Krazy Cat & Celebration

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo turned up under a poor listing on eBay and I snatched it up before anyone else spied it. After all, who wouldn’t want this photo of this jolly grinning fellow, clutching archetypal straw hat, flowers and Krazy Kat? I will go out on a limb and speculate that he was a courtin’ and the flowers and Krazy were an offering to his beloved. And really, who wouldn’t be wooed and wowed by that? That toy cat would go a long way to winning me, let alone the flowers and the dapper appearance. According to the back of the photo this is Harry Smith and he is in Augusta, Ga. He’s quite the sport with his hat, sunglasses, clearly parted hair and offerings. No date, but we can make some assumptions about it being the 1920’s from his togs and that great Krazy Kat toy.

Here at Pictorama a year of birthday and Valentine’s Day have just passed. Having a birthday a few days before Valentine’s Day meant a childhood of Valentine decorations at my parties which was always cheerful – however as an adult the bright red and shiny cupids and hearts remind me more of a houseful of kids charged with birthday cake and chocolate than love and romance, the two will always be intertwined.

My father was the first man in my life to meet this double celebratory challenge gallantly. He always had a little something special for us kids for Valentine’s Day, despite it being days after my birthday which had been appropriately celebrated. Heart shaped boxes of candy, a silver heart-shaped keychain one year which I used for a very long time after. (And I’m still a total sucker for those boxes of Russell Stover chocolates which are the taste of my childhood Valentines. I just bestowed an extra large one on my office. The Easter baskets and candy have the same effect on me.) February in the Northeast tends to be a cold, snowy and somewhat miserable month, so the additional festivities make it a bit more cheerful to get through.

My sister Loren put her stamp on my birthday in adulthood by insisting on calling me at an ungodly early hour, claiming that she needed to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. On another occasion she declared that my birthday should be a day off from work and we spent the day together. I acquired tickets to the live butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, which was brand new at the time. However, Loren had not told me she was afraid of butterflies until we were there and they were landing all over us! (She said she hadn’t wanted to disappoint me.)

After Loren died and birthdays suddenly became difficult, I instituted the Aquarian month of dinners and lunches to cheer the month up. I totted up all my fellow Aquarians and invited each one to get together for dinner, or lunch failing dinner availability. It cut an interesting and somewhat random path through friends and acquaintances, and time spent with friends is always a good way to focus one’s energy for a year ahead. The participants have waxed and waned over the years with only two original invitees still in the mix – over a dozen years folks moved away, some elderly ones died. I haven’t added anyone in a few years, although I just found out that someone at work is a candidate, a late January birthday that just slides into the Aquarius fold.

In addition, I am lucky that I have Kim, the best husband ever, who always makes my birthday and Valentine’s Day very special – we spend a day (or more!) near my birthday devoted to digging around in antique toy stores and the sort of dusty haunts that result in the purchase of interesting photos and strange odd bits. And of course he tops himself each February with his Valentine’s Day drawing. (Actually this production starts in January annually as it has grown more elaborate. For anyone who is a new to Pictorama a few of these can be seen herehere, and this year’s here.)

Kim actually did in fact also give me my very own Krazy Kat toy (this same Averill version as Harry Smith clutches here) on my birthday years ago, which is a story for its own post one day. This year’s birthday adventure and acquisitions, some great toys and photos, will also be upcoming as well in a series of future posts. In fact, I will finish this post up so Kim and I can get ready to go out. There was a store which defied us by closing unexpectedly last week. Let’s see what can be found there today. I will be sure to let you know.

 

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Alfred Latell: Animal Imitator, Continued

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: So last week’s Deitchian pre-Valentine’s Day post (From My Sweetie which can be found here) touched on Alfred Latell, and today I make good on the promise to add to an earlier Latell post of mine (here), to be featured this week. My interest in Alfred Latell, born of the card I purchased shown below, helped to inspire Kim’s animal impersonator-themed Valentine this year, egged on by the fact that I had just recently acquired this publicity photo of Latell – the best and virtually only one I have seen of him not in costume. So today I endeavor to dig a little deeper into the Alfred Latell story, hoping not repeating myself while offering a fairly fulsome tale for those of you just tuning in.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Alfred Latell was a vaudeville performer with an animal act which evidence shows took off in about 1902 and ran into the early 1940’s – arguably the 1950’s in Australia it seems. Latell went to great lengths to rig up elaborate animal costumes, with moving parts such as a tail, ears or even a ridge of fur on his back. My favorite fact is that he would sit outside at night in his cat suit, watching felines in the backyard, learning how to ape their ways. This is how I see him in my mind when I consider him, outside at night in his cat suit, watching and hearing a kitty chorus on a back fence somewhere, making mental notes about them.

Dogs were a challenge he relished; he felt they were the closest to humans and his Bonzo dog appears to be the one he was best known for later in life. Latell didn’t speak in his act, perhaps the costumes precluded it, although evidently he did bird imitations when clad in an early bird suit. He always had a partner who would do the talking, and that partner was first wife one and then, Sylvan Dell, wife number two. He and Ms. Dell are shown together below in photos I found via Google and on the site referenced below.

Pausing for a moment, I reflect on Bonzo Dog and his copyright. As I think most of you probably know, Bonzo is a British comics invention by George Studdy in 1922. Born at a similar time as the likes of Felix the Cat, Bonzo comics set off a merchandise boom, first in Britain and then, much like Felix, making its way around the world. I happily own several Bonzo toys (yep, and some of those can be found featured in posts here and here), but clearly the copyright wasn’t being guarded so carefully that Alfred Latell couldn’t cheerfully make a name for himself with this act and bearing the Bonzo Dog name.

This photo bears an interesting newspaper article, glued to the back of the photo which talks about his act. It mentions Sylvan Dell and also the other acts on the bill including Pablo South America’s most famous magician and The Three Chocolateers, one of the fastest colored dance teams ever seen in Seattle. Something referred to as human pretzels rounded out the fare. As you can see from the back of the photo, shown below, this comes to us almost exactly 85 years ago to the day, February 27, 1934.

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Fellow blogger Travelanche has a post about Latell (which can be found at Alfred Latell Animal Impresssionist) which contains more biographical information and the Travelanche author corresponded with Latell’s family. (The family also contacted me after my prior post, asking if I had information beyond what I had posted.) My favorite image on that post is of an 8×10 publicity photo of Latell as Bonzo, autographed to Duke Ellington, with the inscription, To Duke Ellington, The master of Rythm may you never lead a Dog’s life, Latell 1931. The photo above with Sylvan Dell is signed by both Dell and Latell and also inscribed to Duke Ellington, To Duke Ellington, Wishing you much happiness and continued success Sincerely Sylvan Dell with Al Latell, also dated 1931.

Sadly, ultimately Alfred Latell appears to have died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave. The above referenced post says his widow was so distraught…she threw out anything that reminded her of her husband, including his famous dog suit. So much for my secret hope and dream of finding the dog suit some day.

I see that my original post is frequently read, evidence that people are searching the internet for information on him. As far as I can tell, Alfred Latell’s available credits are all for stage work; sadly I can find no evidence of him on film, although his career certainly covers a period when he could have been recorded. Hopefully a movie or other film appearance will turn up eventually so we can see him in action. (Of course, I will add that I am also very anxious to find an image of Latell in his cat suit as well.) For now, I add another, albeit thin, page to the story and lore of Alfred Latell, the great animal impersonator.

 

From My Sweetie

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who are familiar with Deitch Studio and Pictorama tradition, today is the long anticipated day when the nexus of Valentine’s Day’s meets my birthday (tomorrow) and the Kim Deitch Pam-specific annual creation is unveiled. Yay! Recent readers may remember that I foreshadowed animal imitators with my post, Ratters and Mousers (which can be viewed here) and this year’s spectacular missive from Kim addresses my affection for folks dressed up in animal costumes.

This interest in animal costumed performers pre-dates my meeting Kim and the beginning of our story. My own drawings and paintings favored this as a theme for a number of years. I collected animal masks (cheap plastic ones) to this end for awhile, and I like to think it was this fascination which provided a germ of the idea for the cat costume storyline featured in Kim’s book Alias the Cat. (What kind of wife would I be if I didn’t provide a link to purchasing it here?) I have had a deep (to date) unfilled desire to find a definitive antique cat costume and searched eBay for years to no avail. When I purchased my first photo of kids posing with Felix, I did wonder if it was perhaps a small person in a costume, until I was able to study it closely enough to know for sure it is a stuffed toy. (Quick photo off the wall below, low quality but it tells the story.) If I am being honest they do frighten me a bit, people in animal costumes, but it that good scared way that just makes you think hard.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Luckily film arrived on the scene in time to capture things like the 1907 Dancing Pig – which I adore and Kim has included in his drawing. (For those of you who have never seen it, a version resides on Youtube, here.) I am overjoyed when I can find such snippets, however like so much popular entertainment of the past, much is lost beyond remnants and I am afraid this is true of Alfred Latell and his Bonzo Dog performance. I wrote about Latell (yes! you can read it here) after discovering a photo of him. I was subsequently contacted by some of his family seeking to find out information about him. (Keep a weather eye out for a further future post about him which helped inspire the Valentine theme.)

I think this Valentine also somewhat inspired by my morning habit of reviewing my Twitter feed which is, by design, almost exclusively cat videos, photos and a silent film and early music feed. Occasionally there is a GIF, video or photo so great I demand that he stop working and come see it. (Kim is very patient about this considering this is already part of his workday.) While a bit of bad news and world decay occasionally creeps in, this Pam practice is devised to be a largely happy, pure entertainment way to start the day. (There is a dose of the New York Times online each morning too – so as not to get too far removed from the realities of every day – heavy sigh.)

Meanwhile, who could ask for more than a husband and partner who seeks to recreate that which is lost to the sands of time (or perhaps never was, but should have been) for my personal entertainment? That rascal Waldo even makes an appearance. Thank you Kim! It’s wonderful. Here’s to many future Valentine’s to come!

 

Ratters and Mousers

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Sadly there are no tracks on what this photo is about. I know only that it comes from Great Britain. The image has a cut out quality, as if the negative had the background trimmed away before printing – a few drawn lines added after the fact and I’m not sure I’ve seen that exact process before. I do want this velvety cat costume for my own and wish I was getting a better look at it. (I constantly search without success for early cat costumes, as evidenced in Kim’s Alias the Cat.) I am, as I have stated as recently as yesterday’s post, a sucker for a nice pair of cat ears and a tail. (That post can be found here. Also an alert to regular readers that I will be exploring animal imitators and in particular Alfred Latell – whose popular post can be found here – further in the near future.)

The seller pegs this card as a version of Dick Whittington and his cat which seems like a fair enough guess. The Dick Whittington story is based on a ballad from the 1600’s where Whittington sells said cat to a town that is rat-infested for the obvious denouement. As per the internet, I understand that Dick Whittington is a real historic person, but no evidence about the cat’s ratting prowess – or as Wikipedia says, that he even owned one. (We, here at the cat loving Pictorama, will assume he did.)

The reality of rodent extermination by our cats is a difficult and unpleasant one. While it is at least an unconscious hope that our darling kitties will keep the mouse and (gasp) rat population down in our abodes, you frankly do not look forward to them bringing you the carcass, or leaving it for your approval. At best it would perhaps happen behind-the-scenes somehow. There is something distinctly disturbing about seeing your loving cat, who sleeps with you perhaps at night, with a dead or struggling animal in its mouth. My sister used to find mouse heads (yes, oddly just the heads she reported) lined up on the staircase as a sort of totemic gift from her cat Milkbone, an especially good mousing tuxedo. Loren had a very old house and she made peace with the mouse part parade, ultimately embracing and applauding Milkbone’s enthusiasm for her job rather than be run over by rodents. Most of us remain conflicted at best.

Growing up at the beach as small children we were frequently cautioned about water rats there, residing in the jetties. Large enough to kill a cat my mother would say and that they would leap if cornered. (We were also warned away from approaching the feral colonies of cats that also lived in the same jetties, tough enough to co-exist with the rats and not to be toyed with, beyond domestication even in my mother’s kindhearted opinion.) Our home was perched on a river and our cats, while mostly interested in the catching of small shrews more than mice, occasionally took a water rat on. The smell of the resident outdoor cats helped to keep them at bay. However, when the cats became indoor critters the exploding rat population became more of an issue.

Mom was right – those outsized water rats are much bigger than their city counterparts, as are country mice and shrews. When I first moved to Manhattan I thought the rats I saw in the street were large mice – and some of the mice I encountered in the restaurant I worked in seemed no bigger than large spiders. Meanwhile, if I have not made it clear, I am absolutely standing-on-a-chair-screaming (like a cartoon character) scared of mice and rats – I understand it is not rational. Therefore, in self-defense I acquired a cat as soon as possible upon arrival in New York City; Otto, the first in a long line of my feral tuxedo cats. To my knowledge she never got anything larger than a water bug and most of my NY mousie (and ratty) encounters took place either outside (think subway tracks, restaurant kitchens) or at the Met – yep, suffice it to say it is a very old building in the midst of Central Park. I have long believed that, like the Hermitage, they should house cats to patrol their basement.

As I write this Cookie is playing with a favorite bright green (otherwise) life-like mouse toy, tossing it about wildly, practicing her craft in hopes of one day employing it. We here at Deitch Studio continue to hope otherwise.

 

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.

Frances Bowdon & Josyfeen

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo postcard is of a kind that is just like catnip to those of us at Pictorama who are in charge of purchasing. Frances Bowdon and her cat Jo (short for Josyfeen) is an excuse to stroll down a path of time when radio ruled and the gossip of the day, which filled hard copy newsprint, was devoted to the comings and goings of the likes of the Boswell sisters, discussions on if Russ Columbo was really a tenor, and the interesting news that Paul Whiteman didn’t like to ride in elevators. (This via the December 19, 1931 edition of Radio Guide which appears to have been a weekly publication.) Of course, an interesting photograph of a girl and her cat is enough to pique my interest. But one of the other reasons I enjoy collecting and poking around about these items are these moments of time travel they afford as they lead you down some strange byways that Google hardly even knows it has.

Frankly, Frances Bowdon rated pretty low on this fiesta of radio news and I believe only showed in my searches because radio listings were included and her evening show, fifteen minutes daily except Sunday as noted on the card, of down home mountain talk from what I can discern, appear in the listings. I couldn’t find any little snippets of news about her in the sea of commentary. Ultimately I only found this small article on her shown below, which appeared in the Ithaca Journal, November 20, 1931.

Bowdon article

Sadly for her, Frances did not seem to make enough of a splash in radio that I could easily find tracks of her career much beyond this, although listings here and there for her show seem to wander into the mid ’30’s at least. I do wonder, at a minimum, how this young woman managed to make her cat part of her radio show. In fact, for that matter, I sort of wonder how she got on the radio – but sadly these tidbits do seem to be lost in the morass of time. Her history and what happened to her later is swallowed up. I couldn’t come up with an obit for her.

In my card, if you can read the script at the bottom, she is opining on Jo having moved while taking the photo, although I personally think it isn’t bad for a kitty on the shoulder photo. The card was sent with a commercial indicia so we don’t have a stamp or cancellation for a date, but then appears to have been hand typed and addressed to Miss Flo L. Roland, R.F.D. Kenmore Sta. Dellwood Road, Buffalo, N.Y. (I do wonder how people were chosen as the recipients of such cards – what sort of mailing list was that at the time?)

The writing at the bottom of the card says, R U disapointed n me and Jo? Frances and Joseyfeen P.S. Josy wood move whin the picture was took F. In addition, the card below, which Amazon is evidently selling along with a version of my postcard, sadly, thanks a listener for their condolences on the death of Joseyfeen. (I too am sorry of course to hear of the death of her kitty.)

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I am puzzling a bit over the studied bad spelling on both of these cards. Part of the act and the Ozark’s charm that was being put forth clearly, if a bit heavy handed. I also like the phrase invisible big time from the article above – and also that she asks if the recipient of the card is disappointed in how they look. (She and Jo seem more than passingly attractive to me.) Funny that in some ways the internet is like radio in this way – while imagery does abound, many of us have regular contact with people via things like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook who we generally never see. It is different of course, but recently a few internet friends have had reason to reveal their real names, and even that is a bit surprising if you have been thinking of this person for years as Movies Silently or Popculturizm and suddenly they are Fritzi and Rob. For those of you who didn’t read my fall post Camperdown (found here) I share a recent photo of me and Kim together…just in case you’re wondering!

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Images from the Boathouse, including a bonus one of me and Kim!

Best Wishes for the New Year!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: 2018 is being rapidly ushered out the door and today I offer the annual Deitch Studio-meets-Pictorama card reveal. When I designed this year’s card I am not sure I was thinking about making it a New Year’s card, but it seemed to make itself and that’s what it turned out to be. Frankly 2018 was a tough year and I am not sorry to see the hind end of it – good riddance! Meanwhile, this was a rare season when I had an idea for the card and I pretty much sat down and out it came, exactly as I was imagining it. Kim, already deeply immersed in his new book, made some adjustments and inked it up and here we are – ta-dah!

If anyone reading this is post is new, welcome to this Deitch Studio annual tradition. Kim and I have collaborated on a holiday card since the first year we started dating. (May I note, such was the thrall I held over him, even in those nascent days, since it turns out that in reality he isn’t a fan of Christmas in the least.) Anyway, that makes 24 cards. We cannot seem to locate anyone who has good ‘ole number one which we hand colored. (Kim is rumored to have one in his files – somewhere.) By the second year we started rolling them out to a wider audience and a bit more efficiently. The card is generally drawn the day after Thanksgiving – although executed more expeditiously some years than others. I always start the card. Some years Kim adds more, some years less. Generally speaking we each draw ourselves, although this year Kim remains sort of Pam-esque as Kim Deitch fans may note. (Some former card reveals can be found by clicking on: Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio! and Merry Christmas 2015.)

The boat theme is a nod to my father who liked to sail. Born a city boy, something about sailing always intrigued him and throughout my childhood he always kept a sailboat, docked or moored in the river behind where we lived. Since he grew up in Washington Heights, I have no idea of the origins of his love of being on the water. My sister Loren got the sailing bug from him and she and her husband devoted much of their free time, summer and fall, to sailing. I, on the other hand, did not. While I am not as bad as my mother who, despite being the daughter of a fisherman and repairer of outboard motors, goes a bit green just watching a boat bob up and down in the water, I cannot sail a boat any more than I can drive a car. I see the appeal – the quiet of being on the water under sail can be thrilling and beautiful. (My father and sister were both overwhelmingly impressed that I had several trips on the enormous sailboat the Sea Cloud II when working at the Met and it was pretty amazing!) However, the time and money that one needs to devote to this pastime is beyond me and my somewhat inadequate swimming skills mean that I was never destined to be a fan.

One of my father’s trips to the hospital last year landed him in a room with a beautiful view of the Navesink river – we lived on the other side of town on the Shrewsbury river, but both rivers are lovely, if somewhat different. The hospital is built along the river and the views of it seem to be a more or less luck of the draw situation and we won the lottery that time. We looked out and talked a bit about how we’d rather be out on the water sailing than sitting in that room. I think I was thinking of that a bit when drawing this year. I plunked a sailor’s wool cap on my character’s head like dad wore in winter, and set Kim, me and the cats in this tiny vessel sailing and looking forward to the New Year, leaving 2018 behind.