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.

 

Cornered

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Setting up for Christmas, 86th Street and First Ave, NYC

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: If you are going to live in a city like New York you should have a pretty thick skin about change. After all, cities are constantly evolving, building new on top of old and on a relatively small island like Manhattan the land grab means constantly shifting vistas. Having said that, change is somewhat anathema to my nature – I have a catlike love of continuity and routine. Therefore, in some ways, I live in a state of discomfort here. And, until recently, Yorkville the tiny post-German enclave hanging over the edge of the Upper Eastside was somewhat beneath notice. However, it has started to catch up with us.

With some dismay I have been watching and waiting for the dissolution of the southwest corner of 86th and First Avenue in favor of ridiculously expensive condos. (York Avenue is undergoing a similar demolition at 86th, curling around a building housing a diner and a newsagent, 86 on one side, York on the other.) For the handful of you how follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you have seen some of these photos as I started to record it.

When I first moved to the ‘hood, back in about ’88, the diner shown here on the corner was my diner and in many ways it stayed my neighborhood diner. (To be clear, I also have a diner near work and perhaps some day I will outline this complex relationship which is very special. Kim once visited and remarked that it was like I was Mayor of a small town there.) In those early years when I was cooking for a living and this diner was a daily stop for a (large) pre-dawn breakfast before a day of cooking in midtown. In Manhattan (and perhaps elsewhere, but I have never really lived elsewhere as an adult) your diner is the place where they know you on sight and generally know how you like your coffee and your eggs. As a recent grad new to the city this seemed like a miracle of friendliness. The owner once asked me on a date in those early years which took me quite by surprise – I was more easily surprised at that age. I said no thank you. I believe I was already dating the crazed fellow chef as mentioned recently in my post of Catskill remembrance, The Wigwam.

This diner actually moved to Second Avenue as the dissolving of the corner began, taking over an existing lesser diner’s spot and it’s name, and where they are enjoying the long anticipated Second Avenue subway boom. Although I have not needed a local diner for a long time I have fallen into the habit of meeting a friend there on weekends and, low and behold, the waiter remembered our orders this weekend. Nothing short of a miracle. Seems I have a diner in the neighborhood again.

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Diner in its new incarnation on Second Avenue and 86th Street

 

The corner in question has been where Christmas trees have been sold in recent years. (When I first moved here they were sold on an empty lot on First – can you imagine an empty lot! Highrise there now.) I especially enjoy when the Christmas tree folks set up camp for a few weeks. They come right before or immediately after Thanksgiving. Their fragrant pines create a temporary forest. Part of me objects to the idea of growing these trees just to cut them down and serve them up for a short-term sentence of decoration in someone’s home – but the smell is glorious and our out-of-town guests a nice change of pace.

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Tree seller settled in with his cell phone

 

Beyond that, heading across 86, was what had been our grocery store for years, a Gristedes. I cannot really mourn the loss, it was poorly run, grimy and you always had to watch the register and your change for mistakes. However, there was (and I am so very sorry not to have a photo of it now) a VERY large green pear (we’re talking human-sized) attached to the front of the store which christened it as the Pear Store in the Pam/Kim vernacular of daily life, as in “Yeah, I’ll pick it up from the Pear Store on the way home.” Replaced in our house largely first by Fresh Direct, then Fairway and then the addition of a Whole Foods, we also cling to a Gristedes on York for general grocery needs. However, this store is a wondrous single story – yep, nothing above it, a row of brownstone walk-ups peering over it. We knew we were on borrowed time as Manhattan hates nothing so much as the opportunity to build upward, and I understand the air rights went for a mint. In general, the loss of this corner will mean a loss of light on the ground for us daily denizens of the neighborhood, as what is likely to come will be hulking and light obscuring for sure.

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First and 86th Streets NYC

 

Inching further down the block I will add that there once was a splendid hole-in-the wall Russian restaurant on the far side of the grocery store. It must have housed about eight tables. They made heavenly blini for a bargain price. If you weren’t careful however, they gave you large servings of kasha with your entree and the middle-aged Russian proprietress would yell at you if you didn’t finish it. I didn’t realize that kasha was a smell from my childhood – Russian Jewish grandparents on my father’s side, Sunday lunches – and I hate it. Probably hated it as a child too. No kasha for me. (I had my last date with my ex-boyfriend Kevin there. We ate there frequently and had gone there after returning from a trip to a wedding in Maine where he broke the news that he was calling it quits after seven years.) The storefront has since become a high-end drugstore and I believe is not being torn down.

Zipping back around to the First Avenue side of the block, there was briefly a rather interesting store that sold nothing but pickles and olives. They relocated to Lexington Avenue where frankly they seem to do a better business. Then there was a sort of pop-up dollar store where Kim purchased some dubious readers (eyeglasses I mean, you can still see the sign for it), a fairly traditional barbershop, a bar, and most recently a sort of city-run residential halfway house of some kind. While I do not especially bemoan much along that stretch, I will mention that the apartments above the diner on the corner were long coveted by me. Corner views are always especially nice and look at that top floor – that must have been lovely – there are skylights and a glassed in room at the top. Sigh. Can’t really envy it now because if I lived there I would be looking for a new perch here in Yorkville – and unlikely to afford it!

 

Rich Conaty

Pam’s Pictorama: A bit of a disclaimer on this post, as it is a radical departure from my usual posts. The recent loss of our friend Rich Conaty has me thinking and seems to require that I get a few thoughts down. For those of you who did not know Rich, he was an extraordinarily talented disc jockey who had a radio show for decades devoted to music of the 20’s and 30’s. Rich launched his career at the Fordham, NY college radio station, WFUV, in the 1970’s when he was still in high school. I caught up with him more than a decade later when I was in my senior year at college. I was commuting into NYC on weekends for a day-long life drawing class at the Art Student’s League and spending Sunday nights alone in an apartment my father used during most of the week here in Manhattan.

I just never was much of a fan of the music of my own day (the 1980’s for the most part) and while I had experimented with listening to jazz and while it held some charm, it ultimately disappointed me. Slowly as I started to discover Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday it dawned on me that what I liked was music, mostly but not only vocal, from the 1920’s and 30’s. I bought some tapes (yep, 1986 and this was before cd’s) and started to get the lay of the land. Radio shows might touch on this music, but nothing seemed to focus on it. Somehow I stumbled onto Rich’s show one Sunday night in Manhattan and I listened weekly. That was great while I was in New York, but in those pre-internet days there was no way to pick it up from New London, Connecticut. Therefore, once my class in Manhattan ended, I was left high and dry.

Post graduation I ended up back in New York, cooking professionally. The hours I kept curtailed any late night radio listening, but I did manage to tune in occasionally. My cooking career ended with a bad fall and injury early on, and I found myself working at the Metropolitan Museum with regular hours. I rediscovered Rich’s show on a road trip with my then boyfriend, Kevin Hein. We were coming home from South Jersey late one Sunday night – must have been visiting his parents. I was hooked for good at that point and became a devoted weekly listener. In fact, I would tape them each week and play them throughout the rest of the week. Kevin liked the show too, and we could usually schedule ourselves to be home on Sunday night.

Another disclaimer – unlike Kim, I am not someone who can address and debate the finer points of this music and my brain has always been a bit of a sieve for these kinds of facts, so I cannot do Rich justice on this point despite listening dutifully all those years. (It’s a good thing I managed to marry someone who verges on being a savant for remembering dates and things associated with music and recordings.) I did begin to figure out what I liked and names like Smith Belew and Annette Henshaw, Connie Boswell became familiar. The fact was though, I pretty much liked it all, even Arthur Tracy grew on me over time – well, sort of. In looking back on it, especially in that first decade, I associated Rich and the Big Broadcast with the life I made for myself in New York. Like so many kids from the suburbs who move here, there are touchstones for how we found our way to who we wanted to be – and Rich’s show and the world of that music was that for me.

Over the almost three decades of listening, Rich was sharing bits of his personal life over his show until all us listeners felt like we knew him. Show anniversaries, AA, meeting and then eventually marrying his girlfriend Mary. As for me, after more than seven years together Kevin and I called it quits. I dated a few people, some who shared my musical interest – or at least had interests that intersected. I don’t think Kim knows this, but it was a passing comment about the Boswell sisters he made at a party once that really got me thinking about him. His comics were steeped in period musical references too – it piqued my interest indeed.

I guess Kim was thinking about me as well, but evidently he was surprised to find Fats Waller playing when he walked into my apartment for our first date – a random tape of one of Rich’s shows – Fats with Ted Lewis, Crazy About My Baby, Kim reminds me now. Kim focused on it right away and wanted to know more about the show – he became a devoted follower of the show and my boyfriend that night. A little more than a month later he and I made our only ever New Year’s Eve foray out to the New Yorker Hotel where Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks were performing, an event Rich had mentioned on his show. He and Mary were there, but we didn’t know them. I had heard the Nighthawks live once or twice before – at a film, an outside concert downtown, but it was the first time Kim and I heard them together. I was recovering from a horrible flu that night and we didn’t stay too long though and were amazed to get a taxi in that locale, not so far from Times Square.

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A music infused drawing that Kim did for me, Pams-Pictorama.com

 

Life burbled along. Kim and I moved in together. Sunday nights were pretty sacred and always reserved for the Big Broadcast. Rich left WFUV for a brief foray into commercial radio and we followed the best we could. It was a square peg in a round hole however, with playlists and other limitations, and eventually he found his way back to WFUV, to our great relief. He had his first bout with cancer, but seemed to recover quickly. His marriage ultimately ended over time; we eventually got hitched ourselves in 2000. Sadly, later Rich’s former wife Mary died years later.

On occasion we would go hear the Nighthawks at a restaurant in Chelsea, once or twice alone, but more often when someone with an interest in music was visiting from out of town. And somewhere in the years that followed Rich recognized Kim’s name and called it out as a thank you for being a supporter of the show. This lead to that over time and Rich invited us to join him to hear Vince and the Nighthawks at their then current gig at a place in the basement of a Times Square building that appeared to have once been a speakeasy, Sophia’s. Hard to find, but worth the effort.

I was beyond excited to meet Rich – yep, a total fan girl after all this time. I wasn’t disappointed. Rich was just the sweetest, most generous guy on the face of the earth. Despite the late hour he drove out of his way to drop us off at home after the show. After that Kim and I joined him several times, most recently at a new venue for the Nighthawks, The Iguana. He loved the story of Kim hearing Fats the first time he visited me and would always ask Vince to play it on those subsequent visits to hear the Nighthawks with him. He remembered Kim’s birthday too after we had a musical evening as a birthday foray for him. One night at a large table we met Rich’s mom. I was seated next to her and she was already a bit vague, but I had a good time talking to her.

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Kim’s cover art for the Big Broadcast Vol. 10

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An ad and calling card Kim drew for Rich

 

Kim did a great ad for the Big Broadcast for Rich to use and we have used it on our Facebook page to remind people of and introduce them to the show on Sunday nights. My good friend Betsy was one unexpected convert. Kim also did the cover art for one of the Big Broadcast annual premium disks for giving to the show. I counseled Rich on fundraising for his program – it was always so important to him that the show be seen as carrying its weight at the cash starved not-for-profit station. (We would also talk about his cats and, although I am sure he made provision for them, I worry about them now. I’m sure they miss him so much!)

While we would communicate via Facebook and Twitter and see each other periodically, our paths intersecting on and off throughout the last ten or more years, we were not in touch enough that I can fully adjust to the idea that he is gone. A second round of cancer came on hard and fast and claimed him this time. However, in my mind he remains at home upstate working on the next Big Broadcast and our next date to hear the Nighthawks remains alluringly in the near future.

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Rich and his ’53 Nash

Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio

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The 2016 Deitch Studio Pictorama card revealed!

 

Pam’s Pictorama Bonus Post: It’s that time of the year – that most wonderful season of all! Here is this year’s contribution to the holidays co-authored by Kim and I as usual. This year, for better or worse, Kim let me have my head and it is perhaps a tad more Butler than Deitch. 2016 was a tough year and being curled up in bed with the kitties, reading (me on my iPad and Kim with a volume which has its own meaning – to be revealed in his upcoming book) seemed like the only sane place to end the year!

Cookie and Blackie figure prominently in the spot they pretty much hold in real life at the foot of the bed. Blackie likes to curl up behind my knees, a bit higher than shown here. Cookie is usually at my feet – on her own pillow no less. This is a perch that came into fashion while I was recovering from foot surgery and had to sleep with my leg elevated all night. Cookie decided that the pillow should stay for her benefit. C&B keep us on a fairly regular schedule and Blackie is in charge of waking us up with his gentle cold wet nose kisses (quite) early in the morning. Kim is usually the first up and the feeder of them – they know I can sleep through almost anything and therefore am a bad bet. The other morning I woke in the middle of the night feeling stiff and strangely leaden and wondered what on earth was wrong – as I went to turn over I discovered that both the kits were sound asleep on top of me!

As I indicated above, Kim is reading a book that turns out to be a Deitch studio special and I am reading one of my Moving Picture Girls or Grace Harlowe series books on my iPad. (As chronicled in Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls and Moving Picture Girls Novels post of a few weeks ago.) Sorry the toys, which live at the foot and side of the bed, and the many piles of books, Kim’s side of the bed, didn’t make it into the picture, but they would complete the image of the Deitch-Butler clan at home in reality.

You can count on the fact that this is where we will ring in 2017 – cats, books and all, maybe a silent western playing on the tiny television which is also crammed into a room almost no bigger than our futon!

Merry Christmas and every best wish for a peaceful and happy New Year!