Bow Wow-zer

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s card arrives from the shores of France, although it appears to hail originally from Marienbad, a town of film fame and described as a Czech spa town by our friends at Wikipedia. (It is embossed with a photo studio name, as well as Marienbad, which I can’t quite read in the upper left corner.) It was, of course, the small and somewhat odd Felix toy in the foreground that brought it to my attention initially.

However, it was the seriousness of this fellow (or gal) posed here with Felix, ball held under one paw, that made me acquire it for the Pictorama archive. This is a formal portrait of Fido, beloved pup, and from the quality of it a high-end pro production, my guess is that it dates not much earlier than the 1930’s. Of course, the evidence of Felix being featured might point a bit earlier, although that is a pretty off-model version of the great cartoon cat. There’s no writing on this card and it was never sent – it is pristine. Marienbad, it seems, was a high end resort before the WWII, but suffered after and fell on hard times. I would guess this photo was the endeavor of a fairly wealthy person from whenever it was executed.

Much of the Pictorama photo collection is made up of attempts, good and bad but always sincere, to document beloved pets – those folks who scoop them up for a photo, or who tried to capture them from the early days of daguerreotype and tintype forward. The earlier methods of photography were of course less effective to catch an impatient puss or restless dog. The sweet spot of the photos I have amassed is largely the photo postcard, of which this belongs to the high end studio version. I see fewer early studio portraits of cats and dogs than I would imagine really. 

I believe I have mentioned that here on the east side of Manhattan I occasionally walk past a photo studio that features some animal portraits in their window, right next to charming photos of babies, small children and pregnant women. Of course dogs are much more likely to be hauled over to a photo studio for a portrait. The idea of loading Cookie and Blackie into carriers and finding them photo ready on the other side of that trip is not at all palatable or likely – and I will assume that our cats are not alone in that regard. My guess is that both the little Felix and the ball are the photographer’s props, not beloved objects of this pooch. However, I think that the sweet look in his or her eyes was all about pleasing a master, just on the other side of the camera – posing as requested, but happily trotting home after it was all done.

 

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Peter the Great

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: There are things that are so great that you would never even dream them up on your own – and this film still of Peter the Great with this marvelous stuffed (somewhat extra large) Bonzo dog toy falls into that category. I believe if this photo had identified Bonzo in the listing it would have sold more competitively, but Bonzo fans were left in the dark and doggie film lovers were also asleep at the wheel luckily for me. Having said that, I paid a bit dearly for it, but I consider it an absolute find.

For starters, please know that the white writing on the front of this photo is neatly hand-painted on the photo surface in raised letters. On the back, written in pencil is MGM 1924. It also says The Silent Pal Gothan (?), 1925 which is crossed out. (The Silent Pal is a film starring an alternate dog star, Thunder. As this is pretty clearly identified I can’t imagine the initial confusion.) Printed on the back is John Cocci, 613 68th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220 and typed, EXPLOITATION STILLS SALE AS REPRODUCED IN THE EXPLOITATION SECTION OF THE SERVICE BOOK.

Our film did indeed feature Peter the Great in his first leading role. Like many of his human counterparts, Peter got his start as a stunt double for more famous lead dogs of the day Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart. (I garnered this and the following other bio facts about Peter the Great’s brief career from the site Hollywooddogs.com.) Two years after Peter has his starring role here, he is tragically struck by a bullet while jumping to the aide of his master, for whom the bullet was intended. After valiant efforts to save him over several days, he dies with his paws in his master’s hands – thus ends his nascent career and even more sadly his life. His owner, Edward Faust, was awarded $125,000 in suit in the dog’s death which was a sizable sum in 1926.

Our film, although noted as lost on Wikipedia, does have a review on the IMDB database implying otherwise. In addition to Peter, the cast included: Eleanor Boardman, Raymond McKee, Earl Metcalfe, Paul Weigel, and Edna Tichenor. The review is by someone who didn’t seem to think a lot of it, but who was rather taken with Edna Tichenor as the film’s vamp. It appears to have been a typical story of a man wrongly accused who will be executed if his girlfriend and stalwart dog don’t save the day against the ever ticking clock. It evidently provided many opportunities for Peter to show off his talents and stunts. Some internet grabs of lobby cards and another (albeit lesser) film still from the film are supplied below.

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Peter1

Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pictorama readers already know I have a soft spot for German Shepherds as I have written about growing up with a beloved one. (For a post that includes some stories about Dutchess have a look here at Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) You also know that despite being of cat collecting fame I have nonetheless invested in some serious Bonzo in recent years. (For the toy curious, a few of those posts can be found by clicking on any of the following: Going to the Dogs – BonzoBlame it on the Blog 2: Bonzo Dog Edition and Happy Ooloo to Me!) It is hard to say whether Bonzo’s appearance ever made it into this film, if it hit the cutting room floor, or if this photo was actually somehow just promotional in nature. However for me there is no question that this splendid photo of Peter the Great posing with Bonzo of cartoon (and toy) fame, makes it wall worthy even in our cramped apartment.

 

Mr. Frank, In the Dog House

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The writing at the bottom appears to say “Interesting” Big Tree Park on Redwood Highway 222-Art Ray. May we assume that the dog in residence is indeed Mr. Frank? His tidy little house is evidently constructed of some of the castoffs from the redwoods in question and he looks like quite the official resident. My guess, after an internet stroll, is that this is probably from the Big Tree Drive-Thru, Avenue of the Giants in California, where according to Roadside America today you can still drive through a tree today. It features such entertainment as the step through stump, drive-on tree, immortal tree and world famous tree house. Let’s put those aside however and instead contemplate for a moment what was probably a similarly touristy, but somehow more charming and decades older version of the Redwood Highway stop, one where you would meet Mr. Frank and stop for a cool drink or picnic, perhaps as a break from a longer journey.

However, for me this photo brings to mind a doghouse from my childhood. I arrived at about age six in a suburban neighborhood with a fully formed, roaming hoard of kids and pets. In addition to sort of a dozen kids ranging widely in age, it also included numerous cats, and canines, including our German Shepard, Duchess. (I also remember a Dalmatian, aptly named Chief, who actually belonged to a child-free neighbor, but whose boundless excess energy urged him to routinely run up and down the length of many yards.) All of this chaos and claptrap ground on the nerves of our next door neighbor, a loudly proclaimed child and animal hating Mr. George Smith. To his oft lamented chagrin, he had the honor of being wedged between our house and another house chock full of kids, the Jakes family – who had as many kids and pets as we did, the three roughly the same ages as us. One day I may write more about that neighborhood, and George in particular, who was a well-known science fiction writer. He drank heavily and made no secret of his dislike of the kids and animals which encircled him and his wife on a daily basis. To the extent possible, we avoided him and his adjoining yard. The cats and the dogs could not be urged otherwise and he threatened them with buckshot.

The yards were unfenced and generally Duchess lived inside with us, although the cats were free range at the time. However, at some moment my parents were seized with I don’t know what inspiration (perhaps 3 children in a rather tiny house also sporting several cats and said large dog meant that moving anyone or anything out of the house was desirable?) and they built a pen for Duchess outside. Then, somewhere (I suspect a garage sale) my father acquired a gently used, quite sizable, wooden doghouse which was an unbelievably good match for our own green shingled house. He installed it in the backyard with the intention that Duchess should spend time out there. To our great surprise, shortly after George Smith brought over a tiny wooden tv antennae that he had constructed and painted silver. One couldn’t say he didn’t have a sense of humor. It was installed atop of  the doghouse, where it sat proudly for a number of years. Alas, Duchess hated the doghouse and I have no memory of her ever in it. (Instead she preferred wedging her 60 or so pound self between my parents on their bed, where she had nestled as a puppy.) I was somewhat fascinated by the doghouse, even if she was not, however we left it behind when we moved several years later.

All in the Family, cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Continuing the family theme from yesterday, I have one of those photos that just got better and better for me the longer I looked at it. This is a very celebratory group and unfortunately they, like yesterday’s family, failed to note anything about the nature of or participants in this photo. It is my thought that this celebratory group is a wedding party, bride’s family to her side – although the little guy peering through could also be of that clan, since I am already making assumptions about family features.

They are posing with a single symbolic celebratory drink for toasting, each sporting a lavish corsage or elaborate boutonniere. Of course, the reason I love this photo is that they have rounded up the family dogs and this nice black cat to be in the picture. The beagle seats himself willingly on the one side while the other fellow is being held in check, collar or short leash stretched ready to tear madly off in some sort of get away. My friend the black cat is somewhere between patient and not as he considers his next move. He appears to be a rare all black kitty, although perhaps there is a patch of white on that tummy some place hidden from the camera, nonetheless I am glad these don’t appear to be superstitious folks and he is beloved enough for a place next to the bride.

We document special occasions with photos of family and pets often make up part of that family. How often do you see a photo of someone, an author photo or just a newspaper photo of someone posed at home, where they have scooped up the family cat or grabbed the pup? While it is said that you choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, in a sense we do. We marry and join families and we declare that the people closest to us in a variety of ways are family, defining it for ourselves in many ways. Clearly our pets make up part of that family for many of us, and I love to see that it goes back this far, to the early days of photography.

 

 

Backyard

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I saw and bought this to ultimately give to a Jack Russell owning new colleague at work. I liked this little guy sporting this sort of homemade looking doggie garb. It is keeping him warm on this snowy day and he also wears a collar. Dogs rarely get center stage here at Pictorama. However, I grew up with dogs, some of you have read those stories, to the same degree as cats so it isn’t like I don’t like them. I do. I am sure if I didn’t live in a tiny studio apartment I would probably live with at least one. And although I have generally lived with medium and large dogs, I have over time developed a soft spot for small ones too. Jack Russell Terriers in particular seem like the right kind of lively canine companions – the kind of dog that likes having a job and takes it seriously. Bred for fox hunting I understand they are high energy and smart. According to the back of the photo, this fellow is Mickey II (I have a friend who has named a seemingly endless line of Poodles Pierre) at 10 weeks, and the photo was printed on December 6, 1937.

He appears to be perched on some sort of wooden storage container – for garbage cans perhaps? For some reason as I look at this photo today I get a yen for having a backyard. There doesn’t seem to be anything especially glorious about this one, but I am not sure it matters. I think any patch of outside you call your own is a special thing and something we unconsciously yearn for sometimes in the city. When you are a kid you learn every inch of it. The designated safe space to be sent out to inhabit when your parents were tired of you inside, or for some other reason felt like you should be “outside playing” it often fell to you to figure out how to activate that space. We didn’t have yards with swings or other features – in retrospect other than the river running behind it, the yards were somewhat barren growing up. I can still remember what they looked like though – the trees that we played under (none of them were climbable) and the docks with their dead fish smells – seagulls having smashed oyster shells on them heightening the familiar stink of seaweed and crab shells in a trap. Still, you always knew that life was teeming in the water just below the surface and just lying on the dock and watching the sea world below was a failsafe activity. We lived on the river in both houses I grew up in, but the one I knew best had a floating dock and the water was calmer. By that time we knew how to swim and my parents worried less when we spent time by the water.

It is only just now starting to grow chillier here in the Northeast, a fall which is being discussed for being more like extended summer this year. However, the yellow light tugs me back to my childhood as it does every year. First the light of September which reminds me of back-to-school from my earliest years – at least those are the ones that come to mind. The school smells of those hallways new to my nose which for some reason still plays over in my mind. But the light of October and early November make me think of playing in our backyard, even more than the long days of summer when I surely spent more time outside. This time of the year reminds me of being about twelve years old and just old enough to feel like I should be outside doing things. Still young enough that making forts and hideaways among the trees appealed and that’s what I remember.

This guy in someone’s backyard in 1937 makes me nostalgic for a backyard this morning. A place where you were out in the world and you could imagine all sorts of adventures, but you knew you were nonetheless home safe.

 

Floss

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Interesting that this card would attract me. Those of you who know my taste in canines know that I run a strong preference toward large dogs – in fact, I really like the largest of the species – Tibetan mastiffs, German Shepherds and Bernese Mountain dogs. When it comes to dogs I like ’em to be more or less horse size. However, I admit to a weakening over time toward adorable little mops like this girl here. Clearly she is someone’s prized and beloved companion – beribboned and quite literally on a pedestal here. Her name, Floss, has been neatly painted onto the neg to be printed on the card. I could be wrong, but I don’t think she’s a youngster either.

While the history of carrying a small dog seems to go way back in time (for example ancient China – and I gather from Wikipedia that in earlier times small dogs were kept to attract fleas away from their owners, rather than the other way around) there came a moment in our culture when suddenly toting a small dog around as an accessory came into fashion for the wealthy and never really went away. It was a status symbol – although I have always found it a slightly odd one admittedly. I think of films from the 40’s where as soon as a woman character actor, generally not the star, strikes it rich, she suddenly has a jolly little dog under her arm for decoration. (This is not Asta I am thinking of!) While it is no longer limited to ladies in long dresses with ropes of pearls drinking tea, the lap dog out in the world still conjures up a feminine image of a certain kind now too.

Sometimes I am jealous of how in general in Manhattan people take their dogs everywhere, but of course, most cats stay at home. (Cats on leashes and my nascent attempts at that I will save for another time.) And of course it is dogs of all sizes that one sees, but the little dogs, often tucked in special tote bags, although occasionally in dog-styled strollers, that one sees everywhere – from subway to supermarket, dining outdoors. Those pups get to see the town while my cats are home snoozing.

However, as for Floss, I’m sure she was someone’s devoted pal and this photo is a lasting tribute. Good doggie!

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.