And a Merry Christmas to You!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Forgive me as I’m out of order this year as yesterday’s Deitch Studio card post was for New Year’s and this little gem I’ve been hoarding for a couple of months is for Christmas. Devoted readers may know that I am a fan of the photo collage postcard, although I generally collect more primitive examples. (Click on these for examples: Well, wouldn’t this make you exclaim! and the very seasonal, Dawn of a New Year.) However, there is something still goofy and charming about this more mass produced card. This hand drawn young couple, separated by photos of a fluffy and proud looking cat, a happy woman with a tea cup, and a dreamy young girl – surrounded by Christmas decorations – go figure. Clearly someone’s ingredients for a happy holiday. I cannot argue.

This card was mailed from Birmingham, on December 25, 1912. It is addressed in neat penned script to Mifs Lucy Oliver, 139 West Parade, Lincoln. (Our friend Google tells me that Mifs is an early way of writing Miss. Definitely my fact for the day.) In a loopy, but carefully child-written pencil is the message, With love and kisses from Douglas.

The Christmas postcard seems to no longer even be in existence as a genre – the hold on physical cards in general even seems a bit tenuous these days. (Maybe it is just our own popularity flagging, but alas there was a real falling off this year.) Collectors of future decades beware – much as I opine that our digital photos don’t get printed and the physical evidence of this time will be paltry in the future, this is true of cards (photo and otherwise) as well.

I do love receiving fat enveloped cards in the mail this time of the year – I remain a bit of a child-like sucker for the holidays and the trappings of the holidays. I like to see midtown Manhattan all dressed up in holiday finery – Christmas balls, lights and garlands sized appropriately for the home of a giant or giantess hung between buildings or plopped down on their plazas. I love Christmas lights – especially the old-fashioned bubbling ones, but also the newer ice sickle ones. I regret that our studio apartment is too small for even a small tree (I used to have a small, fake one I would cram in here and the cats would sit under it like we’d brought a forest in for them) or much decorating. I am sad when it all comes down in January, which therefore seems very dull.

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Holiday decorations on a plaza near Rockefeller Center earlier this week.

 

For a fundraiser, the last week’s of the calendar year also represent a balancing act between festive celebration (our Big Band Holiday concert has its last performance this afternoon), while turning our hand to getting the last of the calendar year-end gifts into our coffers. It is a busy time. More on that as the New Year draws near in Pictorama’s next post, poised to ring in 2019. For now – Merry Christmas to all!

 

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Best Wishes for the New Year!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: 2018 is being rapidly ushered out the door and today I offer the annual Deitch Studio-meets-Pictorama card reveal. When I designed this year’s card I am not sure I was thinking about making it a New Year’s card, but it seemed to make itself and that’s what it turned out to be. Frankly 2018 was a tough year and I am not sorry to see the hind end of it – good riddance! Meanwhile, this was a rare season when I had an idea for the card and I pretty much sat down and out it came, exactly as I was imagining it. Kim, already deeply immersed in his new book, made some adjustments and inked it up and here we are – ta-dah!

If anyone reading this is post is new, welcome to this Deitch Studio annual tradition. Kim and I have collaborated on a holiday card since the first year we started dating. (May I note, such was the thrall I held over him, even in those nascent days, since it turns out that in reality he isn’t a fan of Christmas in the least.) Anyway, that makes 24 cards. We cannot seem to locate anyone who has good ‘ole number one which we hand colored. (Kim is rumored to have one in his files – somewhere.) By the second year we started rolling them out to a wider audience and a bit more efficiently. The card is generally drawn the day after Thanksgiving – although executed more expeditiously some years than others. I always start the card. Some years Kim adds more, some years less. Generally speaking we each draw ourselves, although this year Kim remains sort of Pam-esque as Kim Deitch fans may note. (Some former card reveals can be found by clicking on: Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio! and Merry Christmas 2015.)

The boat theme is a nod to my father who liked to sail. Born a city boy, something about sailing always intrigued him and throughout my childhood he always kept a sailboat, docked or moored in the river behind where we lived. Since he grew up in Washington Heights, I have no idea of the origins of his love of being on the water. My sister Loren got the sailing bug from him and she and her husband devoted much of their free time, summer and fall, to sailing. I, on the other hand, did not. While I am not as bad as my mother who, despite being the daughter of a fisherman and repairer of outboard motors, goes a bit green just watching a boat bob up and down in the water, I cannot sail a boat any more than I can drive a car. I see the appeal – the quiet of being on the water under sail can be thrilling and beautiful. (My father and sister were both overwhelmingly impressed that I had several trips on the enormous sailboat the Sea Cloud II when working at the Met and it was pretty amazing!) However, the time and money that one needs to devote to this pastime is beyond me and my somewhat inadequate swimming skills mean that I was never destined to be a fan.

One of my father’s trips to the hospital last year landed him in a room with a beautiful view of the Navesink river – we lived on the other side of town on the Shrewsbury river, but both rivers are lovely, if somewhat different. The hospital is built along the river and the views of it seem to be a more or less luck of the draw situation and we won the lottery that time. We looked out and talked a bit about how we’d rather be out on the water sailing than sitting in that room. I think I was thinking of that a bit when drawing this year. I plunked a sailor’s wool cap on my character’s head like dad wore in winter, and set Kim, me and the cats in this tiny vessel sailing and looking forward to the New Year, leaving 2018 behind.

Tin Hats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I stumbled onto this photo, somewhat outside of my usual bailiwick of cats and toys, and purchased it for its slice of life from the past quality. The woman is identified on the back where, despite evidence that it was pulled from a photo album, the neat pencil writing is still legible, April 1927 Marion Goodall 1495. West Adams Street. 

Marion, in her best bib and tucker, stands next to lobby cards for Tin Hats which, according the the IMDB database was a WWI comedy, made in 1926 starring Conrad Nagel and Claire Windsor. Although partially lost there is a rather detailed outline of the plot penned by a devoted individual who took the time to do so. (The author had seen some of it and filled in with a period description.) Roughly, it is a comedy farce that follows three soldiers who somehow get separated from their army unit in France just as the armistice is signed, and acquire bikes as a mode of catching up to them. Along the way, one falls in love with a German woman, they drink a lot of beer, and are hailed as heroes of the Occupying force (yes, there was a time when the French were really happy to have us there) and essentially have a jolly time of it. Spoiler alert – everyone gets happily married in the end.

Tin Hats was directed by Edward Sedgwick and his sister Eileen has a lesser role, as a second love interest. As an aside, Eileen’s twin sister was Josie Sedgwick who was a bit more of a rip roarin’ good time according to Kim. (A morning discussion about the merits of Josie is taking place as I write this.) The twin girls were born in Galveston, Texas on March 13, 1898 to a theatrical family which had a vaudeville act which ultimately incorporated the children, The Five Sedgwicks. While the girls were eventually plucked from the act, Edward on the other hand completed a university degree, went to a military academy, and contemplated a career in the military, before deciding to follow the family path into the theater and films as a director. Although Eileen made more than a hundred films (mostly serials) neither of the twins makes the transition into sound. Josie ultimately opened a talent agency. Eileen lives to be 93. Edward continued to work as a director however, until the 1950’s. His last listed credit is an episode of I Love Lucy in 1953.

Meanwhile, Marion Goodall’s interest in being photographed with these lobby cards is now lost to us. In her strappy shoes, good coat and with her marcel curled hair, she is indeed a snapshot of a woman of her time. More and more I notice silent films that are slipping into the category of having been made 100 years, or more, ago and even in my lifetime that seems amazing. It didn’t seem like they were made all that long ago when I started watching them with my dad in the 1970’s. These films, photos and music of the time remain little time capsules, ready to transport us back in time, at least for the flicker of a moment and these days at the touch of an internet button.

 

Bow Wow-zer

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s card arrives from the shores of France, although it appears to hail originally from Marienbad, a town of film fame and described as a Czech spa town by our friends at Wikipedia. (It is embossed with a photo studio name, as well as Marienbad, which I can’t quite read in the upper left corner.) It was, of course, the small and somewhat odd Felix toy in the foreground that brought it to my attention initially.

However, it was the seriousness of this fellow (or gal) posed here with Felix, ball held under one paw, that made me acquire it for the Pictorama archive. This is a formal portrait of Fido, beloved pup, and from the quality of it a high-end pro production, my guess is that it dates not much earlier than the 1930’s. Of course, the evidence of Felix being featured might point a bit earlier, although that is a pretty off-model version of the great cartoon cat. There’s no writing on this card and it was never sent – it is pristine. Marienbad, it seems, was a high end resort before the WWII, but suffered after and fell on hard times. I would guess this photo was the endeavor of a fairly wealthy person from whenever it was executed.

Much of the Pictorama photo collection is made up of attempts, good and bad but always sincere, to document beloved pets – those folks who scoop them up for a photo, or who tried to capture them from the early days of daguerreotype and tintype forward. The earlier methods of photography were of course less effective to catch an impatient puss or restless dog. The sweet spot of the photos I have amassed is largely the photo postcard, of which this belongs to the high end studio version. I see fewer early studio portraits of cats and dogs than I would imagine really. 

I believe I have mentioned that here on the east side of Manhattan I occasionally walk past a photo studio that features some animal portraits in their window, right next to charming photos of babies, small children and pregnant women. Of course dogs are much more likely to be hauled over to a photo studio for a portrait. The idea of loading Cookie and Blackie into carriers and finding them photo ready on the other side of that trip is not at all palatable or likely – and I will assume that our cats are not alone in that regard. My guess is that both the little Felix and the ball are the photographer’s props, not beloved objects of this pooch. However, I think that the sweet look in his or her eyes was all about pleasing a master, just on the other side of the camera – posing as requested, but happily trotting home after it was all done.

 

Cracker Jack Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I would have been a fat kid with bad teeth if Cracker Jack toys were as good as this when I was little! I discovered this fellow on eBay the other day and paused to imagine a tot’s world endowed with such wealth. I should start by saying I have always loved eating Cracker Jack and plowing my way through many boxes of it would not have been considered a hardship. I would say candy popcorn sprinkled with candied peanuts remains pretty high on my list of favorite junk foods. The fact that a toy of some sort was tucked in amongst all that yumminess of course just made it all the better.

A lot of research has been done on Cracker Jack and collecting these toys. I spent a little time on the comprehensive site, theartiscrackerjack.com for some information and a quick history. While Cracker Jack starts being made and sold as early as 1871 it is christened in 1896. Toys make their appearance in the boxes in 1912. The 1920’s seems to be the sweet spot for metal toys like my cat, although the first toys were flat metal soldiers so metal was used early on. Paper was surprisingly popular, and since it went into the box unprotected, that which survives today generally still bears the residual sugary stains. Celluloid takes over, followed by other molded plastic later.

I can appreciate the fascination with those early paper toys which have somehow survived, evidently the most prized by collectors. However, it is the metal toys like this one that capture my imagination and would have kept me popping candied popcorn in hopes of making a charm bracelet or finding the ultimate special toy. In a quick search of images online I did not turn up my new blue cat specifically, although cats seem to have been generously represented over the decades. It seems that cartoon characters were favored at one point and evidently Little Orphan Annie and Popeye were among those featured. There is a rather stunning Toonerville Trolley whistle as well, shown below. It must be some sort of high water mark among these prizes!

Toonerville Trolley not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Some of the metal toys are unbelievably elaborate and my mind boggles at how it could have been cost effective to produce and include them when Kim says even in his childhood the price was a nickel for the longest time. Meanwhile, his fondest memory of a Cracker Jack toy is of a red Scottie dog. I have found Scottie dogs in both metal and plastic – another popular model with a myriad of variations. I cannot seem to produce an image of the exact correct one as of right now. Kim says nothing reached the pinnacle of that acquisition afterward.

While I have memories of plastic charms early on, replaced by paper later, I don’t actually have a specific memory of finding something great in particular. I always looked forward to the prize however, even after they had mostly been reduced to sorry little joke books. I believe it is possible I would have kicked off my life long collecting tendencies much earlier if I had found this kitty in a box of Cracker Jack I was munching. Sadly, the company has discontinued even a nominal prize. However it is fair to say that even now this discovery is threatening to kick off a whole new area of collecting here at Pictorama.

Peter the Great

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: There are things that are so great that you would never even dream them up on your own – and this film still of Peter the Great with this marvelous stuffed (somewhat extra large) Bonzo dog toy falls into that category. I believe if this photo had identified Bonzo in the listing it would have sold more competitively, but Bonzo fans were left in the dark and doggie film lovers were also asleep at the wheel luckily for me. Having said that, I paid a bit dearly for it, but I consider it an absolute find.

For starters, please know that the white writing on the front of this photo is neatly hand-painted on the photo surface in raised letters. On the back, written in pencil is MGM 1924. It also says The Silent Pal Gothan (?), 1925 which is crossed out. (The Silent Pal is a film starring an alternate dog star, Thunder. As this is pretty clearly identified I can’t imagine the initial confusion.) Printed on the back is John Cocci, 613 68th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220 and typed, EXPLOITATION STILLS SALE AS REPRODUCED IN THE EXPLOITATION SECTION OF THE SERVICE BOOK.

Our film did indeed feature Peter the Great in his first leading role. Like many of his human counterparts, Peter got his start as a stunt double for more famous lead dogs of the day Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart. (I garnered this and the following other bio facts about Peter the Great’s brief career from the site Hollywooddogs.com.) Two years after Peter has his starring role here, he is tragically struck by a bullet while jumping to the aide of his master, for whom the bullet was intended. After valiant efforts to save him over several days, he dies with his paws in his master’s hands – thus ends his nascent career and even more sadly his life. His owner, Edward Faust, was awarded $125,000 in suit in the dog’s death which was a sizable sum in 1926.

Our film, although noted as lost on Wikipedia, does have a review on the IMDB database implying otherwise. In addition to Peter, the cast included: Eleanor Boardman, Raymond McKee, Earl Metcalfe, Paul Weigel, and Edna Tichenor. The review is by someone who didn’t seem to think a lot of it, but who was rather taken with Edna Tichenor as the film’s vamp. It appears to have been a typical story of a man wrongly accused who will be executed if his girlfriend and stalwart dog don’t save the day against the ever ticking clock. It evidently provided many opportunities for Peter to show off his talents and stunts. Some internet grabs of lobby cards and another (albeit lesser) film still from the film are supplied below.

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Peter1

Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pictorama readers already know I have a soft spot for German Shepherds as I have written about growing up with a beloved one. (For a post that includes some stories about Dutchess have a look here at Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) You also know that despite being of cat collecting fame I have nonetheless invested in some serious Bonzo in recent years. (For the toy curious, a few of those posts can be found by clicking on any of the following: Going to the Dogs – BonzoBlame it on the Blog 2: Bonzo Dog Edition and Happy Ooloo to Me!) It is hard to say whether Bonzo’s appearance ever made it into this film, if it hit the cutting room floor, or if this photo was actually somehow just promotional in nature. However for me there is no question that this splendid photo of Peter the Great posing with Bonzo of cartoon (and toy) fame, makes it wall worthy even in our cramped apartment.

 

Little Yellow Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: No bigger that half the length of my thumb, this little guy caught my attention the other day. I’m generally not a collector of these little lead figures, which are myriad and prized enough to be expensive in general, but I had never seen one like this guy before. I love his little yellow sweater and especially the jolly script Felix across his chest. He reminds me of a bumble bee. I usually like my Felixes of the pointier design variety. I also own a more typical one, shown below, by I admit I was very charmed by this little guy.

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Pams-Pictoram.com collection

 

The genesis of most of these types of toys seems to be a company known as Pixyland-Kew. The history there is in short that there were two companies doing mostly the same thing, Pixyland started in 1921 taking the lead on characters such as Felix and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred as well as nursery characters such as Old Mother Hubbard and Little Red Riding Hood. Meanwhile, in 1926, Kew started producing similar items pursuing cartoon characters aggressively, including Bonzo (must find one of those now that I know about them!) and other Daily Mirror strips. They also produced a line of farm animals and both seemed to be top players in the toy soldier market. Kew seems to have bought out Pixyland around 1929 and everything went swimmingly until lead was pulled for the war effort. The market for these little gems never recovered post-war and the company is later absorbed by another called Timpo.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As you can see, the scale on my two toys differs widely. I can’t find much drill down history to have a sense of where my two guys fall in the grander scheme of the two companies. Alas, my larger Felix is missing his tail, which would steady him and allow him to be freestanding. I bought him at a bargain price, probably for that reason. Although the small scale proves amenable to our tiny Manhattan digs, the exorbitant prices of these has mostly discouraged my collecting. Also, in the visual noise of an apartment where a riot of toys, photos, art, cats and Kim and Pam exist, it is hard to find an appropriate perch for little fellows like these. For now they reside in a small mirrored cabinet, at the foot of our bed (on what I like to think of as the famed shelves of Felix and other toy cats) where the tiniest of toys make their home here.