Squeaky Cat Head

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of fragile toys in other posts – mostly those devoted to brittle, delicate celluloid or equally ancient plastic. Today I focus on another toy, recently purchased, that was probably originally intended to have a similarly short life-span. This cat head, just a bit smaller than an actual cat head (I proved this by holding it up to Cookie shortly after arrival) hails from 1925, and it is my guess that no one imagined that it would still be kicking around, rolling forward to our current day, more than 90 years later. It is in fact unlikely, although not impossible, that the small child this was purchased for is still among us while this presumably disposable toy is.

For me there is a solid classic design to it that makes it almost archetypal. It is easy to imagine it as a prop in a silent film – or clutched in my hand as a toddler in the late ’60’s, or even today if it was a tad bit less frail. When I spotted it I wanted it immediately. While we can assume that the paint has faded with age over time and there is a dent in the back, I think it appears pretty much the way it most likely always did. I assume, without knowing, that it most likely squeaked when pressed at one time, there is a silver button on the bottom. It no longer squeaks, but there is a date, 1925, on the bottom with some other bits of information about the maker I can just make out. It reads, US Patent Nov. 18 1924 Jan 6 1925 Katnips Inc. Providence RI. I looked, but could not find information about the bygone Katnips company.

I found a listing for another one for sale online and that person was proposing that it is actually a cat toy. He or she must have some outsize cats! My Cookie and Blackie have shown little interest in this item – except that when I opened the package an amazing smell burst out – that old, attic-y, dusty age odor. Kim once called this the smell of nostalgia. Cookie was entranced by this and took a wide-eyed snoot full of it. It set her whiskers twitching!

I cannot even imagine what flashes through a cat brain when dissecting a smell like this, but I have always imagined that it is colorful and wild. While I don’t find this smell unpleasant, it is still more interesting than good. It snaps me back to attics, some houses and even antique stores I have known. Given my collecting interests it isn’t an uncommon smell, although perhaps not as frequent as you might think. Meanwhile, here in New York City it isn’t unusual to pass a construction site where a very old building is being torn down and be smacked with a variation of that smell. Strange, but somehow time passed, years and the life of a building or a toy, gets encapsulated in a smell. It comes out of nowhere as you hurry along say East 86th Street, a 19th or early 20th century smell, living again for a moment in your brain. Like Cookie, I pause for a moment and inhale that dusty (probably asbestos filled) smell and consider, before returning to my hurried walk and the email on my cell phone.

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An Anniversary Felix Redux

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Once in awhile I surprise myself and see something on eBay I decide I really want, bar the expense, in a way that I cannot quite explain. Now admittedly, really, who wouldn’t want this really spectacular item? Still, why I decide sometimes that I will go to the wall for something and other times just decide it will be too expensive and move on, I’m not sure. As it happens, it did not matter – as I am the luckiest wife in the world – Kim knew of my yearnings and bought this lovely item for me for our anniversary yesterday. (And to think I just bought him a book!) More on the anniversary in a bit below.

As savvy Pictorama readers may know, I own another version of this, purchased almost exactly a year ago, and crowed over in my post Felix Trinket Tray. I show that item here. As you can see, it is the exact same bottom, unpainted, with a somewhat ham handed Felix at the top. He is in the reverse position of the painted version just acquired.

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Felix the Cat Trinket Tray, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

That one never made it to my office, but I think this one will. I am an utter sucker for this version of Felix. It is as if he has come out of his thinking pose into an “Ah ha” resolution moment. He is the earlier, pointy design I like best. Little lead figures of this style exist and I almost wonder if they didn’t just stick one of those on. (And for all I know there are all sorts of non-Felix figures sprouting off atop these brass desk caddy bases.) I am thinking of the Pixieland Kew version of small painted lead toys, like soldiers. (There are versions by other companies with different Felix designs.) Here is one I pulled off the internet and it looks like a fit. I do not own one, but to my knowledge they are the same size as my man atop his perch. Meanwhile, I am quite sure I will be all the smarter at work for having him on my desk.

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Pixieland Kew Felix, not in Pictorama collection

 

I am not sure I will ever entirely unravel the mysteries of the myriad way the British threw together these items during the height of the Felix fueled mayhem. I am just grateful for their sheer abundance which has resulted in a good survival rate ninety years later.

For those who are counting anniversaries, this year is #17 on the marriage side, although we tend to add another six for our time together prior to that. (I admit that I noted to myself that getting married in 2000 was a good idea because it would be easy to remember. Columbus Day is a marker too. Unlike Kim whose mind locks onto dates, mine has always been mushy and wandering on that score.) The anniversary of our first date comes up in a few weeks, over Veteran’s Day. I wrote about that way back at the beginning of Pictorama and just turned that post up here, Anniversary Special. In looking back I remembered that Kim helped me track down and buy this nice Snowy last year. (He was also blogged in the post, Snowy.) I am suddenly overwhelmed to realize that when I traveled to France last fall for the Met that my new job was not even a twinkle in my eye yet. Time does indeed fly, and you never know what anniversary you may be celebrating in a year.

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Snowy was last year’s anniversary gift!

More Felix Sing-a-long!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Happily somehow things always return to Felix here at Pictorama. I like to think that indefinitely, every so often, I will stumble across yet another unexpected example of the British fascination with Felix which extended to ditties like this one – Felix gracing the cover and doing the big sell. (However, as noted in my post Musical Meow! which features French sheet music, currently adorning the walls of my office, illustrates that the Brits were not alone in this mania abroad.) I have a few other sheet music posts that include Felix illustrated tunes, Felix – Here He Is Again , Musical Meow! and Musical Interlude and they are, if you pardon the pun, like cat nip to me. On this one he is doing my favorite Felix trick where his tail flies off on its own, in this case to form a ? – a hotsy-totsy Felix best!

In researching the note at the bottom, Dedicated to FELIX THE FILM CAT/Appearing exclusively in Pathe’s ‘Eve & Everybody’s Film Review’ I hit pay dirt on Felix lore. In the interesting short article that can be found in its entirety at British Universities Film and Video Council site about Eve & Everybody’s Review I found out Felix details that tied together things in a way I didn’t know. Pic and Eve (as it became known) was a series founded in 1921 and running until ’33 aimed at women – hobbies, unusual careers, fashion, etc. under the slogan fashion, fun and fancy. It mostly drew on stock footage for its shorts, but also featured shorts of cartoons. This is the series that was used to launch the Felix cartoons in Great Britain to great acclaim, and became the machine that helped churn out much of the British Felix merchandise treasured by the likes of me close to a hundred years later- sheet music, pins, and china figurines. (Krazy Kat had his turn as well, but does not appear to capture the imagination of the Brits the way Felix did.) It was the distributor of Felix cartoons until 1926 when the Ideal company began to distribute them in their entirety as free-standing entities.

This sheet music appeared on my computer screen during an early morning, pre-work, search on eBay. It was for immediate purchase and it was mine before my morning coffee had even had a chance to kick in. Mornings here at the combined Pictorama and Deitch Studio environs goes something like this – at about 4:30 Blackie begins to stir (some of us believe that it is at Cookie’s insistence, but since I try to sleep through this I cannot verify it) and we attempt to hold him at bay until at least 5:00. Kim gets up; I roll over for anywhere from another 15 to 45 minutes of sleep. Tummies full, the cats are already working on their daytime napping by the time I pour myself some cold coffee from the fridge and sit down with it, a green smoothie (made the day before) and some fresh berries in front of the computer. Kim is already hard at work as I read the paper online (interesting bits aloud), check the limited social media that interests me (laugh at funny animal videos and photos mostly) and give a fast check to the most interesting searches I follow on eBay. On a lucky day last week this was the first thing I saw and bang! It was mine.

Enough about me however. This is a splendid piece of sheet music I have never seen previously. There is no date associated with it. It was previously owned by the H. Austin Storry, Ltd. Pinaoforte & … Warehouse, 14 & 16 Palmerston, Southsea…as per the stamp at the bottom right and from what I can make out of it. Hard to beat the name of this tune, Who threw the water on the Tom Cat’s back?  The author is A. Emmett Adams, is best known for The Bells of St. Mary’s, a hit of 1917. Without knowing for sure, we’ll assume that this Felix ditty is a jauntier song. I could not find a transcription of this being played, but surely anything that advertises itself as Me-ow! Splash! A Melody with a ‘Smack’ must be sort of jolly. The lyrics, in part, go like this:

Felix loved a Tabby Cat
How she used to purr!
All the cats for miles around were sure he’d marry her!
One night he proposed and just as Tabby answered Yes!
Someone dampened their spirits in a rude way more or less;

Chorus:
Who threw the water on the Tom Cat’s back when he spoke to his lady friend?
Who broke the water jug at two o’clock,
Followed at three by the kitchen clock?
Bang! went a pair of boots, crash went a  piece of soap
Right on his best girl’s head.
So she bolted down the mews,
Leaving Felix musing there are other cats instead.
The final verse:
As I try to sleep at night,
When the world is still
Cats sing oratorious beneath my window sill!
Do I get up? I should worry

I just lie in bed!
Somone’s gone mad round the corner 
So I think instead…
Chorus

All this and they threw in two fox trots at the back, When you and I were dancing and Love in the Summertime. Quite a bargain I say and while I paid quite a bit more than 2 pence, I am very happy with my buy as well.

 

Flying to the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I guess I am a sucker for kitten balloon photos. You may remember an earlier, similar card in my post Flying Dutch Kitties, which is in all fairness, a better photograph. It was the moon that grabbed me in this one – I do love a good man in the moon. (I am, after all, married to Kim Deitch. His man in the moon images are, of course, the best and one of the many sterling qualities I married him for.) This one looks full of mischief to me. I can remember being a little kid and looking hard at the moon and being fairly sure I could put together the face of the man there.

This appears to be an American made card, sent from Chicago in 1912, but the specific date is obscured. It was sent to Austria however, and there is a long note, penned in tiny German I have no hope of translating. Landor, the maker of the card, seems to have been partial to cat photo postcards, made at the turn of the century, but I cannot find the history of the company online.

Unlike the masterfully constructed set in Flying Dutch Kitties, this one is deceptively simple. As if you could have easily taken this photo at home with a couple of kittens, string and tissue paper. For me, these are the photo equivalents of how I felt about the Little Rascals when I was a kid. You would look at those various stitched together vehicles, clubhouses and staged shows and the construction seemed like it should only be just within your reach – which of course, wasn’t true at all. Now I frankly marvel at the thoughtful construction and technology of them.

As for me, I have failed to record Cookie and Blackie doing any of their “tricks” for the camera – hind leg standing and boxing; Cookie giving Kim high fives; or her skill in moving a small rocking chair she is partial to. Candid photos of orchid eating or displayed on Kim’s desk is about the best I can do with these two. Too bad – I could be a contender for the Queen of the Cat Video on Youtube if only I was a little bit faster with the camera.

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Cookie & Blackie in an undated photo

 

Riding the Big Bear

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a general rule that if I see any early photos of people riding or posing with giant stuffed animals I just have to own them – pretty much regardless of condition and price. I admit to paying up for this one, despite the underexposure and probably some additional fading over time – its origins probably in a wash pail of dirty and over-used developer, decades ago. Kim has already performed the miracle of Photoshop on it and it is about 40% better here than in person.

I have the impression that the person selling it believe Mickey’s presence to be the come hither factor (and I have nothing against that nice, early Mickey next to our girl except that we can barely see him), but for me it was this splendid big Steiff-like bear she has climbed aboard that does it for me! Oh to live in a time when one had a choice of posing for a souvenir tintype photo with oversized Felix or Mickey – or riding an enormous black cat or bear! Gee whiz, those were indeed the days. (And still again I ask, why do none of these giant toys turn up so I can purchase them? Unfair fate!)

This photo is another tiny guy – only about 2″x3″ and tucked into this nice cardboard frame. It would be better shown if I was willing to take it out, but I love the little holder and removing the photo would destroy the now fragile holder. You cannot see it here so well, but it has a cardboard stand on the back so the photo can stand up on those cardboard feet you see. On the back, written in clear script in pen, it says, Esther from Erica Lee. There’s something a bit odd about that – why is Erica sending photos of Esther? Perhaps she is her mom?

Despite the lack of giant toys available to pose on or with, I tend to embrace every opportunity to have a souvenir photo made. I don’t especially like photos of myself, but for some reason photo booths and other like opportunities are different and fire up my imagination and desire. When at all possible, I drag my ever-patient and handsome mate into the picture. In addition to the link for this early blog kick-off post, Pam’s Pictorama Blog Debuts, I supply some long ago photostrip of photos below.

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And What a Party We Had!

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Pam’s Pictorama Post-Valentine Special: I am going to let you in on a secret. One of the really great things about being married to Kim Deitch is that whenever I want, I toss the dull, day-to-day world aside and enter the vastly more entertaining Deitchian world of anthropomorphic animals, demons in cat bodies and slightly sinister cartoon landscapes. This circus is going on right here – all the time! Yep, the front door of Deitch Studio is the portal to an amazing world of delight and fright – the rabbit hole you climb down every time you pick up one of Kim’s stories and that I come home to after a day out in the world. And once a year, in honor of Valentine’s Day, Kim pulls back the curtain and reveals a behind-the-scenes glimpse for everyone who has wondered and as a testimonial to the love and joy of our corner of the universe. To that end, I share this year’s Valentine.

While recent prior years focused on King Kitty and his dominion over the toys – especially the mice – starting in 2015, Kim picked up the theme of a glorious cat toy museum run by me, the Queen of Catland, as the nexus. I think it is fair to say that in this third year, the Valentine intersects squarely and gloriously with the final chapter of Reincarnation Stories, his latest book – as some of you who have been following that progress on Facebook know. The phenomenal cat toy museum revealed at last!

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And what will future years bring? You will have to stay tuned each February. Meanwhile, sure stop by Deitch Studio sometime, but remember you could get sucked down the rabbit hole too.

Big Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card almost slipped through my fingers due to an email that went astray with the seller, but I am ever so glad it did not! This surreal image of a giant cat (a tuxedo cat no less) dragging this man and woman along as they clutch his (or her) leash is splendid and bizarre indeed. It falls soundly into the category of I have never seen another like it – although I would love to see more if anyone can send me in that direction. This card was mailed on December 23 (8 AM) Sierra Mac, CAL, 1920. It was mailed to Mr. & Mrs. H.H. Wear (?) & Family, 431-14th Street, San Bernadino, CA. I was tempted to save this until the end of the year and do a seasonally appropriate post, but who could resist sharing this sooner? Not to mention that it is not really a very Christmas-y holiday card.

For me what this card brings to mind is chalk talks. For any of you who haven’t encountered these before, it is an act where a cartoonist very quickly draws a drawing, or series of drawings, in front of an audience – stunning them with skill and speed. It took hold as early as the late 1800’s, had a hot five minutes first during vaudeville, then early film and finally once again in early television. (There is also an interesting tributary of bible chalk talks – the Methodists claim to have founded the practice.)

Kim was giving me some tips and tales earlier about it – some folks sketching in outlines that couldn’t be seen by the audience as a bit of a cheat, that sort of thing. Windsor McCay is one of the most famous practitioners of the chalk talk (think Gertie the Dinosaur) and when I think of it I tend to think of folks like him in the teens and twenties, but there are legions of others. Here is a link to The Enchanted Drawing from an Edison short in 1900 showing J. Stuart Blackton at work.

As I stumbled and bumbled around researching this, Kim also gave me an interesting lead – he met chalk talk (lightening cartoonist) Ernie McGee decades ago at a comic book convention here in NYC. Kim was carrying copies of Gothic Blimp Works and he gave Ernie a copy featuring his then strip – evidently an Uncle Ed strip gave the man a chuckle of approval, much to the surprise of a young Kim Deitch. Ernie McGee seems to have had his heyday in vaudeville. Cole Johnson gives a thumbnail blog post history of Ernie here at Stripper’s Guide 4/19/09 including the photo (look at all those bound volumes!) and strip drawn by Ernie below. Spoiler alert – it’s a bit of a sad tale ending with a down and out Ernie living in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, drinking too much and doing his act in his bathrobe at a lectern, in front of rows of chairs in his apartment, for his sole visitor.

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Ernie McGee strips, not in my collection

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Photo of Ernie McGee, not in my collection

West coast buddy Bruce Simon also did a strip about Ernie, published in Siegel and Simon’s Party Comics shown in a 2009 re-issue below. In an online write-up about the re-issue Bruce says, Party Comics came out in July, 1980 and the UG scene was just about moribund by then. We printed 5,000 copies and maybe sold half of them, about what a Vertigo book sells now…I screwed up on the color sep and the devil’s hands came out pink instead of red, too cheap to pull a proof. The cover character was based on a real 1930’s era ‘chalk-talk’ cartoonist named Ernie McGee who I had met in New York in 1971. Why I thought anyone would know what a ‘chalk-talk’ cartoonist was in 1980 is anyone’s guess.  

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Party Comics by Bruce Simon, not in my collection

Kim tells me that he thinks the drawing of Ernie here is from his business card which he remembers fondly – he once had a copy, but couldn’t put his hands on it if he does indeed still possess it.

I have once again strayed somewhat from my cat material, but their plenty of fun in ’21 may very well have included seeing Ernie or maybe even Windsor McCay.