Big Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card almost slipped through my fingers due to an email that went astray with the seller, but I am ever so glad it did not! This surreal image of a giant cat (a tuxedo cat no less) dragging this man and woman along as they clutch his (or her) leash is splendid and bizarre indeed. It falls soundly into the category of I have never seen another like it – although I would love to see more if anyone can send me in that direction. This card was mailed on December 23 (8 AM) Sierra Mac, CAL, 1920. It was mailed to Mr. & Mrs. H.H. Wear (?) & Family, 431-14th Street, San Bernadino, CA. I was tempted to save this until the end of the year and do a seasonally appropriate post, but who could resist sharing this sooner? Not to mention that it is not really a very Christmas-y holiday card.

For me what this card brings to mind is chalk talks. For any of you who haven’t encountered these before, it is an act where a cartoonist very quickly draws a drawing, or series of drawings, in front of an audience – stunning them with skill and speed. It took hold as early as the late 1800’s, had a hot five minutes first during vaudeville, then early film and finally once again in early television. (There is also an interesting tributary of bible chalk talks – the Methodists claim to have founded the practice.)

Kim was giving me some tips and tales earlier about it – some folks sketching in outlines that couldn’t be seen by the audience as a bit of a cheat, that sort of thing. Windsor McCay is one of the most famous practitioners of the chalk talk (think Gertie the Dinosaur) and when I think of it I tend to think of folks like him in the teens and twenties, but there are legions of others. Here is a link to The Enchanted Drawing from an Edison short in 1900 showing J. Stuart Blackton at work.

As I stumbled and bumbled around researching this, Kim also gave me an interesting lead – he met chalk talk (lightening cartoonist) Ernie McGee decades ago at a comic book convention here in NYC. Kim was carrying copies of Gothic Blimp Works and he gave Ernie a copy featuring his then strip – evidently an Uncle Ed strip gave the man a chuckle of approval, much to the surprise of a young Kim Deitch. Ernie McGee seems to have had his heyday in vaudeville. Cole Johnson gives a thumbnail blog post history of Ernie here at Stripper’s Guide 4/19/09 including the photo (look at all those bound volumes!) and strip drawn by Ernie below. Spoiler alert – it’s a bit of a sad tale ending with a down and out Ernie living in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, drinking too much and doing his act in his bathrobe at a lectern, in front of rows of chairs in his apartment, for his sole visitor.

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Ernie McGee strips, not in my collection

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Photo of Ernie McGee, not in my collection

West coast buddy Bruce Simon also did a strip about Ernie, published in Siegel and Simon’s Party Comics shown in a 2009 re-issue below. In an online write-up about the re-issue Bruce says, Party Comics came out in July, 1980 and the UG scene was just about moribund by then. We printed 5,000 copies and maybe sold half of them, about what a Vertigo book sells now…I screwed up on the color sep and the devil’s hands came out pink instead of red, too cheap to pull a proof. The cover character was based on a real 1930’s era ‘chalk-talk’ cartoonist named Ernie McGee who I had met in New York in 1971. Why I thought anyone would know what a ‘chalk-talk’ cartoonist was in 1980 is anyone’s guess.  

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Party Comics by Bruce Simon, not in my collection

Kim tells me that he thinks the drawing of Ernie here is from his business card which he remembers fondly – he once had a copy, but couldn’t put his hands on it if he does indeed still possess it.

I have once again strayed somewhat from my cat material, but their plenty of fun in ’21 may very well have included seeing Ernie or maybe even Windsor McCay.

 

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Cat Chair (episode 2)

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My constant searching for photos of people posing with Felix has also introduced me to what turned out to be a broader world of people posing with a variety of novel things. As readers of Pictorama know, the souvenir photo postcard operation of the 1920’s and beyond could focus around a stuffed Mickey Mouse, Felix, Spark Plug (Barney Google’s horse) and these very large black cats. In one of my earliest posts I featured the first of these cards I purchased – Giant Cat Chair. I own three cat chair photos altogether and would love to acquire more, but they appear quite rarely. One of the most noteworthy things is that the cat is definitely a different one in each so there was a number of places – all of these from Britain – where you could pose with a big cat chair. This one appears to be a smallish-large cat chair – just the right size for this little tyke – and the tongue sticking out is different than any of the others I have. Also, this one has the remarkable feature of his tail sticking straight up in the air. This one looks the most of all like a Steiff toy cat, but very, extra large.

The card itself is smaller than regulation size postcard, closer to a photograph than a photo postcard, but postal ready on the back. The writing on the back (which was never sent) appears to say Alan 18 month Cliftonville 192. (I wonder if they meant to write 1920? If so, it is a bit of a sobering thought to consider that little Alan would have been old enough to fight for England in WWII.) Cliftonville is hard to read, but likely since that appears to be a seaside area in Margate. While having a fast look at images from Cliftonville I found this rather splendid image on Reddit of a beauty contest in Cliftonville in 1936.

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Beauty Contest, Cliftonville, England 1936

 

Despite the glories of the seaside park in general, the general background of this card is a bit tatty. The wooden building behind little Alan is sort of interesting, with a bit of gingerbread design on it, but in the distance we see an iron fence and a large building that appears to be an apartment house. In general, if a seaside resort, the area they have chosen for cat chair photos is a bit down at the heels and sad. The kid, Alan, is well dressed, (I love the little belt on his top) is well turned out and clearly enjoying a holiday or special day at the shore.

Tatty scenery or not, I would have loved to have my photo taken astride this kitty – and it would be a tight fit, but he’d look pretty good in my living room today as well for that matter should he turn up on eBay one of these days.