Cinderella and the Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am wildly fond of this recent acquisition! I found it for sale on eBay from a Canadian seller and couldn’t buy it fast enough. It is a photo postcard, never mailed. In studying it, I believe the white bits at the bottom left are a bit of paint, not loss of emulsion. Nonetheless, this one zipping into a frame quickly to keep it safe.

It is an image I have never seen before and my efforts to turn up anything relating to it turned up nothing except animation and, oddly, a fair amount of assorted pornography. Cinderella is written at the bottom of this postcard image. There is a vague suggestion of a fireplace scrim on a painted scrim behind them. I assume this is a photo postcard from a vaudeville or roadshow version of the Cinderella story.

Cinderella here, although reasonably adult or at least adolescent, is fairly petit. She holds a strangely very small broom and her feet are clad in nicely strappy shoes which appear flat and potentially allowed for dancing. She is perched on a common bistro style chair which is a bit of an anachronism. This is a Cinderella still in impoverished mode with her lone friend which in this case is a cat. (Correct me if I am wrong, but the traditional story involved mice befriending her, didn’t it?)

Nice Lucifer the Cat toy from the Disney animation. Might need to find myself one of these!

In an effort to research if there was a variation of the Cinderella story that specifically had a feline friend I turned up an Italian animated film from 2017 called Cinderella and the Cat. It seems to be is a dystopian future version of the Cinderella story set on a ship in Naples. Although I don’t remember it, the Disney version (1950) had a cat too, Lucifer, shown as a toy above.

However, let’s not bury the lead, which is this glorious cat costume! He is not only adorned with a shaggy, striped fur suit, but also has amazing full make up and/or bewhiskered mask. The shagginess makes me think maybe mohair. The one hand that is visible is covered in a paw sort of glove; he has round ears and a lank tail curled beside him. The make up or mask on his face gives him wonderful bulging kitty jowls like a big old tom cat and really add to the overall effect.

As shown above, the back of the card only reads, Eina [?] and the Cat in a swooping script. Noted in the upper corner is 15. Cinderella which could be a contemporary note or an original one, making me wonder if it was a series of cards.

This cat costume rivals that of performer Alfred Latell (who I have written about in posts here and here), a gifted animal impersonator who might best be remember for his Bonzo dog complete with moving parts, in a similar time and genre. (He is shown in the Bonzo costume below.)

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Latell was identifiable and left some if uncertain tracks. Ultimately I was able to follow him all the way to a snippet appearance in a blurry bit of color film. Sadly this performer is unidentified and I was unable to turn up any snippets referring to such an act. I suspect this is a lower rent version than the Latell shows (and potentially Canadian), but the costume and make up are just amazing.

My imagination roils with thoughts of this bygone production and a potentially thrilling rendition of a cat pal to this Cinderella. Sad not to have more information, but I do have this image left to ignite and stoke dreams of cat acts of years past.

Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.

Dress Up

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: To my surprise this photo is tiny! I was shocked to find it is only about 2″x 3″ when it arrived in the mail. However, it is full of information and has blown up nicely. It was, of course, the cat costume that first drew me, although Little Red Riding Hood, or whoever she might be, is mighty fine as well! The photo came from Britain which means that, although this could be Guy Fawkes, it is not Halloween. Upon reflection the garden, which is lovely, and the houses beyond, are very suburban British in nature. Nothing was written on the back and in its own way it is an old but timeless image. I have it in my mind that the Brits do costumes and dress up well, but I am having trouble pin pointing what makes me think that.

I always loved costumes and dressing up, although what kid doesn’t? In my memory though, surprisingly I don’t remember dressing up as a cat. Not that I have many specific memories of what I did dress up as. Early on were store bought costumes – the late 1960’s and early ’70’s. This meant those awful hard plastic masks that were hard to breathe and see through – and yet, it was exciting to put them on. My parents weren’t the crafty types and making my own costumes had to wait until I was old enough to do it myself. I did continue to dress up for Halloween through high school and at least once that I remember in college. (I remember there being a number of times I dressed up as something out of a work of art – like a Toulouse-Lautrec can-can girl. Or, more abstractly, a Georgia O’Keeffe skull painting. What can I say? I was an art student.)

A number of years ago I did stumble across a furry hairband with shiny sequin cat ears around Halloween which I purchased. When I put it on and showed it to the cats, Otto and Zippy at the time, they had the funniest reaction – they backed away from me very slowly, never taking their eyes off me. Finally they just turned and walked away, as if they were shaking their heads, appalled. I thought later, it was as if I had told a racist joke or put on the cat equivalent of black face, and they were embarrassed for me!

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.

 

More Strange Cat Costumes

Horsie and cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I feel the need to confide upfront that the image of this photo has been enhanced by the magic of Photoshop at the gifted hands of my multi-talented husband. (Yay Kim!) In fact, I wanted to confirm that it was going to be possible to bring out the image before I purchased it and he fiddled with the eBay scan first. Sadly, it is so light that it is hard to make out – although clearly the information exists in the image or making it darker would not improve it. The image is so bizarre and interesting however, that I couldn’t let it slip by and purchased it, so here we are.

That bit of disclosure out of the way – wowzers! What odd photo indeed! These very indulged children do not look especially pleased or entertained despite the glory of the scene, starting with that splendid horse cart, drawn by that perky pony and those two wonderful colts frolicking nearby. Then there is the handsomely dressed woman on the perfect white horse, riding side saddle – and the view which is something out of a Hudson River School landscape. But of course, what makes it all and has me stop in wonder is that outrageous cat costumed individual in the cart! A glorious costume which is so fluffy that he takes up the entire back of the cart. The mind boggles – did he dress up weekly or even daily for their entertainment? Was there a time when all wealthy children had adults dressing in animal costumes for their entertainment and I have just failed to hear about it? While I do not know their story, I can only hope that were I such a lucky child that I would enjoy it more than they appear to be. However, we will never know.

Alfred Latell

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  I had my eye on this postcard on eBay for a while – holiday purchases needed to all be complete before I could justify the splurge and buy it. I adore animal imitators from the turn-of-the-century – starting with the 1907 Dancing Pig from France (possibly the very best short film ever) to George Ali as Nana in the 1925 Peter Pan – and all those wonderful early Wizard of Oz films. I love them all! Kim knows my passion for them and this is one of the first drawings he ever gave me – Animal Impersonators – a play on the idea.

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This postcard was used. Addressed on the back to The two Brothers “Mathuss” Cassimo si Paris Theater, Burner Pesth, Hungary. The postmark is illegible but the message reads, in English, Dear Boys, good wishes to you. great success. My sincere good thoughts. Your father. The photo studio is Atelier & Bromsilber which seems to have been a well-known studio.

This photo is my introduction to Alfred Latell whose career evidently started in 1902 and lasted into the 1940’s. Online I found a 1936 ad for a show with Alfred Latell as, yep you guessed it, Bonzo Dog – which is how this card was also advertised. An online Encyclopedia of Vaudeville calls Latell one of the most curious acts in vaudeville. It says, He specialized in the impersonation of animals, not only dressing in various guises but also providing the appropriate noises. He began his career in 1902 and by 1909 had gained considerable notoriety for his imitations of monkeys, billy goats, bears, and dogs. It was the last animal that Latell found the most difficult to imitate, for as he explained in an article in The New York Dramatic Mirror, ‘To play the part of a dog and not to buffoon him, one is obliged to make a close study of his every action. The dog is so close to mankind that he is know more intimately than any other of the domestic beasts, with the exception possibly of the horse…The cat is a difficult animal to impersonate, though not so much as the dog, because of the fact of its slower movements. I have gone out at night with my cat suit on and have sat for hours watching the smaller back yard cats as they stalked along the fence or sat watching the moon rise o’er some neighboring buildings.’

He went to great lengths – rigged up a hind leg, improving his dog movement, and had a special tube made for his mouth which allowed him to appear like he was lapping up milk.  With a string he could raise the fur on the back of the cat suit! He also impersonated birds, ‘The parrot was one of my first bird impersonations, and I found it one of the most difficult of all, because of its crouching posture and the consequent tendency to fall over while walking.  There are nine strings which have to be operated in working the head, bill and wings, and the work is laborious in every sense of the word.” (The Art of Animal Acting, The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 1, 1909.)

Evidently Latell had an act with one and then a subsequent wife – his characters did not speak and he had to perform with a partner who would introduce him and do the talking. The internet is spotted with a mention in Green Book here and an ad in a theatrical paper there. His career peters out with a random performance or two on Broadway in the 1940’s. I was not able to find any film clips of him to share. For another photo of him and a bit more information, I refer you to another WordPress blog post Stars of Vaudeville #561.As a salute to great anthropomorphic animal entertainment, a link to the wonderful French dancing pig below!