It’s a Bonzo Valentine

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am kicking off the Valentine’s Day season of ’22 with this somewhat unusual eBay find. This rather realistic looking black and white kit holds a very correctly rendered Bonzo dog!

The cat and Bonzo aren’t quite looking at each other and sort of look like they are from different planets. It is easy to imagine that the job was handed off from one artist to the next for the work to be completed, the two never necessarily meeting. I’ve got you for My Valentine is the sole sentiment dangling from Bonzo’s foot on a heart.

I like the designs of the paw pads on Bonzo’s feet! But that and something about his paws makes me wonder if he was rendered off of one of the stuffed toys, rather than the magazine published drawings. The design is more stylized than the drawings are. Meanwhile, Bonzo is reaching up toward kitty like a babe in arms. (I own several wonderful Bonzo toys and some past posts of those can be found here, here and even one with a stuffed version of his cat friend, Ooloo also shown below, here.)

Bonzo toy from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Kitty is fairly traditional for a black cat Valentine if printed a bit dark here. There are a few scars on this and a bit of white something which has gotten on it over time. On the cat’s white paw which is visible, it is marked Germany. This Valentine is unmarked on the back; there is a cardboard strip that enables this to stand, if shakily, for display.

Germany was square one for Valentines as it was the heart of the printing industry for several decades. Evidently Valentines Day as we celebrate it (as a commercial fiesta of chocolate, cards and jewelry) was introduced into Germany in the 1940’s by the American GI’s stationed there, although the printing of Valentines in Germany pre-dates WWII. Interrupted by the war it rebounds as a printing empire after and continues to reign on this front for awhile beyond. Being identified as German made carried a negative connotation after the war however and somewhat dampened enthusiasm for their Valentines.

Ooloo, Bonzo’s little known cat friend. Toy in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

A Valentine history site informs me that the simple identification of Germany dates this card to before the 1930’s. It is not in the class of elaborate German Valentines however, which can be very three dimensional, large and made of heavy cardboard.

Studdy drawn Bonzo Valentine, not in Pictorama collection.

Meanwhile, Bonzo is no stranger to Valentine’s Day and a quick search turns up a number of variations available in addition to this one, numerous ones drawn by Studdy, but also many broad “tributes” we might say. We’ll see if some others make their way to the Pictorama collection in the future. I have a real soft spot for the stuffed toys so Bonzo fans keep an eye on Pams-Pictorama.com.

Bonzo Family Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is another photo that was churned up and to the top of a pile during the hasty construction of my current “office” – a spot directly behind Kim, just large enough for my work issued laptop, an iPad and a waving good luck kitty. (My affection for these lucky cats was documented in a post that can be found here called Come Hither Kitty.) My desk, such as it is, consists of this area cleared off on an old drawing table of mine which has previously been dedicated to housing the archival holdings of Pictorama. Blackie immediately attempted to claim this “new” space and he and I compete for it daily. Much like nature, cats seem to abhor a vacuum. He is particularly enamored of the chair which rolls between the computer installed on Kim’s table and my new digs.

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The ever persistent Blackie.

 

This photo was discovered and purchased because of the nice sized Bonzo dog perched to one side – although the teddy bear on the other side is shown to much better advantage. I believe this card came from somewhere in Europe, although I know even with postage I didn’t pay much for it. The juxtaposition of this fairly staid trio of elders posing with these toys interested me. Given their attire I would guess that it was taken in the 1930’s. Bonzo would have ascended to his height of popularity at that point – although it is still hard to explain his and Teddy’s appearance here. Coincidence? Beloved toys? Family mascots?

The photo came out of an album, glue and paper are attached to the back, but nothing is noted on the back. I assume they are family – the man and the woman closest to the teddy bear look very much alike but the three could be siblings and sit, solid citizens that they are, in descending order of height, left to right. Other family photos hang on the wall behind them. Not to be unkind but they are somewhat humorless; for all the world they do not look like people who would pose for a photo with Bonzo and Teddy. However, all these years later, we do like them for it.

Alfred Latell: Animal Imitator, Continued

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: So last week’s Deitchian pre-Valentine’s Day post (From My Sweetie which can be found here) touched on Alfred Latell, and today I make good on the promise to add to an earlier Latell post of mine (here), to be featured this week. My interest in Alfred Latell, born of the card I purchased shown below, helped to inspire Kim’s animal impersonator-themed Valentine this year, egged on by the fact that I had just recently acquired this publicity photo of Latell – the best and virtually only one I have seen of him not in costume. So today I endeavor to dig a little deeper into the Alfred Latell story, hoping not repeating myself while offering a fairly fulsome tale for those of you just tuning in.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Alfred Latell was a vaudeville performer with an animal act which evidence shows took off in about 1902 and ran into the early 1940’s – arguably the 1950’s in Australia it seems. Latell went to great lengths to rig up elaborate animal costumes, with moving parts such as a tail, ears or even a ridge of fur on his back. My favorite fact is that he would sit outside at night in his cat suit, watching felines in the backyard, learning how to ape their ways. This is how I see him in my mind when I consider him, outside at night in his cat suit, watching and hearing a kitty chorus on a back fence somewhere, making mental notes about them.

Dogs were a challenge he relished; he felt they were the closest to humans and his Bonzo dog appears to be the one he was best known for later in life. Latell didn’t speak in his act, perhaps the costumes precluded it, although evidently he did bird imitations when clad in an early bird suit. He always had a partner who would do the talking, and that partner was first wife one and then, Sylvan Dell, wife number two. He and Ms. Dell are shown together below in photos I found via Google and on the site referenced below.

Pausing for a moment, I reflect on Bonzo Dog and his copyright. As I think most of you probably know, Bonzo is a British comics invention by George Studdy in 1922. Born at a similar time as the likes of Felix the Cat, Bonzo comics set off a merchandise boom, first in Britain and then, much like Felix, making its way around the world. I happily own several Bonzo toys (yep, and some of those can be found featured in posts here and here), but clearly the copyright wasn’t being guarded so carefully that Alfred Latell couldn’t cheerfully make a name for himself with this act and bearing the Bonzo Dog name.

This photo bears an interesting newspaper article, glued to the back of the photo which talks about his act. It mentions Sylvan Dell and also the other acts on the bill including Pablo South America’s most famous magician and The Three Chocolateers, one of the fastest colored dance teams ever seen in Seattle. Something referred to as human pretzels rounded out the fare. As you can see from the back of the photo, shown below, this comes to us almost exactly 85 years ago to the day, February 27, 1934.

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Fellow blogger Travelanche has a post about Latell (which can be found at Alfred Latell Animal Impresssionist) which contains more biographical information and the Travelanche author corresponded with Latell’s family. (The family also contacted me after my prior post, asking if I had information beyond what I had posted.) My favorite image on that post is of an 8×10 publicity photo of Latell as Bonzo, autographed to Duke Ellington, with the inscription, To Duke Ellington, The master of Rythm may you never lead a Dog’s life, Latell 1931. The photo above with Sylvan Dell is signed by both Dell and Latell and also inscribed to Duke Ellington, To Duke Ellington, Wishing you much happiness and continued success Sincerely Sylvan Dell with Al Latell, also dated 1931.

Sadly, ultimately Alfred Latell appears to have died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave. The above referenced post says his widow was so distraught…she threw out anything that reminded her of her husband, including his famous dog suit. So much for my secret hope and dream of finding the dog suit some day.

I see that my original post is frequently read, evidence that people are searching the internet for information on him. As far as I can tell, Alfred Latell’s available credits are all for stage work; sadly I can find no evidence of him on film, although his career certainly covers a period when he could have been recorded. Hopefully a movie or other film appearance will turn up eventually so we can see him in action. (Of course, I will add that I am also very anxious to find an image of Latell in his cat suit as well.) For now, I add another, albeit thin, page to the story and lore of Alfred Latell, the great animal impersonator.