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.

 

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.

 

The Boys and Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have periodically opined on how much fun it would be to have your photo taken with a nice Felix the Cat doll and this one looks like a third child in the photo. Felix is such a handy size I wonder if it is a prop (probably) or actually belongs to these youngsters. I know if it was I as a tiny tot, I’d have been bellowing for him to come home with me; greedy, thankless child that I was. These two kids look quite jolly, the older one downright debonair – perhaps best not to meet him as a gent (or cad) around town later in life. The younger one appears to be trimmed out in fur which seems all odd from today’s standards. Even in our own decadent times – fur trimmed outfit for your toddler?

This photo seems like the sort of studio shot taken for the purpose of eventually ending up on grandma’s table of treasured family photos. My mother’s mom had studio portraits, large ones, of my mother and her brother, both in graduation cap and gowns, as I remember. The one of my mother had hand colored tinting, and it was the first time I ever saw that in a photo. As a kid I was endlessly fascinated by it. I can see it in my mind now, hanging in the dining room (housing a table which occasionally held food, but we absolutely never ate at – that was done in the kitchen with a table and space which both somehow magically expanded to fit an infinite number of family members as required) on a flocked print wallpaper, gray with a green design. The photo did not look like my mother, mostly because her nose was broken and not set properly shortly after high school when the photo was taken. I didn’t know that until I was older and wouldn’t have thought to ask for an explanation for the transformation. My uncle looked exactly the same – his Howdy Dowdy resemblance following him into adulthood and beyond. As the younger brother his photo was true color and his bright red hair and freckles stood out.

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into a nursing facility, much was disposed of and a small number of things were absorbed by my mother and uncle – who by that time was living down south, but collected a number of things. I do not know what happened to the photos, my mother was not overly fond of hers so she clearly did not claim them. I do not know if my uncle did. I must think to ask my mother when I call her later today.

 

Pop Goes Felix

Pam Photo Post: This photo interested me and I went to some trouble to acquire it. It is a bit mysterious. The photo is large, about 10″x12″ and the surface is a photo paper with a slight toothy gloss. On the side of the box the girl is seated on it reads C. Bennett Moore, No. 3. If you look carefully, you can see that the actual box is open and empty and the words have just been dropped in over the shadow from it.

Meanwhile, C. (Charles) Bennett Moore is evidently the name of the photographer. Mr. Bennett (1879-1939, although one online source has him die in 1936) was ultimately known best for hand painted versions of his own photographs of New Orleans. Born in Minnesota, he served in the Spanish American War before showing up in New Orleans and going to work for a photographer named Emil Rivoire, ultimately taking over his studio and renaming it for himself after Rivoire’s death. A contemporary of E.J. Bellocq, but with a sensibility which ran to architecture and portraiture, he did not achieved the same level of fame. (He should also not be confused with the younger civil rights photographer Charles Moore.)

I can’t say I am a fan of the painted photographs. Whatever interest or charm the photos might have had is sufficiently destroyed with what it would only be slightly unfair to refer to as ham-handed painting. There is evidently however some market for them, but we will just agree to disagree on that point. Meanwhile, and more to the point, Kim senses that my photo is a generation lost as well and I see what he means. That could just be a negative increased in size, or maybe it is wholly reproduced. It appears to be on photo paper, but a thick one, so I remain unsure. The size is also so strange. There is also a weird sense of manipulation to it – not just the added words but a soften quality to the image.

The seller of the photo speculated that the girls were actually young women dressed as girls and a close look confirms this. The seller goes on to further consider that they were likely vaudeville performers or even silent film actresses – I am more inclined to agree with the first than the second thought. One sports boyish garb with hat and dandy gingham tie, while the second is very girlish.

Mr. Moore might be advertising himself, albeit subtly, using this prop with his name neatly in script on the side. For me, it was of course this really splendid Felix jack-in-the-box that caught my attention. I love that toy! I was the kind of kid who never tired of my jack-in-the-box, musical as I remember. Hers has a sort of strap for handy transport. It appears the Felix just pops up – my childhood version was wound up by a handle. The stuffed dog on the leash is pretty nice too. That Felix though – a great toy which I have never (not yet anyway) had the opportunity to make my own. This brings me a bit closer.

So, I wonder – was this photo some sort of advertising for C. Bennett Moore? There is nothing written on the back, but a slip of paper included with the photo dates it to 1923 which seems like a reasonable guess-timate for the year, although I see nothing to support it. Was it used somehow in conjunction with these young women and their show? Once again, those details are most likely lost to the sands of time, but I am content since I am in it for the toys.

Pam’s Felix Frolic Continues

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am aware that we have been having a very Felix-y time at Pictorama lately (aren’t we lucky!) and to some degree that is just a reflection of buying opportunity and inclination, although admittedly we are well-documented Felix fans. I believe I own about 50 or so variations on photos of people posting with an array of Felix, and about two thirds of those are these posed photo postcards.

I have come to realize that my readership does not perhaps (inconceivable to me) value or enjoy these images as much as I do. Quite simply expressed however, it is my feeling that I should own all of them. And I never, ever tire of them nor find one that I do not consider fascinating. As I have previously opined, I envision a book devoted to these photos someday – perhaps just a self-published or a publish on demand, so at least I can admire them all in a handy way. (Although that implies a sense of completion which I am unwilling to consider.) Sadly our wall space falls well short of being able to display them all. So, while I can hear some of you tsk, tsk-ing and saying, “She’s at it again” I plunge ahead with this latest discovery. It is my intention to move on next week. (I have a beaut of a photo for movie fans.)

So, now to our photo. Darned if I can figure out what junior, posing here, has in his hands. I am going to settle on it being a ball. I can’t say that he looks especially charmed by Felix either which is too bad. Little did he know that it might be his only shot at immortality. (I say this with all due respect and as a guesstimate of course, as I have no idea who he is or might have grown into being.) The stairs and strolling folks in the background create a nice dynamic. This jaunty “adult size” sort of Felix is my favorite and the type I would want to pose with. (Yes, I have spent time considering this.) He is pleasantly enormous and a close look reveals some wild whiskers on him. Someone has written 1924 on the back of the card along with a short column of numbers that don’t make sense. Somehow it doesn’t look like it was written at the time though and 1924 seems a tad early to my thinking.

So I leave you to contemplate this one woman’s obsession – and a nod to those of you who might actually share it.

 

 

 

All in the Family

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is the first of a weekend two part mini-series featuring family photos as two splendid photo postcards arrived in the mail this week. I think both are quite wonderful in many ways, but as I sit down to write it is the idea of family I am struck by – the jolly family-ness of both of them. I am launching my endeavor with this beauty of a family posing with Felix on this photo postcard, one of two I promised last week. This one’s a gem! Like most of these (Pam) treasured cards, this one was never mailed and there is nothing noted on the back, therefore names and precise location are lost to the sands of time.

Dad, Mom and tot are the family unit today and somehow our itinerant Felix photographer turns out to be a really great one and has gotten it all just right. Felix is in exactly the best position so he is (tail and all) pointing right up at the kid. The child’s face is all screwed up in a sun squint, although he’s sort of smiling too. Mom and Pop are looking on, amused and somewhat child-boastful. Junior is standing on his own two feet, perhaps a newly developed skill set for this fellow. Meanwhile, Felix is a bit like a second, only slightly smaller child and mohair covered member of the family.

I always am struck by how fully dressed folks seem to always be on the beaches in Britain during this early 20th century period. Dad is in a full suit, tie, vest and oxfords. His hat is tilted back on his head in a nice somewhat rogue-ish way. Mom is in full dress regalia with her striped white dress, stockings and shoes. (Somehow all I can think of is the amount of sand they must have had to get out of their shoes and clothes at the end of the day.) There is a towel on the back of dad’s chair and a pail for the youngster, lurking behind Felix’s tail. More suited, hat wearing and layered up adults spot the background. We will assume it wasn’t one of Britain’s warmer beach days.

Somehow our photographer has captured the three of them (four if we count Felix) in the foreground, apart from others on this crowded beach. The pleasant visual din of everyone else blurs slightly while our family is sharply in focus. In a sense, it is enough to say that this is how family’s see themselves, no matter large or small, a part of the world and yet separate and special.