Felix Sings Love Songs

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post begins with the last in a recent buy of postcards, which is only wave one as more are on the way. While I do not collect deeply in this illustrated postcard series produced in Great Britain, once in awhile one appeals and I grab it up if it isn’t too expensive. I have written about them once or twice before and one of those posts can be found here. Meanwhile, although the card I share today was evidently sanctioned and copyrighted, they produced the line below was perhaps rogue.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As far as I can find these cards are referred to as the Milton Series and/or Bamforth cards. Milton series, although part of a handful of auction listings, doesn’t bring much info on Google, but Bamforth was a company started in 1870 by a portrait photographer, James Bamforth, in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. They morphed first into lantern slides and ultimately into early short films with a character named Winky as their best known. However, Bamforth is now best known for an almost endless line of saucy seaside cards in the words of Wikipedia. This card #4924 for those who knows what that means and the only copyright on the card is for Pat Sullivan.

Not part of the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card was mailed and the Great Yarmouth cancellation is hard to read, but I believe it is for 11 AM on an illegible day in 1928. The inscription in pencil says, Dear Hilda, Having fine time and weather Frank. It was mailed to Miss H. Chiletsworth, c/o Mrs. Harrison, 38 DeLaune Street, Kennington, London.

A lousy swipe from Google Maps, but I always check addresses and this is a rare occasion when the house is likely still the one the card was addressed and mailed to.

Felix is looking with sincerity at the viewer as he serenades us with his tune of nine lives. Sadly the title of the songbook is incomplete clutched in his hand, but I like the sort of watercolor wash coloring the fence and especially his toothy grin, pointy ears and whiskers. He is a jolly Felix songster.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

While researching the origin of cat’s having nine lives I found this nifty reference to Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliet, A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays. Also in Romeo and Juliet, in Act 3 Scene 1, Tybalt asks, What wouldst thou have with me? and Mercutio replies, Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.

The site also suggests that the idea of nine lives goes back to the Egyptians and something about the sun god Ra taking the form of the Great Tom Cat during his visit to the underworld, engendered eight other gods and hence 9 lives in one. (See the Litter-Robot.com blog site for references! Also a plea to my brother Edward to supply any detail of interest here as this is his area of expertise.) They also outline that some cultures have different numbers of lives they suggest – such as seven in Spanish speaking cultures and six in Arabic legend.

Of course nine lives could also refer to reincarnation. I have just turned to Kim to be reminded if there was a cat reincarnation story in his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories. (Ah yes, I am a good wife and I have written about it here and here.) There is not, but I will say, there is one starting to scratch at my brain so hold that thought and see if maybe that is part of a future Kim Deitch project.

Scooting Along

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s Felix postcard came via the same source as yesterday’s – and I hope there will be more to come from this recent Felix El Dorado. I will report on that aspect when I know a bit more, but for now another interesting card.

This postcard appears to have been blackened by hand and probably traced from a master source. This is clear from looking closely at the brushy and uneven application of the ink and the ghost of a pencil line or two. The precise origin of this series (other than it appears to be British) is also a mystery and I have written about them before and own a few others. (The posts about the earlier drawn cards can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

While at first it seemed somewhat improbably that postcards were being produced this way, consider the handmade origin of some of my treasured stuffed Felix toys. I once wrote a post on how many were produced by hand on the East End of London in a project to employ indigent women. (That post can be found here.) It helps to remember that postcards were the email of the early 20th century, mail delivery twice a day, and were used to make dates and for simple greetings and communications.

People here and in Britain must have kept well supplied to drop a note to this friend or that. Many of my cat photo postcards contain simple messages about having arrived safely at a location, missing family or reporting a visit with a friend or family. So while it still seems rather remarkable, this operation of hand production is the explanation I have settled on.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card sports a Felix-y message, How I am coming in a fortnight’s time Ethel, PS not with a tail, Fred’ll keep that. It is addressed to Z. Honeysett, Woodview, Silverdale Road, Eastbourne. However, it is worth noting that there is no stamp or postmark, so perhaps this was included in a larger missive or package. The card has two pin holes from where it did time tacked up somewhere.

Meanwhile, Felix is zooming on his scooter which could fairly be said was one of his preferred methods of transportation. Here his tail is sort of ballast – that tail which fans of the cartoon know could come off and be used for many purposes. The tail is special indeed.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection. My version of the upright kitty toy I use as my avatar for this site.

Here in the pandemic period of the 21st century, I have adopted an image of Felix as my Zoom and social media avatar. He has graced my Instagram and Twitter accounts, although Pictorama has a sporty wind-up cat of less distinction which I did had not acquired when I started the blog. (Pleased to say that I am now happily in possession of this item and featured him above. He was given a post which can be read here.) I do not own the zippy version of Felix on a scooter that I use – it is a rather rarefied Italian (I think) variation that I have only seen for sale a few times and at unattainable prices. I have a somewhat non-functional version that charms me by sitting on the shelf nonetheless.

My somewhat broken down version of the scooter Felix. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It should be noted, however, that the version that my avatar version wears has very zooty polka dot trousers and enjoys a spring for a tail. This does make him very desirable in my opinion and I find his off-model face rather charming as well. (I wonder what it says on his tummy?)

(Sadly) not in my collection.

When Zoom came into our lives abruptly in March of 2020 I replaced the generic “snowman” with Felix figuring I would give everyone a giggle. It did although some folks didn’t seem to know Felix or at least recognize him. Strangely you do become identified with your avatar quickly and it was almost surprising when someone new on a call would ask about him. (Having said that, I actually try to do at least part of my meetings, especially with colleagues, on camera to humanize the activity somewhat.)

After my Memorial Day fall my face was swollen and bruised and I decided to spare everyone and myself the sight of me on camera for a bit. During this time I received a request to change my avatar for a work related event where I had declined to go on camera and I switched to a photo taken a few years ago when I started my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I have yet to change it back again, although it is my plan because looking at this slightly earlier version of myself doesn’t suit my mindset after 15 months of working at home. Perhaps the little upright cat deserves some air time, although somehow the idea of zipping along as Felix has special appeal.

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 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.

Spark Plug: Our One Ring Circus

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Thorough Pictorama readers may remember back in March of 2018 (March 24, almost exactly three years ago!) when I posted about the photo below in the post It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug (which can be found here).

At that time I confessed my rather specific interest in this mini-genre of photos which depict people on various homemade versions of Spark Plug, the horse character of the Barney Google comic strip fame, which made its debut in 1919. (In my mind these are like an addendum to people posing with Felix – collecting those photos being part of my life’s work.) In 1925, the year today’s photo was snapped, Barney Google and Spark Plug would have been hitting their stride fame-wise.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

When I say mini-genre of photos I do not exaggerate as I have only seen three in my life (although I am convinced that there are many more to be found which I plan to uncover and of course acquire.) I was able to purchase two of the three known to me. It was the first one, at a Hake’s auction I believe, that got away which started me on my hunt for further ones. (Strangely, like some of my Felix photos, I believe that first one hailed from Australia. Australia in the 1920’s must have been a crazy, great place.)

All three photos I have encountered sold for a significant price. The card I share today started at a price even I wouldn’t pay for it and eventually came down as I had expressed interest and gather I was the only taker. In part, I think this card suffered a bit because it was hard to be certain at first that it is an original photo postcard, not a reproduction, which it is.

Back of card. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Unlike most outstandingly great photo postcards I have encountered, this one was mailed. Luckily it didn’t suffer noticibly on its journey. I show the back below and you will note the postmark, March 23, 1925! (I am loving all the coinciding of March dates today. March must be Spark Plug photo month, right down through the decades.) It was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Chalfont, Muncie Ind. 720 W. Ponders Street. (The street address is added like an afterthought which I don’t believe I have ever seen.) The sender, unnamed, writes (somewhat cryptically), Golden Banders. Come and see our 1 ring circus it is free Thurs. We. is the date. Please come early don’t be late. March 26. 7.30.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

On the front of the card 1 Ring Circus and a $ have been painted neatly onto the neg and printed. I’m not sure what the $ is referring to, tucked as it is between these two splendidly attired and painted clowns, adorned with pointy caps, each of them accessorized with a feather duster.

The woman, less sporty in her dress, but fully in the spirit of the thing, seems to be an assistant of sorts; she is holding Spark Plug’s head a bit possessively, although maybe she is also keeping him steady. (I really like her shoes – I own a pair like those that I am quite partial to.) The tot fortunate enough to be perch atop him is in a Buster Brown suit, with bow tie, and looks pretty smug and pleased with himself – who can blame him? Hotsy totsy!

Unlike the sturdy fellow in my earlier photo, this Spark Plug is a wonder of casual construction. I think he may have real plungers for feet and lower extremities and something mysterious above that connecting it all. (Interestingly plungers are frequently used to depict Spark Plug’s feet, he is not drawn that way in the strip where he just has enormous, clunky hooves.) His body appears to be an ambitious combination of wood and cardboard if I had to guess.

An interesting question is whether or not Spark Plug has back legs here – I do not see them. (Do you?) It seems like maybe white hat clown is holding him up? Not sure how that works – perhaps the clown jiggles you up and down? The solution behind this mystery is hidden now. Whoa! Steady there fellow I say!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boxing Day!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I’m not sure I remember a Pictorama post falling on Boxing Day, but here we find ourselves on a sunny if cold New York City day post-Christmas as we do our best to shove 2020 behind us. Kim and I were recently speaking of Boxing Day and I looked up its history. It started in the 1830’s in Britain and it was a day to be charitable – boxes were taken to the poor and were given to servants who got the day off as well. It spread to the British colonies and remains a holiday there whereas, as we know, traditionally the day after Christmas in this country is usually about shopping. Of course nothing is really usual about this year, and I cannot imagine stores teeming with post-Christmas folks under the current Covid circumstances.

Our own Christmas was celebrated with just us and the felines here on 86th Street, a Zoom call to New Jersey with my mom, cousin and friend Suzanne in the afternoon sadly substituting for an annual visit. In order to cheer us up I made a rather amazing bouillabaisse if I do say so myself – a sort of quick and cheaty one that has its origins with my grandmother, but I have manipulated a bit over time. (I managed six of the seven fishes – seven if you count the anchovy paste!) I served it with homemade corn muffins and a red pepper compound butter. Before I brag on myself too much I will admit that I forgot to consider dessert entirely and ran out to the store and acquired a frozen Dutch apple pie. Frankly it did the job just fine and I confess, diet be damned, I am looking forward to eating some for breakfast today. Yum.

Christmas was a cold, stormy day here with a wind whipping around – I discovered just how bad when I made that run to the store. Jazz at Lincoln Center unexpectedly announced that they were giving us all two weeks off over the holiday and I am easing into a blissful state of extra sleep and pajama wearing – house cleaning will follow I hope, as I have ignored the state of it long enough and one should go into the New Year with a clear mind and house I suspect. All this to say, I have not yet enjoyed the aforementioned improved weather but look forward to some outdoor exercise in a bit – New Year’s resolutions are lurking just around the corner to be sure.

Our newest toy, identified as French and a Krazy Kat, but I believe was meant to be Felix.
Side view.

However, the aspect of Christmas which was traditional and in no way disappointing were the toys Santa, aka Kim, brought me! Two absolutely wonderful toys, the first featured today by way of Bertoia auctions shown above. (Of course I still enjoy receiving toys on Christmas – not a surprise to Pictorama readers I am sure.)

This extraordinary wind-up toy was identified as a French Krazy Kat with no additional information. He is entirely unmarked, stands at about 8 inches, with a metal body covered in a heavy felt suit. His head and hands are composition and you can see that he probably fell on his face a lot from the chipping on his nose – his one ear is also a bit nibbled down. Despite that he is in pretty extraordinary condition, and of course it should be noted that I believe he is a Felix not a Krazy Kat. It should also be noted that his wind-up key is permanently affixed to him, not removable.

This one-footed fellow is seen a bit more than the latest acquisition.

I have never seen a toy like him and would appreciate any information folks might have about his origins. His mechanism spring is a bit shot or over-wound and I have only achieved a few bits of a hopping, splayed leg gait out of him (he fell on his face immediatley) which is too bad because I have seen enough to know it must have been comical. He is smaller and more delicate than the more typical wind-up mohair Felix, one that seems to always lose one foot. My example shown above. I assume that because of his composition parts this fellow didn’t last and few of these seem to be knocking around. I wrote about the one above and another more or less one-of-a-kind wind-up Felix toys, shown below, in a post that can be found here. While I had never seen that one before I was certainly familiar with the wind-up function he was built on.

Another admittedly unusual Felix wind-up toy.

So, we start to close out 2020 with a house full of leftovers and a moment to catch our collective breath. For those of you who still have some cooking ambition in you, or need a New Year’s meal, I lay out the basics of my fish stew below. Enjoy!

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Fish Stew or Quick Bouillabaisse Recipe:

Saute onions, garlic and chopped carrots with salt and pepper until they begin to brown, add additional veggies. I like a little potato to thicken, green beans and a bit of corn. (If you are using corn on the cob you can wait and drop the full ear into the soup to cook and cut the corn off after – that will add taste and additionally thicken soup. I used frozen corn this time.) Add in a bit of anchovy paste and a smidge of tomato paste.

Add in fresh fish of choice, about a pound of each – I used a bit of halibut (skinned) although any thicker white meat fish will do, and cut it into bite-size chunks, I added shrimp, and scallops and let cook. I like to add a lobster tail or some crab legs and it does well to add them in here too if they aren’t frozen which my lobster tail was this time. (Snow crab legs are great, but messy to eat later – this was a faux lobster tail belonging broadly to the lobster family with sharp sprine-y bits – ouch!, but I was able to take it out after it had cooked and add the fish meat back into the stew so no eating time mess.)

Deglaze the pot with a cup or so of wine or vermouth. The cheating part starts here (and I am pretty sure this is my addition to this recipe) with some canned fish options. I start with a can of clams, with their liquid included, and this time added a tin of smoked oysters. (I prefer mussels but oysters was all the market had to offer and they were just fine. This is a very forgiving recipe.)

Here’s the big cheat – add a bottle of clam juice AND a large container of Clamato juice (I have often wondered what other use Clamato juice has in life – do people drink it? Make cocktails with it?) Also add a large can of chopped tomatoes at this stage. This creates a substitute fish broth base. I added fresh chopped basil and wide leaf parsley. I like basil in it in particular, but again this is another place where you can be creative. I also added a bit of oregano and at this stage adjust your seasoning overall – I tend to have been adding a bit of salt and pepper with each addition of fish. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes.

If pressed, you can happily eat this immediately, but the real trick is to cool it down and refrigerate it over night. A glorious change takes place and it is even more amazing! Great dish for company made the day before and then only needs to be heated before serving.

Out with the Old!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This year’s holiday card, drawn by me and inked by Kim, is a glimpse into the reality of Deitch Studio – it really looks exactly like this! (Full disclosure, no Christmas tree, not even a small one. There really isn’t a square foot for even the smallest one.) This year’s card is more of a New Year’s one – recognizing the year that has been as we hope to kick it aside in favor of the coming one.

I recently wrote for a Jazz at Lincoln Center member newsletter that 2020 was rare to reflect on a departing year that could be considered universally horrid, but that is what this year has been. Folks have suffered egregious pain and loss from the pandemic, howled with protest in the streets despite it, and went back out into it in order to stand on line for hours to vote. We saw dancing in the street here in Manhattan when the Presidential results were announced, but like all things in 2020, even that has proved to be a torturous and rocky road on the way to resolution.

Much will be written about the year 2020 in the future I think, but for now behind that everyone is still dealing with it and the additional backdrop of everyday struggles which continued apace – one friend reports bedbugs, another has a parent diagnosed with dementia, a third falls and lands in the hospital – and all this in the past week. For many, 2020 is the year that just won’t quit, even as we reach the bitter end. The backlash likely to sweep well into the beginning of the New Year.

There are undeniable bright spots though and commuting by walking ten feet across our studio apartment has been lovely. We joke about it and friends and acquaintances marvel at it, but really, if you have already lived in one room with someone for decades doing it twenty-four hours a day isn’t much different, at least for us. Last March I was deeply tired from too much travel and many late nights at work and I have been enjoying my regular routine and seven hours of sleep nightly – frankly being told I would have to stay home and cancel all upcoming travel was not entirely unwelcome. (Earlier tales of quarantine life at Deitch Studio can be found here.)

The Deitch Studio-Pictorama collaborative holiday card for 2020!

I resumed all cooking duties and we have not only eaten right, but we’ve eaten quite well and my newly restored interest in baking has packed on pandemic pounds which I am now seeking to banish. (It is hard to develop a sense of urgency about it however when my days are generally spent in work out gear from the waist down. Baking posts can be found here and here for starters. I am munching a spice cookie from last week’s cooking adventure as I write this.)

Cheesy olive bread – an early pandemic favorite.

I am fortunate to have a job and also to be able to work from home – Kim has of course always worked here and was the one who had to adjust and make room for me. Workdays have been long, sometimes starting at 6:30 AM and with the evening still finding me at my computer, iPad or phone, but without having to go any place it has allowed me to hone the work down to what is essential and a core fundraising message and method. Talking on the phone almost incessantly is a reality for me and, admittedly with a few bumps along the way, we have found accommodation.

Wynton Marsalis and I are on the phone so frequently that I joke that sometimes it is as if he is a third person in the apartment – asking after him always or shouting a jaunty greeting to Kim as he signs off a call, Kim tossing out the occasional comment when brought into the conversation. Kim now recognizes the sound of each person’s voice, not just on my team, but for the better part of the entire Jazz at Lincoln Center administrative operation. He listens to Susan and I discussing incoming funds and sometimes lack thereof; as Gaby and I working through a litany of media requests; me addressing my staff in meetings and sometimes even the weekly all staff meetings for the organization. Kim never thought he would know so much about how I spend my workday.

The flea market purchase of a Ruth Fielding novel that kicked off my reading of that series.

I think we will remember this year and shiver in remembrance of days and nights of ambulance sirens and deserted streets here, but I know we will also look back on it as a gift of time we never expected to have, tossed into our laps like a rough nugget of gold, waiting for us to figure out how to forge it into something. We have made good use of our time I think – been productive in our work – fundraising as always for me (if more urgently than ever), art as usual for Kim as he plows well into the next book. What downtime we’ve had has been spent reading – Kim finishing the last of the available Little Orphan Annie strips with regret, me working my way through wakeful nights reading escapist juvenile fiction of the early 20th century, Judy Bolton and now well into Ruth Fielding. (A post about my Judy Bolton pandemic days reading can be found here and here, and while a review of Ruth Fielding is in the works, I mention her in my post about the Miss Pat series and it can be found here.)

Early version of the lucky waving cats that adorn my desk.

Our two cats, Cookie and Blackie, have more than adjusted to the change in human habits and all memory of the “before time” has been erased from their respective tiny feline memories. A real ham, Blackie comes running for Zoom calls on camera, meanwhile Cookie sleeps under my laptop which sits on an elevated shelf which Amazon delivered (along with a world of other things) months ago when my back kept going out. She curls up under the warmth of the desk lamps and between the two waving lucky cats (one recently retrieved from my office), cat kissing them occasionally – and then mystically, in the late afternoon, I look up and it is Blackie there instead. (A post about the lucky waving cats can be found here.) The cats are frankly shocked if Kim and I leave the house for any period of time now. We find them waiting anxiously by the front door when we return.

Blackie and Cookie perched on my desk, awaiting dinner recently.

As I write this I am adorned in an ancient black hoodie that is years old, but has seen almost daily wear in recent months. I am wearing a wonderful pair of silky pj’s on the bottom, a recent purchase from the Gap, they are adorned with stars – a weekend luxury to be in them still so late in the morning, although I could live in them I actually make a point of getting fully dressed, as such, for workdays. Admittedly my “hard pants” and office clothes are now mostly providing nests for generations of moths I have not had the energy to deal with. (Moths are my version of the 2020 pestilence story.) I suspect by the time I get back to them I will chuck most of the whole lot anyway.

Blackie takes over the computer one morning.

What does 2021 hold for us and how will we adjust and meet the challenge of finding our way in the next iteration of the world? I think about it often. We have all changed in the crucible of these strange days and I don’t think anyone will emerge from it the same or unscathed. I remind myself that we will emerge from our cocoons at some point (we certainly hope in 2021), and as our new selves step out into the world to be whatever we have become during these long, hard but interesting months. Here we go then, out with the old and in with the New Year!

Felix Match

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This item comes to us via Instagram and a lovely woman named Sandy who is one of the owners of a store in Dallas, Texas called Curiosities (@curiositiesantique or getcuriosities.com) and who reached out with a photo of this great Felix match holder which I had to have, well, immediately. We spoke on the phone and I had tucked a number of other items into my virtual cart before we were done – more on those in the weeks to come. Turns out Sandy is a fan of Kim’s work and follows the comings and goings of life here at Deitch Studio and knew that a piece like this Felix would be catnip to us at Pictorama – and she was right!

Decorated package from Curiosities

These off-model Felix pieces are like primitive art and it is hard to say if they were made from designs, maybe in magazines, or were just simply made items pounded out and sold, capitalizing on Felix’s appeal and flying under the radar of the copyright cops. Years ago I wrote about the East End of London shops which turned out some of my favorite gleefully free-form mohair Felix toys (almost assuredly not licensed) as a way of employing indigent women in the East End of London. (That post can be found here and is a favorite. I wrote about another such homemade piece, shown below, which can be found here.)

Another recent acquisition I wrote about back in August which smacks of being homemade from a blueprint or kit.

Matches played a bigger role in the world in early 20th century life than we may remember today, living now in a world of lighters and probably less of a need for them in general with less cigarette smoking and all. Among my prized possessions are two feline versions of what are known as “match safes” – these designed for keeping your matches dry and handy – and, in a word, safe. I have written posts on those two here and here. (Meanwhile, if you want to be entertained by the story of matches I suggest the 1932 pre-code film The Match King, based on a true story, which takes on the premise of getting rich, one match via manipulation and a monopoly on the match market.)

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

This Felix match holder feels like it was made commercially, if perhaps by a small enterprise. The wood is very light. I like the addition of this fang-y sort of gap tooth grin and the four decorative whiskers. The face looks as though it was sprayed on through a stencil of sorts. He has some wear on him and it would appear someone reached in for many matches over time, wearing the white paint of the cup away almost entirely. The place where he hung from a nail on top, is almost worn through – probably pulled a bit on the nail when matches were taken each time. It is my only hesitation about whether he hangs in the kitchen or remains with the toys in the other room.

Of course this object speaks to the day when stoves were lit with wooden matches every time they were used. The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine was on yesterday and I overheard the snippet where he runs up the stairs in a panic because he smells gas and she has turned it on without realizing that it required manual lighting each time. It was a bit old fashioned even when that film was made in 1960, self-lighting gas stoves probably having been introduced into newer models as a safety measure, but older stoves not yet replaced.

While my ancient gas stoves in my first apartments were technically self-lighting, I can assure you that both my apartments in London and my first in New York frequently needed a prompt from a match to get going. In fact the immediate predecessor to my current stove had a pilot light that went out frequently enough that I have a box of wooden matches in the kitchen drawer right now – somehow using a lighter for that task never seemed entirely safe. Even if he hangs in the kitchen I will not tax him with holding onto our matches and it would be nice to bring a jolly touch of Felix into our kitchen.

French Felix with Jean Mitry

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For readers who feel like maybe there has been a lot of wandering around in these Pictorama posts lately, I have a very Felix-centric post for you today. I scooped up this single page a few weeks ago. I don’t read French so I pressed our friend Rika Deryckere into service and she was kind enough to do a splendid job of translating this for me (and Pictorama readers) as presented below. Thank you Rika!

Much to my surprise, it is a philosophical opining on our friend Felix the Cat by the French theorist, critic and film maker Jean Mitry. Mitry (1904-1988) has a small bio on Wikipedia citing him as the first person to take French cinema out of the club and into the university. He authored several books, film philsophy, critique and semiotics, and was the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française. There is an annual award in his honor at the Pordonne Film Festival, given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in recovering and preserving film heritage.

This page was carefully removed from wherever it appeared and has come to me with no indication of the magazine it was excised from. Some of my more erudite film readers may know a lot more about this and I invite you to share if you do. It was certainly my introduction to it. I love the way it is illustrated and some of the non-Felix cats intrigue me.

Detail from Deja Vu in All Waldo Comics, Felix and Waldo make their plan.

Meanwhile, in a strange nexus of worlds, Kim points out that the passage where Mitry talks about Felix dividing himself into many and then coming back together brings us right to Waldo’s origin story. It is found in Deja Vu, most easily found in the collection All Waldo Comics.

There it seems Felix (yes, Felix), working for the CIA at the time, recruits Waldo and under Felix’s tutelage somehow the nine lives of cats becomes multiple Waldo – who in turn need to be dealt with in Waldo-Deitchian fashion. Hence, for those of you who have wondered, the reason that Waldo sports a #1 on his chest, as he is the original…and the universe here at Deitch Studio spins merrily forward! I share a few sample pages above and below from that story – and then onto the translation.

Early color reprint from Deja Vu

****

Le dessin animé

The Animated drawing

Félix – le – chat

Felix the cat

La gloire des vedettes est menacée. Un être étrange est apparu. Plus malin et plus simple, il s’est emparé du cinéma en sautant à pieds joints au beau milieu de l’écran.

The glory of the stars is threatened.
A strange being appeared.
Smarter and simpler, he took over the cinema by jumping with both feet into the middle of the screen.

Tache d’encre tombée du pinceau de Patt Sullivan, il s’est étalé sous la forme d’un chat. Ne me demandez point pourquoi on le nomme Félix, nul ne le sait et lui il s’en moque. Personnage important il n’écoute que lui-même, agit à sa guise, suit sa fantaisie, sans avoir de compte à rendre à personne.

Ink stain from Patt Sullivan’s brush, it sprawled out in the shape of a cat. Don’t ask me why he is called Felix, no one knows and he doesn’t care. An important character, he listens only to himself, acts as he pleases, follows his fantasie, without being accountable to anyone.

Il vit à l’ombre du pinceau curieux qui l’entraîne dans les plus folles aventures et le rattrape au vol après avoir fait mine de l’abandonner. Cependant il n’est jamais en peine de quoi que ce soit.

He lives in the shadow of the curious brush that takes him on the craziest adventures and catches him in flight after pretending to abandon him. However, he is never at all worried about anything.

Etre surnaturel, il trouve toujours toute ressource en lui-même et possède la faculté d’agir sur sa personnalité.

Supernatural being, he always finds every resource in himself and has the ability to act on his personality.

Changeant selon les événement, grand ou petit, terrible ou misérable, il se promène au milieu d’un monde créé pour lui.  Héros d’un univers magique, incarnation du miracle et de la légende, le voici qui s’élève sur le bout de petits pieds et lance par-dessus la balustrade des nuits un bonjour en copain à son grand frère Charlot. Mais, Félix, avantagés par les facultés invraisemblables de son aventure, évite d’une pirouette les cataclysmes les plus épouvantables, — mieux, il s’en sert pour triompher de ces ennemis en les retournant contre la logique.

Changing according to the event, big or small, terrible or miserable, he walks in the middle of a world created for him. Hero of a magical universe, incarnation of miracle and legend, here he rises on the tip of little feet and over the balustrade of the nights says hello as a friend to his big brother Charlot. But, Felix, favored by the incredible faculties of his adventure, avoids the most appalling cataclysms with a pirouette – better, he uses them to triumph over these enemies by turning them against logic.

Et celle-ci, la ridicule pipelette hargneuse qui vous oblige à se décrotter de toute poésie avant de rentrer chez soi, si fière de sa raison, loge étriquée, monotone et sans air, la méchante logique disparaît dès qu’elle le vois poindre à l’horizon.

And this one, the ridiculous surly blabbermouth which forces you to get rid of all poetry before returning home, so proud of its reason, cramped, monotonous and airless, the evil logic disappears as soon as it sees it dawning at the horizon.

Car Félix porte avec lui tous ces petits lutins espiègles que l’on nomme insouciance, féerie, irréel, imprévu, mystère-du-temps-présent, esprit-de-contradiction. Et la mégère rentre dans sa tôle car il est, lui, le champion de la liberté et de la fantaisie, son ennemi triomphant.

Because Felix carries with him all these mischievous little elves that we call recklessness, fairyland, unreal, unforeseen, mystery-of-time-present, spirit-of-contradiction. And the shrew comes back to his senses because he himself is the champion of freedom and fantasy, his triumphant enemy.

Il a battu en brèche les vieux préjugés asthmatiques, les convictions ancrées dans leurs tanières de certitudes comme les crabes dévoreurs de poissons.

He shattered old asthmatic prejudices, convictions anchored in their dens of certainties like crabs that eat fish.

Il est vainqueur. Et quand il paraît au coin de la page blanche, il se demande sous quel aspect il va se mettre en scène afin de mieux pouvoir tourner en ridicule les choses que nous croyons immuables et qu’il se charge de transformer malgré elles selon son imagination ou son caprice.  

He is victorious. And when he appears at the corner of the blank page, he wonders in what aspect he is going to stage himself in order to better be able to ridicule the things that we believe to be immutable and that he is responsible for transforming in spite of them according to his imagination or his whim.

Je me souviens de l’avoir rencontré au carrefour d’un village en quelque lieu de féerie nocturne. La drame rôdait sous l’aspect d’un chien râgeur, amant de la belle.

I remember meeting him at the crossroads of a village in some fairy-tale place. The drama lurked in the guise of an angry dog, lover of the Beauty.

Surprit, Félix tombe, mais il se ressaisit bien vite. Il veut vaincre, il veut être plus fort que lui-même. Et voici que s’opère le miracle : il se dédouble, il se multiplie et devient plusieurs «  lui-même » qui tombent à bras raccourcis sur le chien jusqu’ à plus soif.

Surprised, Felix falls, but he quickly pulls himself together. He wants to win, he wants to be stronger than himself. And here is where the miracle takes place: it splits, it multiplies and becomes several “itself” who fall with short arms on the dog until the end.

Après quoi tous les petits Félix seconds, satisfaits de leur rôle, rentrent les uns dans les autres et redeviennent l’unique Félix-le-chat.

After which all the little Félix’s seconds, satisfied with their role, fit into each other and become the unique Félix-the-cat again.

Et Félix possède toutes choses aussi bien que lui même. Il est dieu.

And Felix owns all things as well as himself. He is god.

Il agit sur tout et sur tous. Il n’est pas de désir ou de volonté si apparemment impossible ou invraisemblable qu’il ne puisse satisfaire, et qu’il ne satisfasse.

He acts on everything and everyone. There is no desire or will so seemingly impossible or implausible that it cannot satisfy, and does not satisfy.

Triomphe de l’illusion, de l’arbitraire, de l’acte libre. Triomphe de la poésie dans ce qu’elle a de plus secret, de plus inattendu.

Triumph of illusion, of arbitrariness, of free action. The triumph of poetry in its most secret, most unexpected.

Seul au monde, Félix peut dire : « Je m’abstrait, donc je suis », et je suis quand je veut, où je veux et comme bon me semble.

Alone in the world, Felix can say: “I abstract myself, therefore I am”, and I am when I want, where I want and as I see fit.

Poète surréaliste, plus fort qu’aucun autre, il vit son propre rêve. Il jongle avec les étoiles et transforme tout à son image. Aperçoit-il la « belleé tout en haut de l’Inaccessible » dans les nuages, si haut, si loin qu’il ne puisse y parvenir?

Surrealist poet, stronger than any other, he lives his own dream. He juggles with the stars and transforms everything in his image. Does he see the “beauty at the top of the Inaccessible” in the clouds, so high, so far that he cannot reach it?

Que feriez-vous à sa place? Eh bien, il attrape son regard, son regard qui fixe sans cesse ce joint si haut, l’accroche à une branche d’arbre et poursuit sa marche élastique sur ce fil conducteur.

What would you do in his place? Well, he catches her gaze, her gaze wish is transfixed, joins so high, hooks it to a tree branch and continues its elastic walk on this common thread.

Il se sert même de ses points d’exclamation et les transforme à dessein en massues, en patins à glace ou en ailes d’aéroplane. Il est le magicien de notre temps, et s’il s’est emparé du cinéma comme du reste, c’est pour s’en servir selon sa fantaisie de poète vagabond, humoriste et philosphe, selon son bon plaisir …

qui est le nôtre aussi bien.

He even uses his exclamation marks and purposely transforms them into clubs, ice skates or airplane wings. He is the magician of our time, and if he has seized the cinema as well as the rest, it is to use it according to his fancy as a wandering poet, humorist and philospher, according to his good pleasure …
… Which is ours as well.

Jean MITRY.