You Oughta Be in Pictures

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I now realize that I did a sort of lousy job taking pictures of these photos when I came across them while unpacking things at my mother’s a few month’s back and I apologize for that. These photos are large, at least 8″x10″, and both are matted the same and set in blond wooden frames. (I cropped them because my photos of them were uneven and a bit cockeyed – they are in reality more of a matched set.) These pictures are of me and my sister as tiny tots – apologies to my brother as he wasn’t born for another six or so years. I am the younger of the two, in the playpen, and my sister Loren is sitting on some steps, looking a bit like one of the Little Rascals in her slightly grubby looking garb.

Without knowing it for a fact, I assume that these were taken by my father. Pictorama readers know that dad, Elliott Butler, was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career. Ironically this meant that there weren’t that many photos he took of us as kids because he was never content with the simple snapshot. Photo taking with dad involved a panoply of light meters and carefully considered compositions, and my memories of it are of the somewhat tedious variety of standing around as a subject – especially frustrating as a child, but the family tradition continued into adolescence.

The end result was that he didn’t bother with all the truck and nonsense that often and, like the shoemaker’s kids who go shoeless, we do not have all that many photos of us as small children. Despite all of that, somehow he captured us here pretty much in our native state of kid-ness.

This pair of photographs hung in my parent’s bedroom as long as I can remember. (Another set were in my grandmother’s living room and I was reminded of that recently. It popped a small bubble of memory in my mind, but I can’t say I really remember it.) These hung over a bureau – above a television at one time as I remember, but on either side of an antique mirror in more recent memory. (Many years ago I was flying home from Russia when my photo, which had already hung in the spot for decades, fell off the wall. My mother, who barely suppresses a superstitious streak, told me she was a nervous wreck until she heard I was safely on the ground. Luckily me and the pilot of my plane were ignorant of this incident.)

While retrieving these from a leaky garage before they could be ruined, I piled up a few others and perhaps we’ll get future posts on those. Most memorable are the photos of my mother and her brother John, also large, framed professional photos taken when they were in high school. These have the skillful hand coloring of the period. Ironically those I remember distinctly from my grandmother’s living room, hanging on silver-gray wallpaper with a design of green vines. I used to stare at them in fascination and try to mentally equate them with the adults I knew at the time.

I think Kim and I agree that I do not make a case for an extremely attractive child here. As he put it kindly this morning, I grew into my looks. On the other hand, Loren looks very charming here with her wild curls. Knowing my sister and her restless energy, it must have been quite a coup to get her to sit still as long as it would have taken to achieve this photo.

Anyway, I rescued these, cleaned them up a bit and set them up in the room I stay in at my mother’s house. As it would happen, they sit on an old bureau of my father’s, on either side of a television and I will be glad to see them each time I visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Score

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This is one of those lovely occasions when I get to write about acquiring something I have wanted for ages! Today it is this wonderful Felix toffee tin turned toy pail.

Allow me to start by saying that I love toffee. Seriously, caloric concerns are thrown out the window as soon as I see sticky toffee…followed by virtually anything written on a menu. It is a little known fact about me, but a fact nonetheless. I came to it late in life, but I think that has more to do with having had limited exposure to it when younger. I believe if I had been introduced to it earlier I would have been a life-long toffee fanatic. Somewhere in a parallel universe I am simply ruining both my teeth and my waistline contentedly stuffing myself silly with toffee.

e828ba91-0804-48b0-97a5-833a81a96188.jpg

So if nothing else for me the vision of this delightful pail stuffed with British toffees is a wonderful one indeed. Oh the gluttony! Oddly and somewhat mysteriously, the tin bears no label for said toffees sold, only the maker of the tin, E.T. Gee & Sons and this pail is always advertised by that name. One might imagine that a toffee maker of the time like Mackintosh’s might have filled it. The candy descendants of Macintosh’s Toffee exist today and are the makers of Rolos and other delights. Macintosh was definitely selling similar pails of toffee, but those are all emblazoned with their name leaving me wondering and somewhat stumped. It is possible that the lid had a name embossed inside perhaps, or that there was a paper label/sticker. One version online seems to have the remnants of an odd sticker that says …sweet little babies.

E.T. Gee & Sons is not especially well documented as a company – I could not find much history on them. However, I find tracks showing they made a whole line of similar candy containers that were also tin toys once emptied of their confectionary treats so this must have been the side of the street they were working. Although the Felix pail is the most prevalent one, I found evidence of two others online and sadly could only fine this single small image of the house which held creams. (Google images revealed no larger photos nor additional examples.) The house, doubling as a bank, is a photo from the Worthpoint auction site and the biscuit tin wagon from an auction site called Bukowski’s.

download-2

At auction on Worthpoint, a toffee tin that doubles as a bank.

10573906_fullsize

A biscuit tin that doubles as a toy truck, image from the Bukowski auction website.

 

Meanwhile, I have been admiring this Felix pail for a number of years now, stealthy hunting of it on eBay, tracking prices and failing each time to be the high bidder. A version in condition only somewhat superior to my own, but with the top (shown below with this mischievous Felix whose tiny rendition of the toffee pail is stuffed with toffee – mine does not have the top sadly) went for more than $3,500 just several years back at Hake’s. I have lost several on eBay that went for much less than that, although probably all without the top. My example does come from Hake’s – just a bad day at auction?Maybe, but clearly for whatever reason the price of them has dropped considerably. I paid a tiny fraction of that for mine.

image-1

From a Hake’s auction catalogue, lid to the Felix pail which mine is sadly missing.

 

The decoration is decidedly and delightfully cryptic – the scenes are certainly comical, but you really have to wonder where they came from. On one side Felix rides a white horse or pony (sort of Felix as Lady Godiva in my mind) along the water’s edge. He is being chased by a young boy (with an outsized head) brandishing a spatula? Or perhaps it is the shovel to a sand pail? The boy seems to be running full speed while the awkward drawing of the horse seems to have Felix at a slower pace. (His toes curling upward in an interesting manner.) Most bizarre of all however, is the female Felix in an old fashioned bonnet and dress, taking the scene in at the water’s edge. A broken fence in the foreground leads the mind further down the path of an unknown narrative. The horsey hardly looks like he’d break down a fence. Curious indeed!

felix pail side 1

My very own Felix toffee pail! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The more benign scene on the other side is my favorite – a large family of Felix-es, Mom, Dad and three babies – having their photo portrait taken! Of course as someone who collects photos of people posing with Felix on the beach this is a very funny inside joke. They are dress for the occasion – the Dad in a vest, mom in a long dress – in this alternate universe Mrs. Felix evidently dresses like a Mennonite. One child splashes in the water with a small sand shovel, the other getting his feet wet while a small girl perched on a rock beckons to him. The photographer, complete with tri-pod, camera with bellows and (I think in my mind) long exposure film, appears to be a young boy. Daddy Felix is gesturing approvingly to the camera. A toy looking sailboat appears in the distance. A splendid Felix walking decoration rings both top and bottom of the pail.

felix pail side 2

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

My version of the pail is about 8″ high and I understand that there is a slightly smaller version with a single row of Felix around it. (I’m glad mine has those!) It has a satisfying sturdy handle for holding and swinging merrily as you walk, and I think it would make a jolly pail at the beach, although I am pleased this one doesn’t appear to have spent much time in that capacity.

As a child who grew up on the shores of the Atlantic ocean I know a little something about playing in the sand at the beach and I can assure you much could be accomplished with a nice little pail like this, accompanied perhaps by a small sand shovel. One could dig deep caverns, carry water to fill moats or to dampen sand into the proper consistency for the construction of castles and related buildings. One’s pail was essentially a ticket to hours of beach fun and this would make a splendid addition to any discerning child’s collection.

 

Of Tropes and War: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking up where I left off yesterday, today I tackle what really made this recent Frances Hodgson Burnett read a bit different, the description of a WWI Britain. I am a bit fascinated with a lot of contemporary fiction which covers the period between the two world wars in Britain. It is an interesting slice of time as people recover from the horrors of WWI and then, in too short a time, the foreshadow of the second world war rapidly creeps over them. Conceivably many of those men who survived the first war had sons in the second and that alone is too horrible to really contemplate. This novel is an eloquent reminder of the reality of that war.

The sequel to her book, The Head of the House of Coombe, Robin occupies itself entirely with the war, the main male character of the story having been marched off at the end of part one, this second half takes place during the war which is central to it. There are things that surprise me about this description. Perhaps because it is so close to the actual events there is a vividness to the descriptions that I have not read before.

The horrors of the pillaging of Belgium is graphically described and a central motivation for young Brits, even from the wealthiest families, to join up. I was well aware that part of the horror of WWI was because of the brutal mix of modern warfare with what had sufficed for ages before – men killing each other on horseback and in hand to hand combat. Now men on horseback and fighting with swords were being killed by mechanized weapons and bombs from the sky. For all of that somehow the kind of on the ground rape and pillage that went on in a more Genghis Khan fashion had escaped me.

CpAXCkJXEAAQCRp.jpg

The cynicism of the British nobles about the Americans and if and when we would enter the war was also enlightening. Would the United States only enter if it was of economic value to us? They desperately needed the Americans in the war and as we are aware, for a number of our own reasons that commitment was not so quick to come. This was hugely frustrating and even terrifying for them.

Remember also, Hodgson Burnett had deep loyalties to both countries – that of her birth and the country she adopted as a teen and subsequently lived in most of her life and that conflict plays out here. I assume Burnett, in the final years of her life which were spent living in Westchester, did not see or experience WWI London firsthand. Perhaps these vital descriptions came from accounts from friends and newspapers of the time or maybe she did travel back shortly after.

Finally I was surprised to read that, much like those folks who brought picnics to watch the first battle of the Civil War, there was a practice of going up on rooftops to party while watch the zeppelin bombings on London. Ultimately this ends badly in the novel (as I assume it must have in life) and a brief but horrific plot point turns on this event. There is a description of random body parts being found in the street after, only a hand left to be found and identified, that had a realism which was also chilling.

hith-london-wwi-zeppelin-terror-poster-wikimedia.jpg

I did know from other reading that the bombing of London during WWI was as devastating as that of WWII and again one is stunned thinking about a certain sandwich generation which experienced bombing during both wars fully.

Worst of all were the descriptions of the German prisoner of war camps however. One assumes that a few years after the war these stories were finding their way out and Hodgson Burnett shocked me with some of them.

To me it is of interest that even at the end of her life, Hodgson Burnett was still delivering these very contemporary stories. A few decades before her stories described the emerging 20th century world – where travel between Europe and the New World became accessible to all and the role of women was rapidly emerging. (I have written about the emerging 20th century woman in her novels here.) As in WWII Britain, women took on all jobs at home during WWI which is also described in this novel. She also recognizes that sweeps many of the remaining social constraints and conventions for women aside.

6SdBbMDgiZ_HmzUeuzaNYTZpQhqlk4adGZTZxNPTpBE,9mNWrSn4wCr8GyT2ITRFhlJgQJeG1uz0pX6bEEHuMx4,tpp20Ucl9g7GMQmJyfiJFfME6r2IfQ42whT1iPAQ-8c

Knowing that the first half of this novel, filled with the aforementioned tropes of pining romance, rags to riches plot and unearthly communion (as outlined in yesterday’s post found here) was hugely popular in the United States I do wonder about the reception of this second half, originally published on its own the same year. While the first half is all flag waving for the war, this second half contains all the cynicism and pain. Somehow she wrapped all these things together and tucked them into one final novel.

Of Tropes and War: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I do apologize up front if you do not share my continued interest in these Frances Hodgson Burnett novels, because even I thought I would be done by now. Yet I find another aspect that had me in its thrall this week and has occupied my mind in a way that prevents me from finishing my next Felix post of a great new wind-up toy recently acquired. (For anyone who is joining me for the first time, a few earlier posts on Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction can be found by searching this blog or herehere and here.)

For those of you who are following my passion for Hodgson Burnett’s novels, you may remember that early on I said that the worse the title of one of her stories, generally the better it is and The Head of the House of Coombe falls neatly into that category. As a result I had not grabbed it before this. However, I recently used Goodreads.com to help me figure out what remained of her works that I had not read and create a list of which are novels, as opposed to novellas and short stories, that remained for me to read. For all its greatness Project Gutenberg supplies no information before you download – could be a hundred pages, could be twelve and I like to know what I am getting into when I start a book or story.

product_thumbnail.jpg

Written originally for serialization it was published as a novel in 1922; it was the fourth most popular book in the United States that year. The sequel, or second part of the book as it was served up to me, is called Robin. It also has a publication date of 1922 so the exact publication history and serialization of the two parts remains somewhat unclear to me. The publication date is mostly of interest to me because of the proximity to the end of WWI, which drives the plot of this novel, and that this book appears to be the last major publication of her life as she dies in 1924. Assuming these were actually written for magazine serialization in 1921 or so, it is a few years after the conclusion of the war and as many before she dies.

However, before we get to the war, we are treated to Burnett in all her glory reveling in several of her favorite Victorian tropes. Robin, the main character, is a commoner ultimately taken up by nobles. She is so purely good and innocent the more cynical nobles quickly become devoted to her. Meanwhile, her mother is a stunningly beautiful chippy, wonderfully named Feather, who it is well-known, a woman kept by the Lord of the House of Coombe.

FC Yohn Good Housekeeping

FC Yohn illustration of The Head of the House of Coombe as published in Good Housekeeping

 

Meanwhile, in addition to her rags to riches story line for Robin, she also puts her through her paces with two other beloved tropes, illness and spiritual communion or communication. Burnett just loved to plunge her characters, usually a woman but occasionally a man, into a mysterious consumptive wasting state due to separation from or rejection from a beloved, usually a lover. In some way s/he is miraculously revived when reunited with the person in question.

Again, for those of you who have been following me on this path thus far, know that Burnett’s own oldest son Lionel was lost to consumption (TB) just two months before his sixteenth birthday. While blogging about Frances Hodgson Burnett I was contacted by her great-great granddaughter, Keri Wilt, who has a website (fhbandme.com) and an active Instagram account also under the name fhbandme. I began to follow her and she recently posted a photo of a locket Burnett wore with Lionel’s photo. I was a bit fascinated by this post. She shows us the locket and the inscription Farewell to others, but never we part. Heir to my royalty, son of my heart.

39977263_1400629172

Burnett with son Lionel. The inscription on his grave, “Lionel, whom the Gods loved”.

 

She also quotes a letter of Burnett’s about her son’s death, It will seem almost incredible to you, as it does to others, when I tell you he never did find out. He was ill nine months but I never allowed him to know that he had consumption (tb) or that he was in danger – and when he died he passed away so softly that I know he wakened in the other world without knowing how he had left this one. I can thank God for that. Wowza – not sure what I make of that. Can a 16 year old boy, dying of consumption at that time not at least deeply suspect that he is dying? For me it is overwhelmingly moving though in its need to be true to her. She returns to it again and again in her fiction.

d41ba0a862492351dc512fc8572fe859

The wasting unnamed and consumptive disease illustrating an article on this topic.

 

Another deep vein of interest is Hodgson Burnett is her interest in spiritualism which I gather she takes up somewhat later in life. (I am assuming that it ties out to the death of her son but I am not sure I have seen this confirmed.) If I can find more information on where it parallels with her life it will definitely rate a post of its own – this may happen when I get to reading her autobiography which is already in the house. Spirit communication is a frequent plot device with some variations – mystical communication with both the living (but not present) and the dead. The novella The White People is one of several shorter works devoted entirely to the subject. Without being a plot spoiler I will just say that it makes up the major plot weenie (as Kim would say) to the second part of this novel.

1_M-8aEx_9g35r5FzeBNnueQ

Library of Congress example of spirit photography.

 

Having covered wasting illness, rags to riches plots and touched on spiritualism I leave you for today. Tomorrow I will share the fascinating turn things take with Burnett’s surprisingly graphic descriptions of WWI England which was what really made this book stand out for me.

3 Little Kittens

Fontispiece.JPG

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This wonderful little tidbit was a gift from my friend Eileen Travell – and it is a perfect addition to the Pictorama library of cat literature, toys, phots and collectibles. I read that the original poem is an English nursery rhyme with roots in British folk lore. The poem as it is generally known today is attributed to Eliza Lee Cabot Follen, an American writer (1787–1860), first published in 1843, but finding its way to the Mother Goose canon over time. This edition is of the poem updated further and modernized for the 1923 publication by Ruth Kauffman. On the inside flap of this copy there is an undated inscription by an earlier owner, Alma Richarde, in uneven but very legible print.

Not much can be found about Ruth Kauffman beyond this volume – although it should be said that must have been a wildly popular book as many copies are available on the internet today. It would appear that Ms. Kauffman was married to Reginald Wright Kauffman, author and journalist; his work generally pertaining to social causes of the day. As for Ruth, her slim volume of The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens seems to be what she is remembered for today. I could find nothing else attributed to her – or an author with her name spelled this way.

warning

dog final.JPG

Her 1923 version of the Kitten Mitten story has the mama cat warning her kits of the great, big world. Of streets and motor-cars, of wayward baseballs and of stones that make a cat see stars. Mama cat further tells them to keep themselves and the “clothes” tidy – their wardrobe consisting of little jackets, shoes and of course mittens, in this case mits that matched each Kitten’s hair. I’ve never been sure why kittens needed mittens, nor for that matter why small children needed them beyond winter weather protection – and these seem to be indoor/outdoor mittens. (Meanwhile, cat mittens turns up some alarming images of contemporary be-mittened cats. No idea why anyone would do that to a cat.) Cookie as a tuxedo has permanent, nice, bright white mittens – those are the kind I like best on kittens.

gave them mits.JPG

Fan.JPG

Although she doesn’t appear to even rate a Wikipedia entry, the illustrator Margaret Campbell Hoopes’s has illustrated books which appear to do brisk business on antiquarian book sites. Born in 1893 (d. 1956) she studied at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Arts and she and her Florence sister achieved success as illustrators of their day. Their combined work seems to be best known for something called the Alice & Jerry readers of the 1930’s – these have escaped my notice until now. However, in addition to my slim volume, I find illustrated editions of Peter Rabbit, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many copies of something called I Don’t Want to Go to Bed. (There’s a handsome Puss ‘n Boots that maybe I need to own.) I found a fellow blogger searching for information about Margaret and her sister back in 2008. There needs to be more information on these gifted illustrators.

I do love her illustrations in this book. The cats are just the right combination of anthropomorphic and true feline. The three kittens, Tortoise-shell, Silver-fur and White, are sent out to play while Mama has to bake a pie, and cook some mice that I have caught, So you must just amuse yourselves, but – wear the mits I bought. Out they go and there they skipped about and sang, and bit their tails in play, and turned the cutest somersaults; you know a kitten’s way.

 

playing again.JPG

playing close.JPG

Lastly of note is the owner of the interesting shop where Eileen found and purchase this nifty little book. Sally Brillon, along with her husband Joe, is the owner of 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here) and the photos of the Hutchinson’s shop in a barn intrigued me before I knew Eileen had procured this book for me. In addition to books and antiques, until recently she also taught cooking on a hearth, something for those with a fireplace and the inclination.

IMG_6592

Sally in her shop.

IMG_6584

Andrew, did you buy the top hat?

Should the winds of chance take me to Salem, New York, I will be anxious to stop in and spend a few hours digging around. Who knows what cat related gems must lurk in those piles.

End page

Joyful kittens at the end of the book!

ID – #O92

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Over our vacation this week a visit to the Met revealed something I had never seen before – a collection of early photo ID pins. Reminiscent of mug shots these identification tags seemed largely to have been from the industrial world of the 1930’s and 40’s, maybe into the 50’s. (I learned that earlier there had been just metal pins with numbers.)

From companies we still know today, such as Proctor and Gamble and Frigidare, to the rather snappy but little known Textile Machine Works, each of these is interesting individually, but they create a wonderful overall effect when you see a couple of dozen displayed as the Met has currently put together.

Unlike the rather uninteresting identification folks like me carry daily today, these photos in their tin frames are impressive in their weightiness. Sadly, I am not sure anyone will ever find my Jazz at Lincoln Center identification worth recovering and saving, nor will they have the chance as today’s ID cards are of course chock full of electronic information and are generally required to be returned upon leaving employment.

Frigidaire

From the exhibit at the Met, one of many badges in a display case.

 

Although not especially attractive aesthetically, my Met ID was a wonderful thing which not only open employee passageways and activated elevators, but it also gained me free admission to all of the museums in New York and many elsewhere. The photo was decidedly mug shot-esque, but the person taking the photos was usually kind about it and would take a few and let you pick. Over the 30 years I was there I learned a few things about getting the best photo, but lousy at best really. (They were also nice enough to produce photos needed for passports and travel visas.) I do miss that ID and the empowerment it accorded.

My current ID gains me access to our offices and the bathroom in the hall, as well as opening the doors to our backstage area in the hall. In addition it occasionally gains me access to backstage at other venues when the orchestra is playing. The photo, such as it is, is sort of illegible really.

Jazz ID.JPG

These tin badges, worthy of any child playing sheriff I would think, have heft. It is easy to see why they all still exist as one can easily imagine people keeping them after years of service to a company. You can just imagine a retirement after many years, the badge put away and then saved again and again by subsequent generations.

After our morning at the Met Kim and I wandered downtown, stopping first at Blick for art supplies, then lunch and my favorite clothing store, DL Cerney – maker of vintage inspired cloths for both men and women utilizing vintage or vintage inspired fabrics, buttons and designs. (Our day was a well worn path known to Pictorama readers!)

slide0

DL Cerney on 9th Street in the East Village

 

Our afternoon ended with a stop in at Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. which I wrote about before in my birthday post. There we had the surprise please to meet up with Mike Zohn, one of the owners. In all my visits, I do not think I have every been there when Mike was there, although I think it was he I met at an opening of Kim’s a few years back. I believe that was when I first heard about the store which I like to wander into a few times a year. I asked him to keep me in mind when he runs across early Felix items.

Oddities

Being sold at Oddities and Obscura Antiques, sorry we don’t have room for this somewhat creepy nodder.

 

Meanwhile, to my amazement he was selling a small clutch of photo identification badges in a cabinet near the front of the store, just like the ones we had seen earlier in the day. I chose the one below as the nicest. I suspect that these may become a sub-genre in my photo collecting over time.

 

 

A quick look tells me that the LaPointe factory in Hudson, MA made broaching machines. Now, I have to say, that even as I look at the definition of a broaching machine (Wikipedia’s can be found here in case you are curious) I do not really comprehend what it does. I guess I would say I understand it to be a type of bit that makes grooves and other irregular cuts.

Unlike today’s identifications which, while they have numbers generally require a name as well, this one identifies 092 only that way. Many seem to have had a similar height chart behind the employee as well. I sort of wonder – how useful it was to know that 092 was 5’6″ and a half? While this pin is wonderful in all it’s substantialness, I have to admit my flimsy piece of plastic is easier to hang around my neck daily – and thinking about the holes this must have put in the shirts and jackets of 092. Although perhaps he wore it on a uniform and therefore did not make his wife nuts.

My maternal grandfather worked in a Bendix factory in New Jersey and I am searching for a nice example of what his ID might have looked like. (My grandmother was not a saver of such things.) Hopefully a future post on that.

 

 

Editha’s Burglar: Book vs. Film, an Unexpected Review

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Just when I thought maybe I had come to the close of authoring my thoughts on Frances Hodgson Burnett I stumbled across a rather splendid DVD of the 1924 film, The Family Secret, issued by the film accompanist Ben Model under the Undercrank name. The disk (which can be purchased here) came out in 2015. We missed it then and I came upon this release while reading a blog post by Ben, via Twitter one morning about a week ago, concerning the short in the same package, Circus Clowns. (Ben’s fascinating blog post can be found here.)

download-3.jpg

Needless to say, when I realized that The Family Secret was based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett story published in 1888 under the title Editha’s Burglar, I almost spilled my morning coffee and couldn’t wait to get my hands on both the film and the story for comparison. (For those of you who have stuck with me through these several posts on Frances Hodgson Burnett and her adult fiction, you will remember that while discussing the women in her stories I also delved into the early films made of her work, many now lost. For new readers, that post can be found here. The other Hodgson Burnett posts can be found here, here and, yep, here.) The whole disk features Baby Peggy which is a super bonus as well.

The DVD arrived just in time for the commencement of our vacation. A short list had quickly formed for film watching vacation activity – Kim is working his way through the available films of Jessie Matthews with mixed results, and something called Faithless with Robert Montgomery and Tallulah Bankhead, 1933, is up next for me. We reconvene together over the ones good enough to share with the other. There’s also lots of trolling through what’s available on TCM – a trick I only recently taught our tv and we’re having fun with that. (A raucous sounding Jessie Matthews film is issuing forth from the television even as I write this. Sounds like a winner.)

The print quality of the film on the disk is really great, pieced together from a few sources, an Italian print and a Library of Congress one at a minimum, to maximizing all. It is a complicated and twisting melodrama, worthy indeed of Frances Hodgson Burnett (whose short story is credited), complete with separated lovers and a little girl who doesn’t know her father. I won’t spoil the plot, although I have probably already told you enough to figure it out. Baby Peggy was great. I don’t know what I expected, but she really sort of ruins me for other kid actors because she just sparkles on the screen in a way I hadn’t anticipated. She really had something.

1024px-Family_Secret_lobby_card.jpg

This is definitely the print of the film you want and Circus Clowns is a treat too. The disk is topped off with another great short, Miles of Smiles (with Baby Peggy in a dual “twin” role), and some newsreel footage of Baby Peggy as well. All great and worth seeing – scoop up whatever copies are available immediately.

****

This time Google Books provided the short story in question rather than Project Gutenberg and it is a story that is appropriate for children as well as adults. I probably would have been better to have read the story first, but it didn’t work out that way. The version I downloaded provided very good original illustrations, by Henry (Hy) Sandham and I offer samples below. (I always select the option to include the illustrations if any when downloading, but they are rarely as good or as plentiful as these engravings.) I didn’t know his work, but Hy Sandham, 1842-1910, was a Canadian painter and illustrator.

Image-1 copy.png

Image-1

I am a tad confused about the letter that appears at the opening of the book and which I offer in its entirety below. Elsie Leslie is identified as the inspiration for Editha although what that has to do with Jordon Marsh (which I believe was affiliated with the Boston based department store) or what was written to Frances Hodgson Burnett I cannot say. The letter seems to always be included with the short story and Jordon Marsh is the publisher of the elegant, fully illustrated 1890 edition of the book. Elsie Leslie was the first child to portray Editha in a one-act stage version two years after the original publication.

March 25 1888

Dear Mr Jordan Marsh & Co

Mamma has left it for me to deside if I will let you have my picture for your book I think it wold be very nice. wont it seem funny to see my very own picture in Editha like the little girl that used to be in st Nickolas. I think mrs Burnet writs lovely storys I wrote her a letter and sent it away to paris and told her so and asked her if she wold hurry and write another story just as quick as she could I am looking for an anser everyday. I like to write letters but I like to get the ansers still better I am going to play Editha in boston for two weeks and I will ask my mamma to let me come to your store and see all of the butiful things I used to come every day when I was in boston last winter

your little frend 
Elsie Leslie

72 West 92 Street 
New York City

(Written by Elsie Leslie Lyde, the original Editha, eight years old.)

The play adaptation was written by Edwin Cleary and, from what I can tell from a (rave) review of 1887 which dates it to before the 1888 copyright of the Hodgson Burnett story – it is beyond my sleuthing to untangle what this means and if she adapted his play or the other way around, although the easiest guess is that perhaps the story was first published in a magazine under a different copyright, the thread of that tale now lost to us.

Interesting in her own right is Elsie Leslie (the Lyde somehow gets dropped in her professional moniker), who at age six was already three years into her stage career when she took the role of Editha which solidified her star billing. According to Wikipedia she is propelled into further stardom in her stage production of Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy and becomes America’s first child star, highest paid and most popular child actress of her day. William Merit Chase even paints her in the garb from Little Lord Fauntleroy. I have used a photo of her from the collection of The Museum of the City of New York to illustrate today’s post.

She doesn’t seem to make it into early film (an adult return to the stage in 1911 was not resounding), but was evidently a great correspondent and maintained contact with people from her stage career through her life. Wikipedia sites letters to and from her that can be found in the collected correspondence of such luminaries as Mark Twain, Helen Keller and Edwin Booth. Married twice, she was a great beauty, traveled the world with her second husband, lived to the age of 85 and in general seems to have lead a rollicking good life.

****

The bottom line is the short story is lovely with a very simple plot which is purely about Editha, a rather extraordinary small child, and a burglar in her home whom she convinces to burgle very quietly so as not to wake and upset her rather fragile mother. Instead Editha and the burglar have a conversation (he a snack as well, helping himself to the well-stocked larder including a very large glass of wine) where she also convinces him to take her bits of jewelry rather than the things of value which belong to her parents as it would make them very sad. He takes those, and also appears to pile up the family silver, although not much note is taken of that. The dramatic arc of the story is Editha meeting up with said burglar in prison later.

I can’t help but feel that if a film had instead been made of the original story Baby Peggy would still have been my pick to play her. I believe Baby Peggy could have pulled off the role that way as well, based just on the character of the little girl. I end by saying that I was anxious to compare one of her original stories to what was contemporaneously being made from and inspired by her work and I accomplished that here. To my amazement, very little of the plot survives and instead only the plucky spirit of the character Hodgson Burnett created.

book-cover