The Robbers Squeak

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased this volume after researching another book I wrote about recently, Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball, which featured illustrations by the more than capable artist A.M. Lockyer. This volume however credits only Mr. Lockyer so we must assume that it is not only illustrated by him, but that the story, written entirely in verse, is as well. (There is a song over several pages, Sergeant Sleek’s Song, with music and three verses in the middle of the book. However, words are credited to G.E I. and music by F.R. Cox. A casual search did not turn up any information on them.)

The book’s story is an odd one – and considering I featured dogs yesterday it is a bit shocking that I go out way out on a Pictorama limb and feature mice today, because this is indeed a story of mice. They are both the heroes and the villains of this story, which it should be noted, is a stretch for children, at least as we see children’s stories today. It is a tale of mice who are a marauding band of thieves, stealing feasts of food, but eventually kidnapping a beautiful girl kitten they adore. The image below is when Momma cat comes calling for her little girl kit. This interaction with maternal cat love reforms them and they turn over a new leaf and become monastic mice – who occasionally tell tales of the days of yore.

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As best I can tell, it was published in 1889 – there is no copyright information in the book, although the publisher is noted as Marcus Ward & Co Limited, London, Belfast & New York. Given the availability of the book even now, it must have been relatively popular. The illustrations are beautifully executed, even if the story is a bit odd. Meanwhile, anthropomorphic cats and other animals seem to be A.M. Lockyer’s bread and butter and I have my eye out for other books by him – in particular on called The Cat Concert. I have yet to find a biography of him, although there is no shortage of his illustrations available when you search on his name.

The story of cat and mouse is one that goes back to the beginning of a certain kind of story telling as we know it. It starts with illustrated books and eventually winds its way to Felix and Farmer Alfalfa cartoons and beyond. It is of course an old, old story from life itself – going back to the domestication of our feline friends. Just this morning, as I sat on the phone during an out of the ordinary Sunday morning call for work, I noticed Cookie and Blackie united in an investigation under Kim’s desk. Despite being litter mates, our duo rarely unite in any effort so it is notable. As I attempted to carry on my conversation with the volunteer in Florida the cats chattered and meowed to each other about something under the desk. (Kim wasn’t home and I could not investigate.) By the time the call ended, the cats had tussled with each other and subsequently retreated to their own perches, but of course I do wonder what they saw, or thought they saw.

Living in a many decades old building in New York City generally means you have rodents (and roaches) and it is merely a question of keeping them at bay. To date just the presence of the cats, and their predecessors, have influenced the rodents to bypass us as a stop along the way as they search for food and fun. Still, you never know when a little mousie fellow or gal takes a wrong turn, or decides that they can take on the big guys, much like The Robbers Squeak. Even if I do not, Cookie and Blackie, meanwhile, live in anticipation.

 

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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?

 

 

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
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.

More Mascots

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: These uniformed fellows (police? firemen?) take a great photo and we are so glad that they snatched up the scrap of a pup and kitten for this photo immortalization. I have several posts that address the sub-genre of cat mascots including Butch most recently, but also Mascots and Mascot – U.S.S. Custodian. I assume that the cats in particular had a role beyond mascot – that of reducing the rodent population – but you can see from photos like this one that mascot pride and real affection play a role too. These are pets truly, first and foremost.

This card was never sent and is on what I think of as a slightly earlier paper stock, giving the photo a somewhat iridescent (solarized?) quality. It has no writing on it and, oddly, was printed wrong side up on the postcard backing.

I am sure among you there is someone who will know at a glance how these fellows are employed. Their jumpsuit style uniforms pushed me toward firemen, but I am open to opinion and information. The guy in the center is clearly a real card, cap askew and a trouble making grin on his face. However, it is the men up front holding kit and dog who we really look at. The pup has a, “let me at ’em” thing going on with the cat who, in the great tradition of cats, can barely waste a glance at him look of slight irritation. My guess is that the two of them probably spent a lot of time mixing it up and that poor eager Mr. Puppy spent some time with cat scratches on that nose of his.

A wily cat knows, however, that a frontal attack is rarely necessary when you can jump high and fit behind things that a dog cannot. Years ago I remember my sister’s cat Milkbone teasing the pitbull-mastiff mix Ron, letting him chase her around the house just so she could jump out of reach or behind something at the very last moment. (Despite her name, Milkbone was not destined to be anyone’s chew toy.) Growing up our cats enjoyed a more symbiotic relationship with the German Shepard, Duchess – one of occasional annoyance at food stealing and whatnot, but generally genial. Sadly, not all dogs are benign with cats, but we will assume that these two grew up together and forged a working relationship.

 

A Cat Named Boy

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card caught my eye recently and I decided he was a fine addition to the Pictorama collection. At four years he has achieved quite a solid citizen look indeed, and I have long been a sucker for a fat boy cat with a spotty nose. I am especially fond of his very white bib and paws – and he is a big fellow weighing in at 24 lbs! My goodness, quite the guy. The name and information appears painted on during the photo process. I don’t really understand how, but it is very neatly and decoratively done here. Often these applied on messages of this sort look like white pen, and are usually neat if not this pretty; however sometimes such writing is more of a scrawl. I am always a bit fascinated by this – did they print it themselves? Seems unlikely. Did they send the information along with the film to be printed? Was it a kit of sorts?

I have seen photo postcard cameras and imagine that postcards like these came from a mix of home executed or maybe occasionally by itinerant photographers. According to Wikipedia, Kodak introduced the 3A Folding Pocket Camera which took film that could then be printed on a postcard back and in ’07 they introduced a service called real photo postcards which enabled people to make postcards from any photo they took so this was certainly in place by the time this card was made. I assume some place in this process they allowed you the opportunity for a title and a few words.

This card was never used or written on, but we know from the front that it was done in 1911. Until I read the Wikipedia entry I didn’t realize that the term real photo postcards originated with Kodak. Interesting, they also state that it was more widely used by the public than in Kodak marketing. These cards are still called that today, sometimes by the abbreviation rppc.

As for Boy, I wonder about his name. It seems like a careless name for a prize kitty who was ultimately beloved enough to be memorialized on film in this way. You never know about cat names though. Sometimes they just materialize and stick and you don’t know for sure how or why. I remember thinking that back when we were naming Cookie and Blackie a few years ago. Giving them names seemed so arbitrary at first. (The person who rescued them had been calling them Thing 1 and Thing 2. Although we teased them with that for a bit, and it even seemed somewhat fitting to the little crazy furry aliens they seemed to be at first, I couldn’t warm to it.) Kim christened Blackie and I named Cookie. (She’s a smart Cookie for one thing, but I once knew a glorious fat Tuxedo named Cookie belonging to a friend and I was thinking of him at the time.) You know that ultimately you will get so used to calling the kits by those names, until the idea of them and the name merges, and you eventually can’t imagine them being called anything else.