I’ll Make ’em Laugh: The Spice of the Program

Pam’s Pictorama Felix Post: As promised, today we have a very Felix day! These two sheets were a long time coming to Pictorama. First they sat on eBay for a long time while I was distracted by other things, and then I finally purchased them and then it took several weeks for them to arrive. I tend to hesitate before committing to very fragile paper items, but in the end I claimed them as mine. I am spying a spot at the top row above Kim’s desk, a bit hard to access, but not too much light. Could be just right. They are great. Here we have Felix at the zenith of his come hither appeal plying his trade to good use.

Both of these sheets of advertising are from Moving Picture World magazines and I will admit that I find the cutting up of these journals to sell for separate pieces distressing, although I understand some are likely worth more for their parts individually. These are fascinating journals in their entirety and I have purchased many a copy of the ancient periodical for Kim, mostly from the ‘teens, and I believe there is even a bound volume of them in the house, that I dimly remember picking up as a gift for Kim, out of an apartment somewhere in Chelsea. These pages have been carefully removed by the staple being taken out of one and a clean cut on the other. The one emblazoned, Felix the Cat Cartoons is from November 21, 1925 and the other is from July 7, 1927.

In the first Felix shows all his moods, like an actor auditioning for a part: thinking, musical, angry, worried and intellectual. He is shown horizontal on all fours (in what I think of as a catty pose) and even chasing a mouse at the bottom. Although he might be going through his paces for this ad, he was already at the height of his fame and auditions were hardly necessary. Here he proclaims, Put me on your screen and see what a bright little fellow I am. My tricks will put your audiences in the best of humor – and I’ll make ’em laugh nine times as many times as a cat has lives. I’m doing it now in five thousand theatres. Felix And below that the added encouragement, Felix means extra profit for the showman who exploits him.

Felix had recently made the jump to Educational Films (the spice of the program) which is mentioned here prominently at mid-page, as is a produced by credit for Bijou Films, Inc. EW Hammond is presenting up at the top (President of Bijou Films) and of course Pat Sullivan gets a huge credit with Cartoons by right next to a Felix running right at it. (That’s a lot of credits for one animated cat, even one as big as Felix. Not surprising, but sadly of course, no mention of Otto Messmer, Felix’s true progenitor.) Felix made 20 cartoons in ’25 by my count via Wikipedia’s filmography (about half before switching to Educational Films for distribution that year), and more than 20 the year before alone so production was in full tilt and there was plenty to watch.

One real gem from 1925 that I uncovered while doing some light research on that year was a nifty full length cartoon made for Mazda Lamps, The Cat and the Kit. It is 98% cartoon with only a smidge of commercial and is definitely worth the watch below. The story follows Felix on his wedding day and the drama around the headlights on his car (called lamps at the time and were much more like lamps than the headlights we have now) which keep going out. He is forced to buy inferior replacements and those don’t focus – requiring Felix to resort to snatching the moon out of the sky – only to be told by a policeman that there is no driving with moonshine in the car!

I can’t resist detouring over to Mazda Lamps for a moment, I’m sure Kim and I are not the only ones still shaking our heads over the beautiful Mazda Lamp display uncovered awhile back on the television show, American Pickers. One is shown below from a site called Design is Fine. History is Mine.

The second sheet, from ’27, shows a parade of Felix-es bringing us all the short features Educational Film Exchanges had to offer. As an avid fan of silent shorts I recognize some – Larry Semon and Lupino Lane. (Kim knows more of them and reminds me that John Arthur was Darla’s father of Little Rascals fame. Remember, Feed ’em and Weep, featuring Mr. Hood on his birthday trying to eat his celebratory meal?) Some are a loss to me such as Tuxedo Comedies or Mermaid – evidently series of comedies that folks, such as Snub Pollard and Lloyd Hamilton, would have come and gone through.

Felix’s own shorts are listed at the top and the large sign he holds up front, mounted on a striped pole, is for Educational Pictures. Meanwhile, I especially like the sign which is pointing toward 1927 and ’28 at the bottom. Pat Sullivan only gets a signature credit here (as if he had drawn it). I see 26 films listed in 1927 for Felix so he was certainly going full steam. I include one below in order to give equal time to 1927, Whys and Other Whys, which kicks off with a soused Felix leaving a nightclub. Watch these while you can – these links to Youtube don’t seem to last forever! (Although a quick search may turn up another source if these have disappeared.)

We are invited to Fall In! and Travel with the leaders of the short features parade. The art on this advertising sheet is hotsy-totsy – it is always a favorite moment of mine within the cartoons to see a virtually never-ending cycle parade of Felix. If studied carefully, two Felix-es on the sheet have been a tad mangled, you can note that the second largest (holding the Lupino Lane placard) and one about mid-page (with the Larry Semon ad) have had a bit of what looks like ham-handed revisions around the eyes. Not sure what anyone was thinking to improve upon Otto Messmer’s genius. (Just a note as well that some of these Felix’es only sport whiskers on one side of their face.)

The back of the ’25 sheet sports an article entitled, The Bar-G Mystery, New Western Patheserial Now in Production (Kim checking that one out in a book now), and ad for the Charlie Chaplin release of A Dog’s Life to be released on November 22, and a rather terrifying ad for Buster Brown with Buster and Tige looming large. Short pieces appear on the recovery of Walter Hiers from an injury sustained during filming which almost cost him his hand according to the article, and announcing Clyde Cook to appear in a new comedy. The verso of the ’27 sheet is an add for volumes on photography by the folks at Motion Picture Photography – one for professionals and the other for amateurs.

Tommy José Stathes (@tomatitojose) has just released the latest in a series of brilliant Cartoon Roots DVD’s featuring some new restorations of rare early Felix cartoons! It can be purchased on Amazon here. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for mine to arrive. His earlier DVD’s are also being re-released and can be purchased here. A bit of a review of one of those earlier DVD’s can be found in a prior Pictorama post here. And on that note I believe I have kicked off the year of ’21 as a Felix friendly one – enjoy!

Felix Match

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This item comes to us via Instagram and a lovely woman named Sandy who is one of the owners of a store in Dallas, Texas called Curiosities (@curiositiesantique or getcuriosities.com) and who reached out with a photo of this great Felix match holder which I had to have, well, immediately. We spoke on the phone and I had tucked a number of other items into my virtual cart before we were done – more on those in the weeks to come. Turns out Sandy is a fan of Kim’s work and follows the comings and goings of life here at Deitch Studio and knew that a piece like this Felix would be catnip to us at Pictorama – and she was right!

Decorated package from Curiosities

These off-model Felix pieces are like primitive art and it is hard to say if they were made from designs, maybe in magazines, or were just simply made items pounded out and sold, capitalizing on Felix’s appeal and flying under the radar of the copyright cops. Years ago I wrote about the East End of London shops which turned out some of my favorite gleefully free-form mohair Felix toys (almost assuredly not licensed) as a way of employing indigent women in the East End of London. (That post can be found here and is a favorite. I wrote about another such homemade piece, shown below, which can be found here.)

Another recent acquisition I wrote about back in August which smacks of being homemade from a blueprint or kit.

Matches played a bigger role in the world in early 20th century life than we may remember today, living now in a world of lighters and probably less of a need for them in general with less cigarette smoking and all. Among my prized possessions are two feline versions of what are known as “match safes” – these designed for keeping your matches dry and handy – and, in a word, safe. I have written posts on those two here and here. (Meanwhile, if you want to be entertained by the story of matches I suggest the 1932 pre-code film The Match King, based on a true story, which takes on the premise of getting rich, one match via manipulation and a monopoly on the match market.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
Pams-Pictorama.com collection

This Felix match holder feels like it was made commercially, if perhaps by a small enterprise. The wood is very light. I like the addition of this fang-y sort of gap tooth grin and the four decorative whiskers. The face looks as though it was sprayed on through a stencil of sorts. He has some wear on him and it would appear someone reached in for many matches over time, wearing the white paint of the cup away almost entirely. The place where he hung from a nail on top, is almost worn through – probably pulled a bit on the nail when matches were taken each time. It is my only hesitation about whether he hangs in the kitchen or remains with the toys in the other room.

Of course this object speaks to the day when stoves were lit with wooden matches every time they were used. The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine was on yesterday and I overheard the snippet where he runs up the stairs in a panic because he smells gas and she has turned it on without realizing that it required manual lighting each time. It was a bit old fashioned even when that film was made in 1960, self-lighting gas stoves probably having been introduced into newer models as a safety measure, but older stoves not yet replaced.

While my ancient gas stoves in my first apartments were technically self-lighting, I can assure you that both my apartments in London and my first in New York frequently needed a prompt from a match to get going. In fact the immediate predecessor to my current stove had a pilot light that went out frequently enough that I have a box of wooden matches in the kitchen drawer right now – somehow using a lighter for that task never seemed entirely safe. Even if he hangs in the kitchen I will not tax him with holding onto our matches and it would be nice to bring a jolly touch of Felix into our kitchen.

French Felix with Jean Mitry

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For readers who feel like maybe there has been a lot of wandering around in these Pictorama posts lately, I have a very Felix-centric post for you today. I scooped up this single page a few weeks ago. I don’t read French so I pressed our friend Rika Deryckere into service and she was kind enough to do a splendid job of translating this for me (and Pictorama readers) as presented below. Thank you Rika!

Much to my surprise, it is a philosophical opining on our friend Felix the Cat by the French theorist, critic and film maker Jean Mitry. Mitry (1904-1988) has a small bio on Wikipedia citing him as the first person to take French cinema out of the club and into the university. He authored several books, film philsophy, critique and semiotics, and was the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française. There is an annual award in his honor at the Pordonne Film Festival, given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in recovering and preserving film heritage.

This page was carefully removed from wherever it appeared and has come to me with no indication of the magazine it was excised from. Some of my more erudite film readers may know a lot more about this and I invite you to share if you do. It was certainly my introduction to it. I love the way it is illustrated and some of the non-Felix cats intrigue me.

Detail from Deja Vu in All Waldo Comics, Felix and Waldo make their plan.

Meanwhile, in a strange nexus of worlds, Kim points out that the passage where Mitry talks about Felix dividing himself into many and then coming back together brings us right to Waldo’s origin story. It is found in Deja Vu, most easily found in the collection All Waldo Comics.

There it seems Felix (yes, Felix), working for the CIA at the time, recruits Waldo and under Felix’s tutelage somehow the nine lives of cats becomes multiple Waldo – who in turn need to be dealt with in Waldo-Deitchian fashion. Hence, for those of you who have wondered, the reason that Waldo sports a #1 on his chest, as he is the original…and the universe here at Deitch Studio spins merrily forward! I share a few sample pages above and below from that story – and then onto the translation.

Early color reprint from Deja Vu

****

Le dessin animé

The Animated drawing

Félix – le – chat

Felix the cat

La gloire des vedettes est menacée. Un être étrange est apparu. Plus malin et plus simple, il s’est emparé du cinéma en sautant à pieds joints au beau milieu de l’écran.

The glory of the stars is threatened.
A strange being appeared.
Smarter and simpler, he took over the cinema by jumping with both feet into the middle of the screen.

Tache d’encre tombée du pinceau de Patt Sullivan, il s’est étalé sous la forme d’un chat. Ne me demandez point pourquoi on le nomme Félix, nul ne le sait et lui il s’en moque. Personnage important il n’écoute que lui-même, agit à sa guise, suit sa fantaisie, sans avoir de compte à rendre à personne.

Ink stain from Patt Sullivan’s brush, it sprawled out in the shape of a cat. Don’t ask me why he is called Felix, no one knows and he doesn’t care. An important character, he listens only to himself, acts as he pleases, follows his fantasie, without being accountable to anyone.

Il vit à l’ombre du pinceau curieux qui l’entraîne dans les plus folles aventures et le rattrape au vol après avoir fait mine de l’abandonner. Cependant il n’est jamais en peine de quoi que ce soit.

He lives in the shadow of the curious brush that takes him on the craziest adventures and catches him in flight after pretending to abandon him. However, he is never at all worried about anything.

Etre surnaturel, il trouve toujours toute ressource en lui-même et possède la faculté d’agir sur sa personnalité.

Supernatural being, he always finds every resource in himself and has the ability to act on his personality.

Changeant selon les événement, grand ou petit, terrible ou misérable, il se promène au milieu d’un monde créé pour lui.  Héros d’un univers magique, incarnation du miracle et de la légende, le voici qui s’élève sur le bout de petits pieds et lance par-dessus la balustrade des nuits un bonjour en copain à son grand frère Charlot. Mais, Félix, avantagés par les facultés invraisemblables de son aventure, évite d’une pirouette les cataclysmes les plus épouvantables, — mieux, il s’en sert pour triompher de ces ennemis en les retournant contre la logique.

Changing according to the event, big or small, terrible or miserable, he walks in the middle of a world created for him. Hero of a magical universe, incarnation of miracle and legend, here he rises on the tip of little feet and over the balustrade of the nights says hello as a friend to his big brother Charlot. But, Felix, favored by the incredible faculties of his adventure, avoids the most appalling cataclysms with a pirouette – better, he uses them to triumph over these enemies by turning them against logic.

Et celle-ci, la ridicule pipelette hargneuse qui vous oblige à se décrotter de toute poésie avant de rentrer chez soi, si fière de sa raison, loge étriquée, monotone et sans air, la méchante logique disparaît dès qu’elle le vois poindre à l’horizon.

And this one, the ridiculous surly blabbermouth which forces you to get rid of all poetry before returning home, so proud of its reason, cramped, monotonous and airless, the evil logic disappears as soon as it sees it dawning at the horizon.

Car Félix porte avec lui tous ces petits lutins espiègles que l’on nomme insouciance, féerie, irréel, imprévu, mystère-du-temps-présent, esprit-de-contradiction. Et la mégère rentre dans sa tôle car il est, lui, le champion de la liberté et de la fantaisie, son ennemi triomphant.

Because Felix carries with him all these mischievous little elves that we call recklessness, fairyland, unreal, unforeseen, mystery-of-time-present, spirit-of-contradiction. And the shrew comes back to his senses because he himself is the champion of freedom and fantasy, his triumphant enemy.

Il a battu en brèche les vieux préjugés asthmatiques, les convictions ancrées dans leurs tanières de certitudes comme les crabes dévoreurs de poissons.

He shattered old asthmatic prejudices, convictions anchored in their dens of certainties like crabs that eat fish.

Il est vainqueur. Et quand il paraît au coin de la page blanche, il se demande sous quel aspect il va se mettre en scène afin de mieux pouvoir tourner en ridicule les choses que nous croyons immuables et qu’il se charge de transformer malgré elles selon son imagination ou son caprice.  

He is victorious. And when he appears at the corner of the blank page, he wonders in what aspect he is going to stage himself in order to better be able to ridicule the things that we believe to be immutable and that he is responsible for transforming in spite of them according to his imagination or his whim.

Je me souviens de l’avoir rencontré au carrefour d’un village en quelque lieu de féerie nocturne. La drame rôdait sous l’aspect d’un chien râgeur, amant de la belle.

I remember meeting him at the crossroads of a village in some fairy-tale place. The drama lurked in the guise of an angry dog, lover of the Beauty.

Surprit, Félix tombe, mais il se ressaisit bien vite. Il veut vaincre, il veut être plus fort que lui-même. Et voici que s’opère le miracle : il se dédouble, il se multiplie et devient plusieurs «  lui-même » qui tombent à bras raccourcis sur le chien jusqu’ à plus soif.

Surprised, Felix falls, but he quickly pulls himself together. He wants to win, he wants to be stronger than himself. And here is where the miracle takes place: it splits, it multiplies and becomes several “itself” who fall with short arms on the dog until the end.

Après quoi tous les petits Félix seconds, satisfaits de leur rôle, rentrent les uns dans les autres et redeviennent l’unique Félix-le-chat.

After which all the little Félix’s seconds, satisfied with their role, fit into each other and become the unique Félix-the-cat again.

Et Félix possède toutes choses aussi bien que lui même. Il est dieu.

And Felix owns all things as well as himself. He is god.

Il agit sur tout et sur tous. Il n’est pas de désir ou de volonté si apparemment impossible ou invraisemblable qu’il ne puisse satisfaire, et qu’il ne satisfasse.

He acts on everything and everyone. There is no desire or will so seemingly impossible or implausible that it cannot satisfy, and does not satisfy.

Triomphe de l’illusion, de l’arbitraire, de l’acte libre. Triomphe de la poésie dans ce qu’elle a de plus secret, de plus inattendu.

Triumph of illusion, of arbitrariness, of free action. The triumph of poetry in its most secret, most unexpected.

Seul au monde, Félix peut dire : « Je m’abstrait, donc je suis », et je suis quand je veut, où je veux et comme bon me semble.

Alone in the world, Felix can say: “I abstract myself, therefore I am”, and I am when I want, where I want and as I see fit.

Poète surréaliste, plus fort qu’aucun autre, il vit son propre rêve. Il jongle avec les étoiles et transforme tout à son image. Aperçoit-il la « belleé tout en haut de l’Inaccessible » dans les nuages, si haut, si loin qu’il ne puisse y parvenir?

Surrealist poet, stronger than any other, he lives his own dream. He juggles with the stars and transforms everything in his image. Does he see the “beauty at the top of the Inaccessible” in the clouds, so high, so far that he cannot reach it?

Que feriez-vous à sa place? Eh bien, il attrape son regard, son regard qui fixe sans cesse ce joint si haut, l’accroche à une branche d’arbre et poursuit sa marche élastique sur ce fil conducteur.

What would you do in his place? Well, he catches her gaze, her gaze wish is transfixed, joins so high, hooks it to a tree branch and continues its elastic walk on this common thread.

Il se sert même de ses points d’exclamation et les transforme à dessein en massues, en patins à glace ou en ailes d’aéroplane. Il est le magicien de notre temps, et s’il s’est emparé du cinéma comme du reste, c’est pour s’en servir selon sa fantaisie de poète vagabond, humoriste et philosphe, selon son bon plaisir …

qui est le nôtre aussi bien.

He even uses his exclamation marks and purposely transforms them into clubs, ice skates or airplane wings. He is the magician of our time, and if he has seized the cinema as well as the rest, it is to use it according to his fancy as a wandering poet, humorist and philospher, according to his good pleasure …
… Which is ours as well.

Jean MITRY.  

That-a-Ways

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am crazy about this odd little item I purchased recently. He is about five inches high and constructed with a thin sort of wood. I believe he is homemade, but very nicely executed. There is an odd little knot in the wood atop one eye which mars the overall effect a tad, but generally a job well done. He is only painted on one side, his back is all black. (Something was written on the bottom, but it has faded beyond reading. Part of it appears to be some numbers, but they don’t make sense as a date.)

Can anyone else read what’s on the bottom?

I suspect that there was some sort of pattern which may have helped instruct the execution of his charming off-model self. Like many of the most interesting (and creatively conceived of) Felix-es in my collection, this one hails from Great Britain – the 1920’s and ’30’s had to be a fiesta of Felix related items, the stuff of dreams!

I suspect that this fellow was somehow part of something, like a crystal radio set from a kit or pattern. These have always appealed when they become available, but I have never seen one in person and they go for a lot of money. This seems a smidge smaller than I imagine those being, but not by much and I have not seen one like it.

Homemade Felix sign, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

I purchased another wooden Felix not too long ago and was somewhat disappointed by it’s size and girth when it arrived. (Bigger and heavier than anticipated. You can read that post here: Felix and The Ebony Room.) I have previously written about the fact that I don’t always pay enough attention to size when I buy online – or my idea of it is wrong. This seems to be an occupational hazard of my collecting hobby and has resulted in, among other things, a four foot box of Mickey Mouse arriving as a Christmas gift from Kim one year. ((I have written about that acquisition, of our giant Dean’s Rag Mickey in the post here: Big Mickey.)

Dean’s Rag Mickey, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

However, this Felix is exactly how I thought he would be and his pose assumes good Felix-y action.

For those of you who have been following the addition of new shelves to our tiny abode, I will assure you that I am getting close to a big reveal of those and this little fellow is taking a front and center spot. I will say this however, It has created a lot more display space and gives me the delightful prospect of figuring out how I might ultimately fill them up.

Flat Felix Prop

Pams-Pictorama.com

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For experienced Pictorama readers it is known that this sort of a Felix photo find represents a good day here at Deitch Studio. Although these are technically one of a kind photos, I admit this one was so similar to another in my possession that I double checked to make sure somehow there wasn’t a second copy or version. But no, remarkably it is the same Felix and background, presumably the very same studio, but a different small child.

In poking around for this post I have found yet another in my possession, of two men this time, which seems to be the same Felix, but a different background. There’s yet another in this genre which seems remarkably similar, but Felix has his arms in a different position and the background is different.

Was sure that this was the same location, but Felix has his arm up here and the background is different. Pams-Pictorama.com

It has to be noted that this studio produced a lousy photograph. Kim has juiced the contrast on this, but as a group they are poorly developed, probably not washed properly, and therefore have faded. It is crooked across the bottom as if the negative was torn somehow before printing. (The other one from this studio also has a crooked bottom – it was clearly an ongoing issue!)

Like most of these, this card was never mailed and there are no notes on the back. Based on my other photos I believe that this was taken at Blackpool. (I admit that this is frequently noted by sellers, but there is no actual evidence that supports the idea that Blackpool was indeed the particular seaside town that this, and the others, originated from.) Unlike most of my photos of folks, young and adult alike, posing with stuffed, oversized versions of Felix these children are less than jolly.

The little girl has slipped her hand into the crux of Felix’s arm, but (much like the other photos of same) she does not look the least bit happy about it; she is almost reluctant. This off-model Felix does look a tad lascivious admittedly though. She is dressed up for the occasion it seems, over-sized bow in her hair, ruffly dress, neat socks and mary-janes clad feet. There is a bit of flotsom on the floor behind Felix, a somewhat tatty studio we can’t help but feel. Still, I can’t help but imagine I would have been grinning from ear to ear, given the chance to have my photo taken, arm and arm with Felix.

If you want to stroll through the whole series of similar Felix photos click on any of the following titles: Flat Felix Photo Finale, Installment 3; Blackpool, Felix Cutout Continued; Economical Felix; Felix Photo, the Cut-outs, Part 1.

I am inspired now to assemble all of these photos and get them up on the wall this weekend. They have earned a place of their own on the Felix wall of fame here.

Fine Print

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a Felix photo post only in the most technical sense. If you look carefully at the somewhat riotous print of the child’s outfit, you’ll discover scores of Felix-es marching up and down it, his tail in the ? and walking/thinking positions alt. I had high hopes that the little tin pail would be the Felix toffy one I have (and which I wrote about in a post which can be found here: Score), but sadly it is a non-Felix design. I am not sure about the stick the little boy is holding – my thought is that it is either a sort of carnival cane or a toy fishing pole? This kid was put in his most festive bib and tucker for this photo.

Detail of Felix-y fabric.

Mom and Dad are not exactly in beach attire, despite being perched on folding wooden beach chairs of their day. Dad has a full three piece suit and bow-tie and Mom in a dressy blouse with a scarf and skirt. All three are wearing industrial strength socks/stockings and heavy shoes that seem the antithesis of beach leisure wear, certainly by our standards today. Did they leave the photo studio and head down to the boardwalk? I think it is likely – the British of the period often seem to be in full holiday attire when visiting their beaches at this time.

The backdrop behind them is a fairly riotous beach backdrop of bathers and revelers, a large building I am guessing is a hotel, hovers over all. An arcade and boardwalk is shown, forever frozen in a painting depicting folks sailing and enjoying the beachy shore. This image is a photo postcard, although printed on flimsier stock than usual, nothing is written on it and it was never mailed, although much handled over the years.

The back of the card, which is frankly filthy, has some faded type which (when examined with magnified) appears to state, Oydes Photo Studios 50 Strand WC 20 High Street Southend Great Yarmouth & Branches. Not surprisingly, I guess, this turned up nothing much when I searched, except to see a (very) few photos of the thriving beach resort this once was during this period, with a sort of Atlantic City feel to it.

A period postcard showing the bathing pool at Great Yarmouth is shown below. It is enormous! While I think maybe some of the City pools here in the five boroughs of New York might be this large, I have never been in one or seen one in person this big. I wonder if it was filled with sea water rather than fresh?

Not unlike Atlantic City, this shore town also seems to have ultimately been turned over to casinos, and little of its boardwalk and arcade seem to have survived to the present day, at least from what I can find.

In the many photographs I have purchased and written about I am often struck by strong family resemblances among those posed. This is remarkably not the case here – I wonder if this is perhaps someone else’s child. They are happily posed, regardless of familial status.

As is frequently the case, these beachside photos (others for future posts are awaiting your enjoyment), bring me back to the seaside town where I grew up and long summer afternoons and evenings there, trying to win at pinball, whack-a-mole and other equally sophisticated games. The boardwalk at places like Long Branch and Asbury Park were already in decline by the time I was old enough to enjoy them – the one in Long Branch eventually burning down, maybe when I was in college or shortly after. I am sorry to report that there are no known photos of me at the Pier, perhaps because we usually went at night. (It was also a time which required film and we didn’t constantly take photos with our phones.) I knew I was catching the tail end of some kind of history even then though, and enjoyed every cotton candy filled minute of it.

Temporary Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Lately I have been considering some photos that require looking closely to find Felix. This one I recently purchased on eBay and if we look carefully a lucky little kid has been handed a nice Felix doll to hold. Felix is sporting a huge bow which for me is a bit of a giveaway that he is a prop rather than a beloved object, dragged into the photo. The card is in excellent shape, was never mailed and has nothing written on the back. It came from Great Britain.

While borrowed finery in clothing dates back to early portraits, photos of children have often depended on toys on hand to quiet a child and add something to the proceedings. I have speculated previously that more than once it must have been hard to separate a small child from a prop toy handed over for a photo. (I can assure you I would have put up a fight if they handed me that Felix and then wanted it back – I’ll just say I would!)

Although this youngster clutching Felix looks like s/he is enjoying him or herself I don’t see an argument brewing over its return. (I’m stuck on whether that one is a boy or a girl – I was strongly leaning boy until I looked at the shoes, Mary Janes, and now I am leaning girl. Therefore for the purpose of this post I will say girl.) None of these children look as though they are the type to revolt.

These three are clearly siblings with an unusually strong family resemblance.  Unlike many of the photos I collect, which strongly suggest seaside spur of the moment appeal, this one appears to have been a less fly by night studio than most. It is a photo postcard, but these children appear to be dressed for the occasion, the little girls’ hair curled to perfection and the boy’s also just so. Everything about the set up a tad more upscale and in sort of good taste.

However, the small girl is perched on a splendidly faux rock, as if at the shore, sailboat at her feet – clearly a toy that has been little played with. I don’t know why, but this poor imitation of a boulder appeals to me. The top has been nicely flattened for a seat. The background is a wuzzy, cloudy affair.

Perhaps it was being the daughter of a photographer, but like the cobbler’s children who went without shoes, my family rarely posed for a group photo and other than our requisite school photos and prom pics, never had professional photos taken. Maybe in reality most families don’t – I will let others weigh in on that. Ours was not a sit on Santa’s lap or line up at Sears for a photo family however.

Ultimately, this family did such a nice job with this photo that all these decades later it, with its small Felix doll, has earned a spot in the Pictorama collection.

 

Find Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is always a very fine day at Pictorama when a Felix photo postcard wanders in the door. Of course one never knows when an opportunity to purchase one will occur, and never have I seen one for sale outside of eBay with the exception of the one (rather glorious) occasion when someone contacted me via this site to sell me a cache of them directly. (This rather interesting tale can be found here.) This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

Arguably, I probably like the shots of larger Felix dolls and one or a couple of folks gathered around him. I have long had an affinity for people posing at carnivals or seaside with Felix. (I’m also partial to people posing with moon cut-outs – folks just brought a special energy to those photo moments in life – photos being a bit more rarified in the pre-phone camera days. An early post with a moon photo can be found here.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As I study today’s photo I have to wonder if it is an extended family gathering or one of another nature. Somehow all the women dressed in white have migrated to one side of the photo, the arches of an arcade coincidentally creating a greater visual division – somehow their white hats bob into the black spaces just right. As a group, the women are largely hat wearing, while of course their beach attire would qualify as cocktail wear in our more casual day. (And I refer to our day in general, not these bunker life days when we rarely get out of sweats and wear trousers with buttons it seems. A dress that requires ironing seems like something from another age indeed.)

Children clad in a variety of modes line up in front , a few brave swim togs, but most also tend toward dresses, hats and one little guy even has a tie. The bright prints of the girl’s dresses are a relief to all the white. The men are darkly suited up – a minimum of tie and vest. The gentleman wearing a suit in front is also sporting a very large rolling pin and of course the meaning of or reason for that is lost to us now. Two girls near him appear to have some sort of canes or croquet mallets or the like. A series of flag poles draw our eye up and back to some delightful looking buildings on a nearby bluff.

It is possible to miss Felix at first. He blends surprisingly well with the kids all around him, a bit short perhaps, but one of the gang. However, he poses dead center in the group so eventually he emerges into our consciousness. Once I saw him, it became a Felix photo and it has earned a place in the collection here at Pictorama.

Felix Beach photo

Art School

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Most weekend mornings I sit down to post on Pictorama with at least a pretty good idea where I am going. However, life in the bunker has impacted my accumulating, of objects but also ideas, not being out in the world much.

Deitch Studio continues to do a pretty brisk bit of business during the pandemic (the need for comics and funds to be raised not diminishing with the quarantine), but with working nonstop and never leaving our intimate one room abode, opportunities for the acquisition of well, stuff, is somewhat limited and my intellectual life seems to boil down to reading Judy Bolton mystery novels. (I’ve written about my affection for this contemporaneous competitor of Nancy Drew here and here. However, I recognize the limitation!) A pay reduction at work has put us on what I like to call a money diet – and I can report that I appear to be better at reducing spending than calories. I am, as a result, more parsimonious and selective in my purchases. (I am sure eBay is feeling the result of my economizing.)

All this to say, I slept a bit late today and ambled over to the computer with no idea what I was hoping to serve up on this Sunday edition of Pictorama. I reached into one of the boxes on my desk where photos are stored, thinking I had a little clutch of photos I should look through. Instead I reached further into the box (right under the Little Orphan Annie sheet music I wrote about here), and pulled out this photo. I believe it came from a fascinating cache of photos sent to us by Kim’s friend Tom Conroy while ago, many of them are housed in these boxes.

It is not my first foray into the riches offered by these boxes. I have written about photos from Tom’s collection previously including one of Lilian Harvey boasting a Felix doll (here); Felix as an early TV test (here); and a Betty Boop and Felix find which can be found here. Thank you again Tom!

Today’s photo is identified only in a pencil scrawl as Hollywood Art School on the back, and has lead to a discussion between Kim and I as to whether or not this might be Los Angeles’s Chouinard Art School, where Disney trained his first animators in the late 1920’s. These students largely attended on scholarship as an act of kindness on the part of the school’s founder, Nelbert Chouinard. These would be Disney’s initial clutch of animators, later known as the Nine Old Men and they were instructed in the evenings by Donald Graham.

Graham was a Chouinard graduate turned teacher who was affiliated with the school from the late 1920’s until the early 1970’s. As a student he earned his way through school as a janitor there, sleeping in a bathtub at the school instead of paying rent. (He later “graduated” to teaching perspective at the school instead.)

They remained close over the decades and this debt was later repaid in 1961 when Disney rescues the now foundering enterprise and consolidates it into Cal Arts, the school he and his brother founded. (This was evidently a story not without controversy, but for today I leave it at this edited version.)

For any of us who have taken an art class this is, in many ways, a familiar scene. It appears to be a class in portraiture and the students are working from photographs, not a model. An art school like this, in the US during first part of the 20th century, would have been a trade school perhaps more focused on marketable skills for its students. The students are, to a one, men. They are also notable for their uniforms of collared shirts, ties and vests – instructors, who are working the room are clad in full suit and tie. (They appear to be ticking things off a list as they walk around the students, examining their work.) Sun streams in these windows, and one student wears an eye shade to protect from the glare on his work.

Students are seated at individual drawing tables, weighted with cast iron legs. Between them, placed strategically, are tables to hold supplies. One student in the middle seems to be a bit far from one and appears to have a few things in his lap instead. A table closest to us has photos piled on it, probably from prior assignments. It’s hard to see but there is another pile of photos on a table at the back wall, behind one of the instructors. The wooden chairs are a random mix and there is a table against one wall with some examples for the students. (A careful look draws my eye to one of a man with his mouth open that seems pretty impressive.)

In the lower right corner there is an insignia that says Browning N.Y.C. and after a quick search I had a moment of thinking that this might instead be a photo of the exclusive Browning School located here in Manhattan’s exclusive East 60’s. Founded in 1888 it certainly was around for this period, but as it tops out at twelfth grade I do not think it is possible – some of these students are balding. I cannot find any information that makes me believe they had an early trade school division.

The photo evokes the smell and look of such a classroom, and despite its exclusively male population and the rather formal attire, it could easily be exchanged for a class I might have taken at the Art Student’s League. I am reminded that Kim recently did an online talk for comics students at The New School. While they are not enjoying the camaraderie of their peers these days, nor the eagle eye of an instructor directly over them, they got an unusual view into Deitch Studio – complete with Kim yanking the day’s sketches off his desk. We hope that there are some compensations for being a student during these quarantine days.

 

 

 

Felix Fashion Forward

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’ve had this little gem (displayed above on Kim’s desk) for quite awhile and somehow haven’t managed to write about it. I purchased it on eBay, but am sad to say that they disappeared almost immediately as I think in a better world everyone would have a chance to buy one of these, or even a wardrobe of them.

Some rather enterprising Felix fan created this t-shirt cartoon with the earliest style Felix – very pointy and squared off and a bit dog like. It is the Felix design I have long favored, reminiscent of some of my odder stuffed toy versions from Great Britain. (A few posts about these can be found here and here, and the fascinating history of how many of these dolls were made by indigent women in London’s East End, can be found in the post here.)

This naughty Felix is drinking some booze from a double XX labeled bottle, and it is actually a great five-part strip as he goes through the motions of Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Feeling, all with real silent cartoon emotion. I prefer my Felix un-gelded if you will. I don’t mind him being a bit impish, but I prefer his bad boy side rather than the latter kiddy fare. (I feel the same about Mickey Mouse who goes from being a bit rowdy in the early cartoons to positively sticky later on.)

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My pre-quarantine life did not provide many opportunities for t-shirt wearing in reality. I generally found myself exclusively dressed for work, or if home clad in work-out regalia, and pj’s made up the only other avenue of regular sartorial category.

Frankly, like most people I gather, these days my version of the uniform of our universal lockdown has been work-out clothes, as I either starting or ending most days on a space just big enough for a yoga mat, a small pile of weights acquired during one of my post-surgical rehabs surrounding me. (I draw the line at working in my pajamas.) Depending on the temperature of the apartment that attire is usually augmented by a rather ancient and somewhat tatty, black zip up hoodie acquired years ago from the now defunct Modells. (Where will I purchase cheap, generic work-out clothes now I wonder?)

It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that I am partial to brightly patterned stretch tights paired with tank tops – can’t stand working out in anything with sleeves. I vary those tights with a few pairs of black Adidas pull on track pants. (I tend to think of those as dressing up a bit these days.)

I have pointed out to friends that since all I do other than work right now (that tends to occupy about 12 hours a day), is work-out and eat, I am likely to emerge from captivity at some unknown future date hefty, but buff. (We will of course also all be a bit shaggy and will have abandoned most unnecessary adornment – I think I have forgotten how to apply make-up already. I look at it in the bathroom and think – why? Meanwhile, we eat pretty darn well here at Deitch Studio – many of you may not know I was once a professional chef and working at home has me in the kitchen again.)

Zoom and other video calls occasionally demand that I make some sort of an appearance on camera and I try to be understanding about a desire to actually see other folks. I attempt to clean up a bit, but outside of Board meetings or actual online events (which send me puzzling through a closet which currently houses out of season winter clothes, as we started our hibernation in March remember), everyone pretty much gets me, view generally chest up, in a work out top and hoodie. (They frequently also catch a glimpse of Kim working in the background – it is only one room, after all. Meanwhile, his routine only altered by my ongoing presence and my endless work natter on the phone which are now the background to his formerly silent days.)

However, now that the weather is changing perhaps I will migrate to a somewhat enhanced and modified spring look as we begin to consider the ultimate end of our incarceration, which might include the occasional pair of trousers that button and pulling on a prize t-shirt like this one for all to ponder during the next staff meeting.