Jean Arthur and Her Lucky Black Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photograph was one of those mercurial finds online. I stumbled on it and snatched it up immediately. When it arrived and I was stunned to find that it is in almost pristine condition. Written in pencil (twice) on the back is Jean Arthur, the Culver Photo Research Service logo (a snappy one with their address and phone is a part of it phone VAnderbilt 3-337251 E 42nd St NYC). In addition it is stamped, Reproduction of this PHOTOGRAPH must carry our credit line. This picture is loaned for one reproduction only and must not be sold, loaned or syndicated. Must not be used for advertising without written permission. It also bears the inscription, Permission is hereby granted for use of this photograph in Magazines and News papers. Credit to PARAMOUNT PICTURES will be appreciated. Photograph by Gene Robert Richee.

Kim has calculated this photo for about 1924-25. In a book he has a photo of Jean in ’25 with her hair bobbed however so this is presumably earlier than that photo. We cannot actually find her linked to a Paramount film in that timeframe so if you all have information let us know. Of course for me this splendid black cat on her lap is what makes the photo. A charming Jean is instructing stuffed kitty in the ways of the radio microphone. He seems like a sprightly fellow with this nice big bow. Although there was a popular Stieff model of this sort at the time, I don’t believe that is his pedigree.

Eugene Robert (E.R.) Richee (1896-1972) was a Paramount portrait photographer although online references disagree on the years he was there. (One states he worked there from 1925-1935 which would date this photo better, but another states that he started there in the late teens.) He is best known and most closely associated with well recognized photos of Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks, among others. He moved to Warner Brothers and worked there and for MGM later. Jean is listed among the stars he photographed at Warner Brothers as well. Some stars demanded him for their photos and one site quoted that Miriam Hopkins was being difficult from the moment she arrived, because Richee was not there. His style seems to morph from this sort of studio shot to silvered exquisiteness that epitomize a certain kind of early 20th century retouched perfection in photographs. I prefer the slightly kooky and offbeat charm of these earlier efforts.

As mentioned, Jean’s kitty appears to be of what I think of as a generic good luck black cat type, as opposed let’s say to a nice Felix, or even an Aesop Fable doll (see my post of Jane Withers in Van Bueren’s Aesop Fables – the Toys! ) which I am always on the prowl for. These black cats proliferated in the early 20th century, as did other “lucky” black cat items. (A whole lot of those are on display in my post Lucky Black Cat among others.) This toy is strikingly similar to the one held by the little girl in my post Altar of the Black Kitty and as a toy collector, of course I must add that I wouldn’t mind having such a nice fellow in the Pictorama collection, fluffy tail and all, sometime soon. I share a photo of an early favorite from my collection from another post, which I believe hails from the same general family, yet a bit different.

black cat w/ bow

 

 

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Come Hither Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In honor of the onset of Chinese New Year today – Happy Year of the Rooster! – I decided to focus on this heretofore unsung cat member of Deitch studio. Years ago we spotted and admired one of these lucky “beckoning” kitties at our favorite Mexican restaurant across the street, a splendid hole in the wall establishment run by a Korean family, where we get our Friday night take out every week. I hopped down to Chinatown and picked one up for Kim. I think it was an anniversary gift, but it might have been Valentine’s Day. Our little fellow waved cheerfully until the batteries ran out – then sadly the innards fell out when we tried to change the batteries. Waving or not, we remain fond of him despite this and stubbornly cling to the idea that he is indeed lucky.

My friend, Mr. Google, was ready at hand to tell me that this kitty is Japanese, although popular with Chinese merchants (we will have to assume Koreans as well) and has the official name Maneki-neko – roughly translated as beckoning kitty. Evidently these are modeled specifically on something called a calico Japanese bobtail – and yep, I checked and sure enough he is indeed a bobtail although ours does not indicate calico as some do. His red collar is just that, the kind of collar cats would wear – bibs with little bells to scare off the birds. (I saw a cat wearing such a contraption in Tibet in a monastery once – the cat looked rather aggrieved, although I assume he or she was used to it. Made sense to me that Buddhist monks wouldn’t abide bird catching.)

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From the back, bib bow and bobtail shown

 

The large item in his right paw is said to be a coin – the promise of good fortune. They are available in red, black and pink, as well as gold, and different colors mean different things – good fortune, luring away evil spirits, and love – of course! And they are produced in every medium from porcelain and plastic to metal and plaster. Frankly, we can’t decide exactly what ours is made of, perhaps a pot metal. I read that the calico ones are the luckiest – that’s what they have at the Mexican take-out. I show you one of those below.

 

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Calico Lucky Cat, not in my collection

I was the Secret Santa to my boss this year and I gave him a  tiny plastic version of one of these. I figured there was no more appropriate gift than that for a fellow fundraiser, but don’t tell him. Santa should remain a secret.

As Pictorama readers already know – and despite what you might think otherwise – black kitties are actually considered good luck by many and certainly we are of that opinion here at Deitch Studio. In a past post, Lucky Black Cat, I give a look at an early flyer that sold all sorts of lucky black cat paraphernalia. In an earlier post of the same name, Lucky Black Cat refers to a stuffed black cat held by Olympic British swimmer Ruth Moris-Hancock in a photo card circa 1936. Still, we’re secretly relieved that Blackie has that nice white badge on his chest – we wouldn’t want anyone to be scared of him!

 

It’s in the Cards

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Pam’s Pictorama: I purchased these during a long-ago trip to London. They were part of a multi-item bundle purchase which included tobacco tins and cigarette boxes with cats on them (featured in the post Smokin’ Cats) and a series of Felix tobacco cards and enamel pins – future posts! At the time I had never seen them before and did not know that they were part of a popular Black Cat Fortune Telling Game made by Parker Bros. in 1897, three years before they introduced the infinitely popular Ouija board as a mass market game. I just liked the black cat pictures when I saw them. These cards sit on a crowded shelf of black cat goodies in our living room, usually with The Past sitting on top.

I gather that fortune telling games were quite popular at the time and this one functioned somewhat like tarot cards. The cards fell into the general category listed as the header on each of the cards and then relating to the fortune listed on the back, resulting I am told, in each person getting six fortunes per read. I was quickly able to find the game listed in the collections of the New York Historical Society and the V&A in London. Below is a photo of an original game cover grabbed off the internet.

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NY Historical Society image of original box

 

Over time I have seen the pieces sold, the cards here, the box there, on eBay over the years. It is widely reproduced however and the reproduction game can be yours for a very modest amount. The cover of the game box is reproduced widely on everything from cigarette holders and necklaces, to miniature versions for your dollhouse – if I had a dollhouse I would want those. I would have loved this game as a kid, although not sure how I would feel about a gypsy fortune teller whipping them out.

I am very fond of the wise and serious looking fellow sporting his big, red bow, The Past. However, as I study them now Danger with those hissing kitties chasing away the dog is pretty spectacular (one scared fellow has gone up a pole it seems; we can’t all be brave I guess). Love Matters illustrates kitty affection, but also indifference, alas. The Future is both an older cat and some kittens, but curiously a caged bird in back. Whew, not a promising future for that bird clearly. Lastly we have General Advice where our red-bowed kit is teaching the beribboned little ones among what appear to be scattered cat toys. Interesting. As you can see, the backs read with fortune snippets such as, Utmost to interest you in an enterprise and You have been spending your money too or Your desires are too extravagant.

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Image from Catwisdom101.com

 

As a black cat collector (not to mention being the cat mom of our almost entirely black cat, the aptly named Blackie) I have long take the position that they are indeed good luck. A former post devoted to this idea is my post, Lucky Black Cat which highlights pamphlets selling good luck totems, etc. So as we head toward the Halloween witching hour, remember to honor the black cat gods of luck!