The Troubles of Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card seemed appropriate to our current contagion days. Postmarked 1924, the postcard may refer to bed bugs or the like as Mrs. Felix seems to be itching, or it could also be a cold as Felix looks a bit unwell. Felix does look miserable and somewhat guilty under her accusation either way. Theaters would be ripe for such transmission bugs bacterial, viral or the many legged kind, and of course it follows that Felix couldn’t resist going to the pictures. Very tongue in cheek that the very cartoon folks would be pointing this out, but of course they knew our sympathy is always with naughty Felix.

In the 1920’s, movie theaters were more working class establishments and had just started to give way to the movie palaces designed to look like legitimate theaters and attract middle and upper class patrons. (An article from Smithsonian Magazine I read this morning tells the tale of popcorn as a snack in theaters – disdained at first as too low class, it gained traction during the Depression when the inexpensive treat was attainable for audiences as well as additional high margin income for theaters.) 1924 is still on the early end of the decade however, and the allure of the picture shows was still battling with an image of it as barely better than frequenting a working class saloon or bar.

This card was produced by a British company called Bamforth which, although it sold these cards both in Britain and the United States, appears to have done so without license. And, unlike the color postcards of Felix in the same era, these are all entirely black and white and Felix has what I think of as his more dog-like off-model look.

Bamforth was a company originally born out of the production of magic lantern slides. In addition to short film ditties of the 1890’s until 1918, they had a line of postcard which focused on what were generally considered saucy topics of the day. The postcard portion of the company was eventually sold and still exists in some form today, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. Their postcards, such as Felix fighting with his wireless radio, were so much of their time and place that sometimes we are left puzzling to figure out what they might refer to today. For example, there is one where he curses the demand notice for rate. (This seems to refer to a dunning tax notice.)

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Bamforth card, not in Pictorama collection

 

Another series of postcards printed by Florence House printers in Great Britain, shows Felix in a series of equally moral questionable scenes. I show one of those pulled off the internet below. I love the cigar and the overnight grip in this one. He is a naughty boy indeed.

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Florence House card not in Pictorama collection

 

In these years that are still leading up to the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics, Felix tells us to be mindful about drafts (in one card we spy him in the bathtub through a partially open door and he scolds, Shut that Door! You’ll have me laid up – and what will the picture shows do then without poor Felix?), and reminds us of what you might bring home from the pictures at night. Today he would don a mask and figure out a way to court the white girl kitty, despite keeping a six foot social distance.

 

Felix Fashion Forward

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’ve had this little gem (displayed above on Kim’s desk) for quite awhile and somehow haven’t managed to write about it. I purchased it on eBay, but am sad to say that they disappeared almost immediately as I think in a better world everyone would have a chance to buy one of these, or even a wardrobe of them.

Some rather enterprising Felix fan created this t-shirt cartoon with the earliest style Felix – very pointy and squared off and a bit dog like. It is the Felix design I have long favored, reminiscent of some of my odder stuffed toy versions from Great Britain. (A few posts about these can be found here and here, and the fascinating history of how many of these dolls were made by indigent women in London’s East End, can be found in the post here.)

This naughty Felix is drinking some booze from a double XX labeled bottle, and it is actually a great five-part strip as he goes through the motions of Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Feeling, all with real silent cartoon emotion. I prefer my Felix un-gelded if you will. I don’t mind him being a bit impish, but I prefer his bad boy side rather than the latter kiddy fare. (I feel the same about Mickey Mouse who goes from being a bit rowdy in the early cartoons to positively sticky later on.)

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My pre-quarantine life did not provide many opportunities for t-shirt wearing in reality. I generally found myself exclusively dressed for work, or if home clad in work-out regalia, and pj’s made up the only other avenue of regular sartorial category.

Frankly, like most people I gather, these days my version of the uniform of our universal lockdown has been work-out clothes, as I either starting or ending most days on a space just big enough for a yoga mat, a small pile of weights acquired during one of my post-surgical rehabs surrounding me. (I draw the line at working in my pajamas.) Depending on the temperature of the apartment that attire is usually augmented by a rather ancient and somewhat tatty, black zip up hoodie acquired years ago from the now defunct Modells. (Where will I purchase cheap, generic work-out clothes now I wonder?)

It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that I am partial to brightly patterned stretch tights paired with tank tops – can’t stand working out in anything with sleeves. I vary those tights with a few pairs of black Adidas pull on track pants. (I tend to think of those as dressing up a bit these days.)

I have pointed out to friends that since all I do other than work right now (that tends to occupy about 12 hours a day), is work-out and eat, I am likely to emerge from captivity at some unknown future date hefty, but buff. (We will of course also all be a bit shaggy and will have abandoned most unnecessary adornment – I think I have forgotten how to apply make-up already. I look at it in the bathroom and think – why? Meanwhile, we eat pretty darn well here at Deitch Studio – many of you may not know I was once a professional chef and working at home has me in the kitchen again.)

Zoom and other video calls occasionally demand that I make some sort of an appearance on camera and I try to be understanding about a desire to actually see other folks. I attempt to clean up a bit, but outside of Board meetings or actual online events (which send me puzzling through a closet which currently houses out of season winter clothes, as we started our hibernation in March remember), everyone pretty much gets me, view generally chest up, in a work out top and hoodie. (They frequently also catch a glimpse of Kim working in the background – it is only one room, after all. Meanwhile, his routine only altered by my ongoing presence and my endless work natter on the phone which are now the background to his formerly silent days.)

However, now that the weather is changing perhaps I will migrate to a somewhat enhanced and modified spring look as we begin to consider the ultimate end of our incarceration, which might include the occasional pair of trousers that button and pulling on a prize t-shirt like this one for all to ponder during the next staff meeting.

 

Felix and The Ebony Room

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little item is about twelve inches high, homemade out of a thick piece of wood, at least two inches fat. It has just enough accumulated grime to make me think it sat on a wall somewhere, undisturbed for a long time. The whites are somewhat yellowed, although if you look closely you can still see the ancient pencil lines used for the lettering. I have no idea how old it is. The eBay seller hails from Indiana which may indicate this sign’s place of origin – or not. A quick search of Indiana clubs with The Ebony Room in their name turns up a Facebook page for an Ebony and Ivory Dance Club there, although meanwhile for all I know this sign sat proudly in a home bar or rec room or other bar.

Felix’s tail is a bit fluffy and his nose is a bit off kilter. The overall design used makes me think of a late 1940’s or 50’s Felix. Having said that, the execution is neatly done and I want to say there must have been some sort of a semi-professional template used. A glossy paint finished him up and there is a long toothy wall hook on the back for secure hanging. I love the red lettering, so neatly and painstakingly done in a sort of faux Gothic style.

I admit I am unsure what made me purchase this. (I’m not sure, but I think Kim sort of looked at me sideways when I unpacked it.) Granted it didn’t cost much, but anything larger than a photo tends to get some consideration in our cramped quarters. I am unsure of the impulsive exception made. There is something about these homemade items that I like though, slightly off-model and askew they show the hand of the maker and remind us that copyright or not, Felix was a cartoon cat of the people. It is a one-of-a-kind, homey piece of popular culture. It just makes me think about sitting in a dimly lit, but cheerful spot with a draft beer in hand.

As bookshelf building is still hopefully in our (post-bunker life) future I have not considered where and if we will sport this item on display here at Deitch Studio. Still, it has found its niche here, among the ever-growing collection of Felix items beloved.

June 1927

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Frankly I don’t remember exactly when this Felix family photo wandered into Deitch Studio, but when I was clearing a work space for myself it turned up. It is a small photo, sort of 3″x5″, and June 1927 is all that is written, in ink, on the back.

There is great contrast in this photo between the family sporting their best summer bib and tucker and the pleasantly rundown and overgrown yard they pose in. Why they have grabbed up these two good size composition Felix-es is of course also utterly mysterious. Each is held by one of the be-suited men. The third man has one of the women perched on his knee and the second woman is tucked between them, all posed on these inviting broad steps – just meant for sitting on.

The porch is inviting, or at least it is to me from the limited environs of Deitch studio at the moment. There is a deep wooden rocking chair almost out of sight and a less comfortable chair where a newspaper was hastily abandoned in a heap atop of it – the reader perhaps hopping up to pose for the photo. The early summer is unfurling into lush, green overgrowth around them. I think of upstate New York, but it could be many places. (I tried to check but I cannot find a purchase history to see where it even shipped from.)

The phenomena of having your photo taken with Felix is of course the original premise of this blog. However, even as someone who has collected many photos of people posing with Felix (usually the human-sized stuffed ones of seaside resorts and fairs – an example can be found here if you are new to Pictorama) these sorts of family snap shots with Felix remain a bit cryptic to me. Had they just won them at a fair perhaps?

I remain somewhat baffled by family photos where folks just snatch up a Felix statue or toy for the family photo – was the message that Felix was an important part of the family? Or just such a part of the times – they probably didn’t realize that it would eventually mark their family photo as somewhat iconic of the period.

Meanwhile, I cannot imagine the equivalent for my family growing up. (Despite having been the daughter of a photographer we didn’t do a lot of family photos and they were sort of starchy compared to these folks and their Felix dolls. There are no photos of me and Barbie – there is only one of me with a toy that I can think of and I wrote about it a long time ago here and I once again share me and the much loved Squeaky below.) I have a clutch of other photos from the late 1920’s and early ’30’s with Felix joining the family for a photo. Off the top of my head though, I want to say those photos are all from Britain and it is usually a stuffed Felix that gets the place of honor. (One of those posts can be found here.)

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Me with my beloved toy dog Squeaky, probably around 1968

 

Whatever the early 20th century motivation for posing with Felix toys, I am glad to see these treasure turn up today – sometimes finding new ones in my own apartment. Let’s see what else turns up here at Pictorama, shopping in our own closet as it were, for items of interest while enduring and also enjoying bunker days here.