Postal Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post comes with thanks via Christina Valenza, a west coast Facebook friend of Deitch Studio. I am sorry to say it had disappeared into a nook with a cache of photos and was just rediscovered as I was pushing cats and photos aside to make a desk for myself to use during the course of our current captivity. It found its way to Deitch Studio from Oakland, California last year and while I usually don’t find contemporary cards of interest I do love the documentation of this artwork.

As you can see, someone has painted a cheeky tongue out Felix on the side of one of those boxes that the post office uses to hold the mail on the street. I don’t claim to really understand that process – actually I should ask Kim as he did a brief stint with the post office in the East Village in his youth. This one is a rusty brown – they are generally army green in New York City. What I really like about it is that he is an old style toothy Felix and reminds me of the early dolls of the 1920’s.

The photo is identified as having been taken by Albert L. Morse in 1971. Christina Valenza has a book of his photos available here. It appears that Mr. Morse was an attorney in the Bay Area, as well as being a self-taught photographer. A young Albert was given a camera by his father and started taking photos at the age of 12 and as an adult he took it upon himself to document that early ’70’s comics scene. Below is a page of photos which includes a sort of mug shot-ish one of Kim and a less than flattering one of Simon on the end of the top row.

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Albert Morse acted in a legal capacity on behalf of numerous cartoonists in the greater Bay Area in the 1970’s. According to Kim, if you asked a favor of Morse he would ask you to do a page for his anthology Morse’s Funnies, shown below with a Crumb cover. Kim tells me that there is an interesting Simon Deitch page within, but that he never did a page for him because (imagine Kim here, deadpan) he never asked him for a favor.

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Without getting too specific or colorful, suffice it to say that Kim was not a fan of Mr. Morse (who it appears died in 2006) as he feels that Morse took advantage of some of his comics colleagues. Enough said, just in case some of the litigious relatives of Morse roam the internet today.

So with thanks to Christine and apologies for the long wait for a Pictorama nod. Wowza! I thought I was going to spend the morning on Felix, but instead was taken down an entirely different tributary of Kim’s life, long before me.

The Contest

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have what I consider a very entertaining detour today which I hope serves as a sort of Pictorama pick me up for readers. The photo I am featuring today is one I have owned now for a very long time, I think it is safe to say it has been on our wall for more than a decade. (In fact I just found evidence that it was on sale on ebay in 2008.) I do not remember what I paid for it, however I do remember it came dear and it was a real dog fight at the time. It holds something of a place of honor on the walls here at Deitch Studio.

In researching yesterday’s post I stumbled across a photo from the same session. We took our photo off the wall to have a better look and since it stubbornly refused to allow itself to be hung again, I decided it was telling me it was time to tell share it and tell the story.

Clearly Pat Sullivan and a woman I am informed is his assistant and wife, Marjorie, are sorting through this enormous pile of submissions for a Draw Felix the Cat contest. If you look carefully in the pile you can see ads for the contest as well as drawings. The Felix in the corner is a large cut out which appears to be made of wood. The real treats in this photo are what is hanging on the wall behind them to the extent we can see it.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Aside from that great poster for the cartoon Gym Gems featured on the back wall, we’ve looked at it under magnification and have found the following – above the desk and nearest Sullivan there is: a portrait drawing of Mabel Normand, signed; a photo of Sullivan and wife in a car with an enormous Felix (I really want that one!); two signed photos of Charlie Chaplin; a drawing of a woman in a dancing costume and two other signed photos of male actors we can neither recognize nor read.

There is a reproduction of the Met’s painting by Pierre-August Cot, The Storm, of a young couple dashing through the rain. (Kim also had a color reproduction of this on our wall for many years until it faded into blurriness.) There is a piece of cartoon art under the poster for Felix Minds the Kid but the information is no longer retrievable. Lastly, there is a photo of two wooden Felix toys which appear to be writing, Hello Pat and a drawing of a nude woman from the back which is ornately signed, but I cannot make that out either.

While researching yesterday’s post, I stumbled across another version of that photo, clearly taken the very same day, with Marjorie and Pat in the same clothes. In this version, they are virtually buried under the drawing entries now, as is the desk and if you were to ask me I would say Marjorie is getting tired of this. (A poster for Felix Revolts has been revealed as well as two more drawings which I cannot make out. The top one, just revealing Felix, might be sheet music?) The nice composition statue of Felix which is barely visible in my photo is nicely revealed in this one.

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Collection of the State Library NSW

 

The most interesting thing that I noted is that the Felix in this photo appears to be drawn in, unlike the wooden one placed in the earlier photo, complete with shadow and all. It was clearly used for newspaper reproduction with the telltale sign of the gray paint to emphasize and edit the image.

Meanwhile, written at the bottom of this photo it states: George Taylor’s old Sydney cartoonist friend – Pat Sullivan and his wife Marjorie wading through some of the final selections from hundreds of thousands of entries in the “Draw Felix” competition in New York in 1923. He was already acclaimed ‘the most popular American Cartoonist’. But he was born in SYDNEY! This photo is identified as being from the State Library in New South Wales.

I don’t know where the writing at the bottom originates, but the date on the contest is wrong because Gym Gems doesn’t come out until 1926. A quick search on George Taylor of Sydney in the 1920’s points to a journalist and aviation pioneer of the time as a likely candidate of the origin of the photo and whose dates are fairly parallel to Sullivan’s.

It was the image below, also from the State Library NSW, that inspired my entire collection of photos of people posing with giant stuffed Felix-es – and eventually this blog. It was the first one I ever saw and years later when I had my first chance to snatch one up I snapped to it.

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State Library NSW

 

 

 

Stuck on Felix

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My guess is that many of us have had the odd sticker, card or bit of stationary which has somehow and for a truly unknown reason survived, unused, year in and out until a decade or more has passed and somehow, despite relocation of home and hearth, and perhaps amongst the loss and damage of more meaningful things, certain items seem to persist unscathed. It is some strange law of averages it seems. However, most of these such items cannot, yet anyway, lay claim to being almost 100 years old like I suspect these Felix the cat stickers of being. While many (most) of the items I collect share a similar history, few are as ephemeral.

This pair of tiny stickers (just a few inches each) traveled to me from Australia, found on ebay earlier this year. In design, they are very similar to a series of series of British chocolate cards, although sketchier. I wrote about my small accumulation of those in my post, Chocolate Felix (It can be found here. I also have a some chocolate cards featuring Felix from Spain and a post about those can be seen here.)

 

It isn’t the same hand making the art, but a reasonably close fellow traveler in Felix forging I would say. Felix is with his girlfriend, Kitty, here or as I tend to think of her, the White Cat. I have never warmed to Kitty. It isn’t unprecedented that they are a carton or comics couple which appear to be different species of cartoon cat-to-cat with strange proportional difference, but it annoys my aesthetic sensibility. Create a world image and stick with it dammit, I say!

Wikipedia says that Kitty’s first appearance is in 1919’s Feline Follies and she is prominent on the Felix tea set of the day as well. I own one plate, shown below, but the same image appears on all. I wrote about it in a very early post back in 2015 which can be found here.

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Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

 

This illustrates that it isn’t just Kitty – the dog is also rendered realistically. It appears that Felix exists as an outlier even in his own world, the odd cartoon mouse notwithstanding.

For those of you who don’t have a mirror handy, shows Kitty, the siren kitty waving and her come hither remark is, You needn’t be shy with me Felix. The second one offers him very good advice, If you can’t be good Felix – be careful! Indeed!

Olive Oyl

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toy collecting is much like the rest of life, while you may head in one direction, opportunity may present itself in one you had not considered in another and take you there. My career has been entirely like that – who thinks about becoming a fundraiser when they grow up? I had not considered working for Jazz at Lincoln Center until suddenly here I am, almost three years later.

I don’t generally collect comic figures outside of the cats (Felix and Krazy) and Mickey (because you have to have mice if you have cats), but occasionally things present themselves that need buying. In this way I have a small enclave of Little Orphan Annie (those items can be found herehere and here, for starters) and a soft spot for Donald Duck I have never much explored in this blog. The occasional Pluto. Bonzo has proliferated, which might fall under the heading of if you have cats you need a few dogs too. However, I am perhaps light on the broader universe of characters.

When an acquaintance at Doyle Gallery told me that they were having a January toy sale I knew I would want to check it out for potential birthday fodder. It was a sale from the estate of a single collector and I felt like you could sense his or her eye in all of the choices in the collection which always interests me.

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An unintended selfie while aiming at this goat toy

 

Kim and I had a delightful afternoon looking at a large collection of toys, primarily early mechanical banks and early mechanical toys. People were stationed to help us by taking the toys out and showing the action of each. These toys, while utterly delightful, are another area of collecting I have never gone down, but I can easily understand falling in love with them. I was especially enamored of this swan toy and this tiger toy below which I did bid on.

 

However, one of the reasons I started collecting in the area I do is because, compared to these toys, mine is a relatively affordable avenue. The toys above ultimately went for several thousand dollars each, considerably above my humble bids. There was also a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark, but I knew it was out of my league in every sense including space for it in the apartment. (Among the surviving animals shown below are insects which sort of cracked me up.)

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However, there were two items which caught my attention, in part because they were very different than the rest of the sale, and today’s Olive Oyl was one of them. We all know Olive as Popeye’s paramour in Segar’s comic strip where Popeye makes his appearance in 1929. Olive had been around in the earlier Thimble Theater strip since its inception in 1919 where she was the youngest in the Oyl family, sister to Castor and Crude Oyl, and engaged to Harold Hamgravy; he who she eventually dumps in favor of Popeye, her true love. I have read some of those early Thimble Theater strips and would very much like to dig deep into them sometime. Olive starts her life modeled on the flappers of the day – a long, straight drink of water to the extreme and maintains her girlish figure, so to speak, throughout her life.

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Olive Oyl bank I was less interested in at Doyle auction

 

The toy collector whose collection was being auctioned had two Olive Oyl toys, indicating an interesting particular affection for her. The other item was a cast iron bank which could have been original or a reproduction and I didn’t care for it. But there was something about this Olive Oyl that I couldn’t resist. She appears to be a one of a kind but nicely made wooden toy. Her arms, feet and head are painted but her costume covers a simple wood and wire constructed body. Heavy wire connects her arms and legs enabling limited motion in each. Her head turns and her arms go up and down.

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Olive Oyl, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

For me there is something especially engaging in her outfit although I can’t really tell you why. I think if asked, she would have preferred far more fashionable garb. There is something endearing and specific about her cowl neck sweater and the somewhat oversized pattern on her rickrack trimmed skirt, probably a bit longer than she was wearing them in the day. She has characteristically large (but not clownish) feet. For me this is a Depression era Olive at her best in every sense.

I assume there is a Popeye mate for her somewhere in the world, or at least there was. (Kim pointed out that he is a heck of a lot more ambitious to have to carve. He’s also come up with a story where Olive is carved by a man in prison for his girlfriend…) I have looked online to see if there’s any indication that this is not a singular piece. At a minimum the person who made it was skilled and my guess would be that this was not his or her only rodeo in this area.

If you are wondering, Olive joins a very slim collection of a single stuffed Popeye and Wimpy dolls. I bought them from a dealer in Canada many years ago and was disappointed to discover that they had lost much of their stuffing (sawdust) on their trip to New York. They are now so fragile that I am loathe to take them down from their high shelf and photograph them, but will try to find a way for Olive to join them. Excuse the dusty chaos – I was perched on the edge of the bed taking this earlier!

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Lucky Bucks

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Oh for the days when you got a Sunday paper which had such cool things to uncover and collect! I write this as I prepare to head to see my mom on this Sunday morning, in New Jersey, although she no longer resides in the Butler ancestral home, is still resident nearby. I have written about our local newspaper purveyor and the role it played in collecting our Sunday papers in the years before we began having them delivered. (That post about Wiseman’s can be found here.) The feeling induced in childhood about Sunday morning lasts a lifetime, although somehow the (no longer terribly fat) Sunday New York Times seems like a sad substitute when I think about it these days.

Sunday afternoon and evening had a bad rap as a kid – it tended to stretch a bit toward boredom in a way that Saturday somehow did not. Sunday morning though was an excellent breakfast (pancakes! bagels!) and the Sunday comics. (Okay, Sunday afternoons were occasionally occupied by some really wonderful discoveries of old films on television, but let’s face it, you had to get through all that religious programming in the morning which utterly confounded me.) Hard to beat the memory of post-breakfast sitting on Dad’s lap and reading Peanuts and Nancy together.

In my adult life I have become a very real fan of daily comic strips – decidedly preferring them to their longer, flashier Sunday counterparts – their very dailiness telling the tale of their time. However, as a kid I admit that the daily strips seemed like dry runs for the Sunday fiesta. As a child of the 1960’s and early ’70’s I missed the heyday of comics supplements, but we had two (now defunct) local papers that carried a comics supplement. I loved them and can only imagine the enthusiasm that the weekly installation of Lucky Bucks must have been met.

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I gather at the time of Lucky Bucks the Sunday supplement featured all sorts of things a kid could avail themselves of such as mini-film strips, games, and puzzles. There is a book available dedicated to the topic of Lucky Bucks in particular, but the brief lowdown is that Lucky Bucks were promoted in the Sunday Funny primarily in the 1930’s, with ’32-’34 being prime years. (Interesting to imagine a country in the clutch of a worldwide Depression whose children are clipping fake money from the newspaper. At the time, newspapers were a lifeline for jobs and information and people continued to buy them to the extent they could.)

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Felix was one of those heavily featured, but Popeye/Thimble Theater, Mickey Mouse, Barney Google and even the likes of Blondie were among those available and collected. So widely were these collected that despite their undeniably fragile nature as newsprint which has been snipped out and perhaps even exchanged as kid currency, they are still widely available as collectibles today. I show some Popeye and Thimble Theater currency above and below. Popeye had the big bucks! See a fiver below.

 

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I like the bills that have things written on the bottom: Walking the Blues; Felix the Sentinel (he’s still interested in mice here – something I think of more from the early cartoons when he is inventive, but still more feline); and No Rest for the Wicked. I wonder if kids valued some more than others, like trading cards.

I have seen these Lucky Bucks offered on ebay for years and finally decided to add a selection to my collection. Meanwhile, I haven’t read much of Felix in the comics; he lives in cartoons for me. However, as I head off to Jersey this morning I am thinking about Sunday morning breakfast, a trip to Wiseman’s and some Sunday funnies, and it might be time to take a look at some of those Felix comic strips at last too.

Little Orphan Annie, Again

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know that Little Orphan Annie has made a few appearances in posts recently and that with Kim reading his way through the strip that Deitch Studio has been immersing itself in many, if not all, things Orphan Annie. (And just between us, I doubt this is the last Annie post – such a marvel of marketing was that strip!)

While making another recent acquisition (see that post of a really splendid oilcloth Annie doll purchased to match a Sandy acquired a ways back here, and a ways back I wrote about an Olvatine mug I purchased – that post can be found here) I ran across this sheet music, however it wasn’t in full color. A few weeks of patience and the color version turned up in time for Kim to buy it for me for Christmas and here we are.

While this sheet music isn’t exactly rare, information about it and the music within does not abound. I have spent the morning down several rabbit holes resulting in a handful of interesting facts and tales to offer. Written and published by Ambrose J. Wyrick in 1925, the year the strip was born and like the strip it came out of Chicago. I could not find a recording of the tune, nor any mention of a record. (A later song, recorded by Coon Sander’s Nighthawks in 1928, with words by Gus Kahn and music by Joe Sanders, is all but a standard of the period still today. It can be heard here on Youtube.)

The sheet music sports a nice photo of Harold Gray. (Creator of Little Orphan Annie and noted that it is a Butler Photo Chicago – no relation, in 1925 my grandfather was just settling in NY as a young man whose name was changed to Butler at Ellis Island, no interest whatsoever in music, photography or Little Orphan Annie.)

In the lower right corner and a small insignia of a pig that proclaims, Oink! Grunts himself in person!) in the upper right, presumably drawn by Gray.

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Grunts the piglet was an early character in the strip. His origin story is found in dailies on March 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 1925. He seems to stick around a bit, but as he didn’t ultimately make much of an impression on Kim, I assume the character doesn’t develop beyond a point and wains out of the strip.

Annie and a young Sandy grace the front, banging out said tune (I assume) on the piano, the strange doll character acting as page turner for her. Sandy is singing from his own copy of the music. The back of the music shows Ralph Olson and his Orchestra (A Jack Richardson Unit) plays Little Orphan Annie and other Wyrick Songs. Those other titles (Compositions of Merit) are shown in part there as well.

 

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Any legacy of Ambrose J. Wyrick has been largely purged by time, even on the vast internet of today. Not only could was I unable to find a recording or record of this tune, but barely a tidbit of information on Mr. Wyrick himself. It would seem he was as much performer as musician or publisher and he seemed to have a popular talk (ironically perhaps in retrospect) about music and business which he toured with – the published volume of the talk appears to be available for a sum. Only the poster below could be found, declaring his skill as, Distinguished Composer *Author*Actor*Orator*and Tenor…Attraction Extraordinaire. (This courtesy of the University of Iowa archive.)

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Oddly enough, I was also able to find his autograph for sale with a portrait of him, shown below. On the other side there was an autograph with a photograph reproduction of Preston Bradley, a fellow Chicagoan lecturer and clegyman.

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Today’s tooling around Youtube looking for this I ran into much Annie lore to be considered on its own. There are readings of the poem, Little Orphant Annie, a poem penned in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley, and thought to be the inspiration on some level for the strip. The poem (which is pretty interesting) and its history can be found on Wikipedia here or one of the Youtube readings of it here – but I suggest the read over the listen myself. Youtube also turns up a truly ancient silent cartoon which is honestly not quite visible – we’ll hope that one day a better print turns up.

Finally, best of all perhaps, Kim turned me onto Chuck McCann (WPIX NY television host) doing Little Orphan Annie, in a dress with white disk eyes and all. An image of that, which speaks for itself, snatched below!

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This sheet music, little gem that it is, will be going up on the wall in a place of honor here at Deitch Studio. I include the music with the somewhat less than memorable lyrics in case anyone is ambitious enough to want to play the tune or is curious about the lyrics. (So keep your grit and fight for your own and soon You’ll find a Home Sweet Home…)

Meanwhile, as above, stay tuned for more Little Orphan Annie to come as I certainly have my eyes peeled.

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Brooklyn Bound

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning we will abandon our horrendously messy, currently under renovation apartment and to head to Pratt in Brooklyn for the Comic Arts Brooklyn (CAB) festival. We will be setting up at a table and I will be in my wife-fan mode selling some original art and t-shirts while Kim is signing copies of his new book Reincarnation Stories. (He will be in a conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac later today as well and the past two weeks have been peppered with interesting online communication between them as they prepare.)

We are frankly relieved not to be spending the whole day in our over-flowing, packed to the ceiling with boxes studio apartment! (For those of you who may have missed the earlier installments on the work in our apartment I whined eloquently about it last week in my post which can be found here. The work continues apace and we are now living with the fridge in the living room and using only a hot plate and toaster oven to cook. Slowly you forget that you ever lived without everything jumbled in boxes around you and that you didn’t do dishes in your bathroom sink.) The prospect of two meals out an not made in a toaster oven is cheerful.

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Our apartment earlier this week. Arg!

 

I come from a long line of the mercantile. Irving and Gertie Butler (my paternal grandparents) owned a store, Butler Dry Goods I believe it was called, in Mt. Vernon, New York. My dim memory of it was a store that sold all sorts of bits and pieces, but mostly clothing essentials – underwear, sneakers, and basics, not fashion. My childhood was filled with nylon babydoll nightgowns from the store in the summer and flannel pajamas in the winter. It also supplied us with Danskin mix and match twin sets of stretchy shorts, shirts and pants in bright colors. (When I think of myself or my sister under the age of ten this is what we are wearing. I had a bit of a love hate relationship with these twin sets and was usually jealous thinking my sister’s were better for some reason, but you do a lot of that in general being a younger sister.) I want to say there were some toys in the store, but I do not have a clear memory of that and it seems like I should. (Did I get some of my boxes of Colorforms from there? Bags of plastic cowboys and Indians? I cannot say for sure.)

 

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My mom opened a more contemporary version of that emporium in New Jersey in the 1970’s and called it The Village Store. I remember that better of course and even worked there on occasion. Her version was largely the same sort of practical clothing, but some jewelry and a few other things that came in over the transom. It was on the strip of beach community within walking distance of our house, Sea Bright, near the drawbridge and next to a bar and the post office. (I opined on the town of Sea Bright and Wiseman’s – the kissing cousin of the dry goods store – the paper goods store. It was the cornerstone of the community and I wrote about it in a post that can be found here.)

In addition to my link to these successful sellers in days of old, I have a restaurant and a bar restaurant on the other side of my family. Tending bar, short order cooking, is the same selling skill set really. All this to say, if genes have any say in this process I have the bona fides for chatting and selling.

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A bad photo of an undated photo – cousin Frankie Cittadino as short order cook at the family bar in Long Branch, NJ. 

 

I guess it is fair to think that fundraising is a type of selling so perhaps I have not strayed far from my ancestors. At a minimum it employs a similar skill set. Today I take up the mantel and watch out CAB, I will be manning the sales of all things Kim Deitch. We are picking and packing up our bags now and I’ve got a great t-shirt just for you – see you there!