more weeks, but I suspect I will start gentle workouts on the other parts of my body this week, under the careful eye of the every vigilant Harris Cowan, my trainer. Physical therapy continues – three times a day at home and twice weekly at the facility on 87th Street.

I am actually typing this post, albeit slowly, with both hands. The word Felix is a tough reach for my ring finger, but I am pleased in general to see the wounded fingers respond to being put through their paces!

The better side of my newly freed hand!

Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As some Pictorama followers know, I have long favored Instagram as my favored social media poison pick. Kim is devoted to tending the curation of his Facebook page, but I prefer to pleasantly lose myself scrolling through my iteration of the universe which skews heavily into vintage jewelry and clothing, antiques, cat doings (go @sadieanddottie!), the antics of some real world friends, and of course early photos.

Cookie and Clark Gable recently.

The viewing world in return gets a version of me (@Deitchstudio) which includes these blog posts and related photos, the comings and goings of Cookie and Blackie lovingly chronicled, story vignettes of my morning runs along the East River (walks for since my great fall, see my post Busted, here, for that tale of woe), and in the before times my occasional travels with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra as the fund raiser for that organization. I try to avoid any whiff of politics and try to keep the chaos of our tiny abode visually within bounds admittedly. Photos of Kim only with his knowledge and permission. Selfies rarely, usually just with friends.

Running became walking about two minutes after I snapped this photo on Memorial Day.

When I look back on this time I think I will mostly vividly remember scrolling through IG and watching home renovation tv.

You all over here at Pictorama get more insight into the inner life of Deitch Studio, but the folks over on Instagram get a daily visual account of me and mine. Obviously there is crossover and I know many of you follow me there and a few of the folks who I “know” only from IG wander over to Pictorama on occasion. (There are some triple crown folks who are FB friends too!) It is a happy day when these parallel Pictorama worlds collide and today (and likely tomorrow) will highlight some finds attributable to those folks.

Today’s splendid photo find (you were wondering if I would ever get to it I am sure) was purchased on eBay. The listing made no mention of the presence of Felix in their midst (nor cat costume photo) so I wouldn’t have found it without the tip from @the_antique_lens. I only know them by that moniker, no name on the account or bio information. Unlike many of the folks I interact with the_antique_lens is a collector, like me, not a merchant.

Their exquisitely presented account reveals what seems to me to be a remarkably similar visual taste in early photos to my own (Felix notwithstanding) to my own, although less specifically focused than my heavily cat/toy related collection. It is with thanks to them that this little beauty found its way to the Pictorama collection. A thank you to their eagle eye and generosity in the tip.

The photo is oddly mounted on pieces of paper that have resisted the glue applied resulting in ripples. It does not appear to be from a photo album – I think maybe framed at one time, but there are push pin holes in the top corners and one side so it spent some time displayed that way. There is a bit of black tape across the bottom mystifies me which Kim has edited out in this scan. Nothing is written or indicated on the back.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

It is an interesting photograph. At first glance you might think was taken for Halloween, but the Christmas tree makes me think not. Perhaps a school play? Felix is especially curious in this case (hard to think of what that story line might be, but he is front and center), however given that several children wear similar costumes school play gets my vote. The costumes have a consistent quality too, all of the same quality. I am sure I cannot imagine a story that might incorporate the kid dressed as a gift box, an Indian, the little girl with a burlap bag over her head and the imaginatively rendered bear in the lower right. I am especially enamored of the teacher’s fairy costume, and as Felix the Cat costumes go, that is one I want!

The photographer had a good eye for framing this, especially if he or she arranged everyone. However I also feel that the photo maintains the aura of the stage presence of the kids – they do not mug, or even mostly smile much. There is a look of shared purpose and focus to them and they gaze directly at us. I am especially fond of the rifle bearing soldier and bear on all fours holding down the composition on the right, while the white fairy costume draws you back to the left.

A careful examination of the writing on the blackboard (a credit to that instructor’s neat hand which I am attempting to read more or less a hundred years later) appears to list three clubs. Furthest to the left (and easiest to decipher) states, The Right Club, Lois Dickason, President, and a list of names. The center reads, Our Writing Clubs, Gold Highest Honors, Blue Standard, Red Below Standard. (Underlined twice!) I can barely make out what it says on the board behind the teacher, but it appears to be, Gold Star Club, Ellen Montgomery, President, and a list of names too faint to decipher.

The Right Club and the Gold Star Club names listed have one or two stars after each name. (I would like to point out with girl Presidents of each, clearly the girls here were doing an excellent job representing for the fair sex.) The scrawny Christmas tree with its star is a poignant seasonal touch.

This is one of those photos that allows you to time travel and I think wall worthy – a tribute here in the cramped environs of Deitch Studio. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Felix Frolic

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My collection of folks posing with Felix grows at a rate which I have no control over. My search for them is constant, but they turn up at their own pace. Sometimes several appear in a short time, other times it might be a year. I was writing about them just a week or so ago in passing and realized that I had not purchased one in awhile – and as if by request this one turned up. It always pleases me very much when a new one finds its way to me.

Like many of these photo postcards, this one turned up in Great Britain. (The others hail from Australia and New Zealand – seems American born Felix only posed in those countries in the guise of a giant stuffed doll.) The Felix in this one is interesting and looks unlike the critters in the other photos I have.

What I would call a regulation, life-sized Felix doll for picture posing! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Instead he is a bit pint-sized and reminds me more of a specific kind of small stuffed ones in my collection. I have dusted off this little guy below who is on my shelf and bears are fairly interesting resemblance to the Felix in the photo.) While I have some ideas about it I have never definitively labeled which sort of Felix came from where, but they do fall into categories and this sort of tri-pod stance is one of them. He is vaguely off-model (these large dolls are for the most part), has many nice whiskers, and he is the right height to look engagingly right at this little fellow who is largely ignoring the whole process. Felix even appears to be holding an arm (paw?) out to him in greeting.

Similar design of Felix in the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As best as I can figure it out, no one company was churning out these large photo op Felix-es anymore than any single one was making the stuffed ones I collect. The majority fall into a generally similar appearance, and by that I mean the almost human sized ones which even an adult can sling an arm around. However, over time I have seen a number of much smaller models – and of course there were a number of large wooden ones for the photographer who decided to go that route. (I would happily acquire either a “life-sized” large Felix or a wooden one – should any readers come across them. I especially ask you readers in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand to keep an eye out!)

The wooden cut-out variety. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This beach-y area is typical of where you might get such an opportunity to pose with Felix for a postcard. This card came to me from Rowland’s Castle but there is no indication of the original resort town it was taken in. Behind this little fellow is a baby carriage and some other children which makes me think this was a kid’s area of some sort at the water. There are some wooden stands, presumably vendors of one kind or another.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This tyke sports a pretty nifty cap and knitted outfit of his day. He looks remarkably unimpressed with Felix or having his photo taken, but is stopping short of outright rebellion.

Like most of these cards, this one is unmarked and never sent, but was instead a treasured family photo which has found its way to me here at Pictorama.

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.

Felix’s New Jersey Parade

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is pure coincidence that I just purchased this 8×10 Felix balloon Thanksgiving Day parade photo just a week before the holiday this year, but the timing was right. As someone who constantly sorts through Felix minutia I see many photos and copies of photos of Felix parade balloons. Many are pretty common, but occasionally one jumps out at me as this one did. (I blogged about some interesting Felix parade balloons from Portland, Oregon and that 2014 post can be found here.)

Turns out that this photo is from the Newark, New Jersey Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It came from a New Jersey album, and was identified within the album as the Bamberger’s parade in the 1930’s, according to the seller. There is indeed deep lore about the rivalry between the Garden State’s claim on the first Thanksgiving Day parade and the Manhattan counterpart. Those laurels are frequently claimed by Macy’s here in New York City with their parade in 1924 premiere – and there is no evidence to support a Newark parade before 1931. In reality though it was evidently Gimbels in Philadelphia that lays claim to that title zipping in first by launching theirs 1920.

As a Jersey girl born and bred I can tell you that growing up Bamberger’s was a retail pillar in the state. In particular, it was the anchor store for the large mall in our own area – the Eatontown Mall – which continues to limp along today. That mall was the site of many of my teenage adventures after being a fixture of serious shopping, such as back-to-school shopping, of my childhood.

Additionally, cousins of my mom’s worked at Bamberger’s throughout their entire adult lives, and it was an extra treat to go see them at work when I was a kid. I remember a period when Patti worked in the jewelry area and I want to say, strangely, that her mother Grace worked in the book department, at least for awhile. (Department stores had book departments – the world was a different place.)

Patti continued to work there her entire adult life as did Grace, for decades after it was consumed by Macy’s, Bamberger ultimately losing that longstanding battle, long after his own day of course. (During the course of the pandemic, Patti celebrated her 50th year of working there – and was promptly laid off. So much for employee loyalty. Although of course Macy’s is fighting its life as well in this ongoing pandemic retail morass.)

Back in March of last year I wrote about a pair of early Felix balloons from a stereocard which I ascribed to the Macy’s Day parade but looking at this photo now I wonder. That post can be found here and the photos below.

Felix stereocard. Pams-Pictorama.com collection

There is nothing written or printed on the back of this recently purchased photo, but my guess is that even if it had not been identified in the album and by the seller, this street is easily identifiable as Newark of the time. I particular I love the shot of W. T. Grant Co. across the street. This was another childhood favorite and known to us simply as Grants.

Our branch of Grants was in the town of Red Bank and although it was down the street from the Woolworth’s it held a deeper affection for me and we frequented it more often. I still have a smell memory of our Grants on Front Street that I cannot describe, but in general I would say it was redolent of new paper, but spiked with fabric and plastic, the smell of new stuff or as that registered in my childhood.

I suspect part of the appeal of Grants was the inexpensive toys that our child-sized patience could be purchased with and which made shopping more enjoyable for all. (I know Woolworth’s had a luncheon counter, but cannot remember if Grants did. My mother rarely if ever patronized either counter and instead took us to a small lunchroom on the same block. She would always point to the wax fruit in the window and tell us never to eat in places with wax fruit in the window, however this was an exception. It became a long-standing family joke.)

A search on the history of Grants says they opened in Massachusetts in 1906 as the first 25 cent store. And while I believe we also had a Kresge’s nearby I have no real memory of it – and a J. J. Newberry’s nearby as well. The 1960’s was the final hey day for the five and dime stores which largely died in the 1970’s and finally the ’80’s. For whatever reason, we frequented Grants the most and it held a special place in my childhood affections.

This photo also has a nice shot of the National Variety Stores across the street, lucky children in the big second floor window with an excellent view. I am fond of the architecture of that storefront with its faux peaked and homey roof in front.

From where our photographer stands we are immersed in a sea of men’s fedora’s – somehow it feels like all the kids are across the street, but maybe we just can’t see them up in front on this side. I also point out that the folks acting as Felix’s keepers, are also dressed up in Felix suits with enormous masked Felix heads. Onlookers are dressed up against the November chill. Our weather this year promises a rainy high of sixty, but you never know with Thanksgiving in the Northeast – can be balmy or snow.

Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As we all know by now, 2020 will go down in the history books as kicking off our Covid holiday season, just unfolding before us now in real time. It will be, I believe, only the third time in my life I have not been in New Jersey for the holiday, Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday. However, the virus rate is so high there that we are concerned we would bring infection to my mom as part of our mass transit travel.

Meanwhile the Macy’s parade will be without live audience this year – the Jazz at Lincoln Center hall hovering over Columbus Circle, usually a prized viewing spot, will be empty. While we are never in danger of going hungry in this apartment, I admit to a somewhat lackluster culinary response to the two of us eating alone here, although I will try to rally. Some pumpkin ravioli lurk in the freezer to this end.

Like so many others this year, instead we will have a Zoom visit with family – my mom, cousin Patti and our friend Suzanne. We plan to give them a tour of the new bookcases in the apartment and ask the grand-kits (as my mom calls the cats) to join us. Blackie always enjoys a good turn on camera for Zoom (ask my colleagues and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Board – Blackie loves Board and Committee meetings in particular) so we are counting on him. Cookie is more diffident, but I think she’ll come to the party too.

Whatever way you are spending your Thanksgiving this year, every best wish for a happy and safe one from us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.