Felix in the Palm of Your Hand

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As a determined and fairly thorough collector of Felix the Cat items, variations on these dexterity puzzles have come and gone over the years without my taking the plunge – or at least never landing one. I am always a sucker for this question mark tail pose myself and I have always liked Felix a bit squared off as he appeared in his earliest cartoons and reproductions. (He gets rounder and rounder over the decades until he is looking like Mickey Mouse by the 1940’s or early ’50’s – this seems to be an issue with cartoon characters as they age – they round off over time, a sort of gelding in my mind. I will write about this at greater length some time – I have theories!) He is also toothy in his early incarnation and I like the fiercer, cattier version of him best.

Here is is shown in quite a mood indeed. A (presumably) empty bottle labeled scotch whiskey at his feet with these sort of exclamation lines radiating out from his head. Felix is ready to take on all comers! Not so much angry as just very wound up. The scraggly mouse figure next to him exclaims, What O! Felix has the Kruschen Feeling! At the bottom is also marked Germany. There is no further information on the back.

Our friends over at Google inform me that Kruschen Feeling was an advertising campaign for Kruschen Salts, a popular packaged remedy of the day. This series of ads boasted visuals such as elderly gents leaping around and exclaiming something along the lines of – if this isn’t you it should be! The product and the company still exist today. In case you are wondering the salts in question are ingested.

The whole thing sounds a bit wretched to me, but evidently they turned the trick for Felix. This image and saying was also used in a series of game cards that were made with Felix. The version I have and have written about were more like premiums that came with chocolate and I wrote about them here. These were made of a flimsy not-quite-cardboard paper. As below, the top two are mine and then there was a boxed set you could purchase and those images are taken from the internet, the box from a Hake’s auction. These same images were also repurposed for a series of popular postcards that remain widely available but pricey.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Box for Felix card game, not in Pictorama collection.

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Felix playing cards, not in Pictorama collection.

 

It is not clear to me that this item was a premium to advertise the products, although I admit it is certainly a possibility. Weirdly the feeling I get is that it was a popular phrase of the day and aptly described the early ill tempered version of Felix and they adopted it. I sort of like the scrubby mouse as a sort of alter ego for Felix. He does chase mice in the cartoons – presumably with the intention of eating them. This one is remarkably undefined – ears, tail and whiskers readable, as are five fingers on each hand (unlike the four fingered look that most animated and cartoon characters sport) and even toes, but no face. There was no fear that the Mickey Mouse crowd would get their backs up with this fellow, if that was a concern.

This toy has seen many years and miles in pockets and undoubtedly in the grimy mitts of small children. It looks a tad more fragile than it actually feels and I immediately started trying to place the three balls. (It is hard to see, one needs to land in his mouth, one in his left eye and one at the bottom of the question mark.) It is harder than it may look. So far I have failed to nail it, but I have all the time I need to figure it out.

Aesop’s Fables: the Stationery

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an item which fills me with a sort of jaw-dropping amazement. It is a single sheet of unused letterhead from the Aesop’s Fables Film company – so fragile that I worry that even framing it would hasten its demise and so riotously decorated it left little room for any actual correspondence. The idea of a single blank sheet fascinates me – it would be less mysterious if a letter had been saved, even a mundane one. Some smart person with foresight came across this sheet early on, appreciated the singular nature of this stationery, squirreled it away and somehow it was rescued – ultimately passing most recently into my hands.

I purchased this on eBay. Despite my fascination it was initially listed for such a princely sum that even I could not summon justification for purchasing it. Nonetheless, to even have seen it and known that it existed pleased me no end to start. Much to my surprise, the seller continued to re-list and lower the price until suddenly I thought – it’s mine! And here we are at last.

For Pictorama readers who might be new to the world of Aesop’s Fable cartoons I will provide a crash course. Launched on May 13, 1921, Paul Terry produced a series of popular animated short cartoons which was populated by a riotous cast of cats, mice, dogs and other animals in never-ending loops, usually with an outraged Farmer Alfalfa in the midst of it all, and each ending with a comic moral such as the one on this stationary, It’s a great mistake to drop the real thing for a fake! or the one cited on Wikipedia, Go around with a chip on your shoulder and someone will knock your block off. Paul Terry’s cartoons were evidently what a young Walt Disney aspired to when he started making cartoons.

With weekly cartoons being produced in the silent days, 449 titles are listed for the years between 1921 and 1929 when the move to sound and production slows a bit; 270 cartoons were produced in the final years from 1929 until 1933. However, Paul Terry leaves Aesop Fables in 1929 as well, to start the company which bore his name, Terry Tunes. The Aesop Fables cartoons continue to be produced by Van Beuren Studios until 1936. (As I write this Kim shares that Paul Terry took the Farmer Alfalfa character with him to Terry Tunes. He also tells me that Paul Terry eventually sold the company and became resident at a Westchester country club near where a young Kim Deitch was growing up – and that he even made a prank call to Terry once.)

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Paul Terry swiped from the internet, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I adore these cartoons with their anonymous black cats chasing comic mice and in turn being pursued equally by cartoon dogs – with the occasional other chicken, cow or other farm animal thrown in. Long-standing Pictorama readers know that in conjunction with these cartoons, a line of stuffed toys were produced. These have always represented a gold standard for toy collecting to me and I am proud and pleased to own several. (Posts about that aspect of my collection can be found herehere and here, just for starters. A sample of the cartoons can be found at A Jealous Fisherman.) The production history of these toys is a bit obscured and I find pulling at this string of animation-cum-toy history endlessly fascinating.

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Which doll is this? Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As for the stationary itself, starting with the address it should be noted that the Palace Theatre still exists. A glorious vaudeville turned movie theater in its day, evidently the original facade lurks behind the billboards of today’s Times Square in some sort of mediated agreement between the landmark’s commission and developers. The original, or at least restored, splendor remains inside the theater as some online photos indicate as below. It is nice to think it was not gutted of its charms. Presumably the offices referred to on the stationary were above the theater and noted as the Annex.

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Palace theater interior – photo not from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The Fable of The Dog and The Bone runs down one side, complete with illustration as shown below. (Signed by Paul Terry but Kim casts doubt that PT actually executed suggesting that, like Disney he may have routinely signed the drawings executed by his staff for this purpose.) The tale wraps with a moral, like the cartoons. I cannot help but wonder if there were other fables (and morals) on different versions of the stationery – how splendid would that be? Running along the bottom is a riotous parade of Aesop animals and the quote, Aesop’s Fables are to a show what pepper and salt are to a chop. It is a two color job meaning they spared no expense back when it would have added cost. As I started this post by speculating – not much room was left for actual correspondence. I have to assume that they had a second sheet produced that allowed for a typed sheet with somewhat more generous margins.

I am sure many mundanities were executed on these jolly sheets. Yet I do love the spirit of a company that would find expression right down to the stationary – and who wouldn’t find even a past-due notice more charming if executed and arriving on this paper?

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Detail from Aesop Fable stationary, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

 

 

Toy Love

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo awhile back and it was put to one side in the heat of birthday purchases and other indulgences of recent weeks and months. I pull it out now and realize how much I like this photo. It is a somewhat perfect example of its genre. (That would be the children posing with a Felix doll category – in case you are new to the Felix photo genres of my collection – it is a whole swath of it.) It is a slightly odd size, 6″x 8″, and despite being mounted on thick cardboard there is evidence it was also pasted into an album at one time. Because of that, I think, it is curling a bit.

This is obviously a studio photo and therefore Felix is undoubtedly a prop, borrowed for the picture, rather than her own beloved toy. However, as she looks out at us with a bit of a smile for whoever is on the other side of the camera, for his part Felix appears to be looking up at her with an impression of real fondness. As I look at it the somewhat odd thought occurs to me that even in my most anthropomorphizing moments I can no longer see love in the eyes of my toys. I do have a flickering memory of looking deeply into the eyes of my dog Squeaky with adoration and finding it returned however. With strangely long eye lashes and glass eyes which roll open and closed, I remember being deep in communication with him when I was a tot and he accompanied me everywhere. (Those of you who are regular Pictorama readers know that I still have Squeaky. A very old, battered and beloved stuffed toy indeed. I have shared photos and other thoughts about the special place he has in my childhood in posts that can be found here and here.) I am quite sure I knew his affection for me equaled mine for him.

I wonder what the adult equivalent of toy love is. The closest I can come is the somewhat mystical relationship I have had with my cats which has continued more or less unchanged since childhood, although sadly I don’t have long hours to commit to communion with them I did as then. Of course cats, in this case a long line of them, are alive so it is different. (Kim offers that he has lost a feeling of tapping into deep cat wisdom he had enjoyed with kits as a child. He too still communicates with them however – I see him and Cookie and Blackie go about their daily routine and the three of them are clearly of a mind.)

As an adult and as much as I love my toys and they bring me a certain joy, I no longer communicate with them in the secret language of being a child. I ponder if this is true of some of my toy collecting colleagues. I think especially those folks who collect toys because they didn’t have them as children may have a different relationship to them, although this isn’t a question I have put to any of them. (I am grateful to report that my childhood was in no way deprived of toys.) I regret that loss a tiny bit as I consider it and I think I wouldn’t mind slipping back into that world – and perhaps there is a little gleam of approval in Squeaky’s eyes now that I take another look.

 

Beyond the Pale

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Earlier this week a friend and former Met colleague, Melinda Watt, one who I miss since she relocated to Chicago a few years ago, tagged me in an Instagram challenge to post seven book covers over as many days without comment. Since I Instagram frequently and inhabit both an apartment and office surrounded by books I figured what the heck. I started with what I was reading (a Judy Bolton juvenile mystery, but more about those guilty pleasures another time) and then pulled the next book off of the pile next to the bed, The Motor Boys on the Border.

Then I started going off the rails a bit – the no comment piece was sort of nagging at me. As you probably know if you are reading this, I am chatty by nature and as I posted The Heroine or the Horse, Leading Ladies of Republic Films on day 3 I felt a vague annoyance at not telling the story of how I had found it for sale on the street in front of Argosy Books several days earlier while running around for work, and snatched it up for Kim – and that by coincidence we had watched several Republic films over the following weekend. (Clearly vital information.) However, I did enjoy the commentary by folks on the post and snuck my snippet of a story in via the comments.

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So the next day I decided I would post Alias the Cat. While I could easily write volumes about the place this book has in my heart and life, I also felt that as book covers go which could speak for themselves it was an excellent choice, and not to mention that it is always a fine idea to promote the family product here at Deitch Studio. I posted it and I thank Instagram compatriots for all their nice comments and continued generous likes.

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The much beloved Alias the Cat where I step out as a character!

 

Earlier yesterday I also posted the sad news that Leslie Sternbergh Alexander died. I didn’t know Leslie and her husband Adam especially well, but over the course of more than a decade of openings and parties we were a part of each other’s world for many years. We first met over the duration of a seven year stint of my dating Kevin, Art Director for Screw magazine and comics fan who pre-dated Kim in my life, but I saw more of Adam and Lesley after Kim and I got together. They were fixtures at a certain kind of gathering and the premature passing of the second of them is mournful for the comics community. Leslie was a gifted artist whose work I felt like I never saw quite enough of, but who seemed to inhabit a life that was really her art. Yesterday Kim shared a story with me I hadn’t heard about how they had denied him my phone number when he heard that Kevin and I broke up. This was a bit of a running joke as no one in the comics community would give up my number until our friend Carol Lay jumped ranks and provided it. I hadn’t realized they were among the withholders.

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Leslie, on left, and Adam

 

For this reason, over the last 24 hours my mind has been dwelling on the early and mid-90’s – people and parties and how it all ultimately took my life on a course I couldn’t have foreseen. When I woke up this morning and I had a look at Instagram and thought about books again, Beyond the Pale came to mind. So in complete defiance of the no comment rule of the Instagram challenge, I bring you the tale today.

Back in about 1990 I was wandering around in a bookstore I used to frequent on Madison Avenue in the 70’s, Books and Co., which was a delightful way to spend an afternoon. (This bookstore, memorialized in various films as the prototypical bookstore, is still missed today by those who knew it. I was a tad intimidated by it and rarely went upstairs as a result. However its disappearance left a hole that I occasionally poke at – like a missing tooth.) As I was perpetually broke at the time, my purchases were spare but the enjoyment of the selection process was a pleasure to be savored. One day I found several copies of Beyond the Pale remaindered and I purchased one for $2. What to say about a $2 that changes the course of your entire life?

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Books & Co. as I remember it. This image snatched off the internet.

 

My then boyfriend Kevin had introduced me to the world of underground comics. I can’t say I was an especially astute student. Mostly I either found the art interesting or, less often the writing, but virtually never both. There were exceptions – Art Spiegelman’s Maus for one, a few other things. Suffice it to say however, I wasn’t getting it. However, as a devoted girlfriend I continued to try as Kevin was utterly devoted to them and found them endlessly fascinating.

Beyond the Pale, an early anthology of Kim’s work published by Fantagraphics, was different and I saw that immediately. I loved the art and how there always seemed to be something new in it each panel every time I looked – the stories took me happily down a rabbit hole of one kind or another, sometimes unsure where reality left off and fantasy started. The drawings were a visual aesthetic that rang a bell deep in my brain and the stories told of a fascinating world just outside of view, one I realized I had always wanted to visit. I took it home and devoured it. Reincarnated potatoes! Clowns, Big Billy Goat, chess playing marvels – tales of the asylum where Kim once worked, and of course early cartoons! This was where I wanted to live!

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Fold-out page from Beyond the Pale

 

I finally understood the appeal of this graphic form marrying the visual and the written – I got it. I went back and bought the remaining copies (two as I remember) and gave one away and kept the other until it too was eventually given away. I began raiding Kevin’s collections for snippets of Kim Deitch work. It was never quite as gratifying as the deep dive of an entire book, but Kim is prolific, Kevin’s library was pretty complete, and my ferreting paid off over time.

I was an official Deitch fan by the time I met Kim in person at an exhibit Art Spiegelman was having at a gallery on 57th Street a few years later. It was an evening with the comics crowd in full regalia. However I only remember meeting Kim and his brother Simon, and finally putting a face and person with the comics I liked so much. They were living in Westchester at the time and as a result were not all that frequently present at these Manhattan openings and parties. I liked talking to him though (he was as interesting in person although somewhat laconic – I was afraid of Simon) and in a compulsive way which is part of my nature, I began to look for him at each gathering, considering it a bit of an event if I saw him and spoke to him. The full progression from fan-girl to girlfriend and then later wife will require additional posts – it was a progression that took a number of years and a few turns before that happened. I now happily inhabit an entirely Deitchian world and there is no place I would rather be.

So today I take a moment consider this particular volume and how that $2 investment  took me down a path that I could not have possibly foreseen at the time – which is after all the way life is wonderful. Meanwhile, with this very long post, I have certainly subverted the Instagram challenge with its cover only pretensions.

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My copy of Beyond the Pale, with the original $2 price on the inside cover.

 

Economical Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are by chance a newbie to Pictorama, you may not know that photos of people posing with Felix (stuffed ones larger than an average child, people clutching the toy form of him) make up the depth of my ever-growing collection. Even I do not entirely understand my endless fascination with these photos, but I absolutely have yet to see one I wasn’t anxious to add to my collection.

This aforementioned collection adorns the walls here at Deitch Studio – photo postcards climbing up the wall near the kitchen, across from where I sit and write at this moment, more by the front door and tintypes and assorted others near the bathroom where they get the least light of all. Kim is including some in the drawings for his next book – the one that he’s working on now that will come out after Reincarnation Stories later this year. Even I amaze at the tiny renderings of these photos in fine Deitchien style. They were giving him the devil’s own time this week, but I think they look great! I am always pleased and excited to have a nod to Pictorama in the wider Deitch Studio endeavors. (Incidentally, the pre-order on Amazon for Reincarnation Stories can be found here – always good to plug the family product.)

My collecting of these photos has long outstripped our ability to display them in our tiny apartment, but it has not impacted my desire to continue to acquire them – frankly not in the least. In fact, one of the great pleasures of this blog endeavor is to be able to look through the posts and be reminded of the photos tucked away – reminded of photos I have not seen in awhile. It was my original intention to use this blog to organize these photos – as well as the the other cat photos I have collected, including people posing with giant stuffed black cats, sometime astride them – such as seen here. I can’t really say this blog has organized anything, however I would still like to see that happen – it would be so much fun to be able to leaf through a fat book of my collection. I suppose every collector feels that way though. (Sigh.)

Today’s photo, a recent acquisition, represents a bit of a sub-genre. Somewhere in Britain, enterprising photographers who couldn’t be bothered to acquire a large, stuffed rendition of Felix appear to have made their own wooden cut-outs of him for posing, propped up with something that looks like a third leg or a second tail in each. Today’s addition appears to be the very same (or remarkably similar) Felix as another I featured in December of 2016 in a series of these so-called Flat Felix photos. (The post can be found here. The other two posts about these are found here and here.) However, the backdrop is decidedly different as you can see. The seller of the card of the two men identified it as located in Blackpool, England.

Flat Felix Three

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There was evidently a proliferation of these fellows. I throw in a third, flat Felix, for additional comparison below. If I had to draw a conclusion from these photos, I would say people were a tad less enthused than those posing with a fully stuffed Felix, but four is really hardly a fair sampling and I own so many of the others. Still, one of the joys of collecting is the ability to compare photos side-by-side. The child in today’s photo does look a bit tentative however, the backdrop painting of a fantasy park is a jollier one than in the other photos. Like virtually all of these photos, this one survives in good condition because it was never mailed, there are no notations on the back either however.

 

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So my virtual museum of images continues. I hope you continue to enjoy this rather specific photo journey with Pictorama.

 

 

Felix Floats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Felix parade floats form a sort of a subgenre of Felix photographs for those of us who collect photos of Felix in his various incarnations. There are a number of especially popular ones from the New York, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that are widely available for sale in various, mostly reproduced form. My collection is largely made up of those from parades that capitalized on Felix’s likeness without all the fuss and bother of his copyright. I have devoted a few posts to these including Felix on Parade which can be found here. (I think Felix for a Cause, here  should be taken into consideration as well, a giant Felix doll in an open air car should count, yes?)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection – from the Felix for a Cause post

 

Today’s balloon photos appear to be a version of the Felix the Cat parade balloon designed by mastermind of parade balloons, puppeteer Tony Sarg. I read that these early balloons were filled with oxygen, not helium, the first year and were carried on poles by Macy’s workers, drafted into working the holiday. The move to helium the following year resulted in the idea of setting the balloons free at the end of the parade and in subsequent years offering a reward for their return. With some trial and error this publicity stunt continued until 1931 when the balloons almost brought down a barnstorming plane whose pilot thought bringing them in might be fun. This means that although this design may have been in use for several years, the actual balloon would have been different.

In case we needed further proof that the internet isn’t always consistent or correct, there are numerous conflicting thoughts about what year this design balloon is from. It is identified in numerous places as the 1927 premiere Sarg Felix – the first year balloons were in the parade. Yet there are also newspaper accounts of that first year Felix blowing into wires and catching fire – which is then identified in photos as a horizontal cat balloon below which looks much less Felix-like. Who am I to argue with the New York Times though?

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Whatever the story, suffice it to say, it is one of the early versions of Felix, depicted in early hand-tinted colored, captured here in 3-D for a hand-held viewing device. I love to look down the block, the car, the building with another uncolored balloon in front of it, and the guy caught in time, walking by. There is an early morning light that is very evocative for me. The tinting isn’t identical – it is heavier on the right side and I prefer the left one. I wonder if that difference in tinting contributes to the 3-D effect being less than ideal. (I’m not great at seeing depth in 3-D without a viewing anyway, but Kim is very practiced and good at it. He has commented that it isn’t very good.) For me, this is the right photo to own, before this brand new Felix balloon starts out on its Thanksgiving adventure, whatever it turned out to be that year.

 

…and the Hankies Have It

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Perhaps yesterday’s post about Dad’s handkerchiefs (which can be found here) was partially inspired by losing this lot of bizarre beauties on eBay this week. These are proclaimed as one-of-a-kind, but I sort of assume they were either from a kit of some kind or at least the design was something one could trace out of a magazine and work from. Still, they hail from Australia and my chances at purchasing another set are rather slim and about this I am a bit sad. Nonetheless, the photos are jolly and despite the fact that I rarely feature items I have not purchased, I was inspired to share them today.

These appear to be rather serious linen hankies, a bit heavier than I would be inclined to carry, although obviously I would have embraced these particular delightful items for their frolicsome Felix-ness. As a small child I was taught how to do simple embroidery – cross stitching on doilies if memory serves. (I feel old thinking about this suddenly – man, I can’t imagine anyone’s grandmother teaching them that today, or even owning doilies or embroidered tablecloths for that matter.)

While gifted in many creative ways I am the first to say that all aspects of sewing escape me. I believe I was able to complete a sort of nominal cross stitch project as outlined above, but I never graduated to anything as complex as these merry Felix renditions. Knitting completely mystifies me, despite adequate and dedicated teachers, and I never met a sewing machine I didn’t jam immediately. My sister Loren didn’t embroider or knit, but she sewed clothing well. I can, for the record, sew buttons on properly however.

Those who know me are aware I got the cooking genes (although again here, Loren was the baker in the family) as well as drawing, painting and, at one time sculpting, so no complaints. Interesting though to have, during my half century lifetime, seen the world abandon embroidered tablecloths and doilies on coffee and end tables. I read an article recently that posed that the utter failure of the antiques market was due to the fact that the kitchen has become the heart of entertaining and family time in the home. The loss of interest in the dining room and the living room as where you entertained eliminated a desire for a certain kind of furniture, silver service and the like. Kim and I live in a single room and the two of us can barely fit in our kitchen with the cats at the same time; therefore, I’m not sure I had fully become aware of this shift in contemporary home life. I can say however, send your antique toys my way if you tire of them, even in one room, I continue to acquire.