Babes

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a dim but distinct memory of being about ten years old, sitting on the floor of my bedroom during the holidays and frowning my way through part of Babes in Toyland on television, which some adult (mom, dad, grandmother most likely candidates) had told me I would like. I didn’t. It wasn’t funny and the singing interested me not at all. Somewhat ambivalent on the subject of Laurel and Hardy to begin with, this was especially thin fare in my mind. And that, somewhat uninformed opinion, would remain my response to inquiries on the subject (should they arise – rarely, but occasionally they did) for the next more than four decades – until Christmas Eve of 2018 when I was in front of my television, disinclined to get up and do what needed to be done on the holiday front, and with a dearth of alternate television viewing options. I noted the TCM jolly up next listing box with a small frisson of annoyance, and then settled back on our generous couch where Cookie was already installed – she likes television. After a few minutes Kim joined us.

I had known the 1934 Hal Roach film originally under the alternate re-issue title of March of the Wooden Soldiers, although I am too old for that first partial viewing to have been colorized. I am vaguely aware that such a thing exists. Evidently it was originally issued in sepiatone and this was a nice black and white copy. Based on the 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland the film culls out six songs by Victor Herbert, and for someone whose musical sweet spot is somewhere between 1920 and 1939 I loved the music this time around.

In case you too have been avoiding it all these years, the plot is as simple as can be – a widow facing the cruel choice between being forced from her home because she can’t make a mortgage payment, or sacrifice her daughter to the evil holder of this debt. The best part of the film however is that the whole thing takes place in Toyland and there is all sorts of wonderful cavorting around in animal costumes. I love the appearance of the 3 Little Pigs, an apparent nod to a 1930’s Walt Disney – but of course it is the “fiddle” playing cat (the fiddle being a cello does give a good look here and doesn’t prevent the cat from leaping up and running around) and the bizarre rendition of an early Mickey Mouse which held me in thrall! I almost fell off the couch. (This number in the film can be seen on Youtube here.)

Many of you film fans will know this, but this outsized fiddling cat does a spirited chase of Mickey Mouse through Toyland’s town square early in the film, although they begin and end the number, as buddies – as shown in my photo here. They reappear for the spectacular finale, Mickey in a nightshirt this time and let me tell you, I wouldn’t mind finding the right still from that part of the film to add to my collection. Meanwhile, animal suited performers with the whiff of their vaudeville days of glory still clinging to them, captured performing like this in the first few decades of film, are much sought after by me. (My post dedicated to animal impersonator Alfred Latell, which can be found here, is one of the most popular – there will be a follow-up to it in a future post. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be known film of him performing.)

The other dramatic point in the film is the love interest being accused of having taken one of the 3 Little Pigs – sausage links were planted in his house! As mentioned above, the close of the film is a wild chase through Toyland by the evil mortgage holder and his army from Boogeyland. (The boogeymen are said to be a combination of animal and human and, in my opinion, must have informed the design of the Morlocks in the 1960 The Time Machine.) The boogeymen are eventually conquered by the out-sized, wooden soldiers of the alternate title. More great eye kicks in the form of the now night-shirted 3 Little Pigs, Mickey and fiddling Cat, are a glory at the end of the film. (Again, just the finale, can be found here – really though, might as well watch the whole film!)

I sheepishly admit that it is my dubious, multi-tasking habit to have my iPad with me while lazing in front of the television and in this case, the closing credits had not rolled before I had miraculously secured this original still off of eBay. The fiddling cat was played by an uncredited Pete Gordon – I can find no evidence as to how much time he did performing in an animal suit, however as he was born in 1887 my vaudeville conjecture could be a valid theory. The real kick in the head is that Mickey Mouse in the film was played by a monkey! Once you know this it makes perfect sense – the size being too small for a child who would have had to have been very agile for the part. That was one well trained little fellow though! The monkey is uncredited and Mickey is mostly noted as playing himself, if credited at all.

The remaining, burning question for me was about Walt Disney’s feelings on the subject of Mickey and the 3 Pigs and whether or not the rights for these were compensated. My trusty iPad had an internet reply to this inquiry immediately. According to several sources, it turns out that in Mickey’s nascent youth (he was about 8 years old at the time) Disney had not yet developed his litigious copyright mania, nor was his studio the behemoth it ultimately became – Hal Roach would have held the clout in those days. In addition to Mickey’s appearance, the Disney number, Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? does an instrumental turn and was of course very much a Disney property. Walt, who was evidently friendly with Laurel and Hardy as well as Roach, must have seen the characters’ feature in this film as promotion for his properties, rather than a threat.

Happily for me, it was the best hour and 46 minutes of television viewing I was to stumble across over the holidays and this jolly photo added to my collection is my great memento.

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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

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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.

 

L’il Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Another toy today – and celebrating the acquisition of a new and unusual Felix no less. This fellow hails, at least most recently, from the United States. I have never seen this variation previously.  I spotted him on eBay and, although the bidding was robust, I would have been willing to pay more than I did for him. It is unusual for me to find a design I have never seen, given how much time I devote to looking at them I have seen most I think.

Some of the aspects of this Felix that are not immediately evident are a solidly sewn thread at the back of his head, and printing on his little red ribbon. My theory is that this Felix was a carnival prize which hung from that thread, now torn. (See back view below.) I wish I could read his ribbon, but maddeningly I think one half of it has smudged over time. I think it actually reads Made in… He is about seven inches high. If this gentlemen was a carnival prize, unlike his British counterparts which exist in large numbers speaking to broad popularity, he was not one that was widely distributed. His arms move, his legs and tail were meant to stand him up tripod fashion, although he seems to need some help. It is a very simple design, although the moving arms, glass eyes and felt ears speak to some care and expense.

Felix back

However, this benign faced fellow does not seem to belong to the same clan as those somewhat malevolent toothy grinned Brits. The argument could easily be made that he actually isn’t Felix, but a generic toy cat, but in all the looking at Felix I have done I believed immediately that he was someone’s off-model rendition, cheaply churned out for a cheerful Felix obsessed public. This mild mannered fellow has already found his spot on a bookshelf in our living room – a space that is starting to absorb the toy overflow from our cramped bedroom. Needless to say, I would have been very happy indeed to have won him at a fair. I can see a thrilled, small me, gripping him in one hand, perhaps some cotton candy or a candied apple (love those!) in the other. However, given my skills at those kinds of games, maybe I would have spent as much as I did buying him anyway.

Die Kleine Mutter

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card turned up in my searching because Mary and her kid compatriots are dressing poor long-suffering kitty in this checked cloth regalia. Poor kit! Why do we love to dress them up so much? In fact, as I have discussed in Pictorama previously, there is something irresistible about it, at least for some of us. Wonder if Dr. Freud ever wrote about that!

This film was originally and more famously known under the original US release title Through the Back Door. Die kleine Mutter appears to be the German language version of this 1921 silent. Interesting that the original title makes reference an issue about class and money, and the German title focuses on a somewhat smarmy aspect of Mary caring for these war orphans she picks up along the way.

I don’t know the whole story, but I just watched the film and this scene does not appear. Therefore the scene was either specific to the German version, or it never made it into the film at all. Most likely the former I think. One does, however, see the kids and I think a tablecloth with this checked pattern fabric – but no kitty outfitting. Too bad! Kit belongs to a wealthy New York family – Mary’s mother who abandoned her as a small child and thinks she is dead. As I mentioned, the kids are some WWI war orphans Mary has gathered up as part of her retinue. The story is a bit complicated, but you are really in it for the visuals and the fun of it.

There is a cat theme running through the film, so I am not surprised that there was another cat scene shot. First in Mary’s childhood Belgium there is a fine looking white cat, short hair, wearing a large bow that gets into considerable trouble – a chase scene, and is responsible for a few plot points. The fluffy Persian has a smaller part in New York. In addition, there is a wonderful, huge Great Dane with her in the beginning of the film and a hot scene with a highly skilled mule who made us laugh out loud.

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Famous shot from Through the Back Door, not in my collection – I wish!

 

Some other highlights include an early appearance for a young Adolphe Menjou. Perhaps most notable though is the gorgeous photography by Charles Rosher. The first half of the film is comprised of one stunning landscape after another – much of my beloved diffusion lens used to create cunning little portraits and visual vignettes. The other highlight, again in the first half, is a series of capers with Mary playing her younger self, getting into all sorts of trouble. Clearly some influence on the Little Rascals, where some of the gags were clearly grabbed up later. The film is available on Youtube at Through the Back Door and I thank this eBay find for introducing me to it. I say there are worse ways for you to spend some time on this chilly Sunday in March!

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A scene grab off of Youtube posted on the internet

 

Cat of the Sea?

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French card, collection Pams-Pictorama.com

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Some photos are purchased for their sheer value of the bizarre and these fall into that category. These were purchased together on eBay recently from the same seller, but separate listings. It is somewhat noteworthy and interesting that they were addressed to different people, although both were mailed from different places in Canada – one from Ontario on August 3 PM, 1908 and the other from Quebec on July 29, 1909. I have asked Kim to scan the backs as well because they are so hard to decode. Clearly the Ontario one is addressed to someone in the hospital in Syracuse, NY. The message says something about seeing the person soon. The other is very light and appears to just say Adieu but the address has faded to obscurity.

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On the front of both the same message in French which roughly translated seems to say, It is the sea Michel – which I assume is sort of like into the soup Michel? My (very) limited ability to read music gives me a vague idea of the tunefulness of this – upbeat. Allow me to pause and make it clear that I do not approve of even the comical placing of cats in pots – while I do not condone this, you see it often in comical cards. Cats in soup pots seems to have made their way through novelty photo cards of the 20th century and we’ll assume beyond.

What a scary Melies-esque chef he is, popping out of that faux window. I hardly know what to make of the possible origin of these – frame grabs from some early film Segundo de Chomon films? Melies? 1908 and 1909 would be the territory of de Chomon, a bit on the late side for Melies. (Kim has pointed out that Melies was not given to this sort of close-up however and de Chomon was.) There is no credit or identification for the photographer or the maker. The action seems to be close together – will more eventually turn up from later in the film? I hope so! (I was lucky to be the only taker on these.) Given the Canandian stamps, we might assume Canadian rather than French, or so was my initial thought when I saw them. However, again Kim argues for French import to Canada and I can see the sense in that.

To this point, and for your general entertainment, I am including links to a Segundo de Chomon film and a Melies films. Here is de Chomon’s The Haunted House 1909 and the color version of the much loved Melies A Trip to the Moon, a much earlier 1902 but an irresistibly beautiful print. Enjoy!

Postscript: These came in after posting on Facebook! From Philip Smith, the words to the song and a Youtube link. It is as rollicking as I thought it would be – La mere Michel!

Old Ma Michel

Children’s Song

It’s old ma Michel who lost her cat,
Who’s yelling out the window, who will bring it back?
It’s old man Lustucru who answered her:
“Come on, old ma Michel, your cat is not lost.”
To the tune of tra la la la,
To the tune of tra la la la,
To the tune of tra-day-ree day-ra tra la la.

It’s old ma Michel who asked him:
“My cat’s not lost, you found it then?”
It’s Old man Lustucru who answered her:
“Give a reward, it’ll be returned to you.”
To the tune of tra la la la,
To the tune of tra la la la,
To the tune of tra-day-ree day-ra tra la la.

Then old ma Michel told him: “It’s settled
If you give my cat back, you’ll get a kiss.”
But old man Lustucru who didn’t want one
Said to her: “Your cat will be sold as a rabbit!”
To the tune of tra la la la,
To the tune of tra la la la,
To the tune of tra-day-ree day-ra tra la la.