Bessie Loves Kitten

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Once in awhile I do a random search at the crossroads of my two interests, early film and cats. It rarely turns anything up, but once in awhile I find something of interest. (The first such score of a photo of a young Jean Arthur holding a toy black cat can be found here.) This interesting 8″x10″ of Bessie Love playing with a kitten materialized the other day.

Both in subject and in execution, it appears to be a candid photo snatched up at the studio on the spur of the moment. (The quality of the photo suggests that it isn’t a proper still or photo shot under optimum conditions, although an original photo.) It is inscribed only Bessie Love on the back and is undated. It has many pin holes poked in the corners and has obviously spent time, beloved, on someone’s wall or board, held by push pins. Bessie has her luxurious hair (in my opinion one of her outstanding features in her early years) tucked under this kerchief, protecting it between scenes.

The tiny kitten has an unreasonably large rope tied around him or her, a serious attempt at keeping it where someone wanted it, but still ready for a little play with Bessie however. The kitten has that vaguely adolescent look, getting a little leggy and a tad less fluffy adorable. Let’s hope the complicated rope corralling of this fellow or gal meant that someone was taking care of this kit and (for those of us who worry about such things) it ultimately had a good home.

For those of you who are not familiar with Bessie, a quick bit about her and an early few photos below snatched off of Google. Born Juanita Horton in Midland, Texas in 1898. The young Bessie was eventually introduced to D. W. Griffith at Biograph Studios by Tom Mix of all people. She generally played wholesome parts, although I think it is fair to think she was a tad less utterly wholesome in her personal life. I found reference to her liking to promote herself playing the uke in somewhat rougher joints and venues for which she was criticized.

I probably first saw her in The Good Bad Man with Douglas Fairbanks in 1916. (Available on Youtube here if you are curious.) However, my first distinct memory of her was seeing her in The Matinee Idol one afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, a film notable for having been directed by a young Frank Capra, made in 1928. Bessie transitioned into talkies and, although her star fades decidedly by the 1930’s, she continues working at least in bit parts, for virtually her entire life. I tend to think of her as playing a lot of roommates and best friends in thirties films of a type.

Eventually she makes her way to England and continues working there on stage and film, embraces Christian Science as a religion. She has parts in both Hollywood films Reds and Ragtime notably however. The last entry listed in her filmography is in The Hunger in 1983. She died in 1986.

Meanwhile, I am glad someone managed to capture her on this sunny day, playing with this little cat between scenes, for posterity – and I am very pleased it has come to take its place in my kitty photo archive.

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Rascally, Mysterious Film Still

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As has occasionally been the case in previous posts, I found this while digging through our flat files looking for something else. I barely remember purchasing it on eBay so it must have been quite awhile ago. For whatever reason it has been sitting and waiting to be rediscovered and shared with you all on Pictorama today.

In part, I may have put this aside because I have no idea exactly what film this still is from. At first glance I assumed it was one of the Little Rascals shorts, but on further reflection I am not so sure. I would love anyone with thoughts or knowledge to weigh in on this. Meanwhile, while dogs and pups ruled on those shorts, cats very rarely played a role outside of being chased by the aforementioned dogs – surely the cat was in part what made me buy this however. And not to say that this black and whiter didn’t play a key role in this film – nary a dog to be seen at the moment. Nice looking kitty though, I must say. I believe I bought this around the same time I purchased the photo in the post Flying to the Moon.

I wonder about cats in films like this. Just wandering through it seems – occasionally cued to chase or be chased, or are toted around like arm decoration. They don’t seem to distinguish themselves for the most part. Rarely does it seem you see the same one twice. I have this feeling sometimes that there were just cats running about the place and when it came time to need one for a scene they scooped a handy generic one up. I have wondered about cats in some of the early photos with models, such as the one in the post Painted Puss. As I think about it though, one could argue that the life of a photo studio cat was better than that of a film lot cat. After all they had to be pretty for their pictures to be taken. A life of greater leisure and care I imagine. Still, I think it depends though – those films lot cats probably had quite a raucous and interesting time, complete with mice, dogs, kids and kitty crew. More fun if you were the right kind of cat.

 

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Painted Puss, from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

 

 

 

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