Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Those of us who dabble in the world of toy effigies of cartoon and comic book characters are well aware of how, contemporaneously anyway, Krazy Kat lagged a bit in the bid for toy fame and remunerative reproduction and merchandise. Even in animation, there’s appears to be a smattering of ancient silent cartoons that provide a reasonable representation of Krazy – and a mass of later cartoons which bare no resemblance to him in appearance or temperament, but which are great fun nonetheless.
And in parallel there are a very thin number of toys dedicated to or derived from the strip. There is one stuffed toy figure of Krazy from his hey day which is oddly (appropriately perhaps?) abstract and came in several different colors ranging from acid green to an equally shocking purple. (There is another which attempts a greater three dimensional reading of him. I own examples of both, shown below.)
However, all this to say that while the two dolls (yes, two, the man on the end holds one as does the girl in the middle which is harder to see) bear an interesting resemblance to those dolls they are somehow even further abstracted. Homemade versions of those already odd dolls? They look slightly demonic and the mystery as to why these folks had their photo taken with them as part of the family (while taking a mountainous hike) is a mystery lost to time indeed. (Although I do have other photos with folks featuring themselves with Krazy Kat dolls and those can be found here and here.)
This photo postcard was sold to me by someone in Massachusetts and it is unused and unmarked on the back. Without knowing definitively we can probably assume that this was taken in the United States. The older woman on the end and the young one next to her are smiling, but frankly the rest of the group is a bit grim, toys on display or not. Visually I like the contrast of the one woman in black tights and the other in white, both in plaid dresses. One doll is dark and the other light as well.
The seller identified these dolls as Felix and said he is in the process of selling off his Felix collection in retirement. I guess it’s a fair argument that these were intended to be Felix rather than Krazy as they don’t really look like either. Meanwhile, these dolls appear to have been designed to (arguably?) address us with a raised middle finger – a strange choice for a toy. Huh. The other hand points down. The simple toothy grin and the pointy ears contribute to the somewhat malevolent look which is born out more in the expression of the light one rather than the dark.
Obscene gesture or not, I would happily snatch these fellows up for the Pictorama collection should they ever turn up.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Just last week when I was writing about the (thrilling) acquisition of my new Dean’s Rag Eugene the Jeep toy (he is lovingly immortalized in a post that can be found here) I opined on the evident difficulty of toy companies in converting some characters from two dimensions to three. Krazy Kat is the most extreme example of this in my opinion – although don’t even get me started on his compatriot Ignatz as that is an odd design situation as well.
Perhaps there were other reasons why Krazy was never made into a toy which better represented his joyful, pudgy, sexually ambivalent embodiment. (Readers of the strip know that Krazy seemed to morph somewhat between male and female identity, but I do think it is fair to say Krazy is the first they I would have known.)
Most notably Krazy Kat never enjoyed the universal popularity of Felix or Mickey. British factories were not turning out off-model Krazy Kats on the East End of London. (The amazing story of those Felix dolls can be found here in one of the most interesting posts I ever researched!) Ratty looking Mickies proliferated. However, due to only a somewhat rarified audience for the strip there was less demand for toys and other collectible items. A handful of early cartoons exist (with an impressive executed Krazy) but it is a later (again utterly re-designed) Krazy who makes a series of nevertheless excellent cartoons which seem to have nothing to do with the strip, alas.
The toy these gentlemen in my photo have grasped between them is one of the few contemporaneously produced stuffed toys of Krazy Kat and while the face makes a sort of reasonable stab at him, the body is oddly flat – like he was squished by a roller into a space that is not quite three, but more than two dimensions.
And I have one of these dolls (of course I do!) which came in a variety of colors, but otherwise are identical in design. (I understand there were four sizes although mine at about 12.5″ is the most common as far as I can tell.) I wrote about the acquisition of it (a gift from Kim but with its own story), in a forerunner to this blog which was published in a book about Krazy Kat with illustrations by Kim. (The book is just called Krazy and was a catalogue for an exhibit. It seems utterly unavailable at the time of writing. I will perhaps share that in a future post in one form or another sometime.) These dolls tend to be quite dear and therefore sadly I have not ventured to collect them in the less available acid green, bright purple, black or orange colors and made of felt – although it would be jolly to have them all lined up together.
This doll was produced by Averill Manufacturing here in NYC (Union Square!) according to an ad on Mel Brinkrant’s site which can be found here. (His brief tale of acquiring his first one of these dolls is great and I recommend it.)
As an aside, Averill is a company that operated under several names and in addition to Krazy, produced some fairly dreadful looking large-eyed dolls although this Whistling Dan, below, caught my eye while I was looking. A whistling doll! Talk about what you always wanted for Christmas! (There was a Whistling Rufus and a Whistling Nell as well.) Wonder exactly how this worked?
Eventually a more rounded version of Krazy appears and I own one of those as well. (See below.) I cannot read the faded tag on the sole of his foot, nor can I find confirmation online that these were also made by Averill, but the design seems to have morphed from this earlier one.
I went much further down the toy rabbit hole than intended before turning our attention to the photo in question. It is a snap shot and only measures about 3″x4″ and bears the evidence of having been in a scrapbook, black paper clinging to the back. One can’t help but wonder what enticed these two gentlemen to pose as such, but I think if we look hard at the shadow of the photographer we will note that it is a woman and I will assume they complied at her behest. One of our fellows is neatly attired in nice trousers and sporting a tie, while the other is a bit grimy and looks like perhaps he was working in this yard before this was snapped. They look a tad sheepish about the whole affair.
The negative suffers from overexposure and the white shirts of the men melt into a white, cloudless sky, unintentionally somehow giving the impression that it was an oppressively hot summer day. Some light seems to also have sneaked into the side of the camera and exposed the film along the lower right corner, contributing to this affect. These dolls were produced starting back in the late teens (Mel’s ad appears in a 1916 magazine) so it is possible that she was using fairly early and primitive brownie and film.
Despite its evident flaws I had to have this jolly photo. Not only are photos of these dolls rare (I have only one other I can think of in my collection and it can be found here) but it has charm too. Kim said, and I agree, that Krazy looks like he is being reluctantly marched off somewhere by these gents, under citizens arrest, more than looking like a kid out for a stroll!
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 here, here, 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.
Pam’s Pictorama: This sort of pulls the idea of cat advertising in another direction. While this card, with its cat characters more Terry Tunes and Aesop’s Fables than Krazy, first called out to me for the location here on West 48th Street and Broadway, the patter on the back sold me. It should be noted that the artist who drew this thought enough of his swipe to sign his name – or at least Rusty signed with gusto and underlined below Miss Kitty. It is a later entry, decades after the glory days of Victorian cards, but as we well know, cats continued to sell.
In 1930, Krazy Kat the comic strip was roaring along in the midst of its run. Two of the five studios that were to have Krazy Kat entries had just about shot their bolt and in 1930 Columbia was launching their entry. The earliest cartoons, made in 1916 and ’17, were International releases. These are hard to find, but real gems in my opinion. Krazy maintains a look more or less true to the comics in these and some even have a sense of Harriman’s own hand. She/he gets more stylized as we move through the Bray and Winkler years. The toys seem to be based on this design for the most part. Finally, as we get to Columbia Krazy looks much less like the newspaper self. I was a bit stunned by this at first and dismissed them. However, Jerry Beck was kind to send us a disk of these several years ago and just judged on their own, I love these cartoons regardless of how little they resemble the comic strip. I am a tad sorry that no toys appear to have been made with this model – I would love to be wrong however, let me know. Meanwhile, I offer links to a sample of these cartoons here: Krazy and Ignatz at the Circus (1916); A Happy Family (1935). We are so lucky to be able to snatch a look at these on Youtube these days!
Diving down the internet rabbit hole of Buddy Walker and Harry Delson I found some references to Buddy Walker and Harry Delson at the Krazy Kat Inn in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1930 which helps date this card…the Krazy Kat Inn, where somebody ought to do something about Harry Delson. According to Variety he was heading a list of principals at the Alamo on 125th Street…a real vaudeville act when handled by these competent performers back in the teens. And further back, in 1912, he was the main feature who kept the audience spinning with laughter all night. I also found a radio listing for a broadcast from the above listing for the Krazy Kat Inn, so I guess it had at least a touch of prestige. Without find a real description Delson’s act was described as Hebrew humor and evidently Walker was known for a notable comedy performance in black face in the 1920’s. An obit for Harry Delson, vaudeville performer, who died at age 62 in New York City, appears in 1950.
Stretching this a bit further into the territory of interesting speculation and trivia. My husband Kim is related on his father’s side to the actress Gloria Delson. Gloria is a former Goldwyn Girl, actress and vocalist, once married to famed lyricist Sammy Cahn. Although I was unable to tie them out as related, we more or less assume that Harry was related to her and therefore to Kim as well.