High Five Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: There are lazy times when I like nothing better than to take a long stroll through ancient press photos on eBay. As Pictorama readers know, I purchase the occasional one, but I also enjoy the trip along the way. Comic and human interest photo filler for newspapers appears to have been more prevalent and somewhat more freewheeling than today – although perhaps I am just reading the wrong papers now. Strangely these photos are generally dated with a month and a day and not a year, so we don’t know exactly where in the early part of the 20th Century this one falls, but we do know that it was set for publication from the Acme Roto Service for release Sunday, May 29 or Saturday, May 28, to papers not having a Sunday edition.

The caption was to read, ‘Big One for Me’ ‘What’ll you have, Fifi?’ asked a visitor at the bar who was buying drinks for the house. ‘Make mine a long, tall, cool one,’ answers Fifi, using his forepaws to show the bartender the size. I raise an eyebrow at Fifi being a he, but will have to let that slide I guess. Fifi, if indeed that is his name, has a great look of intensity and some annoyance in this photo. Clearly he was born decades too early and should have been doing cat videos on the internet during today’s generation of kitties. Most memorable for me are the patti-cake playing cats who do a slo-mo fight to a narration of patti-cake, but a quick search turns up numerous others. Cats are standing up and gesturing with their paws all over the world and we love recording it with gif’s and on youtube. (This of course leads to cat boxing, a subject previously covered in my post Powo! Cat Boxing and Cat Boxing, Round 2.)

Since I never had a cat do this before Cookie and Blackie, I assumed it was perhaps an evolutionary advancement in 21st century cats. However this photo is here to remind me that, once again nothing is new that isn’t also old as well. To my surprise both our cats do this spontaneously, but Cookie much more than Blackie. She especially likes to hop on a small rocking chair and let it rock gently (adds urgency perhaps?) and reach up with a star fish paw for your attention and bam, a little high five along with a chirp. Blackie much more likely to reach the occasional, languid paw up, almost more of a stroke, for your attention. (And that says all anyone needs to know about their personalities and the differences.) When the cats were tiny they would stand on their haunches in unison chattering, paws outstretched, when Kim would exercise with an old paint pole, back and forth over his head.

This barmen cat is a solid citizen so we will assume he was the recipient of many complimentary bits off the blue plate special of patrons at lunch time – or there was a plentiful rodent population at his disposal, my guess is both. This photo pre-dates the high five as we know it, and so our friend the bartender doesn’t quite know what to do in response and gestures unconvincingly. I do like the idea that Fifi is requesting a large, perhaps frothy drink. “No, I want it this high!”

This photo reminds me of a restaurant I used to frequent when I lived in London. It was in Holland Park and was sort of upscale so I didn’t go so very often. However, in the bar area there was always a rather amazing buffet of various foods including a beautiful plate of salmon trout. Same bright orange as salmon, but a much smaller fish that I only ever saw in Britain. (Turns out that it is of the rainbow trout family and is also, less attractively, known as steelhead.) Anyway, the beautiful and well mannered cat of that bar was always parked provocatively under the plate of salmon trout. I inquired and was told that kitty was very well-behaved and never helped him or her self, although was known to have a portion slipped to him now and again. So there he remained, ever hopeful.

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

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.

Old Tom, the Washington Post Office Cat

Scan(4)Pam’s Pictorama: This old press photo has revealed a world of cat lore I knew nothing about prior to researching it. Evidently cats by the dozens were employed by the US Post Office at the turn of the century to catch rodents that were especially attracted to the glue used on envelopes and packages at the time. In short order it took me to this splendid blogging colleague, The Hatching Cat, (I subscribed immediately) wherein his post, 1904: The Feline Police Society he outlines the fascinating society specifically of the New York post office cat force. It is a very jolly read, and I won’t steal much thunder from it except to say, the New York Post Office had a very large and extremely well organized force of felines for this purpose. There were first-class cats and second-class cats – they even knew to assemble and take the elevator when chow was served. Brilliant!

Back to our friend who seems to be a rather singular member of the Washington force, residing in the nation’s capital circa 1922. The back of this 5″x7″ photo reads, ‘Old Tom’, who has been catching rats in Post office [sic] department at Washington for 17 years. A14 Reference Dept September 11 1922 N.E.A. In pencil cats has also been scrawled, as well as the rather cryptic 1/2 cal Levs. Tom, this old, old timer as we’d call him in our house, was pretty famous.

Tom appears to have been featured in numerous articles period articles – some in what appear to be postal newsletters to the trade, others in newspapers of the day. The Spokane Daily Chronicle featured a story on Tom receiving a box of catnip for Christmas from one admiring Kittie (yes, Kittie) Thomas. This article appears in the September 14 issue, so perhaps she responded quickly to an article which accompanied the photo in another article? Coincidence? Below is a more comprehensive version that appeared in the Postal Record, volume 35, ’22.

Old Tom on a Rampage Old Tom the veteran Post Office Department cat is on a jag. Meanwhile the few remaining rats and mice that have escaped his relentless pursuit are relaxing the eternal vigilance that is responsible for their present existence. The mail man recently brought Old Tom a package neatly wrapped and bearing a 7 cent stamp It was addressed to The Postoffice at Tom Washington DC and was from Mrs Kittie Thomas 433 Shiawassee street Lansing Mich. Being a long ways from Christmas Tom’s superiors the watchmen began a spirited speculation as to the contents of the package. Not so Tom His sense of smell caused him to fall in love with it immediately and he could hardly restrain his impatience until it was opened. Yes. It was catnip and Tom is enjoying his first time off since the Roosevelt administration when he came into office. The watchmen at first were inclined to be resentful of ‘outside interference’ with Tom’s duties but when the increasing boldness of the rodent colony was observed the became general that when Tom recovers he will be able to capitalize the boldness and more than make up for the time lost of his spree. So far as is known Tom is not acquainted with his benefactress but that is not surprising in view of the fact that he has received more publicity than many public men and has been heard of in all sections of the country.

The Hermitage museum is well known for the generations of cats, ratters and mousers, in the basement. (I had hoped I might catch a glimpse of one when visiting – I even got lost and wandered out of the galleries and into a private space, but no. Those cats know how to stay behind the scenes I guess.) Many of you know I work for a large (and very old) museum in New York City. I have been suggesting the employment of cats for years, sadly to no avail. Perhaps this post will change their minds.

Girls and Kittens


Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The purchase of this photo was one of those rare examples of good things coming to those who wait. I spied it, but just could not pay the premium price on it. Lucky for me it didn’t sell and the seller marked it down – and I scooped it up. It is a British press photo, although it also has a brief German tag on the back.  These read as follows:

Charming farm girls at a Hampshire farm, with their tiny pets, enjoying the morning sunshine. PHOTOPRESS
Copyright by PHOTOPRESS Phone: Central 5335 Johnson’s Court, Fleet St., London E.O.4

6×2 = KATZEN
Englische Farmgirls mit ihren Lieblingen.

Reprinted in a German paper perhaps? It was sold to me by someone in Britain however. These girls seem to be wearing uniforms for the equivalent of a Girl Scout or Girl Guides I guess they are there. I am sure someone could explain the jaunty beanie on the one – an indication of higher rank perhaps. I did a few not-so-memorable years in the Scouts myself, but I will save that for another time. Even then I preferred the earlier uniforms I saw in our outdated guide books. Not sure how I would have felt about these bloomer types however.

This 8 x 10 photo is crystal clear and it is hard to say who is cuter, the kittens or the young girls. The photographer had a great eye. The fence and the pattern it creates is a great composition somehow, although it literally cuts the image in half. Both girls and cats seem to be in fine form, although as cats will be, some of these kits are a bit more put out than others by their temporary imprisonment. Typically, I am drawn to the cute little all black fellow who looks right into the camera and wants action. The four striped ones (same litter those?) are all poised for an escape, or in the case of the one dead center, at least a whack at that black kitten. Only the white kitty seems relaxed and enjoying the moment.

Farm cats are a splendid, high spirited breed all their own and I have been fortunate to know several. Among my cats of days gone by Snoopy, Winkie, Otto and Roscoe were all farm born. Otto came from a corn farm in New Jersey and especially loved to roll around in a bit of corn silk in the kitchen in the summer – the smell clearly bringing back images of her early days. It might be my imagination, but I have always thought that barn cats were a bit smarter than other cats. But that could just be a form of cat prejudice rearing its head. Don’t tell my Brooklyn born Cookie and Blackie!