Taken From Life, The Pussy Cat Rag

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Zipping back to the world of cat themed sheet music today. I especially like the bit above the title – Taken From Life. What does that mean? Where are these tuneful cat choruses that I seem to have missed? (See prior post, Kitty Sextette Singers for illustrated speculation on that subject.) Referring clearly to noisy cats in the backyard, it could also refer to the seemingly real cat and dog chorus used – at least in the youtube I have supplied below. The first time I played it Blackie woke from a sound sleep and wandered over to frown at the computer which was cheerfully spewing these cat and dog sounds.

The drawing on this cover is spirited indeed – throwing not only shoes and cans (Prize brand tomato), but a stool at said kitties! Seems a bit extreme. A close look at this also shows the item throwing humans to be racist depictions of people on those fire escapes. I was surprised to find this bit of racism hidden in my new acquisition. I put it up in my office and my assistant, Farzana, said she had never encountered this before. Another colleague, who has an advanced degree in early American music, talked about history and use of such imagery. It led to a discussion of racist sheet music and cartoons. If anything she seemed more distressed when we finished than when we started. I think I will need to swap it out – perhaps for one of the sheets I keep at home which I covered in this early post Me-ow! Kitty Sing-a-long.

A quick look on Wikipedia tells us that William Gill was born in 1839 to Manx parents – I needed to look that up and it turns out that it is those who are of The Isle of Man.  His bio neglects this ditty and focuses on Manx related music. Although he gets top billing here, Harry Taylor who wrote the words but also has the misfortune of a common name, does not seem to rate a Wikipedia entry. I was unable to locate him online. It is unclear to me what year the music was written, Will Rossiter of Chicago seems to be the publisher here, but no date.

I offer a few versions of this for comparison and there is some debate about the date of the first recording. A remark on Youtube pegs it for 1928 since Polk Miller’s group seemed to do two sets of recordings – 1909 and 1928. The first is here on Youtube:  Polk Miller & His Southern QuartetteA somewhat lesser recording is Ada Jones, 1914, in Ada Jones & The Peerless Quartet in the Pussy Cat Rag – this is the one that had Blackie going although both are sleeping through it as I play it now. How quickly kitties become jaded.

 

 

Tiger Chase Tired with Play

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tiger Chase is a pretty great name for this striped fellow. A pity this photo postcard is a tad dark, which makes some of the detail, like his nicely dark striped tail, hard to see. There is a bit of string next to him, and I wonder if that is the instrument of play that has so tired him – a really intense game of string chase can do it, and of course he seems to be named for a fondness for chasing. This card came from Australia and with the rustic fence (you can just about see a sign that says Private in the lower right corner), and slightly out of focus stone building behind, it looks like a nice view of Australian countryside – timeless really. It is unused and nothing is written on the back, but it appears to be fairly old and the paper has a slightly brittle quality. Perhaps the Australians used different photo paper stock?

Of course, what we consider cat play is actually our felines sharpening and deploying their hunting and killing skills. Here at Deitch Studio, Blackie in particular seems to really lose it when playing certain games. We have one toy, a lucite rod with a bit of elastic string and an “insect” that looks like something you would fly fish with, that makes him so crazed that I hesitate to take it out. (Incidentally, when purchased the manufacturer insert suggests that the toy be put away where the cat cannot get to it – I thought this was an exaggeration, but no – left to his own devices Blackie would shred and consume it I’m afraid. He even snuck it out of the box when left on my desk one night.) Cookie mostly invents her own games – she picks high perches to jump on and off of, does laps around the apartment at high speed, and occasionally incites Blackie to riot.

When we found ourselves in a rare cat-less position several years ago, adopting Cookie and Blackie from the same litter as tiny kittens, the idea was that they would have each other to play with and keep each other company. I think I had visions of adorable cats, napping with paws around each other. However, I had not anticipated the reality that their primary form of play would be what I like to call kill the guy and that every night before bed I would hear the strangled cries of (usually) Cookie being assaulted by Blackie (after having pushed his buttons) and having to break it up. While I am mostly content to live in my dreamy, anthropomorphic cat world where there are seemingly endless, charming conga lines of kitties dancing and romping, I do realize that in their heart of hearts my little darlings, like Tiger Chase, dream dreams of being elegant killing machines, contentedly and endlessly chasing prey on the veldt or savannah of their imaginations.

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Cookie & Blackie as tiny kits, enjoying a rare moment on Kim’s desk! Pams-Pictorama.com

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Cookie here, ready for action! Pams-Pictorama.com

 

Cat Boxing, Round 2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I usually hold the line against these posed cat photos, but once in awhile I am sold. Previously I have caved on Flying Dutch Kitties and Breaking News and this is the latest entry. This card was never sent and there is nothing written on the back.

I am somewhat curious about the man in the double breasted suit behind these battling kits. Odd attire for a referee I would think. It’s hard to see at first, but the white cat has a very striped tail. That must be an interesting looking kitty. A close look also shows us that these kitties are wearing harnesses which look rather hateful really. Everyone has their piss-cat ears on.

The cat boxing concept has long been put forth in various forms. (I have covered some of this territory before in my prior post Cat Boxing so I apologize for any repetition.) I am convinced that it all grows out of the natural tendency of cats to, well, box. Anyone whose lived with a couple of cats has seen this show eventually. Cats will stand on their hind legs and, often in a sort of slow action (I call it slow mo’ boxing when Cookie and Blackie go at it) engage in a kitty version of fisticuffs. It entertains the heck out of me when they do it, although by its very nature it usually descends into a proper fight, and everyone has to be separated and sent to time out in their neutral corner. The very best recording of this is the Youtube sensation, Cats Playing Patty-cake which never seems to fail to elicit peals of laughter from me. (As good as drugs really for a day when I am especially down.)

Back to the beginning of cinema, among the earliest surviving images from the dawn of film, is a famous half minute film of two kits going at it, Boxing cats (Prof. Welton’s 1894). It isn’t hard to see that Professor Welton is manipulating the cats in question – much as I assume our be-suited friend is in this photo. Kim says he remembers as a kid being entertained by a similar act on Ed Sullivan and his dad, Gene, telling him that it was all faked – and about the early kinetoscope version.

I can’t remember the first time I saw the film, nor the first time I saw my own cats do this dance. I can say that, more than any cats I have ever known, Cookie and Blackie seem more comfortable standing on their hind legs in general and they will routinely square off at each other this way. (I, of course, have assumed that this is an evolutionary step forward for cats, but perhaps that is another post. It is the way my anthropomorphizing mind works.) Given all of this, I am pretty sure that somewhere, somehow – perhaps in the remote areas of Russia where performing animal acts still thrive – there is a cat boxing act still on the road. The distant descendants of Professor Welton and generations of Vaudeville performers.  And, if not, we certainly have Youtube!

Musical Interlude

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is a snowy sleety March day here at Deitch Studio and I have been rummaging around in the flat files, looking for some hidden gems in the line of sheet music, which I had a vague memory of tucking away. I was not disappointed as this splendid item jumped out at me. I know I purchased it on eBay,  but I have no memory of when or the specifics around it. I showed it in one of my first posts, Meow! Kitty Sing-a-long three years ago. Hotsy-totsy kitty illustrated here, doing his dance to a rollicking piano rag! I especially like his big tongue lolling out and the little lines of electric energy around him. That cat is taking off!

Strangely, if you search Youtube you pretty much find a pile of videos about cats on hot bricks. I didn’t watch any, despite the descriptions as hilarious. There were also several options for learning English, odd. Lastly there was just this one rendition of what we will assume this piece actually is and it does not really come across as my idea of rollicking, but you can make up your own mind if you wish here – Cat on Hot Bricks. Give a shout out if you can find a publication date and/or a better rendition!

Not surprisingly, the expression cat on hot bricks is akin to like a cat on a hot tin roof, meaning skittish, restless or anxious. Our friend Mr. Google also reveals an even earlier rendition of the expression, like a cat on a hot bake-stone (nope, doesn’t roll off the tongue, I agree) which evidently dates back to John Ray’s proverbs of 1678. Poor kitties! Cat on a hot tin roof is an expression I use frequently, but not without an unpleasant image coming to mind.

Ezra Read, the person who is credited with penning this ditty, lived from 1862 until 1922. He was born into “humble circumstances” to a master lock maker who had him and his brothers apprenticed to a blacksmith, which evidently was considered a step up. Ezra and his brothers, James, John Colley and Eber, also worked in the lock shop. However, their father found the money for piano lessons for John who in turn taught Ezra to play. John became an organist of note. Ezra married Beatrice Ida Hampton (known as Ida) who played piano and violin, and together they composed over 4000 pieces under a pile of pen names. Their biggest hit seems to be something called Cinderella Waltz (1910). How popular is questionable as I cannot find a recording of it despite the sheet music having sold millions of copies. (Although, in all fairness, this may be due to the popularity of Cinderella theme music in general.) Ezra and Ida led a somewhat itinerant life until Ida’s death in 1912 at age 45. He eventually settled in Derbyshire where he played for silent films at a local theater. At his death it is said that barrow loads of music were taken from his house. (We collectors all have visions that are a variation on this in our future!)

This fine piece is officially getting dusted off and, along with a few other gems, such as this one below featured in Felix – Here He is Again, will be framed up and brought to my new office at Jazz at Lincoln Center!

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Felix sheet music, my collection, Pams-Pictorama.com

 

A Puss Cafe

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Party cats! Let’s face it, this is a favorite sub-topic of mine – dress the cats up in party clothes and have a good time. (See my recent post named in fact, Party Cats.) Clearly, those folks back in 1911 had a similar sentiment. The exact process they used to arrive at the photo above is an interesting question – no Photoshop back then. I assume they made a print of a photo (remember, no enlargers in 1911!) and then painted over it and shot it again? As I was working on this post I very accidentally stumbled across the original photo, a photo postcard from 1909, which I have grabbed off of eBay and offered here for comparison. Fascinating – I don’t think I have run into this process from this early period.

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Photo card not in Pictorama collection

 

The cat has quite a sour look on his face. He looks like he wants to smack the heck out of someone – the strap for the tiny top hat pulling under his chin.  What a puss – as they say! His tail seems to have been fattened up a bit in the touch up, and he has strangely incongruous stripes on his backend if you look carefully. And those two bottles of drink with a single glass on a tiny table – waiting for his girl?

The back of this card, written in pencil, is the first I totally give up on reading; it has faded beyond recognition and seems to have been a bit sloppy to begin with. (Too much drink, like the kitty?) It was mailed to Oscar Lovesturn (?) Stanwood, Washington on October 11, 9 PM 1911 from Decorah, Iowa. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that this card was that old – it looked newer to me, and I purchased it without seeing the back where it is canceled. Reminiscent more of early television than early photo postcards – I felt that way a bit about the equally old (and mysterious) Cat of the Sea post as well. Ironic of course considering both hail from before 1920!

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Cat Cap

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This French photo postcard shows a sprightly fellow who has had this hat (it was advertised as a sailor’s cap, I’m not sure about that) placed jauntily on his head. He appears fairly divorced from this fact – and instead has his gaze fixed on something (we’ll never know what) off in the distance – something a wise cat photographer uses to keep the attention of his puss photo subjects we’ll assume. There is no date, although there is a studio mark in the lower left which appears to be DLG and 440/2. Oddly the back is addressed, Monsieur Robert Douet, but it bears no postmark, nor stamp so perhaps it was hand delivered? I can’t quite decode the faded message on the back. It appears to be bonjour petit yor Y Le-Cointre. So, something along the lines of Hello little one and a name. A French cat, you’d think he’d wear a beret.

It’s an odd photo – the hind most quarters of the cat are cut off from view. Nice looking kitty though, bold stripes and a sweet face and it appealed to me. When I look close I almost think the hat looks more like it might belong to a jockey. I can’t explain what seems to be an age-old desire among some of us to accessorize cats. It is perverse – taking these animals which are essentially finely-tuned killing machines and being endlessly amused by plunking a sombrero or pair of eyeglasses on them. However, I’m the first to say it entertains the heck out of me. Bring on the Youtube videos!

Years ago I had a feral cat, Otto (Miss Otto Dix, Pictorama readers know her story) who liked to curl up on my head at night and I would call her my cat hat. We were best friends, but I would have lost a hand or arm trying to dress her up. (I was tempted, but resisted.) I also had a great hope of walking her on a leash – she seemed to have an interest in the outside and we lived on the six floor of an apartment building so I thought she might like it. It was clear though that she could and would wiggle out of any collar or harness – and balked at the very idea, so we never tried. I was afraid of her getting loose. She taught me some hard lessons about the cat-human relationship.

These days Cookie is too cranky to consider dressing up, and Blackie so perfectly distinguished I don’t have the heart to fool with his gorgeous dignity. Alas, I will never become the William Wegman of kitty set.

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Cookie and Blackie, awaiting dinner one evening.

 

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.