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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.)

Bowdon note.jpg

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!

0

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.

Cracker Jack Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I would have been a fat kid with bad teeth if Cracker Jack toys were as good as this when I was little! I discovered this fellow on eBay the other day and paused to imagine a tot’s world endowed with such wealth. I should start by saying I have always loved eating Cracker Jack and plowing my way through many boxes of it would not have been considered a hardship. I would say candy popcorn sprinkled with candied peanuts remains pretty high on my list of favorite junk foods. The fact that a toy of some sort was tucked in amongst all that yumminess of course just made it all the better.

A lot of research has been done on Cracker Jack and collecting these toys. I spent a little time on the comprehensive site, theartiscrackerjack.com for some information and a quick history. While Cracker Jack starts being made and sold as early as 1871 it is christened in 1896. Toys make their appearance in the boxes in 1912. The 1920’s seems to be the sweet spot for metal toys like my cat, although the first toys were flat metal soldiers so metal was used early on. Paper was surprisingly popular, and since it went into the box unprotected, that which survives today generally still bears the residual sugary stains. Celluloid takes over, followed by other molded plastic later.

I can appreciate the fascination with those early paper toys which have somehow survived, evidently the most prized by collectors. However, it is the metal toys like this one that capture my imagination and would have kept me popping candied popcorn in hopes of making a charm bracelet or finding the ultimate special toy. In a quick search of images online I did not turn up my new blue cat specifically, although cats seem to have been generously represented over the decades. It seems that cartoon characters were favored at one point and evidently Little Orphan Annie and Popeye were among those featured. There is a rather stunning Toonerville Trolley whistle as well, shown below. It must be some sort of high water mark among these prizes!

Toonerville Trolley not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Some of the metal toys are unbelievably elaborate and my mind boggles at how it could have been cost effective to produce and include them when Kim says even in his childhood the price was a nickel for the longest time. Meanwhile, his fondest memory of a Cracker Jack toy is of a red Scottie dog. I have found Scottie dogs in both metal and plastic – another popular model with a myriad of variations. I cannot seem to produce an image of the exact correct one as of right now. Kim says nothing reached the pinnacle of that acquisition afterward.

While I have memories of plastic charms early on, replaced by paper later, I don’t actually have a specific memory of finding something great in particular. I always looked forward to the prize however, even after they had mostly been reduced to sorry little joke books. I believe it is possible I would have kicked off my life long collecting tendencies much earlier if I had found this kitty in a box of Cracker Jack I was munching. Sadly, the company has discontinued even a nominal prize. However it is fair to say that even now this discovery is threatening to kick off a whole new area of collecting here at Pictorama.

The Elephant Eyes Have It

 

elephant 2.jpg

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today’s Pictorama is an odd item in a few ways. It was found, not purchased and it was Kim who encountered it on the street one day, not me. (Kim casually, somewhat unconsciously and occasionally, collects detritus – generally interesting metal bits and tiny plastic toys – off the street. These pile up in his pockets and eventually migrate to shelves in the apartment.) Elephants make up only the tiniest subset of collectibles and collected here at Deitch Studios (although for one you can see this nifty box Kim gave me here), but Kim and I have a soft spot for elephants, both real and toy. I for one have always wanted a good size elephant on wheels riding toy and keep a weather-eye out for the right one. Today’s item isn’t an especially old toy like most of the early 20th century items in the house, some starting to bump up toward the 100 year mark now. He began life as standard issue contemporary. I sometimes worry about the child who must have been sad to lose him.

For those of you who follow us on a variety of social media you might know that we went to the Prospect Park Zoo this summer, following our noses on an elephant that was or might have been story, research for a tale Kim is mulling over for his next book. This September, in his work that combines dance and music about animals called Spaces, Wynton Marsalis informed that elephants can be trained to dance in tandem, perhaps the only animals to do so. In another performance he also reminded that, while elephant hide is advertised to be tough, it is in reality very sensitive both to touch and the sun, and therefore that you might want to bring one some lotion if you had the chance to meet one.

This little fellow was found by Kim many years ago now. His is a simple and economical profile, but somehow has just enough elephant charm. One day I came home from work and much to my surprise, Kim had replaced the elephant’s casually applied on and missing features (shadows of his former eyes and toes can be seen if you look carefully) with painted on Deitchien new ones, making him a one-of-a-kind. He has subsequently taken up residence on a shelf, after sampling several other perches in the apartment. He is shown below in a page from Kim’s book Alias the Cat, sitting on his desk. That was probably shortly after Kim christened his new features.

20181117-00002.jpg

20181117-00004.jpg

The one thing we all know about elephants is their great memories, repositories of much which of good and bad. They hold long grudges and deep affections, almost as if these were in proportion to their out-sized selves. I like to think this fellow is grateful to Kim for rescuing him from the streets of New York and supplying him with a fine new set of sporty features. For us he is a lucky elephant and are pleased that he is a member of the family here, contentedly spending his days amongst the kitties and toy cats.

 

Advertising

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We at Pictorama and Deitch Studio interrupt this blog for an advertisement – and a Kim Deitch beaut no less, always a cause for celebration. I unveil for you my new Pictorama business card, appropriately drawn and penned by Mr. Deitch himself.

Yesterday I went looking for an early post and was reminded that the blog is now more than four years old, and with little exception, has published a minimum of two posts a week, Saturday and Sunday, every week since August 2014. Today’s post is number 499! Therefore, and considering we are on the cusp of Halloween (a black cat favorite holiday here at Pictorama) it seems like an auspicious time to post this.

Truthfully, I never did find what I was looking for yesterday, but was charmed anew by many of the photos and toys. As Kim once said, if he saw the stuff in his storage unit, he’d buy it all over again – I feel the same about my photos and the blog was originally conceived as a way of organizing them and easily sharing them. (I surpassed our ability to display the photos in our tiny apartment long ago, although the toys are generally on view and enjoyed daily.) Clearly I haven’t done so well on the organizing aspect or I would have found the post I was looking for – but I have had a lot more fun with the writing aspect of this than I originally considered.

Over time I have found myself talking about Pictorama to folks and decided that what I needed was a business card so they could find their way here more easily – although I do appear to be the only Pam’s Pictorama when Googled. However, increasing our readership is a part of our mandate – spreading entertaining early photos of cats, jolly antique toys and tales to as many folks as possible.

So I put in my request for a card with Mr. Deitch back in the spring, realizing that it would have to wait until after Reincarnation Stories, the new book, was completed and scanned. (No preferential treatment for the staff or wives here please know. We wait our turn.) As it happened, my card was deferred until after a Twink album cover – and even awaited a new story for the next book made its way into roughs before it was complete. I share it first with you, dear readers, today. And it was well worth waiting for – a big, jolly Halloween kitty, dancing kitties and Waldo behind the camera! Kitty is based on one of my earliest toy acquisitions of a stuffed Halloween cat, one that I found a purchased a matching partner to shortly after. I immortalized them in a Halloween post back in 2015 called Two of a Kind which can be found here. The card captures the spirit of Pictorama perfectly.

This week I will find my way to a printer and hopefully the next time you meet me in person I will be able to share one of these splendid cards with you. It is my plan to venture into the world well supplied with them henceforth.