You Oughta Be in Pictures

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I now realize that I did a sort of lousy job taking pictures of these photos when I came across them while unpacking things at my mother’s a few month’s back and I apologize for that. These photos are large, at least 8″x10″, and both are matted the same and set in blond wooden frames. (I cropped them because my photos of them were uneven and a bit cockeyed – they are in reality more of a matched set.) These pictures are of me and my sister as tiny tots – apologies to my brother as he wasn’t born for another six or so years. I am the younger of the two, in the playpen, and my sister Loren is sitting on some steps, looking a bit like one of the Little Rascals in her slightly grubby looking garb.

Without knowing it for a fact, I assume that these were taken by my father. Pictorama readers know that dad, Elliott Butler, was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career. Ironically this meant that there weren’t that many photos he took of us as kids because he was never content with the simple snapshot. Photo taking with dad involved a panoply of light meters and carefully considered compositions, and my memories of it are of the somewhat tedious variety of standing around as a subject – especially frustrating as a child, but the family tradition continued into adolescence.

The end result was that he didn’t bother with all the truck and nonsense that often and, like the shoemaker’s kids who go shoeless, we do not have all that many photos of us as small children. Despite all of that, somehow he captured us here pretty much in our native state of kid-ness.

This pair of photographs hung in my parent’s bedroom as long as I can remember. (Another set were in my grandmother’s living room and I was reminded of that recently. It popped a small bubble of memory in my mind, but I can’t say I really remember it.) These hung over a bureau – above a television at one time as I remember, but on either side of an antique mirror in more recent memory. (Many years ago I was flying home from Russia when my photo, which had already hung in the spot for decades, fell off the wall. My mother, who barely suppresses a superstitious streak, told me she was a nervous wreck until she heard I was safely on the ground. Luckily me and the pilot of my plane were ignorant of this incident.)

While retrieving these from a leaky garage before they could be ruined, I piled up a few others and perhaps we’ll get future posts on those. Most memorable are the photos of my mother and her brother John, also large, framed professional photos taken when they were in high school. These have the skillful hand coloring of the period. Ironically those I remember distinctly from my grandmother’s living room, hanging on silver-gray wallpaper with a design of green vines. I used to stare at them in fascination and try to mentally equate them with the adults I knew at the time.

I think Kim and I agree that I do not make a case for an extremely attractive child here. As he put it kindly this morning, I grew into my looks. On the other hand, Loren looks very charming here with her wild curls. Knowing my sister and her restless energy, it must have been quite a coup to get her to sit still as long as it would have taken to achieve this photo.

Anyway, I rescued these, cleaned them up a bit and set them up in the room I stay in at my mother’s house. As it would happen, they sit on an old bureau of my father’s, on either side of a television and I will be glad to see them each time I visit.

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Howdy Doody

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I think I would have wanted to grab up this photo wherever I might have run across it. However, this image is actually of my uncle and was among the cache of photos I discovered in New Jersey last week, referred to in yesterday’s post. I knew the familial tale of my uncle entering the Howdy Doody look alike contest, but if I had seen the photo I did not remember. It evidently hung in my grandmother’s house, so I must have seen it as a child and just can’t recall.

Nor do I remember Howdy Doody since it went off the air in 1960, before I was born. There was an early 1970’s resurgence of interest in it that I vaguely recollect from being a small child, but why anyone would be interested frankly mystified me from what I could see. My own childhood was not without television puppets – Kukla Fran and Ollie made appearances and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was deeply beloved. (Full disclosure, watching the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers on an airplane recently I wept openly the entire time. There was a Danish couple next to me who were clearly concerned about the state of my well-being. Strangely however, many people have reported the same reaction.)

Puppets eventually morphed into muppets and the world got Sesame Street. Although my younger brother watched Sesame Street and therefore I know it well, I was a bit long in the tooth for it myself. However, I recently went to a performance at Dizzy’s where Wynton and Elmo had a conversation and played together. I had forgotten all the music was jazz – turns out I remembered all the music! The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will have an anniversary tribute concert to the show in the fall.

For Kim’s generation though Howdy Doody was the real deal. Kim has frequently opined that, despite his father Gene’s involvement in television, he was never able to leverage a spot in the Peanut Gallery on the show. Kim did make numerous childhood and teenage appearances on a variety of kids shows – The Magic Cottage, Allen Swift was a family friend and there was his show Captain Allen among them. In addition, Gene utilized a flipbook Kim made to illustrate the persistence of vision which Gene showed on national television – so it was natural that he would aspire to a spot in the audience of the Howdy Doody show. (Meanwhile, Kim has just told me that the flipbook was on display at the Museum of Modern Art for an exhibit on UPA – however, sadly it seems to have been subsequently lost.) Kim has touched on early television and cartoons in numerous stories he has written and drawn. (Most obvious of course, The Search for Smilin’ Ed and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Those can be found here and here.)

I gather there were multiple cartoon jockey entertainment tv shows in his youth and Kim credits Howdy Doody with introducing him to silent films. I remember Bob McAllister and Wonderama best – also Bozo the Clown – showing cartoons, but the idea of silent films on those types of shows seems exotic and wonderful. And I do remember the prizes on Wonderama (if I remember it was just sort of a lottery thing and a kid in the audience just won them, but I could be wrong, maybe they did something to win them) and therefore I can only imagine the sort of longing that must have been created by the haul proffered for the winner of the Howdy Doody look alike contest!

I looked for a full list online and that was unfortunately not available despite references to it. Kim remembers that there was a film projector among the loot – clearly this would have been at the top of the list for a young Kim Deitch with his budding interest in animation and film. I imagine the list was drool worthy indeed and clearly my mother’s younger brother, John Wheeling, was not immune. It wasn’t a time when a lot of photos were casually taken in their family so a certain amount of planning (wheedling) must have gone into even getting this 5″x7″ photo I imagine.

Hake’s auctions, eBay and sites now make it possible to have a good look at some of the merchandising and premiums from our childhoods and much earlier periods. Some hold up quite well – the Little Orphan Annie and Buster Brown rings – Captain Midnight’s Mystic Sun God ring brings a premium still. There’s something thrilling and deeply satisfying about actually seeing photos of all those things. I enjoy those sections of the Hake’s catalogues very much. (For a stroll through my enjoyment of these catalogues see an earlier post, Ode to a Toy Catalogue, here.)

 

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Captain Midnight Mystic Sun God ring

 

Sadly, Howdy Doody merchandise and premiums do not hold up to 21st century light of day! They are plastic, cheap paper and of a lower order. I offer a brochure of their premiums and some of the higher end examples below.

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However, being the beneficiary of the toy laden munificence of exotica proffered for this contest was not the fate of a young John Wheeling. Despite his very credible photo, needless to say he didn’t win the contest. Little Billy Oltman, shown below in Life magazine, won the 1950 contest, besting more than 17,000 rivals. He is younger than my uncle and it is said his mother enhanced his freckles to increase the likeness to the (rather dubiously homely) famous puppet. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps some sort of a fix was in. Of course it is a bit late for sour grapes almost seventy years later.

Oltman Howdy Doody Magazine

Yummy Tummy

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is an actual photo, not a photo postcard, which weighs in at only about 3.5″x 3″. It was taken from an album which it had been glued into, black paper stuck to the back. It is an interesting photo when studied – the woman in the background is wearing a fully long dress, as I guess the woman with the cat is although that is a bit hard to see. This dates it early in the 20th century. Meanwhile, a man with a cap, somewhat obscured, is seated behind the woman and cat.

Of course I have purchased it because of this wonderful tabby. He appears to be an orange tabby – which means he is likely to be a he as Google informs me that males outnumber female orange tabbies about 80% to 20%. This photo has an interesting immediacy. When it is blown up large you can see that what the woman holds is a toy on a string, not food which was my immediate thought.

I have had close association with several orange striped cats in my life. My mother has a rather magnificent one named Red right now, who was devoted to my father and who presents his toys and acts as ambassador cat when I overnight in New Jersey.  Pictorama readers my remember my childhood cat Pumpkin, an enormous and dog-like kitty who used to follow me to the bus stop in the morning growing up. He was much larger than this fellow, but had an amazing fluffy striped tummy and tail. He would roll and display his tummy in a come hither way – and then chomp down on your arm with all his considerable force when you tried to pet him. Bad kitty! We had to warn guests and even delivery folks not to be taken in.

Therefore, I can only say I was shocked with Cookie and Blackie arrived here with a very canine desire to have their tummies rubbed – since kittenhood they roll over and demand tummy pets multiple times a day. Cookie in particular needs some tummy rubs every morning to start the day. She will meow and stretch and roll with happiness when you comply. Blackie also invites an occasional tummy pet, but it is as if he likes the idea more than the reality and tends to roll over after a rub or two and send you on your way with a paw push. No biting though.

Our resident cats also perch on their hind legs more than any felines I have ever known. Like the cat in the photo I have had cats that would stand and reach for something, but not as willing to perch that way, sometimes for minutes, as our Cookie and Blackie seem to be. Occasionally they entertain me with their version of cat boxing this way. (If there is anyone out there who has not seen this video of cats boxing in slow motion doing patty cake with commentary – or if you just need a chuckle – have a look here.)

Kim and I have speculated that this is a form of kitty evolution, especially the hind leg standing. Shortly after Kim and I started dating I made him a Valentine drawing of my cats Otto and Zippy, them holding forth in a riotous anthropomorphic party scene while we were out of the apartment, but presumably to disappear magically somehow as we approached the front door. Oh to know the secret life of cats!

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.

 

 

Wedding Photo

Pam’s Pictorama (Family) Photo Post: For those of you who tuned in yesterday for my post All in the Family (which can be found here) this is a companion post. I apologize for the length, but rambling family history is a hard tale to tell in a brief and cogent way.

This fragment is the wedding photo of my great aunt Rose (née Cittadino) to a man named Al Mazza, whose wedding feast held in the backyard I decades later knew as my grandmother’s, which was shown yesterday. (I am a bit stunned by the poor condition of both of these photos, but this is clearly a case of taking what you can get. Like yesterday, this is a photograph of the photo I took with my phone.)

I never knew Mr. Mazza, who I am told was from the French provinces of Canada, but of Italian lineage, as were the Cittadinos. As it stands now I know nothing of their courtship and can only say after they were married he went to work in my family’s bar and ultimately had one child, Frankie. My great-grandfather, Nikolas, came to this country to marry Mary and I was surprised to find out that his was a fairly affluent, professional family in Italy. I had always assumed the family had immigrated impoverished. (When visiting the south of Italy a number of years ago I remember thinking it was so very beautiful it must have been hard to leave, even for the pretty coastal New Jersey town they settled in. I visited Russia a few years later and thought instead of the other side of my family, this was a tough place to live and no wonder they worked so hard to leave!)

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My great-parents Nickolas and Mary in their wedding photo, undated

 

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Nik and Mary in later years. Mom says Nik, her grandfather, used to say, “She had her hand in my pocket even then!”

 

Rose, the bride, was the oldest, my grandmother Ann was a middle-ish child, the third of five and she appears to be in her late teens in this wedding photo. (She is on the end of the right side of the photo, holding a large bouquet of flowers, the youngest sibling, my great-aunt Margaret, or Mickey, is standing below her.) There are two brothers and they have not been identified for me, but I would guess that the older one, Phil, is in the white gloves and seated next to that absolute babe holding a bouquet and wearing a tiara, who I am lead to believe was the maid of honor. Ben, the younger brother, is probably standing next to my aunt Mickey. Phil dies young, at 36. I’m not sure Ben fared much better – this is the heart disease curse for that part of the family at work.

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The women however all live large in my memory. I remember Rose (Ro Ro to my tiny tot self) as a sort of parallel universe version of my grandmother in my childish mind. By the time I arrived conscious on the scene, my grandmother and her older sister were of a similar short and round build. Both were known for producing the most amazing and prodigious amounts of Italian delicacies. (Although my grandmother, having married a mid-westerner whose family hailed originally from the South, also mastered some distinctly American delicacies and her fried chicken, bread and meatloaf were unmatched.) In my memory, Ro was a bit sterner and more no nonsense than my grandmother, although she always had some excellent homemade cookies for me and my sister – this was before my brother was born. (Mickey, was the youngest sibling and remained wiry with red hair – she was cut from a slightly different cloth. She died over a year ago, well into her 90’s.)

As I have mentioned, aside from my grandfather, Frank Wheeling, who worked at Bendex and repaired outboard motors for a living (he was an epic tinkerer and could fix or build anything), all the men in the family, including those who married in and ultimately their sons, worked in the family bar. The women were tasked with cooking of course. My great-grandmother would have lead that effort (see my post about the blue plate special here) and in addition to the Monday-Saturday buffet, I learned recently that on Sunday, when the bar was closed, she cooked an additional midday meal that the regulars at the bar could subscribe to. Her daughters obviously helped with the endless cooking and learned at her knee. My grandmother was good with numbers and grew up to keep the books for the bar, but learned her cooking lessons well too. The bar still exists as a restaurant/bar on the site today, as far as I know. I have never been inside, but walked by one afternoon several years ago with my father.

However, Rose was the real cook to emerge from the family and she later owned her own restaurant located on the Long Branch pier, before taking a series of jobs cooking,  those included being private cook to wealthy families, and running the kitchen at Monmouth Park race track. (Where despite Rose’s eagle eye my college-age mother met my camera toting father one summer, but that is a story for another time.)

My memory of Ro was being at her house late in her life. She lived in the upstairs of a small house with her daughter in-law and granddaughter in residence downstairs, retired from the last of her positions, but commandeering her younger sisters to execute in tandem the most extraordinary holiday meals. Quite literally, the card tables set up in a line in the living room of the apartment groaned, and I believe I remember the long strands of fresh pasta drying on racks all over the apartment prior to the cooking.

When I entered my own nascent professional cooking career after college, I wondered if those shared genes were at work. I had done stints waitressing and as a short order cook, but even with that wasn’t entirely prepared for the overwhelming physical grind of that work. I came away with an even greater respect for Ro, and the other Cittadino women, who for several generations churned out those meals in addition to feeding their families – and the occasional festivity like the wedding feast shown yesterday.

The same cousin who unearthed these photos (Patti, granddaughter of Rose) has discovered a cache of her recipes. I look forward to going through them and hope in particular to find the recipe for certain Christmas cookies and bread. I am told the original recipe for Poor Man’s cake is also there – I am anxious to compare it to my recent recreation project. (The recent post devoted to that can be found here, called Having Your Cake.) Many of the recipes will sadly be of less interest to me – we are largely vegetarian here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama, and our consumption of pastry is modest. Yet I will be pleased to see them, in her handwriting, and indulge in a few.

 

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Rose seated, the era I remember her from, shown with her daughter in-law Grace.

All in the Family

Pam (Family) Photo Post: As I sit down to write today I am unsure really what I want to say about this photo. I was fascinated by it when I saw it for the first time over Thanksgiving. I have no memory of seeing it before. It is a photo of a photograph which is in very bad condition and over-exposed in part (I took it on my phone and Kim has darkened it slightly for us here), but it manages to be fascinating nonetheless.

This photo was taken in the yard I grew up as knowing to be my grandmother’s, but it was a home (and yard) that at one time housed several families and generations of my family. My mother grew up in the two story house attached to it, with her brother and parents on the ground floor and an aunt, uncle and cousin on the second. One of the grandmothers lived with them there at one time too. I wrote about the house aways back when some photos of it came my way. (That post can be found at My Grandmother’s House here and I also wrote about my maternal grandmother, and her kitchen in Ann’s Glass which is here.) However, here is the familiar yard, several generations before my childhood, recorded on the advent of the wedding of my great-aunt Rose (Ro’ or Ro’ Ro’ to me as a kid) and a glimpse of this opulent, if homespun, backyard celebration.

My mother tells me that this table, impossibly long and which literally disappears into the photo horizon, is set up under a grape arbor decorated here with festive bunting, which supplied this (very Italian) family with the grapes to make wine. The arbor was long gone by my childhood, my mother says it was the victim of a jolly rodent population attracted by its bounty and the nuisance convinced the later generation of denizens to dismantle it. Every inch of the yard, less than an acre by my reckoning, was devoted to producing food for the family – fruit and nut trees, a vegetable garden, chickens. This yard, hunting and fishing, extraordinary cooking and preserving skills, kept this family fed through thin times, including my mother’s childhood which includes the far end of the Depression.

The family owned a bar which the women of the Cittadino family (at a minimum my great-grandmother and her daughters) cooked for, in addition of course to feeding and taking care of the family. When I look at this photo my mind reels with thoughts of the days (weeks really) of work that must have gone into this celebration. I would imagine that many hands helped in a variety of ways, but there’s no way to imagine it wasn’t an enormous job for those at the heart of it. As I look at it I am fascinated by how the men are grouped at the end of the table closest to us. No one has identified any of them specifically. Frankly, it looks like a tough group!

In general the men on this side of the family are dim in my memory and mind. They seem to have largely died on the young side (a variety of reasons, inherited heart issues among them) and therefore my childhood self never met them or at least didn’t know them long enough for there to be much of an impression. On the other hand, the women, an undeniably strong group of women, loom large and Ro was the oldest of that clan. I have vivid memories of them. As I unpack more of these images in future posts I will likely write more about these strong willed sisters and what I know of them.

These photos come to me via a cousin (second cousin to me) who has unearthed them as she starts cleaning out her own version of an ancestral home. She has lost her mother and significant other over the past year (the latter quite unexpectedly), and she has drifted to staying with my mother, who since my father’s death over the summer is largely alone in her house – although so many friends come and go I often think it is her own version of Grand Central Station. Nonetheless, family is different and it is a poignant reminder that it is an interesting thing, which can at times expand and contract as needed. It unfurls further than the eye can see, back into the past, and indefinitely into the future.

Kodak: Box Camera

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo on our brief anniversary junket to the East Village last week. It was the first I saw of several in a messy, meandering pile and it was by far the most outstanding. The photos were expensive and therefore I did not give into a compulsion to purchase them all and keep them together. However it was interesting that they very much appeared to be the survivors of a single roll of film, with this one as the lucky shot, both in composition and light. This photo, and all of the others, is mounted on a heavy paper, probably cut out of some sort of a photo album having been affixed at the time. There is a water stain running along the bottom of the paper, not shown here.

The nascent photographer did hit it on the nose here, and as above not again even with the same street and woman what was likely moments later – nor with some folks at the beach at another time. In all fairness, remember that this would have been the earliest of the box cameras – loaded with a roll of film for 100 shots, the camera had not so much as a viewfinder, nor anyway of judging or controlling light – the shutter was moved by pulling a string! They were quite literally a point and shoot as the advertisements said. The whole camera with film was sent back to Kodak and the reloaded camera sent back to you while they processed your roll of film. The circular image tells us that this was the first of these models, patented in 1888. This circular model continued at least through 1890, but eventually morphed into a rectangular format.

While I have enumerated some of the shortcomings of this first entry into photography for the masses, I feel compelled to enumerate some of the gains – those which ultimately accelerate photography forward, culminating, in a sense, in moving pictures all in a span of a few decades. Up until the point of roll film and the box camera, photography required heavy cameras on tripods and mostly glass plates were still in use. The printing of them, executed by the photographer was technical, difficult, and required many chemicals.

This camera, an expensive acquisition costing a fearful $25 at the time, was the development that helped goose photography forward. In some ways I think of it as the iPhone picture taker of its day. (A decade later the Brownie was introduced and only cost a dollar and presumably that’s when photography for the masses really explodes.) What cell phone photography did to photography in the past decade, the box camera did for it at the close of the 19th century. The technology race that starts with daguerreotypes and ends in movies is one of my favorite stories – it seemed like developments in film couldn’t come out fast enough and epitomizes something especially great about the formation of this country at the dawn of the 20th century.

What struck me about this photo was that despite the period dress there was something fresh about it as if it was just snapped. It is a bright day and these women are in their lovely summer dresses, the sidewalk and the whole composition leads us back into space. It has a southern feel to me, something antebellum about the architecture of the houses behind the woman in white. And yet there’s also something about the light that makes me think of a resort at the shore as well. In some ways this photo encompasses the best glimpse of the past photos can offer. A sliver of time delivered to us from the now distant past.

Below are some other splendid examples I snatched off of the internet at a site called Mashable.

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