Good Cats and Bad Cats

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Okay, still rounding up the last of what was a Pictorama perfect holiday season with more magnificent gifts than I could have imagined! (We are indeed fortunate over here at Pictorama!) This entry is an extraordinarily thoughtful gift from a colleague at Jazz who clearly understands the Pictorama ethos. I am just mad about this little volume, the likes of which I have not seen before. For those of you who are wildly jealous (you will be) I will tell you that a less charming reprint seems to be available, but this original version seems far less easy to obtain.

In case the book itself was not perfect enough, the inscription, in pencil and dated Christmas, 1911, takes it over the top. It reads, To my good Kitten (and then in tiny script underneath which is hard to read) who is sometimes just a wee bit bad. Who wouldn’t love that? The volume, published by Frederick A. Stokes Company (September 1911 so this was hot off the press at the time) is author dedicated thus, To FUZZY WUZZY a Perfectly Good Cat Except WHEN SHE IS BAD or (as is usually the case) UTTERLY INDIFFERENT.

What follows are these wonderful cat illustrations and a volume that is one part children’s book, written entirely in rhyme, describing first a good kitty and then the naughty bad kitty:

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But at times it becomes an actual comic strip:

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There are also these sort of splendid full pages that seem to be something all their own:

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Alas, while we all aspire to being a good kitty, who among us does not as frequently identify with the bad?

Finding information about author/artist Frederick White tested my amateur sleuthing skills mightily and just about when I was ready to turn the question over to you, my erudite readers, I teased out some information from Mr. Google at last by searching his name and 1911 under comics. Born in Queens on December 4, 1869 he seemed to be a journeyman cartoonist, although the artistic trail sort of peters out as you will see below. The real information I found comes from the excellent work of fellow blogger Allan Holtz over at Strippers Guide. I quote from him and link to him below (all these links in color from his blog work) where further information can be found:

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said White did The Gol-I-Fings, from May 5 to June 9, 1901, for the McClure Syndicate. His Gol-I-Fing ran in the San Francisco Chronicle from October 12 to November 2, 1902. 

The Christian Register, January 2, 1908, reprinted White’s verse, Bill, a Cheerful Dog. Apparently it was the basis for the 1908 book from Holiday Publishing. The book was well received by The Presbyterian Banner and American Motherhood.

White created Good and Bad Cats for the News Syndicate which ran it from November 6, 1910 to March 19, 1911. The material was compiled in a book by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in 1911. For the NEA, White produced Kute Karols for Kitty Kats which debuted January 1, 1912. The Day Book (Chicago, Illinois) printed White’s Nine Lives of Kitty Kat from February 5 to 14, 1912. The Boston Globe published White’s Edie and Eddie from August 22, 1915 to March 19, 1916. Edie and Eddie also appeared on the inside back covers of Everyland magazine in the 1920 issues for JanuaryFebruaryMarch and May.

An interesting aside I enjoyed further is that the last home listed is with his sisters at 45 East 85th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues) a few short blocks west from the perch where I write from right now here on 86th Street, near York Avenue.

White one

Ad for The Nine Lives of Kitty Kat! in the Daily Day Book.

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Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama and Deitch Studio present – our holiday card! To those of you who are devoted fans of the card and have been watching your mailbox we apologize for the delay this year, as well as the electronic reveal before you may have received it, but my adventures with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra on the Holiday Big Band Tour (see my post of earlier this month Traveling with the Big Band) put me way behind on my end of the holiday duties which include getting the card printed.

The printing of the card, which dates back to the first year Kim and I started dating, has a history. (For the history of our cards and their production I recommend these previous posts, Cards of Christmas Past, Cat of Christmas Past, and Christmas Cards Redux Continues among others) I shopped the card from one small print shop to another each year. In the beginning I had a fantasy of finding a small shop that still did offset printing who would bring some care to the process – we even talked about two color. Ha! I let go of that almost immediately and began an annual trip from one copy shop to another – testing both large (Staples – don’t ask!) and small. Without getting technical let me tell you that the results consistently fell below the high standard of the most senior person here at Deitch Studio – resulting in an extraordinary flood of epithets and curses, not only aimed at the lowly technician, but the holiday season and the whole concept of a holiday card in general! In all fairness to him, we saw some really ham-handed results which could only be achieved by people who cared less than not at all about what they were doing.

In my attempt to assuage this eventual annual diatribe I continued my search for a suitable printer. One year I finally walked into the Yorkville Copy Shop, the tiniest hole in the wall establishment, tucked behind a pizza place on 84th, just west of Lexington. It is the kind of place I imagine exists only in Manhattan where real estate is so prime that even the smallest space can be carved out into a rent producing annuity for the owner and a living for the tenant. The counter was just a few feet from the door, on one side paper and outgoing jobs were stacked high, on the other was one of several copy machines. It reeked of toner, ink, paper and dust. There was a loft which made the ceiling low, the place lit by low-watt flickering fluorescent bulbs. The front window was entirely plastered over with business cards, other previous jobs and grumpy sayings, which also graced the inside as decoration.

The proprietor was a grizzled man of a certain age who seemed to engage exclusively in conversations about NY sports teams, which meant we had little in common in terms of small talk. There was also a woman who I eventually took to be his wife, and although age appropriate in all reality I have no idea. She rarely ever waited on me. I cannot say that once we started using them that there was never a problem – there were still do-overs, Kim curses and rages, and the year not long ago where they did the entire job folded on the wrong side which, given time limitations we decided to live with. Still, I knew that at least I could talk to Bill (eventually I learned his name) and on some level he cared. Over the course of more than a decade some of our past cards joined the decor of the shop – not all, Bill had a discerning eye – but I kept a look out and was always secretly glad when one joined the ranks.

I know that you know where this is headed. Late last fall I saw that Yorkville Copy was closed. Around the corner, in the window of the pizza place, there was a note saying that the copy store had been forced out and a telephone number to contact them, which I had the foresight to take a picture of. Shortly after, the pizza place itself was also gone, a family business to be replaced, ironically, by a chain pizza establishment.

So as the holiday neared I called Bill and he said he was looking for a new location, but could do our card anyway. We made arrangements for him to pick up the original from our doorman, ultimately drop the cards at our building and pick up the balance of the payment. It went okay, but as this year loomed Bill had not yet found a place and I resisted calling. After all if there was a problem there was no discussion or recourse. He would take our original and go and who knows what would happen to it.

The card is generally finished, drawn and inked, the weekend after Thanksgiving and it was this year. However I just could not manage the printing before leaving for that ten day business trip at the beginning of the month. While I was riding around the South I got a message, then a second, from Bill on my cell phone. By the time I got home I pretty much gave into the idea. Bill picked it up and printed it again. It is a fine job, I didn’t need to worry it seems.

So today we present to you a card printed by Bill of Yorkville Printers which now it seems only exists for those of us who know of it. A waxing salon has taken its former location, which I guess is willing and able to pay more for that tiny space, the chain pizza restaurant has been established around the corner. I left money and our artwork for Bill to pick up and copy in Yonkers, where he appears to reside according to the calls I get on my cell phone. I have an image of him having set up in his living room or garage there, paper piled high around, and sadly I will no longer know which ones he favors. But for now he remains our grizzled and grumpy elf of card printing.

There’s Gladness in Remembrance

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Kicking off the advanced Christmas season here at Pictorama this week with this recent purchase. This card caught my attention with its sheer oddity. I cannot exactly imagine how someone might have come up with the combination of a smoking cigarette, Christmas and cats on a postcard greeting. It makes me think that the designer was very tired and was desperate for ideas, or perhaps smoking something him or herself. Or maybe it was truly an example of these are some of my favorite things, like the song says.

Several of the cats seem to be escaping out of their surreal smoke rings, although that big, annoyed looking Persian is curled up on his or hers like a pillow. All fluffy Persian variations (or is it Maine Coon?) I can’t quite decide if four of these cats are the same cat or just similar markings. These are some serious looking kitties, especially the one without stripes at the bottom. It is obvious, but I might add, there’s nothing of the celebratory or festive about them – these aren’t some darling kittens – these are some frowning cats.

Meanwhile, then there is the burning cigarette and the matches, artfully falling from their match safe. More than anything about this card, which was never sent and without writing on the back, the match safe dates it for me to the early part of the 20th century. Books of matches were in high fashion by the 1940’s. (I have written about match safes in my collection on two occasions, Safety Match and Match safe – Ya Gotta Make Calls.

For my own part, I have never been a cigarette smoker, not even when I was a teenager. I have smoked maybe three in my life – I never saw the point in it; although I certainly understand that there are people who feel otherwise. Clearly this represents a time when smoking was both comforting and to some degree festive. My ambivalence about it does not extend to how good it looks in early films – it does indeed look sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

The sprig of holly is the sole festive Christmas touch. With Hearty Christmas Greetings…There’s gladness in remembrance it declares. Gladness in remembrance touches on the coming New Year – auld lang syne – out with the old year and in with the new. One can only wonder why this card was tucked away and kept pristinely for all these years except to say Christmas cards seem to be kept, although those are usually ones sent by someone. Perhaps, like me, the photo just entertained someone who found and hung onto it.

I have always been a conscientious writer and saver of cards of all kinds, even before my cat card collecting days commenced. As Pictorama readers and others know, Kim and I have been producing a holiday card together since we first started dating and it is time to start work on the one for this year. I admit to the possibility of some influence from this card as Kim and I begin to contemplate our card design for this year, but we will have to have to wait and see what comes of it. Keep an eye on Pictorama for an eventual preview reveal, but know that we are considering it as we partake of our Thanksgiving dinner later this week.

Squeaky Cat Head

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of fragile toys in other posts – mostly those devoted to brittle, delicate celluloid or equally ancient plastic. Today I focus on another toy, recently purchased, that was probably originally intended to have a similarly short life-span. This cat head, just a bit smaller than an actual cat head (I proved this by holding it up to Cookie shortly after arrival) hails from 1925, and it is my guess that no one imagined that it would still be kicking around, rolling forward to our current day, more than 90 years later. It is in fact unlikely, although not impossible, that the small child this was purchased for is still among us while this presumably disposable toy is.

For me there is a solid classic design to it that makes it almost archetypal. It is easy to imagine it as a prop in a silent film – or clutched in my hand as a toddler in the late ’60’s, or even today if it was a tad bit less frail. When I spotted it I wanted it immediately. While we can assume that the paint has faded with age over time and there is a dent in the back, I think it appears pretty much the way it most likely always did. I assume, without knowing, that it most likely squeaked when pressed at one time, there is a silver button on the bottom. It no longer squeaks, but there is a date, 1925, on the bottom with some other bits of information about the maker I can just make out. It reads, US Patent Nov. 18 1924 Jan 6 1925 Katnips Inc. Providence RI. I looked, but could not find information about the bygone Katnips company.

I found a listing for another one for sale online and that person was proposing that it is actually a cat toy. He or she must have some outsize cats! My Cookie and Blackie have shown little interest in this item – except that when I opened the package an amazing smell burst out – that old, attic-y, dusty age odor. Kim once called this the smell of nostalgia. Cookie was entranced by this and took a wide-eyed snoot full of it. It set her whiskers twitching!

I cannot even imagine what flashes through a cat brain when dissecting a smell like this, but I have always imagined that it is colorful and wild. While I don’t find this smell unpleasant, it is still more interesting than good. It snaps me back to attics, some houses and even antique stores I have known. Given my collecting interests it isn’t an uncommon smell, although perhaps not as frequent as you might think. Meanwhile, here in New York City it isn’t unusual to pass a construction site where a very old building is being torn down and be smacked with a variation of that smell. Strange, but somehow time passed, years and the life of a building or a toy, gets encapsulated in a smell. It comes out of nowhere as you hurry along say East 86th Street, a 19th or early 20th century smell, living again for a moment in your brain. Like Cookie, I pause for a moment and inhale that dusty (probably asbestos filled) smell and consider, before returning to my hurried walk and the email on my cell phone.

Curiosity and the Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I remember many years ago blithely quoting, “Curiosity killed the cat” to my brother who rejoined without missing a beat, “and satisfaction brought him back!” I had never heard the second part and loved it, so perfectly does it describe the intense nature of a curious kitty. Wikipedia pegs the origin of this saying in print to the early 20th century, however one can’t help but feel it goes back to a much earlier time.

If I remember correctly, the Butler cat in question was a long, svelte, but querulous orange tabby named Squash. He bore this rather inelegant name as he was the second, smaller orange tabby in the house. The elder was our massive cat Pumpkin, therefore Squash was a little Pumpkin. He was a sweet natured cat if a bit of a doofus, best remembered for being so long that he appeared to have extra vertebrae and was able to sit vertically like a human in a chair. He was also very attached to one of the other cats and could most often be found piled on him at any given moment. I don’t remember what it was that Squash was investigating at the time of this discourse. As we had a pile of cats I’m surprised I remember it was him.

These three-of-a-kind kits also appear to be orange tabbys too – stripers as Kim likes to call tabbys. Each of them is wearing a matching collar and what I think of as a bird alert bell. Whatever they are eyeing is going to have a fair chance of getting away thanks to those bells, assuming it has ears. However, as cat observers know well, a cat’s deep attention can be devoted to something we humans can’t divine or see. On numerous occasions I have found Cookie, sometimes alone often with Blackie, staring hard at one of the walls, unwilling to have their concentration broken or to be easily distracted. One can only assume that their finely tuned cat ears are focused on activity within the wall – oh my! And then there are occasions when you can tell they think something is alive and of vital interest – and it is not alive at all. Kim’s shoe laces seem to frequently fall into that category in this house, as does a recently revealed nail in the wall which drives Blackie to distraction almost daily.

These three feline beauties are sitting on an nice stone wall in a warm looking cascade of light and their fluffy fur coats shine. I have the changing light of fall on my mind these days and it could well be a sultry fall afternoon, but that could just be me too. Regardless, the person behind the camera not only caught this trio of cats at a great, unified moment, but also with bold shadows that echo them below. It is a photo postcard, although it seems like a late runner to the genre, not as old as most of what I purchase, and probably but not definitely professional. In addition, it is in perfect condition, but the nubbly scalloped edges do peg it to a certain period. There is no writing on the back and it was never sent.

Each cat tail is curled around the kitty in a different stage of unfurl and it has to be said that our friend to the far left with the largest white bib and the chap in the middle are far more intent than their brother on the far right. He is looking at whatever it is, but also appears like he might just yawn and head for a nap shortly too. Maybe he is just fooling me though. All have their ears pointed forward and precise cat toes lined up at the ready.

Orange tabby cats run predominantly to the male – Google tells me about 80/20 to males – and I have referred to them thus. However, out of the four orange cats I lived with over the course of my childhood it should be noted only three were male, so we Butlers defied the odds somewhat. Meanwhile Calicos run to virtually all female. I have found that both run toward certain personality types, but perhaps more about that another Pictorama day.

Ding Dong Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Nothing like a toy post as a shot in the arm after a hard week of returning to work, summer already a fading memory! This splendid roly poly toy turned up in one of my searches and I was just nuts to get a hold of him. Much to my delighted surprise he still makes a jolly ringing noise when you move him back and forth. The cats and I were as charmed and entertained as small children when this arrived. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, roly poly toys are those that are weighted in the bottom in such a way that they pop back up when you push them down. I own a Felix roly poly I wrote about in my post Felix Roly Poly awhile back, and although he is splendid, he doesn’t make a wonderful chiming noise like this fellow.

He is so dapper! I love that he has that little walking stick, cravat and nice suit. The paint around his mouth has faded in such a way that he sports and big red grin. Cookie and Blackie especially like the sound he makes and come running to see what I am doing when they hear it. They aren’t sure how they want to play with (reads as destroy) this charming object, but they are very interested indeed.

As you can see from the label on his back, shown below, he is a pre-occupied Japan toy. Hard for me to pinpoint and I am open to suggestions. I feel like he could date anywhere from the ’20’s to the ’40’s from appearance. While I have had some luck with Google Image search on toys, all I got when I tried this photo was a bunch of (somewhat frightening) images of cats dressed up in Elizabethan style ruffs. Yikes!

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Long time Pictorama readers may remember my having professed some hesitation about collecting in the world of fragile celluloid (such as the aptly named post Fear of Celluloid), but this fellow actually seems fairly sturdy, despite his years and fragile material. Roly polys had largely gone out of fashion by the time I came on the scene in the mid 1960’s. However, I was entranced by a toy that worked on the same idea, a large blow-up clown (at least that is the one I remember), about as tall as I was, with sand weighting the bottom. You could push him over and he would pop right back up. I adored it. It seems a bit violent perhaps upon reflection. But still, when I look back on it, his refusal to stay down was probably a good message for me as a little kid.

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.