Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo find comes as I happen to have had a rare and thoroughly enjoyable encounter with another Felix collector in Great Britain over an auction purchase yesterday (oh my yes, more to come on that), and since I have Felix on the brain it seems like a good day to share this acquisition. It seems he gave up Felix collecting in favor of having children (imagine!), but has held onto his collection until now – with one of his beloved toys soon to slip into the Pictorama haven for all things early Felix. More to come on Peter and the Dean’s Felix which will make an American debut in future weeks – and with a nod of grateful thanks to Kim who helped finance that purchase.
One interesting (and rather splendid) feature is that Peter and his wife seem to have photos of children with the dolls they are selling. Someone who shares my interest in the photos as well as the toys! A brother from another mother it seems. I show one of their other offerings below, this currently for sale on Facebook and a group holding a sale under the name 200 Years of Childhood which can be found here, or under Leanda Harwood Bears. As it happens, I own this Felix below (or a kissin’ cousin anyway) so he wasn’t in the running for me. You might remember an especially interesting post about how these off-model Felix toys were made in an East London factory as a way of employing indigent women. That post of mine can be found here.
Meanwhile onto this hotsy totsy photo postcard winged its way in the door earlier this week and Kim and I especially like Felix’s saucy mugging in the middle of the picture. He provides a good counterbalance to the two angelic looking little boys and a fluffy white cat toy, peering out behind the little boy on the left.
I wonder if that white cat is a stand-in for Kitty, Felix’s ongoing romantic interest. She, at least the early version of Kitty, was more of an actual cat than the anthropomorphic Felix. The feminists need to get a hold of Kitty and rework her a bit, since all she ever seemed to do was flounce away, agree to let Felix take her out or produce prodigious packs of kittens. To my knowledge no period dolls of her exist – there is a sort of awful thing from the 80’s or so we won’t discuss. There is a Daddy Kitty, a male white cat, who occasionally appears with a rifle to move Felix along.
These little boys are posed on a fluffy carpet and they (and their parents) may think they are the center of attention, but of course we know it is Felix, whose eyes are rolling comically to one side as he leans toward the little boy with the straight hair. It is as if the photographer and Felix are playing a joke on these folks, which comes to us decades later. Felix steals the show, upstaging these albeit cute kids. Of course, having said this, I would have loved to have been a child posing in a photo with Felix and have that relic, but I won’t hold the lapse against Mom and Dad.
On the back of this card, written in a loopy script it says, With Love & All Good wishes for a bright & Happy Xmas from Nelly Chas & Raymond. There is no date and this was not mailed. The card, which offers how additional copies could be acquired on the back, appears to be the product of Wakefield’s, 1 High Street & 21 The Mall, Ealing Broadway, W5 with a phone number. A quick search reveals that Wakefield’s was a noted Victorian photo studio and that Ealing seems to have been an area with a number of photography studios at the dawn of the 20th century. (A website devoted to researching this topic (What’s That Picture?) can be found here, but note that this fellow blogger appears to be focusing on earlier photographs, only up to WWI. (A not especially interesting modern building exists at the address now according to Google.) One interesting tidbit was that this, evidently very substantial, studio also had a branch in Brighton – which is, in my mind, definitely Felix photo territory.
A lovely way to send holiday greetings, but for us today a bit of a fall Felix frolic.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write today Kim (the cats) and I are speeding toward the end of our summer vacation. Exhausted overall, we stayed in Manhattan and just determined to rest and have some fun here. One of the highlights was the postponed Cartoon Carnival evening which I wrote about in an earlier post (here), delayed initially by one hurricane and almost delayed again by a second one. The delightful Sunday evening had an unusual chill to the air for August and that and rough waters (Ida creeping up the coast?) made me scuttle my plan to take two ferries to arrive there and maybe sneak in a flea market as well. Instead we took the subway out and scored a nice dinner. The backyard of City Reliquary in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was the location and we had the added benefit of seeing their exhibit on candy as well.
Not quite a third of the way into the program (Out to Sea was the theme with lots of jolly swordfish fights and mice using donuts as life preservers), there was a power surge and the projector went off as did all visible lights around us, including in the apartment building looming behind the screen. The power came back quickly and, sadly, burned a frame or two of the print before Tommy could stop it (Tommy Stathes, our curator and host uses 16mm prints with a real projector), admittedly a familiar sight to those of us who have seen a lot of film run however. We quickly got rolling again though and were treated to several cartoons we had not seen before, for me two Felix cartoons and one by Paul Terry for starters. I also purchased a few dvd’s from him so we could continue the party at home. (If you love old cartoons you need to know about Tommy and his site can be found here or find him on IG @tomatitojose.)
When we headed back to the subway around 10:00, we were to discover that the power surge had caused an inexplicably large suspension of subways; 80 trains suspended we heard the next day. We first tried the L and then walked to the J before we realized that underground was not happening between Brooklyn and Manhattan tonight. Eventually we found our way onto a bus designated to essentially get people over the bridge and to the nearest station in Manhattan, Essex Street. There we discovered further outages, but eventually lucked out with a F train which took us to our beloved Q line and home. It was 12:30 before we got back – very relieved we’d fed our kitties before we left.
Monday dawned and I decided it was time to fulfill a long-standing pledge to myself to finally go through my closets which have largely remained utterly undisturbed since March of ’20. Yes, I belong to that group of people who climbed into workout clothes that weekin mid-March of ’20 and never really got out of them again. As some Pictorama readers know, over those first months I rediscovered my early talent for cooking and baking (recipes and cooking memoirs can be found here and here for starters) and of course gained a lot of weight. Last November I took it in hand and I began running and went on a diet. (Posts devoted to my nascent running can be found here and here.)
Two broken fingers later (I fell running) and having now lost more weight than I initially gained (but still looking to lose a bit more), I faced the time capsule that is my closet with many deeply mixed feelings. In addition to just needing to go through the closet moths have been erecting a citadel in both of them which I needed to confront, all those clothes sitting undisturbed was a moth bonanza it seems. So it was with great trepidation that I waded in.
It took three days and for the most part I didn’t bother trying to figure out what might fit or not, mostly only deal with the moths, cleaning, organizing and tossing damaged items. Notable among the victims were black wool tuxedo trousers that Kim has owned for decades, traded for a bunch of homegrown pot on a long ago day in California, long before we met. As the husband of a fundraiser Kim has needed a no less than annual use of said tux, alas, we are sad with this loss.
What I wasn’t prepared for was my overall extreme ambivalence about the idea of office clothes and returning to a world of wearing them. Please understand, I have always liked nice clothes and good shoes. (My love of jewelry which incidentally continues unabated has been documented here recently.) Therefore, my extreme disinterest in resurrecting them remains surprising. (I always liked make-up as well and have lost interest in that too for the most part.) It is somewhat disorienting to realize that I am somehow no longer that person, but am left with a fuzzy picture of who exactly that means I am. Part of me thought, let’s just pitch the lot of it.
Having spent virtually my entire career not only working in an office but fundraising in particular has meant that I have gone to the office dressed to meet and speak with potential donors virtually every single day. When I worked at the Met it wasn’t unusual for people to phone unexpectedly who were visiting the galleries and ask to come and see me. Board members routinely wandered in for meetings. Early in my career there was an actual dress code (you didn’t wear trousers for evening events) and although that faded over time, it was expected that a level of professional dress would be maintained and people who didn’t catch on were flatly told to tow the line.
My current position has me less likely to have those unexpected meetings but between evening events, scheduled meetings and lunches, and a large amount of work travel while the precise nature of what I wore changed, the fact that I was dressed for business everyday was well ingrained. (A board member at my current position complained to someone that I wore too many suits. To this day that comment confounds me. Did she want me to show up in a tank top and flip flops?)
The top strata layer of my closet reminded me that I had been traveling to the midwest right before shutdown. A trip to Wisconsin, following by Milwaukee and then a subsequent one to Chicago, had meant a lot of wool (more moth industry and joy) and layers that had been worn. (A blog post devoted to one of those trips and some musing on fundraising can be found here.) Further digging found the clothes I usually keep year round in the closet for seasonal trips to Florida and California. I cast a jaundiced eye at those wondering if my current weight would enable me to get me back in them yet. (A somewhat academic question for now of course, although in a sort of tentative world a trip to the west coast looms for January, maybe Florida in December.)
More importantly though, despite the visceral memories the clothes brought back of essentially another time, it crashed directly into my current sensibility of who I actually am now and more importantly, who do I want to be and where am I going with this?
Thursday night Kim and I decided to head over to Dizzy’s. (His idea really, as a treat to cheer me up a bit after three days of moth-y work. Thank you honey!) Dizzy’s is the Jazz at Lincoln Center, my former clubhouse of sorts in the pre-pandemic world, and we went to hear some young musicians I know. I had been to Dizzy’s once already for our re-opening two weeks before and the emotion of being back in that room and hearing live music had been overwhelming, not just for me but for the whole audience of friends and family we had invited for the evening. This night however, I had Kim with me and we were visiting as civilians as such, me not working. (I would be remiss if I didn’t say you can make reservations for upcoming shows at jazz.org.)
Without the distraction of working and being in charge of an event, I was more focused on the experience of just being there. Seeing these recent Juilliard graduates, some of the best young jazz musicians today, getting a chance to play at the club was wonderful. The leader of the quartet was Isaiah Thompson and one of the things he said in his introduction was that he found it was so much more intense to play in front of people now. I also find this to be true. Sitting down with people and talking to them in person is indeed more intense .
I also thought about the incredibly fragile ecosystem that is jazz and the hard work of Jazz at Lincoln Center to maintain that important link, helping to hold it together and connect the pieces, making evenings like this possible for these extremely talented and just ascending young musicians. I fell to thinking about the phenomenal work that we had all dedicated just to keep it alive over these more than seventeen months. I am proud to be a part of that, but also deeply tired. My ties to it go much deeper now, but my awareness of how delicate and even ephemeral it is remains indelible and front of mind as well. The grim reality is that it isn’t over yet, there is no real return to what we thought of as normal and there is much hard work yet ahead as I look toward returning next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Hurricane Henri has scuttled my day two plans for vacation (it was to be cartoons being shown outside in Brooklyn tonight which I had hoped to pair with a visit via ferry to the Brooklyn Flea and of course no running along the now flooding river esplanade), so I am taking comfort in someone else’s long ago vacation photo here today. This photo is one of my favorites from the recent cache I tapped into. (I wrote about the purchases from that collection just last week in a post that can be found here.) Instead we will be huddled cozily inside today, perhaps I can curate my own cartoon fiesta via dvd and Youtube later.
In the many hurricanes of my childhood and adolescence I never remember them so early in the year as this. We lived on the aptly named Waterman Avenue and it flooded routinely even without the benefit of a hurricane. My memory of hurricanes and tropical storms are always associated with fall however, usually early fall but sometimes into November, however summer vacation was never interrupted in my memory. Hurricanes were always a bit exciting with doors and windows taped up with silver gaffers tape (my father was a cameraman and we always had copious supplies of it) protecting us against wind breakage and busting open. No school obviously and the novelty of neighbors checking on us via small boats during the eye of the storm, geese at the back door, and a day spent playing board games and the like while somehow pets and humans found their way to the living room in the middle of that small house.
Hurricane Donna of 1960, which precedes me by several years, was the benchmark that was frequently used for reference during my childhood, a storm that was born in August, but hit the Jersey shore in early September and was notable for its destruction. (Adults would always tell me that the ocean and the river met in Sea Bright, a small spit of land and beach town I have written about a few times before. (A favorite post about the variety store frequented in childhood, Wiseman’s, can be found here. A photo of the town of Sea Bright above.) They would always point out that the water from each was a different color and that photos showed a dividing line. I have in my life seen photos and sure enough, the greener blue of the ocean and the darker of the river didn’t just mix, but stayed separate to the eye.
In later years Kim and I were on a summer vacation (a rare one traveling to visit Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri of Mineshaft magazine fame) when Hurricane Katrina hit the south and hurricanes seem to have caught up with summer vacations.
Back to our jolly Felix card which was mailed (unusual for these surviving cards of this type) on July 23, at 1:30 PM, the year is obscured on the postmark. (Any of our British clothing specialist friends want to weigh in on a possible date?) It was mailed from Bournemouth, a resort town on the southern coast of England grown out of a spa and health resort in an earlier century. There is a short note on the back of the card which (to the best of my deciphering) reads, Dear Mother, Still having a lovely time. The Weather is lovely now. We are quite comfortable. Lorie. It is addressed to, Mrs. Dailey, 71 Tennyson Road, Luton Baths. (This house still stands and appears a pretty brick terraced home according to sales photos online.) Not sure any of my other Felix photo cards are known to be from Bournemouth.
It is a bright, sunny beach day in this photo; they are also quite dressed (albeit beautifully) for a beach photo on a July day, at least by our standards today. The pretty cotton dresses of the period, the hats and the men’s summer suits never fail to appeal to me. There is a woman to the far left who has a very fashionable head scarf which matches the trim on her dress. Most of the women sport pretty straw hats or a cloche type made of another light material. The men’s head gear seems to range from a a single derby, to numerous caps and a bare headed fellow or two. The linen and cotton layers of the dresses and jackets represent many collective hours of ironing I would think. Among the young and adolescent girls in the second row I will guess is the author of our card – the handwriting is not that of a child.
We’ll assume this is some sort of family gathering and they have designated one of the littlest girls at the bottom, amongst a coterie of children, to hold and hoist up Felix who has joined their group. He is a somewhat smaller model Felix for this purpose, although I have numerous cards with what I think of as a portable Felix. (Also the sense of the ubiquitousness of Felix in these photos always entertains me! Of course Felix is in your family photo.) After all, while the outsized ones that appear to be the size of a child are favored with me, they were too large to lug around to mobile locations on the beach such as this. The photographer has managed to get a great vantage point above this group which is part of what makes this photo a bit more special.
As for me, the rain has whipped back up and is lashing the windows again. Kim, who is the process of reading several books simultaneously, has put away one and is eating a yogurt before moving onto the next. (This is hard for me to do – I am a linear reader and have difficulty maintaining more than one storyline at a time.) I will perhaps spend the day with some of my more prosaic vacation tasks around the apartment, although I still have the Red Cross Girls stuck in WWI occupied Belgium so maybe I will tend to reading a bit of that too – one has been taken into German custody and I am a bit worried about her. Since it is such a cool day perhaps I will make soup, something I haven’t managed since breaking my fingers. (My fish soup recipe, the one I will probably use as a base today, can be found here.) Good rainy day activities all I think. Time for another cup of coffee and my own deferred breakfast.
Pam’s Pictorama Post Post: This card is part of the recent windfall of Felix photo postcard purchases I made recently. I am told it was a collection with a nucleus formed in the 1970’s when purchased from another collector, and then more recently purchased by a seller who goes by the moniker Andyroo on eBay and is located in the rather romantic sounding Rowland’s Castle in Britain. (A quick look on Wikipedia tells me that Rowland’s Castle is largely a quiet residential village, with four pubs and a few small shops, including a hardware store and a local convenience store, located in East Hampshire. They also note that the main local attraction appears to be a model railway depicting the village during the war. Sadly no photo.) I have tried to pick Andyroo’s brain a bit about the nature of the collection, but his answers to my inquiries are nominal while not quite all the way to curt. His regular beat seems to be china figurines so the El Dorado of Felix cards is unusual for him.
Next to my own collection, it is the first one with a significant number of these photos that I have encountered although photo postcards do not make up the majority of the collection, and I believe I have largely acquired the smattering of them in it. (I do wonder if they were part of the earlier collection – so interesting to think of these being passed from collector to collector when virtually all of mine have been one offs which seem to come from the families they were made for to a dealer and then me.) While I know there may be my counterpart out there somewhere, on the other hand it is also be possible that there are really not other people who live amongst a vast number of one-of-a-kind photos of people posing with Felix the Cat dolls of varying sizes up to those (the very best) which are the size of a not so small child. What do you think?
While of course I would be very jealous of the photos of such collectors (and want them – all) I would of course also be very interested to meet such a person. (If you’re out there – raise your hand!) Among postcard collectors my area is so niche as to be unknown – even at postcard shows people have never seen such cards and have no idea what I am talking about and look at me blankly when I inquire.
The original owner of this collection did not focus on these cards and the vast part of their collection are the more typical drawn series, of which I own a few. I did buy one of those off of Andyroo, shown above, because it tickled me and that recent post can be found here.
There was an interesting few cards which were photos I own and I believe were not widely printed, but must have been printed in multiple for the people who purchased them from the photographer at the time. They also, like me, purchased the occasional person photographed with Mickey Mouse. Their collection included some of the tea cards and includes some of the earlier versions of the drawn cards. They owned a few of the stencil cards I featured recently as well. (That post can be found here and the card shown above.)
Mostly of interest to me that this person had the two cards of kids posing on the giant black cat as shared in recent weeks here and here. These were identified as Felix cards in the selling which made me happy because I found them more easily that way although I have never thought of those as Felix before.
Today’s photo was one of two prints for sale of the same identical photo. It is printed sloppily on the postcard backing which is askew. (Strangely in all the photo postcards I have seen this rarely if ever occurs.) There is nothing to identify it on the back of the card. This jolly little shaver seems pretty happy to pose with this Felix which while nice and big, is still a bit smaller than he is. Our kid is nicely and warmly dressed in a double breasted coat and hat, high socks make up for short trousers. The partial view of the person standing near shows someone in a long coat and gloves.
Felix seems to be offering an arm to the child in a chummy sort of way. He is a bit in shadow so we don’t get a very good look at him and he has something over one shoulder that I can’t quite make out, maybe something on the fence, or not. We can just sort of make out his tail which creates a tripod effect to stand him up. I wish we could see his toothy grin better.
I can’t set a good guess on date – children’s clothing is a bit ambiguous as it didn’t change much for a long time. The pretty wrought iron fence behind them has some broken bits, a few missing finials and another torn looking piece. The pebbly sidewalk makes a nice pattern on the ground and may have been a bit distinct to the place.
The fact that today’s card does not have a number on the front (the convention itinerant photographers used to track a photo to a customer) makes me think it was a photo set up by the family, perhaps in front of their home. This makes me wonder if this lucky little fellow actually owned this Felix or did he come as a prop with the photographer?
As for me, even I sometimes wonder at my rather unique fascination with these photos. Was I a child who especially loved my Felix doll in a past life? Had my photo take with him at some seminal moment? Or was I an itinerant photographer who lugged Felix around the resorts of Great Britain, Australia or New Zealand? This blog was original formed with the idea of organizing my photo collection into a book, although it rapidly incorporated my toy collection and then of course me. Lately I have been talking again about a book of the photos. More to come as I move that project forward!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Recently I have been in the midst of chasing down the remains of a Felix postcard collection, but this one popped up on its own from a different source in the middle of it. Felix on parade could be a real sub-genre of Felix photo collecting. Unlike the photo postcards of folks posing with Felix which hail exclusively from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the parade photos are as often from the US. While many seem to be variations on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, the best of them are from small parades elsewhere in the county. (Some of these previous examples can be found in posts here and here. Some of the photos from those posts are pictured below.) However, it has been a long time since one has come up for purchase. Hang onto your hats though folks – I think this is an interesting one.
Today’s comes to Pictorama from Great Britain and celebrates the Chelsea Arts Ball. The card was never sent. The only information printed on the back is Pathe Freres Cinema Ltd. Series Copyright. It turns out to be the 1922 edition of the ball. A bit of further research reveals that the design was overseen that year by artist Fred Leist and the theme (somewhat ironically as I write now in 2021) was Brighter London 100 years Hence. (I am thinking another worldwide pandemic was not on his mind at the time having just lived through the 1918 one.) That year the revelers danced to the Ceadon-West Orchestra, noted as a Big Band, but I cannot find many traces of them online.
Meanwhile, the Chelsea Arts Ball dates back to 1891, as far as I can tell from a brief history on the website of the club, (found here – and note the image of Felix on the side of their building in the photo!) having grown out of a tradition of fancy dress parties in the studios of artists in the 1880’s. It was meant to rival the already established Arts Club of Mayfair. (A side note that women were not admitted for membership in the Chelsea Arts Club until 1968!) The balls typically seemed to take place over New Year’s and/or Mardi Gras and eventually settled in at the Royal Albert Hall as a venue for a decades long run until the 1958 one was so raucous (Wikipedia sites, rowdiness, nudity and public homosexuality – which was illegal at the time – as what caused the ousting) that the ball was banned from the venue for the next 30 years. If I understand correctly, I believe that the party tradition continued until December of 2020 when, for Covid reasons, it was banned. The parties have been held at the site of the club at 143 Church Street in recent years.
The hope had been to rival the French equivalent, the Bal des Quat’s’Arts established in 1892, I gather a similar soiree produced by architecture students there. They achieved their goal and the Chelsea Arts Ball grew to be extravagant affairs with a hundred performers, lavish decor and thousands of participants who partied until dawn when breakfast was served. It was, according the the Chelsea Arts Club website, the centerpiece of London society. I will also credit them with providing the quote, The mere mention of the Chelsea Arts Ball would make the debutante blush and the dowager blench. Lady Muriel Beckwith, 1936. It leaves me with questions about the participants – had the ball left its roots among artists and become a fête only of the wealthy? Or was it an event that embraced both, high and low brow so to speak?
Each ball was punctuated by a parade at midnight – presumably we are seeing some sort of a dry run here with a photo taken during a misty day and used for promotional purposes. There is no real indication, London weather being what it is, if this was a Mardi Gras or New Year’s version. While seemed to me that it is a New Year’s version, no hint of spring in this photo, research shows that this ball was held on February 8 of 1922 – still very cold, and a bit early for Mardi Gras. Very chilly for those short dresses! Somehow the gray mistiness of it adds to the appeal and creates the right atmosphere in this photo.
And oh what a photo is it is! A giant paper-mâché Felix with a distinctly worried look (hands behind his back in the Felix Thinking Position) hovers over this bevy of women in short white dresses – it is hard to see their masks but I believe they are little birds; I think I see beaks! They are cute little white fluffy skirts however, with ruffles and a bow. As noted, they are not warmly dressed. The dancers are being herded by Felix costume clad men. These gents are also in charge of Felix’s movement and he is balanced (precariously?) on a sort of dolly. Felix appears to have three of these escorts. A few folks are onlookers, as they are largely men and hard to see them clearly.
The real scoop here is that film exists of the pre-ball parade shown on this card. It can be found on the British Pathe website. However a superior and decidedly longer version exists on Youtube and can be found here or below. This one goes on to show the assembled costumed performers and even some of the individual wild costumes that could be found. The Felix men and white dressed women join hands and dance around Felix in a delightful fashion!
An interesting and somewhat moving account of the party given to celebrate the end of WWI, also found on the Chelsea Arts Club site, describes it as the most famous one, held on March 12, 1919. It used the concept of Dazzle, the Navy camouflage process which owed its roots to Cubism and Vorticists. (Okay, I had to look that up – Vorticistism was a brief industrial influenced abstract art movement of the pre-War teens in Britain – one of my facts for the day!) Dazzle is described as a visible expression of jazz syncopation. Here they were in 1922, a few short years later, wondering what the next hundred years would bring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
This card sports a Felix-y message, How I am coming in a fortnight’s timeEthel, 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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!