Babes

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a dim but distinct memory of being about ten years old, sitting on the floor of my bedroom during the holidays and frowning my way through part of Babes in Toyland on television, which some adult (mom, dad, grandmother most likely candidates) had told me I would like. I didn’t. It wasn’t funny and the singing interested me not at all. Somewhat ambivalent on the subject of Laurel and Hardy to begin with, this was especially thin fare in my mind. And that, somewhat uninformed opinion, would remain my response to inquiries on the subject (should they arise – rarely, but occasionally they did) for the next more than four decades – until Christmas Eve of 2018 when I was in front of my television, disinclined to get up and do what needed to be done on the holiday front, and with a dearth of alternate television viewing options. I noted the TCM jolly up next listing box with a small frisson of annoyance, and then settled back on our generous couch where Cookie was already installed – she likes television. After a few minutes Kim joined us.

I had known the 1934 Hal Roach film originally under the alternate re-issue title of March of the Wooden Soldiers, although I am too old for that first partial viewing to have been colorized. I am vaguely aware that such a thing exists. Evidently it was originally issued in sepiatone and this was a nice black and white copy. Based on the 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland the film culls out six songs by Victor Herbert, and for someone whose musical sweet spot is somewhere between 1920 and 1939 I loved the music this time around.

In case you too have been avoiding it all these years, the plot is as simple as can be – a widow facing the cruel choice between being forced from her home because she can’t make a mortgage payment, or sacrifice her daughter to the evil holder of this debt. The best part of the film however is that the whole thing takes place in Toyland and there is all sorts of wonderful cavorting around in animal costumes. I love the appearance of the 3 Little Pigs, an apparent nod to a 1930’s Walt Disney – but of course it is the “fiddle” playing cat (the fiddle being a cello does give a good look here and doesn’t prevent the cat from leaping up and running around) and the bizarre rendition of an early Mickey Mouse which held me in thrall! I almost fell off the couch. (This number in the film can be seen on Youtube here.)

Many of you film fans will know this, but this outsized fiddling cat does a spirited chase of Mickey Mouse through Toyland’s town square early in the film, although they begin and end the number, as buddies – as shown in my photo here. They reappear for the spectacular finale, Mickey in a nightshirt this time and let me tell you, I wouldn’t mind finding the right still from that part of the film to add to my collection. Meanwhile, animal suited performers with the whiff of their vaudeville days of glory still clinging to them, captured performing like this in the first few decades of film, are much sought after by me. (My post dedicated to animal impersonator Alfred Latell, which can be found here, is one of the most popular – there will be a follow-up to it in a future post. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be known film of him performing.)

The other dramatic point in the film is the love interest being accused of having taken one of the 3 Little Pigs – sausage links were planted in his house! As mentioned above, the close of the film is a wild chase through Toyland by the evil mortgage holder and his army from Boogeyland. (The boogeymen are said to be a combination of animal and human and, in my opinion, must have informed the design of the Morlocks in the 1960 The Time Machine.) The boogeymen are eventually conquered by the out-sized, wooden soldiers of the alternate title. More great eye kicks in the form of the now night-shirted 3 Little Pigs, Mickey and fiddling Cat, are a glory at the end of the film. (Again, just the finale, can be found here – really though, might as well watch the whole film!)

I sheepishly admit that it is my dubious, multi-tasking habit to have my iPad with me while lazing in front of the television and in this case, the closing credits had not rolled before I had miraculously secured this original still off of eBay. The fiddling cat was played by an uncredited Pete Gordon – I can find no evidence as to how much time he did performing in an animal suit, however as he was born in 1887 my vaudeville conjecture could be a valid theory. The real kick in the head is that Mickey Mouse in the film was played by a monkey! Once you know this it makes perfect sense – the size being too small for a child who would have had to have been very agile for the part. That was one well trained little fellow though! The monkey is uncredited and Mickey is mostly noted as playing himself, if credited at all.

The remaining, burning question for me was about Walt Disney’s feelings on the subject of Mickey and the 3 Pigs and whether or not the rights for these were compensated. My trusty iPad had an internet reply to this inquiry immediately. According to several sources, it turns out that in Mickey’s nascent youth (he was about 8 years old at the time) Disney had not yet developed his litigious copyright mania, nor was his studio the behemoth it ultimately became – Hal Roach would have held the clout in those days. In addition to Mickey’s appearance, the Disney number, Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? does an instrumental turn and was of course very much a Disney property. Walt, who was evidently friendly with Laurel and Hardy as well as Roach, must have seen the characters’ feature in this film as promotion for his properties, rather than a threat.

Happily for me, it was the best hour and 46 minutes of television viewing I was to stumble across over the holidays and this jolly photo added to my collection is my great memento.

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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.

Change?

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Luckily for me someone thought this was Felix and posted it on eBay where I snatched it up immediately. I believe this little change purse (obviously much beloved by one or several children over its lifetime) is Norokuro, the Japanese cat/dog character of early comic fame there. I have written about Norokuro a few times before when speculating on a celluloid toy (in the post found here, Norakuro, the Japanese Felix? and Pam Toy Post) and someday would love to find a stuffed toy one if such a thing exists – I have seen no evidence of that however. While searching for such a thing I did come across this photo of a larger than life one from an exhibition of his creator’s work, Suiho Tagawa, at a museum in Koto City, shown below. That guy reminds me of the giant Dean’s Mickey Mouse we have in our bedroom, but is a bit disappointing somehow. I am hoping for a more cuddly version to turn up.

Meanwhile, this worn little nubbin of a toy change purse is splendid. I am not certain, but I think his eyes moved originally and the zipper is designed so it looks like a large, toothy, grinning mouth. It is quite small – wasn’t holding much change and a bill would have to be folded some, although I confess I know nothing of Japanese currency at the time and maybe it was more adequate than I think. The inside is surprisingly untouched and new looking, the same blue as the back shown below, with a small tag that reads Chase Japan in English. He is well designed in my opinion. And, quite simply put, I would have been nuts about this as a kid, utterly delighted to own him.

change purse back

I have dim memories of owning less remarkable change purses as a child. This one tugs at my memory and vague, tactile but indistinct memories of mid-sixties versions of my own rise up. I know I had a bright blue cloth change purse in the shape of an animal of some sort, but there were plastic ones too, long lost to time and evidently memory as well. Strange, when I think about it, that change purses are so interesting to children considering that money doesn’t yet have real meaning, and not to mention that during my childhood the ownership of them would have largely excluded boys. Somehow though, if you had one of these with a few coins in your pocket you felt like you had the world on a string!

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Felix in Translation

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was such an odd card I decided I had to purchase it. At the top – I hope you’ll keep on loving – it’s good for me!” is the strange declaration, and then the next line translates as Not for you, for my little cat Felix. One can’t help, but wonder if the translation to English was terribly inadequate and they were aiming for a slightly different sentiment? This little girl appears to be holding a bizarre tiny Felix and is placing a bowl of milk down for this other, larger Felix. In addition, she’s in this sort of frame like she is bursting out of something. The little Felix appears to have a very long (un-Felix-like) tail as well, that hangs below her arm. (If I’m being picky, I might also point out that the little girl is actually a bit longer in the body than she should be, about a third longer really.) Both Felix-es are smiling and evidently appear happy about what is transpiring – whatever that is. Honestly, it is like something out of a Kim Deitch story! (Hmm, size shifting cartoon cats mixing with humans – I think we were actually discussing that yesterday morning in bed.)

Personally, I don’t really think about Felix as a milk drinking cat – although perhaps there’s a cartoon or two where he reaches for a bottle of the white stuff. In those early days you were more likely to expect him to be guzzling a bottle of hooch than milk though. Early in my Felix toy collecting career, I thought France and Germany would be the hotbeds of early Felix activity, but England easily tops all, with the US in second – odd but true. France and Germany are way behind. One finds the occasional French item, German even more rare and really it is only Schuco that comes to mind. (Steiff of course being a German American company.)

I do not believe I own a single French Felix item, and if they felt the need to pose with a large, stuffed character from the comics, I have not seen one to date, nor know what character they prefer. A great auction loss I have never gotten over was an Australian photo of people posing with a life size Spark Plug from Barney Goggle. I have never seen on before or since. (My photos of people posing with giant Felix dolls seem to have only come from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Even the Americans did not seem to embrace that practice. For new readers these photo posts abound in the Pams-Pictorama.com archive.)

The card was never mailed, although someone has written across the back, shown below. Between it being French, the hand writing, and the amount of it I have not attempted to Google translate it – but for anyone who can execute a quick translation I would love to know the general idea. For now I offer this odd little image for your consideration – and I hope you’ll keep on loving – it’s good for me!

French felix back