Chow Time!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The symmetry of this photo appealed to me, not to mention the tidy tabby and nice black cat whose white tummy we can just about see if we look carefully. These two may just want an ear scratch, but I suspect more realistically are involved in the ritual dance of food request.

We have decided to raise Cookie and Blackie more scientifically than our previous cat companions and they get a prescribed amount of wet food early in the morning as early as Blackie can get us up (yes, for some reason it is his job and not Cookie’s, she does observe the process however to make sure he gets it done) which is quite early. Kim and I are early risers (we’re talking around 5:00 AM) during the week. On weekends I tend to burrow deep into pillows and blankets and ignore Blackie stomping stoically over us, back and forth in a food protest march all his own, until Kim gets up. That is Blackie’s method and I will say it is his very own style. Some of his predecessors used the cold wet nose applied to face method, or the kind, but urgent paw tap. My cat Otto was even known to give me a little nip or hair pull if I really was unwilling to move. (When I was younger I really slept long, hard and soundly.)

Weekdays I am rarely home in time for the evening meal which takes place at 6:30 sharp. On weekends I do witness the gathering of the troops as early as 5:00 to remind Mr. Deitch that, although they may not wear watches, they are aware of the time. Poor Kim has to withstand an average of an hour or more under the glare of cat eyes and their tendency to draw ever-closer while he is trying to work! For those of you who think we are hard-hearted and starving the darlings please know that there is a dish of dry food out all the time in case someone grows terribly peckish. Cookie has her own ritual of needing to be assured that dish is full daily.

When I was growing up somehow this was all different enough that my mother actually used to call the cats to come and eat. When I think back on it – what was that all about? It wasn’t like we lived on a farm or something, just a house, but she would call chow time and they would all come running from different parts of the house. When I was a small child our cat Pumpkin got lost we placed an ad in the newspaper to try to find him. I remember asking if we should mention that he answered to that call. (This idea of putting an ad in a local paper seems so quaintly old fashioned that I suddenly feel ancient. A story for another time. However, be assured he was found having been brought to the local SPCA which we had alerted to his disappearance and was reunited with us after several days.) In all fairness, the cats would also come running when they heard the can opener – an electric one in those days, remember those? Before pop top cans. Returning now to the question, I wonder about it because like ours the cats at my parent’s house are the same milling, demanding group about food.

My mother, in charge of cat feeding in their house, makes no pretense at these silly ideas about feeding times and set amounts of food, and her cats have what I refer to as a constant rotating smorgasbord of cat food, both wet and dry. (I may also add that she has never subscribed to high end vet endorsed food, and with all of this she has had cats live into their early 20’s. So much for my high-end food acquired online and carefully controlled portions!) Notably and to my point, her cats also do not need calling these days either. Much like mine they mew and cajole when they are hungry, which makes me wonder – is this a small evolutionary change in cats? One of those tiny steps forward in cat brains that goes largely unnoticed? But a step toward – what? A race of assertive cats who stand up and ask for what they want? Perhaps not what we are looking for in our darlings, but where they are heading nevertheless? Or did cats in days of yore have more important things on their minds? Greater cat business and purpose, perhaps in the form of the occasional high-protein mousie snack caught on the hoof?

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Sit Up There Buster

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have long held the pure fantasy of legions of cats who not only are trained, but also perform with Busby Berkley-like skill and perfection. I am talking about a sort of an all-singing, all-dancing cat review, sort of circa 1933. For a number of years I suggested to Kim that this would be a lovely birthday surprise, and yet Februarys have come and gone and still, no secret cat rehearsals in the hall, and no birthday cat performance. Imagine! And there is no evidence that Cookie and Blackie will be the ones to break into show biz. Out of all of our cats, they are I think the least inclined to attempt miming human activity, although Cookie will engage in a game of fetch and will do cat yoga in tandem with Kim’s daily work out. (It is my belief that Cookie just want to show how much better she is at stretching and exercise than humans are. She is right – and she is doing it as I write this.) Blackie prefers to maintain his own state of cat perfection and disinterest.

Fairness does compel me to point out that while we at Deitch Studio may have fallen short of two-stepping kit extravaganzas for my birthday, Kim has on many occasions drawn such epics for me and in this regard I am, as I so often reflect, a very lucky woman indeed.

The jolly fellow who authored this card looks like he may be training his cat while sporting evening dress, but perhaps it is just the poor lighting of this photo and he isn’t in dinner clothes. I like to imagine he is however – how dashing! The cat is more kitten than cat, good to start training ’em young I guess, and Buster seems mildly game if somewhat disinterested. The training quarters appear to be a porch railing. He should be told that pointing your finger at a cat never works however.

This postcard was mailed from Los Angeles and the postmark does not show the date over the penny stamp, however it is dated in his neat hand, Sept-12-11 and it reads as follows, Dear Friend, I am glad you are having so good a time Fishing and Hunting. I wish I were there too. Will have some fine kittens for you when you get back. Truly Yours Billy Lindsay. It is addressed, Mr. C. P. Sprague, Gardiner, Maine. Mr. Sprague was quite far from home and clearly in a place sufficiently unpopulated that he presumably was able to get this card addressed in this fashion. Meanwhile, Billy may have been trying to create that Hollywood all cat review I am waiting for! Go Billy, go!

I have touched on trained kitties numerous times, first in the early post Peeved Puss Postcard, and also later in Dashington’s and my favorite, Mad Jenny – and probably several times after that I think. It is almost a subgenre for us at Pictorama. What this man needs to know is that cats do not train blithely and a deep reserve of cat treats seems to be necessary. However, starting in early while the feline is still a kitten as he is probably is a good idea.

Meanwhile, although this photo is of more or less epic bad quality I sort of love that about it. In fact, sometimes a photo postcard that is printed this badly charms me with the reminder that this was a very manual process at the time, evidence of the human hand, and that this is indeed likely to be a singular photo. Although I certainly have numerous mass produced photo postcards in my collection, it is these (not infrequently poorly executed) one-of-a-kind ones that hold great romance for me. I took this photo and I decided to make a postcard out of it – and sent it to you! It took some work and some planning, but I did it! In some ways for me the specialness of this is now lost – although I am very charmed by exchanging photos daily with great ease via the internet. It is a lovely few minutes I spend with my Instagram feed a few times a day, seeing what my friends are doing and looking at, not to mention those photos exchanged by text, email, on Twitter and of course on Facebook. We live in a time of visual bonanza. Still, the extreme singularness of the bygone printed photo postcard and the evidence of it is somewhat lost in our time of phone tapping and computer clicking ease.

 

Buddies

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  One of the things I love about this photo is how someone has set the cat up on the chair, making the cat, dog and little boy all the same height. The dog looks vaguely protective, the cat wise and knowing. The child connects all three by having his hands on the back of the dog and draped over the cat. If it wasn’t for the old fashioned dress of the child this photo could be from any time, but the white night shirt style shirt and some sort of black stockings put it at the earliest part of the last century. It appears it might be early fall. There seem to be leaves on the ground, but it is warm enough for the little boy to be happily outside without a coat. While it appears to have been posed (the covered chair, comfortable for the kitty) I feel like the natural kinship between the three is shown. The card was never sent and there is nothing written on it to tell us who these three might be.

This photo, a photo postcard, illustrates a philosophy of mine that all children should have a cat and dog when they are small, because they can make the very best friends. They listen to and keep all your secrets, generally have more patience than anyone for your small child games and ramblings. I remember telling ours all sorts of things and having great times with them. As the younger of two children, the dog and the cat were generally willing playmates when no one else was interested in me. Their patience wasn’t infinite, but in retrospect it was fairly extensive. Frankly, I cannot imagine our kitties today, Cookie and Blackie, having nearly that much patience, but perhaps the fact that back then all of us started out little together made the difference. The dog was a puppy and the cat a kitten, when I was still a toddler myself so we grew up together. There are photos of little me carrying our cat Snoppy around, vaguely annoyed, like a rag doll. My mother, who was not always a fan of the dog, knew nevertheless, that she could be depended on to protect us and would also submit willingly to our attentions.

In a fit of enthusiasm, I will occasionally whisk Cookie or, more likely Blackie, up into a stronghold of ear rubs and kisses which they barely permit before squirming away, appalled. I haven’t tried telling them any secrets lately either, but Cookie is very devoted to Kim and frankly I suspect she’d spill the beans. Then again, maybe you have to be a small child to trust cats as well as to have them trust you?

 

 

Minnesota 1925-31

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: By now frequent readers probably know that there is a period and type of cat photo I am drawn to. I suspect that my aesthetic mystifies some folks, even Kim politely shakes his head over the occasional choice. There is something however, endlessly appealing to me about daily life in the time several decades before I appeared on the scene in the early 1960’s – of course generally around those photos which feature cats. These photos, usually taken in the front or backyard, range from the well-kempt but modest, to rundown and occasionally even well-heeled. Somehow though photos from this period of the early 20th century, though consistently unassuming and by definition amateur, speak of cozy home lives and pets beloved. This yard with this trim little house in the background is no exception. The chimney, coming off the sloping roof, draws our eye upward while the foreground of tamped down soil follows it down. (One suspects that a lawn would have been a luxury that these folks had no intention of indulging in at that time and location.) The back porch boasts something that might be an outdoor icebox (?) and something next to it that I cannot quite figure out, but storage for something perhaps? Everything is very tidy if worn.

These two women, one clearly dressed up in her cloche hat and good coat, while the other is older, in her house apron and looks as if she has just joined us from the kitchen for this quick photo, endeared themselves to me when decided to scoop up these kitties in order to have their picture taken. That good looking dog got in on the action as well, although turned away from the camera, as if he knows he isn’t the primary focus of attention for now but not to be forgotten. The black cat doesn’t even have Blackie’s tiny white star on his or her chest, from what we can see he is indeed coal black, fluffy and with big interested eyes looking out at us. (Sensible people not fearing this black cat.) He seems more patient about being held for this photo than his counterpart, the white and spotted cat, who is conveying some annoyance (and probably dropping white hairs all over that black coat) with the woman asking him to pose. These women could be mother and daughter, but that is not the impression I get. If I was going to venture I would say cousin or niece – perhaps even sisters who have a number of years between them. However, there is a strong resemblance around the nose.

The back of this photo is glued to the old, black paper of a photo album. Someone has written Minnesota 1925-1931 on the back, but that handwriting appears to be contemporary. Although I don’t know, my guess is that it was taken from an album where that information was indicated and the person selling the photos thoughtfully added it. Like several other photos I bought recently, at least one other from the same vendor, a small pile of unrelated photos (presumably from the same album) were included. I am unsure how to shoulder the inadvertent responsibility for these extra unwanted photos which has been visited upon me. The sadness of unclaimed family photos tormenting you is an occupational hazard for those of us who spend our time employed in acquiring old photos. But for the pleasure of being able to spend some time basking in the reflected glow of their long-ago homesteads, I will accept the responsibility to steward all these photos, as best I can during my time with them.

Beach Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo turned up recently in a search and seems an appropriate one for the last waning days of this summer. The photo suffers from over exposure, but there was still something about it that grabbed my attention. When it arrived in the mail I was shocked to find that it is a quite small snapshot, about 2×3 inches. The woman in the water seems unusually tall – Kim joked that she looks like a mannequin and he is right. There’s something odd about the perspective that I can’t quite put in its proper place.

I don’t know about your cats, but I can’t imagine a world where mine want to go to the beach – let alone out onto a stone jetty like the one here, with water on three sides. I can only say it would be a formula for being scratched in the most notable way as the cat shot out of my arms like a bullet. However, this nice striped fellow is looking very at home indeed in the arms of his mom.  While swim fashions have changed, these folks are stylish and the woman has her hair done up in a scarf-held style of the day. I am interested in her swim shoes, if that’s what they are – the men in question don’t seem to feel the need to be shod in a similar way, but one does walk on all sorts of things in the water. It takes a moment to realize that there are two people at the end of the jetty, behind the man and woman most visible – just a leg, head and arm can just about be seen.

Where I grew up there were ocean jetties like this, but considerably broader, two to three times wider and long – this looks more like beaches I have seen further north in Connecticut or Massachusetts. In addition to the jetties on the Jersey shore, there are also broad, high seawalls (at least that what we called them) which contained the ocean from the strip of land and busy road during perennial flooding. This seems like a quaint idea now, as during a hurricane like Sandy the ocean managed to not only flood well over the seawalls, but cover them entirely, eventually meeting up with the river on the other side of the peninsula. As a child these walls seemed incredibly high and on the rare occasions that the ocean flooded high enough that you could see it breaking over the tops of the seawall to the child version of me it meant serious flooding indeed.

In the end, all this is to say there were an abundance of stone walls on the beaches, between the jetties and the seawall. My mother used to point out that a lot of stray cats lived amongst all the rocks – I guess there was enough for them to eat, vicious water rats being their likely mainstay. Evidently mom, cat lover extraordinaire, had tried to pet one of these veteran ratters once and was rewarded with some memorable scratches. She told the story to my sister and I as a cautionary tale, as we were both beach goers and cat lovers as tiny tots, likely to make the same mistake. As she pointed out, if they were dining on water rats they had to be a tough lot. I believe in subsequent years volunteers rounded up most of these strays and neutered and released them to reduce the stray population. Given the recent proclivity for extreme flooding in the area I hope this is true. However, I can’t think about them though without imagining a sweet, young, naive Betty Butler trying to pick up a wild cat of a jetty kitten.

Flying High

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Quite frankly, I saw those plates on the wall with the airplanes and kept being drawn back to this photo which I ultimately purchased, uncontested, on eBay recently. There is no writing on it and I am a fan of the mid-century ruffled border of the photo. While there is no particular reason to believe that the event these women are anticipating has anything to do with the airplane plates, I keep going back to them and wondering – fascinated by the way they are strung precisely across the top part of this room. I love collecting and enjoy seeing documentation of other people’s evidence of it. This is a nice example. I like the idea that someone collected these plates and then decorated this room with them. Splendid.

I did some quick research and I was unable to find these actual plates – the plates in the photo have a distinct horizon line and simplicity which I cannot find in another set. Similar plates were (or are) made by several different, mostly British, companies. UK eBay is full of variations, but the Davenport Wings of Fame plate series is the one that comes up first and most. I share those below, each with a month of the year.

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My favorite is March’s Rescue at Sea. (They evidently have names, perhaps on the back?)

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I like the plates on the wall of this photo better than these, which in all fairness appear to be slightly cheesier. There are seven on the wall in the photo and it does beg the question of if they are an earlier version of this plate of the month series. There would in theory be more or less just enough to go around this room.

This smallish table somehow manages to have eight place settings on it which seems ambitious – although I think I have had six people eat around our flat files so I guess one can do anything if a bit creative. There is a general festive sense about the scene, and it is easy to assume that it is documenting the anticipation of a happy occasion. The Siamese cat, who seems to have a grouch on, is the only exception to an otherwise jolly scene, but we know how cats can be – you can’t judge general ambiance by them. The two women are attractive and seems to be genuinely happy, not just smiling for the camera, and who (besides kitty) can blame the one for scooping up puss for posterity in the photo? From the clothes, make up and general look I would put this photo in the late forties or early fifties. My guess is that it was indeed a lovely day.

 

Mary Charles Ap-purrs on WABC Columbia

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It has been a while since I purchased and shared a press photo, although I do find them a splendid category of their own. (I think the most recent one prior to this can be found at this link, my post for Old Tom, the Washington Post Office Cat, which goes back aways.) I especially like press photos because I generally learn something while they take me down tributaries of history and information. This one proved a bit challenging, but before I go down that road, let’s spend a moment with the photo which I really like regardless of the ultimate success of Mary’s career.

Of course I purchased this photograph because of this splendid white puss being held up to that really great WABC Columbia-branded microphone, adorably set up just for his cat height! He is long-haired without quite appearing Persian to me – but check out those tufts of hair around his toes. Kitty, Nazir is his name, does not look especially happy about the proceedings, I must say, although they did get a shot with him looking right at the mic. Mary has a fairly plain Jane sort of look for a famous personality, but I like that and I also like her happily patterned dress, shoes, couch and odd tapestry on the wall. It feels like this is really her apartment and is homey.

As you have gathered by now, this image is of radio singer and impersonator Mary Charles and her cat Nazir. Pasted on the back there is a scrap of typed paper that reads as follows:

For Release Sat. P.M.’s, Feb. 28 and Sun. A.M.’s Mar. 1st
COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM PHOTO
BEDTIME STORY FOR THE MICE
IT “AP-PURRS” MARY CHARLES, COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM SONGSTRESS, IS ENCOUNTERING DIFFICULTIES IN TRAINING HER PRIZE-WINNING PERSIAN CAT, “NAZIR”, IN THE PROPER MICROPHONE TECHNIQUE. MARY AND “NAZIR”SEEM TO HAVE DIFFERENT IDEAS ON WHAT “TALKING ON THE AIR” MEANS.

Mary Charles proved to be an extraordinarily common name which slowed the Google search, before landing on a singer who sang with Al Bowlly on Let’s Put out the Lights and All of Me with Ambrose. I am on the fence, but I have been slowly won over to thinking it is that Mary Charles. However, the evidence built slowly.

First, I was able to find some text from the Brooklyn Beagle in (I think) 1931 which tells her story roughly as follows:

MARY CHARLES Your Ear paraphrased advice of Horace Greeley, “Go West young lady, go West,” Mary turned up in one of the leading roles of the Chicago presentation of “Sweet Adeline.” The star fell ill and the show never went on the boards. Mary was seeing the world, but ill-luck was taking all the fun out of it. To Talkie Short! And Radio Songs Back in New York, Mary went to work in the Cazanova Club with Jack Buchanan, British musical comedy satellite. From supper club work she went to the Paramount studios to make some talkie shorts with Charles Ruggles. Shortly after this Paramount decided to make use of her talents on its Paramount on Parade program. After being on any number of programs as a guest artist, she is at present featured in a weekly Saturday night W A B C broadcast listed quietly, Mary Charles. She is best known for her popular and character songs as well at her impersonations of stage personalities. Was born in Philadelphia in 1907. Her father was Irish and her mother English. Keeps a beautiful white cat in her apartment. Her uncle is Dean Charles of Westminster Abbey. At the age of 17 she was trundled off the Berlin to study voice. Her parents desired her to be a concert singer. And were they mad when some years later she announced her intention of going on the stage? Over 99 percent of the Mary Charles fan mail is from men. Claims that she is not especially partial to men but when she is, it’s Englishmen who have the inside track. Admits that she is inordinately fond of gossip. Once she was the feature of the La Palina hour, and when that program terminated President W. P. Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting Company had an inspiration for a broadcast to be built around her talents. His idea was to dramatize songs. It was a good one. Doesn’t speak a word of French, but is the possessor of a dialect that sounds just like any one of fifty million Frenchmen on his second English lesson. Songs in this flood her with fan mall from Montreal. Most of the time she wears sports clothes tweed. For years she had the idea that she was one redheaded damself who could wear red. Her friends laughed at her and they were right. Is very fond of the theater. Travel ‘Makes Her Appreciate New York’ Thinks that the biggest advantage her years of travel have given her ‘Is that she now knows ‘Just how indispensable New York Is.’ (Chamber of Commerce copy, if you wish.) When she was a kid could execute a buck and wing that was nobody’s business. Gave it up as the lessons were too strenuous. Was she ever In vaudeville? Yes. Mary is one of those vaudevillians who has played the Palace Theater, too. She was somebody’s French maid there for a week. Her pet peeve is those music publishers who try to get her to “plug” their this and thats. Positively refuses to sing songs for friendship. Thinks Morton Downey and Rudy Vallee are two very nice persons. Likes the former’s sense of the funny. Her favorite songs are those deep, deep blues but, darn it all, a soprano can’t sing those. 

I found a few other references to her – appearances and snippets of information, but sadly nothing else about her charming cat. (Which I am very curious about – how does a cat become famous when living with a radio singer?) When she is written about, she is frequently called out for being a red head and another newspaper snippet mentioned her red-headed self as having recently returned from England, another clue which gave me pause. Radio Digest magazine, June 1931, included her in an article round up of how performers had been discovered and they site her as having applied for an audition and winning out over 149 other aspirants trying out at the same time. She is also called out frequently as an impersonator – evidently of other stars although I know not who.

So, if any of you knowledgable types about all things early 20th century music can weigh in I would appreciate it. For now I will include a Youtube link – an Al Bowlly tune where Mary Charles’s American accent is definitely on display, Let’s Put Out the Lights (and go to bed). I believe this is indeed the Mary Charles who was mom to cat Nazir and shown here.