You Oughta Be in Pictures

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I now realize that I did a sort of lousy job taking pictures of these photos when I came across them while unpacking things at my mother’s a few month’s back and I apologize for that. These photos are large, at least 8″x10″, and both are matted the same and set in blond wooden frames. (I cropped them because my photos of them were uneven and a bit cockeyed – they are in reality more of a matched set.) These pictures are of me and my sister as tiny tots – apologies to my brother as he wasn’t born for another six or so years. I am the younger of the two, in the playpen, and my sister Loren is sitting on some steps, looking a bit like one of the Little Rascals in her slightly grubby looking garb.

Without knowing it for a fact, I assume that these were taken by my father. Pictorama readers know that dad, Elliott Butler, was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career. Ironically this meant that there weren’t that many photos he took of us as kids because he was never content with the simple snapshot. Photo taking with dad involved a panoply of light meters and carefully considered compositions, and my memories of it are of the somewhat tedious variety of standing around as a subject – especially frustrating as a child, but the family tradition continued into adolescence.

The end result was that he didn’t bother with all the truck and nonsense that often and, like the shoemaker’s kids who go shoeless, we do not have all that many photos of us as small children. Despite all of that, somehow he captured us here pretty much in our native state of kid-ness.

This pair of photographs hung in my parent’s bedroom as long as I can remember. (Another set were in my grandmother’s living room and I was reminded of that recently. It popped a small bubble of memory in my mind, but I can’t say I really remember it.) These hung over a bureau – above a television at one time as I remember, but on either side of an antique mirror in more recent memory. (Many years ago I was flying home from Russia when my photo, which had already hung in the spot for decades, fell off the wall. My mother, who barely suppresses a superstitious streak, told me she was a nervous wreck until she heard I was safely on the ground. Luckily me and the pilot of my plane were ignorant of this incident.)

While retrieving these from a leaky garage before they could be ruined, I piled up a few others and perhaps we’ll get future posts on those. Most memorable are the photos of my mother and her brother John, also large, framed professional photos taken when they were in high school. These have the skillful hand coloring of the period. Ironically those I remember distinctly from my grandmother’s living room, hanging on silver-gray wallpaper with a design of green vines. I used to stare at them in fascination and try to mentally equate them with the adults I knew at the time.

I think Kim and I agree that I do not make a case for an extremely attractive child here. As he put it kindly this morning, I grew into my looks. On the other hand, Loren looks very charming here with her wild curls. Knowing my sister and her restless energy, it must have been quite a coup to get her to sit still as long as it would have taken to achieve this photo.

Anyway, I rescued these, cleaned them up a bit and set them up in the room I stay in at my mother’s house. As it would happen, they sit on an old bureau of my father’s, on either side of a television and I will be glad to see them each time I visit.

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ID – #O92

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Over our vacation this week a visit to the Met revealed something I had never seen before – a collection of early photo ID pins. Reminiscent of mug shots these identification tags seemed largely to have been from the industrial world of the 1930’s and 40’s, maybe into the 50’s. (I learned that earlier there had been just metal pins with numbers.)

From companies we still know today, such as Proctor and Gamble and Frigidare, to the rather snappy but little known Textile Machine Works, each of these is interesting individually, but they create a wonderful overall effect when you see a couple of dozen displayed as the Met has currently put together.

Unlike the rather uninteresting identification folks like me carry daily today, these photos in their tin frames are impressive in their weightiness. Sadly, I am not sure anyone will ever find my Jazz at Lincoln Center identification worth recovering and saving, nor will they have the chance as today’s ID cards are of course chock full of electronic information and are generally required to be returned upon leaving employment.

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From the exhibit at the Met, one of many badges in a display case.

 

Although not especially attractive aesthetically, my Met ID was a wonderful thing which not only open employee passageways and activated elevators, but it also gained me free admission to all of the museums in New York and many elsewhere. The photo was decidedly mug shot-esque, but the person taking the photos was usually kind about it and would take a few and let you pick. Over the 30 years I was there I learned a few things about getting the best photo, but lousy at best really. (They were also nice enough to produce photos needed for passports and travel visas.) I do miss that ID and the empowerment it accorded.

My current ID gains me access to our offices and the bathroom in the hall, as well as opening the doors to our backstage area in the hall. In addition it occasionally gains me access to backstage at other venues when the orchestra is playing. The photo, such as it is, is sort of illegible really.

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These tin badges, worthy of any child playing sheriff I would think, have heft. It is easy to see why they all still exist as one can easily imagine people keeping them after years of service to a company. You can just imagine a retirement after many years, the badge put away and then saved again and again by subsequent generations.

After our morning at the Met Kim and I wandered downtown, stopping first at Blick for art supplies, then lunch and my favorite clothing store, DL Cerney – maker of vintage inspired cloths for both men and women utilizing vintage or vintage inspired fabrics, buttons and designs. (Our day was a well worn path known to Pictorama readers!)

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DL Cerney on 9th Street in the East Village

 

Our afternoon ended with a stop in at Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. which I wrote about before in my birthday post. There we had the surprise please to meet up with Mike Zohn, one of the owners. In all my visits, I do not think I have every been there when Mike was there, although I think it was he I met at an opening of Kim’s a few years back. I believe that was when I first heard about the store which I like to wander into a few times a year. I asked him to keep me in mind when he runs across early Felix items.

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Being sold at Oddities and Obscura Antiques, sorry we don’t have room for this somewhat creepy nodder.

 

Meanwhile, to my amazement he was selling a small clutch of photo identification badges in a cabinet near the front of the store, just like the ones we had seen earlier in the day. I chose the one below as the nicest. I suspect that these may become a sub-genre in my photo collecting over time.

 

 

A quick look tells me that the LaPointe factory in Hudson, MA made broaching machines. Now, I have to say, that even as I look at the definition of a broaching machine (Wikipedia’s can be found here in case you are curious) I do not really comprehend what it does. I guess I would say I understand it to be a type of bit that makes grooves and other irregular cuts.

Unlike today’s identifications which, while they have numbers generally require a name as well, this one identifies 092 only that way. Many seem to have had a similar height chart behind the employee as well. I sort of wonder – how useful it was to know that 092 was 5’6″ and a half? While this pin is wonderful in all it’s substantialness, I have to admit my flimsy piece of plastic is easier to hang around my neck daily – and thinking about the holes this must have put in the shirts and jackets of 092. Although perhaps he wore it on a uniform and therefore did not make his wife nuts.

My maternal grandfather worked in a Bendix factory in New Jersey and I am searching for a nice example of what his ID might have looked like. (My grandmother was not a saver of such things.) Hopefully a future post on that.

 

 

Pinned

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little tidbit has been sitting under the computer waiting for its turn at bat in a blog post and here we finally are. I have never seen this particular Felix pin before. In an attempt to research it I did find another for sale – I am pleased to say for that one for more than I paid for it. Score!

Other than this very dapper little Felix gracing it, the interesting features of this pin are that it is made of cardboard and it is quite old. I have never seen another pin made of cardboard in this fashion and a quick internet search did not immediately turn up additional ones, although I assume it was a genre.

Previously I have trumpeted my affection for the Hake’s auction catalogues (I devoted one post to it here) and one of the joys of that catalogue are the obscure, often ancient political and premium buttons that generally make up the front section of those catalogues. Unlike this little gem, those tend to impress me with the gravitas of materials – daguerreotypes, non ferrous metals metals and a range of reproduction processes – they fascinate me. This one goes in the opposite direction – simplicity and cheapest of materials. In that regard it is a bit amazing that it has survived so long in fairly pristine condition.

The Felix on my pin is somewhat primitive and off-model so this may not have been a fully sanctioned Felix affair. It would have been a very natty fellow indeed who would have sported this in his lapel or on his tie. I purchased it from a seller in the US and my guess is that it was made here although there is no marking of any kind.

As a child in the ’60’s and early 70’s I was fascinated by the metal buttons of the day – and it was a button-filled time. I remember someone giving me an early Smiley pin and I was crazy about that. I would have owned dozens of those if they crossed my path. Meanwhile, my father brought home piles of election buttons of the day for me – his job as a news cameraman putting him in a rather unique position to acquire them. Being pre-political myself I judged them on a purely aesthetic level, although I was known to hold a grudge against Presidential candidates who I felt had taken my father away for prolonged periods, Nixon was one of these. Somewhere I have a few signed political photos from the period. These were not sufficient to acquire my forgiveness; I was a hard child. The buttons below are of the type I remember having.

I don’t know how these things are done now, although with the general porousness of news media and the ability to broadcast easily from virtually anywhere I am sure it is different. At the time of my childhood, a camera crew like my father’s covering national and international news, would be dedicated to trailing a significant Presidential candidate from more or less the time they declared through the primaries, or if they dropped out of the race sooner. (This as in the case of Edmund Muskie who my father, a generally somewhat apolitical they-are-all-bums kinda guy, had a mysterious fondness for. Dad felt strongly that Muskie had been railroaded out of the race in what was later known as the Canuck Letter incident – this somewhat verified by the Watergate investigation. It always left me feeling that Dad, who had traveled with him for months and was generally politically cynical, must have been onto something.)

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Election years meant Dad traveling virtually non-stop all the way through the cycle which could even be a bit longer than twelve months. As a result I hated those Presidential election years as a child, missing my father who was frequently gone for months at a time including birthdays and holidays.

In those days news was still captured on film and messengers were used to fly it back to New York daily. A camera crew at that point was made up of an opulent four or so people (dedicated sound, film, lighting, reporter and a producer), whereas at the end of my father’s career he had what he called a one man band and he would cover stories alone with the reporter – the monster camera managing sound, lighting, recording and of course sending to a satellite for transmission. If I remember correctly, in the early days of satellite transmission they plugged into phone lines. I would imagine they have done away with that – I see news vans here in the city with a sort of satellite dish on top, perhaps a variation of that.

These days I collect on the occasional button. However, I do keep on of these Kim Deitch Sunshine Girl pins, reproductions created for a gallery opening several years ago, on my desk at work to remind me of the denizens of Deitch Studio while I am away for the workday.

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Sunshine Girl pin reproduction.

 

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Original Sunshine Girl pin.

The One Year Mark and the Uber Adventures

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This rambling and personal post was written last week while in Los Gatos and San Jose for a business trip. I was there over the anniversary of my father’s death, but since I would be sad about that wherever I was I decided there was no reason not to go. (I wrote about Dad at some length last summer in a post here.) The reason for the trip was an unexpected opportunity for a dinner on the west coast. I work for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis, and his schedule is generally so tight that opportunities for him to host something on the west coast are rare. Anyway, what follows is the tale of the unexpected things that happened on that trip.

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I didn’t think I wanted to post today, the one year anniversary of my father’s death. Like Father’s Day I sort of felt like what of interest could come of it. However, the universe conspired today and as it has been a rather extraordinary day which has triggered much reflection which I will share.

I find myself on the west coast as I write. I flew out for a dinner held in Los Gatos last night – it used to make my sister Loren laugh, that her little sister would be flown across the country for a single dinner. (It isn’t that it happens so often, but it happens often enough.) Having come out here I also inquired about a meeting with a foundation in Los Angeles which agreed to see me, and so as I write this I am on a smallish plane speeding to that destination. However, in every sense that puts me ahead of my story.

When I left the house Thursday afternoon in a yellow cab, I immediately hit a wall of traffic and had time to contemplate the trip ahead, sitting in the parking lot that the road to JFK airport had become. No matter how often I do it, every time I leave home to travel I am somehow surprised to be reminded over again that I exists fully outside of the daily bubble that is my life – joyfully, Kim and the cats; my minor daily commute to and from work; my own punch list of things that need doing, errands that need running and work that needs to be done. Somehow it is always a shock to realize that I am a being apart from that comfortable day-to-day, and here I am, on my way to the other side of the country and I will still be me. Sounds simple but this is what I remember thinking while stuck in traffic, listening to my gym music on my phone for a distraction which, for someone who otherwise generally doesn’t listen to music made after 1939, is a surprising mix of rock ‘n roll from the ’70’s, Bruce Springsteen and even a bit of Motown.

Everything about the kind of dinner one travels across the country for requires someone like me and my team of people to create it, people whose job in part is to assemble an evening that seems perfect yet effortless. We all know that effortless requires forethought and elbow grease. While this dinner was no exception, it did not present any truly unique challenges. By the end of Friday night a lovely meal had been executed with some Bay Area elite and all of whom seemed lovely. A colleague and I jumped in an Uber to head back to the hotel.

While checking my email I saw one from a college friend. I don’t hear from her that often so her emails in my box always cause a thrill of anticipatory pleasure when I see them. Sadly I rapidly realized that it was not the case tonight. On this evening she was writing because her husband, a man of our own newly minted middle age, had mysteriously died in his sleep on Tuesday.

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Jack Kennedy who sadly and unexpectedly died last week.

 

I rarely make a visit to this part of the country without routing myself through their town, but this fast and furious trip was an exception. I had reached out to her in the weeks leading up to it and said it wasn’t likely but giving her a heads up in case my plans changed and I found myself able to swing through. On this evening my post-dinner, champagne infused brain raced. It was so sudden and so unbearably sad. I emailed her when I got back to my hotel, almost midnight by then, told her I could push LA off and come see her if my showing up wouldn’t increase the chaos she was already experiencing. The suddeness was overwhelming and knocked me sideways. I had last seen them on a trip with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra last fall and I had stayed with them. They had come to the concert.

When I woke this morning it was as if someone had pulled loose thread of stoicism I had carefully constructed for the purpose of getting through this weekend, the anniversary of Dad dying a year ago. My calm started to disintegrate and a wall of sad began to ooze around me with memories of last summer. However, despite realizing this nothing to do but attempt to button it up, pack my bags and headed out for a meeting in Santa Cruz which was to be followed by going directly to the airport.

I live on the east coast and my geographical knowledge of this part of the world is not, to say the very least, deep. Therefore, foolishly, I had planned an in person early morning breakfast meeting with Wynton in Santa Cruz when I was staying in Los Gatos as it was the last time I would see him before September, back in New York. Somehow, although the time for travel had been dutifully been plugged in by the extraordinarily capable colleague who had put the trip together, I managed to miss the mountain that sat between where he was staying and where I was.

The view was stunning, mist hanging in the valleys like a Japanese print and the winding highway reminded me distinctly of travel in Bhutan years ago, but the sheer folly of the trip across a mountain for a meeting rather than a call struck me as especially idiotic on my part. However, as it turns out the driver, Gajend, was from Nepal and we had a long conversation about how pollution has changed Kathmandu for the worse and how this was a baby mountain compared to those that made up the foothills of the Himalayas. He had been back recently and I have not been since 2000.

As I described my trekking on a sacred path on Mt. Kalish in Tibet, I realized I hadn’t really thought about that life changing trip in years. I told him about the various sacred caves I had climbed to – sometimes crawling into tiny ones on my belly as instructed, and he was interested, but it cheered me to think about as well. I remember tying prayer flags to the top mountain pass and saying a prayer for my sister, who was dying from cancer. And I remember leaving something on a mountainside full of bits of clothing and items with the idea that it would help draw you back to that sacred spot when you at the moment of death. I also laid on the ground among the detritus left by others and meditated for a few minutes on that sacred ground – imaging that I would return to that spot at the moment of my death and therefore have a more auspicious rebirth.

The restaurant in Santa Cruz turned out to be right on the beach and it reminded me of the seaside New Jersey town near where I grew up, where I waited tables and was short order cook to beach going visitors in my high school and college years. Santa Cruz seemed a bit more affluent than Sea Bright. The sight and smell of the ocean was cheering.

I had my suitcase as I was to head directly to the San Jose airport after my meeting although I was still torn – should I just bag everything planned and head instead to my friend’s home in Santa Barbara? So frustrating to be so close and not see her. Yet, I sensed too that I was a tad too raw and this news had ripped the scab right off the wound that was the anniversary of dad’s death; I really was not at my best. The lack of coffee probably didn’t help.

I was the first to arrive at the restaurant and within minutes I realized that I did not have my eyeglasses! Now my sister was blind like couldn’t see her hand in front of face unable to see without her glasses and I am not that bad, but I’m pretty bad. My prescription sunglasses (in addition to being sunglasses) are only for distance only (I wear progressive lenses and mostly they are geared to mid-range) not to mention impractical inside. Alas those were perched on my nose and my regular glasses nowhere to be found and were presumably in the Uber I had just exited.

 

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View from the restaurant in Santa Cruz.

 

By the time Wynton arrived I had reached out to Uber (yes, the app has a place for left something in my driver’s car) but hadn’t heard back. We talked over breakfast for about an hour (throughout which I continued trying to contact the Uber driver with no luck), and after making sure I was okay to get back to San Jose he left for a film shoot. I sat outside near a large ukulele band setting up to play. Normally that would have cheered me immensely but not at this point. Frankly I didn’t know what to do next and I was melting down. I pulled out my phone and I called Kim in New York. I felt better hearing his voice but then he suddenly immensely far away and I was missing him. The dam broke and I found myself sobbing –  yep, just sitting on a curb in Santa Cruz and weeping.

A few weeks ago in my first post about Frances Hodgson Burnett (which can be found here) I said you want to marry someone smart enough to give you good book suggestions when you are whining about having nothing to read (and I still maintain there are worse ways to chose a mate), but really one of the very best thing about Kim is he remains very calm in emergencies and times of extreme stress. Although I am generally the more rational of the two of us and I rarely lose it, but when I do he is one of the few people who can get me off the ledge.

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Bad photo of the uke band tuning up from where I sat on the curb talking to Kim.

 

He spoke very calmly to me even though in retrospect, never having experienced me in quite that state before, let alone on the other side of the country), he probably was a bit worried.  We agreed that I would get another car and head back to the hotel where I started in San Jose and hopefully be able to meet up with the first driver there. I pulled myself together and called yet another car and a woman Uber driver named Guadalope picked me up. (I am sorry to say the uke band had not started before I left – I was very curious.) The first driver, Gajend, eventually called he had my glasses! We established that he would meet me at the hotel where he’d picked me up, but he was in another area and it would take him two hours to get there.

I was probably screwed for the flight to LA and I became confused all over again about maybe changing my plans and heading to Santa Barbara. I called Kim again to update him. I was still weepy and by the end of that call Guadalupe pretty much knew the whole story. Kim took charge and told me I was definitively not going to Santa Barbara and just get my eyeglasses, we’d figure out things out from there. He was right of course, you cannot drop your hot mess self with your own problems onto someone who truly is in the midst of dealing with their own, more significant crisis.

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The very capable Guadalupe driving us through the mountains.

 

About the time we hung up, Guadalupe and I were slowing down in traffic to a stop – yes, because there was an accident somewhere ahead. However, Guadalupe turned out to be a resourceful woman and she softly said something about how there are not many back road options and she turned the car (just, um, briefly off-road) and she took us up exactly that sort of back road.

Once again I was brought back to memories of traveling in Bhutan and the endlessly winding roads in order to go over the mountains – constant switchbacks with nausea induing constant turns and twists. Oddly the roads were populated with many people on bikes (it was so steep I can’t imagine how the muscles in their calves must bulge) who braved the cars emerging from each blind turn. I have a strong inner ear and rarely experience car or sea sickness, but I was turning a tad green by the time we finally emerged on the other side and went bombing off toward the hotel.

As I plunked myself down to wait on a bench outside the Holiday Inn where I had spent the past two nights I reflected that for me today was clearly going to be about learning patience and slowing myself down a bit. This Holiday Inn wasn’t bad, but it was in the midst of a very poor area. The day before a colleague and I had walked about two blocks away and eaten rather splendid Mexican food for lunch (an enormous bean burrito in my case), but encountered several people who appeared to be homeless, their possessions in the shopping carts they pushed.

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Snapped this photo of this souped up motorcycle by the front entrance of the Holiday Inn while parked on a nearby bench.

 

Across from where I sat waiting, there was a stop for the local light rail line which I had no time to figure out during my stay and I watched people come and go on that. I read part of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novella Theo: A Sprightly Love Story, on my phone. I fought with a cash machine in the hotel – and lost. After counting all my cash to figure out what I could tip Gajend – who at this point had now driven me across a mountain where he probably didn’t get a return trip and now was making his way to me, wasting his work day, gas and time I found I had $100. Somewhere in the back of my head was my mother’s voice asking me why I had traveled across the country with so little cash – and she was right of course. She taught me one should have cash in case of emergencies. Anyway, I would give him the $100 and figure out cash in LA.

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Eventually a heavy-set man, probably a bit older than me, decorated with monotone tattoos and walking a tiny, bulging eyed dog came and sat on the bench with me. We passed the time, discussed the dog – the pup tired easily with such short legs working hard when they took a walk. My cat Cookie could have taken this dog on with one paw behind her back, but I kept that thought to myself as it seemed like it could be considered unkind. I was just about to ask if I could take their photo when Gajend pulled up! Yay! He jumped out of his car with my eyeglasses in hand. I thanked him profusely and gave him the hundred dollars. He offered to take me to the airport. I ended up making the flight, where I started this post, with enough time to be a lousy slice of pizza for lunch.

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I write now, a day later and tucked into my airplane seat heading home after my last round of meetings in Los Angeles. I am very anxious to get home and see Kim and the cats. All will likely be asleep when I slip in around midnight, we are early to bed folks when left to our own devices.

I just watched Dumbo on my tiny airplane screen, which was about the level of emotional intensity I felt like I could manage at this point. After my usual tomato juice (don’t know why but I always have a glass of tomato juice when I fly) I had a stiff drink, which I generally never do when I fly – afraid of jet lag. It wasn’t a martini, dad’s favorite drink, but I think he would approve. So at last here’s to him!

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A blurry photo of Cookie claiming my suitcase for her own purposes upon my return.

 

 

 

 

Funny Jungleland

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I especially like the last panel where they hold cereal boxes! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: When researching my Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat (immortalized a few weeks back in my post Crinkle Cat – For Kiddies, not Kitties! which can be read here) I discovered this earlier premium and set out immediately to purchase one. I read online that this Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures book was the first cereal premium – originally given away in stores, it dates back in its earliest form to 1909. It quickly became something you mailed away for instead and it cost you ten cents. Quite a switch as ten cents was a bit of an investment at the dawn of the 20th century and perhaps that explains why so many were kept and exist today.

This example dates from 1932 and they were produced through 1936, which also gives us a hint as to the rather amazing availability of them today, a century later – I am here to tell you, if you want one of these it can easily be yours. Evidently, it is generally hard to date these as they remained remarkably similar with a few color changes to the cover – however, oddly enough, only the 1932 edition had the copyright for the current year it was issued.

One book site selling these tells me that the original copyright goes back to 1907 and I wonder if they were copyrighting the technology of the “moving pictures” or the book. I will assume they didn’t create the method or concept of the book or somehow that would come out in the telling. It is quite clever though and I think it is the other reason for the proliferation of these slim volumes even today. It’s a hoot! As you can see from the top image, the book expands with a fold-out section in the middle.

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The 1930’s and ’40’s were the heyday of cereal prizes and I opined on them a bit in the Crinkle Cat post mentioned earlier. (I do love to look at them and they ignite a sort of childhood toy lust area in my brain.) However, I’m trying to remember if I ever pulled anything good out of a box of cereal as a kid and nothing much is coming to mind, although they were still putting the occasional premium plastic geegaws in at the start of my 1960’s and early ’70’s era childhood. Even the mail-in option was fading away. Some research on the subject has reminded me of a brief period when you could, in theory, cut out a record from the back of the box and this tugged briefly at my memory. I have only the vaguest memory of testing that and failing miserably.

Via my research light on the subject I discovered that pep pins were originally cereal prizes. While that is pretty cool (extremely actually) I guess I somewhat question the wisdom of putting a pin in a box of cereal for a child to find given the general fist down into the cereal box approach most children take to finding said prize. I don’t own a Felix the Cat pep pin but I share an example below.

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As it happens, one of the things my parents were martinets about when I was small was breakfast cereal. We were a plain Jane family when it came to that when I was a tiny tot and maybe that is why there were few premiums in the offing. I am specific about being quite small because if my younger brother is reading this memories of Count Chocula and Cap’n Crunch and the like are zipping through his mind. What can I say? Our parent’s moral stance on cereal evaporated during those intervening years. By the time heavily sugar coated cereal showed up in the house I had no interest in more than tasting it, with the exception of a brief affair with Frosted Flakes and Tony the Tiger which is coming back to me. (Perhaps it was because I found Tony charming?)

Dad used to urge us to eat our Wheaties as I remember from when I was very small – strange to think of him quoting a commercial; he wasn’t the type. I wasn’t a fan of them, Wheaties, and we settled more companionably on Cheerios as frequent daily fare. I flirted a bit with Raison Bran (I added raisons to a salad the other day and that actually felt a bit decadent, but I digress), and Rice Krispies. I still cop to an appreciation for the occasional marshmallow treat made with Rice Krispies. Yum.

The variations on these plainer cereals of my youth, Special K, All Bran and the like, populated our cupboards and breakfast table. We were encouraged to add Wheat Germ to it and there was a brief Alpen period (nuts, sweeten raisons and mysterious grains) which sometimes were employed to zip up the somewhat more austere brands.

Meanwhile, I swear my father thought Kretschmer Wheat Germ was going to save the world (I do wonder if it was something from his own childhood) and he converted my sister who went through a phase of putting it on top of everything including the cookies she baked and the English muffin pizzas she would throw together for her lunch or snack. Again, I was not a fan. I share the version below which graced our breakfast table for decades. Somehow I do not remember my mother having strong feelings about any of this – which is unusual for my mother – but for whatever reason she stayed out of the cereal fray for the most part. I don’t think she was a cereal eater herself at all and seemed to be fairly nominal in most of her own weekday breakfast consumption, toast and coffee for the most part. We all might break out more on weekends. (Subsequent to reading this Kim has shared that he also hated Kreschmer Wheat Germ – had never come up before.)

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Of course, in retrospect I suspect that for the most part all that cereal wasn’t great for us and the nutrient filled promise was a tad hollow. I shudder more than a bit at the calories now and we haven’t had a box of cereal in the house in years, although I am the first to admit to a not infrequent diet of cereal dinners during the straighten circumstances of my twenties. (Although the price of cereal today may not make that an option for recent grads these days!) Nor do I wish to take on cereal lovers – calories notwithstanding I love granola in my yogurt. And of course, if the cereal industry went back to adding interesting toys to these boxes I might yet be lured back.

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Howdy Doody

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I think I would have wanted to grab up this photo wherever I might have run across it. However, this image is actually of my uncle and was among the cache of photos I discovered in New Jersey last week, referred to in yesterday’s post. I knew the familial tale of my uncle entering the Howdy Doody look alike contest, but if I had seen the photo I did not remember. It evidently hung in my grandmother’s house, so I must have seen it as a child and just can’t recall.

Nor do I remember Howdy Doody since it went off the air in 1960, before I was born. There was an early 1970’s resurgence of interest in it that I vaguely recollect from being a small child, but why anyone would be interested frankly mystified me from what I could see. My own childhood was not without television puppets – Kukla Fran and Ollie made appearances and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was deeply beloved. (Full disclosure, watching the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers on an airplane recently I wept openly the entire time. There was a Danish couple next to me who were clearly concerned about the state of my well-being. Strangely however, many people have reported the same reaction.)

Puppets eventually morphed into muppets and the world got Sesame Street. Although my younger brother watched Sesame Street and therefore I know it well, I was a bit long in the tooth for it myself. However, I recently went to a performance at Dizzy’s where Wynton and Elmo had a conversation and played together. I had forgotten all the music was jazz – turns out I remembered all the music! The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will have an anniversary tribute concert to the show in the fall.

For Kim’s generation though Howdy Doody was the real deal. Kim has frequently opined that, despite his father Gene’s involvement in television, he was never able to leverage a spot in the Peanut Gallery on the show. Kim did make numerous childhood and teenage appearances on a variety of kids shows – The Magic Cottage, Allen Swift was a family friend and there was his show Captain Allen among them. In addition, Gene utilized a flipbook Kim made to illustrate the persistence of vision which Gene showed on national television – so it was natural that he would aspire to a spot in the audience of the Howdy Doody show. (Meanwhile, Kim has just told me that the flipbook was on display at the Museum of Modern Art for an exhibit on UPA – however, sadly it seems to have been subsequently lost.) Kim has touched on early television and cartoons in numerous stories he has written and drawn. (Most obvious of course, The Search for Smilin’ Ed and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Those can be found here and here.)

I gather there were multiple cartoon jockey entertainment tv shows in his youth and Kim credits Howdy Doody with introducing him to silent films. I remember Bob McAllister and Wonderama best – also Bozo the Clown – showing cartoons, but the idea of silent films on those types of shows seems exotic and wonderful. And I do remember the prizes on Wonderama (if I remember it was just sort of a lottery thing and a kid in the audience just won them, but I could be wrong, maybe they did something to win them) and therefore I can only imagine the sort of longing that must have been created by the haul proffered for the winner of the Howdy Doody look alike contest!

I looked for a full list online and that was unfortunately not available despite references to it. Kim remembers that there was a film projector among the loot – clearly this would have been at the top of the list for a young Kim Deitch with his budding interest in animation and film. I imagine the list was drool worthy indeed and clearly my mother’s younger brother, John Wheeling, was not immune. It wasn’t a time when a lot of photos were casually taken in their family so a certain amount of planning (wheedling) must have gone into even getting this 5″x7″ photo I imagine.

Hake’s auctions, eBay and sites now make it possible to have a good look at some of the merchandising and premiums from our childhoods and much earlier periods. Some hold up quite well – the Little Orphan Annie and Buster Brown rings – Captain Midnight’s Mystic Sun God ring brings a premium still. There’s something thrilling and deeply satisfying about actually seeing photos of all those things. I enjoy those sections of the Hake’s catalogues very much. (For a stroll through my enjoyment of these catalogues see an earlier post, Ode to a Toy Catalogue, here.)

 

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Captain Midnight Mystic Sun God ring

 

Sadly, Howdy Doody merchandise and premiums do not hold up to 21st century light of day! They are plastic, cheap paper and of a lower order. I offer a brochure of their premiums and some of the higher end examples below.

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However, being the beneficiary of the toy laden munificence of exotica proffered for this contest was not the fate of a young John Wheeling. Despite his very credible photo, needless to say he didn’t win the contest. Little Billy Oltman, shown below in Life magazine, won the 1950 contest, besting more than 17,000 rivals. He is younger than my uncle and it is said his mother enhanced his freckles to increase the likeness to the (rather dubiously homely) famous puppet. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps some sort of a fix was in. Of course it is a bit late for sour grapes almost seventy years later.

Oltman Howdy Doody Magazine

To L.R.L.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s blog post is about a bit of a mystery item. Last week I visited mom in NJ and was pawing through some recently unpacked items. With the move they made a little over a year ago, followed rapidly by my dad’s illness and ultimate death, there has been little time or energy for dealing with the boxes, furniture and whatnot stored in the garage and basement of the tiny house. A burst water pipe and a mouse colony setting up shop in both demanded that we shift our attention and energy to this project however. My immediate concern was the family photos (some which may show up in future posts) but this odd object also found its way to me and I brought it home for further consideration.

My mother doesn’t remember it and her inclination was to think that it wasn’t a family item and that my father picked it up randomly somewhere. My father loved silver, especially early American silver, and so it is very possible indeed that he purchased it at one of his beloved garage sales. Dad would go off happily on weekend mornings, sometimes driving somewhat far afield, and hit a series of predetermined sales, marked in a local paper, at various locations throughout the county, an excellent, much worn local AAA map book residing on the floor of the car, always at the ready. Yep, no denying that I am his daughter – no news to Pictorama readers that I inherited his love of digging through the detritus of others to discover gems.

His route completed and appetite enhanced, he would treat himself to a breakfast of bacon at a little luncheonette called Edie’s. (Edie’s probably deserves its own post as a tiny little eatery which somehow has survived with virtually no parking on a hugely busy road in an entirely residential area. My father adored it.)

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The purchase of silver abounded from these forays and I (yes, in my studio apartment where these days I rarely do more than open a box of pizza for friends) own a full set of sterling flatware as a result. Having said all of that, this is an unusual item even for him although perhaps it came along with another item and he kept it. This appears to be a single napkin ring, silver but unmarked, leading me to believe it is perhaps coin silver. (For those of you who didn’t grow up around the antique obsessed, that is an early, lower than sterling silver alloy which reflect the same proportion of silver as is in coins.) The fact that it is unmarked also confirms some age as at some point labeling silver with its content became law.

While an early silver napkin ring is not at all unusual (although as noted, a bit odd for dad to have purchased on its own) the interesting thing is the engraving. It is hard to see, but the engraving reads DTA to LRL. (I apologize for the lousy photos, but anyone who has tried to photograph silver without distracting reflections will appreciate the problem.) While monogrammed silver napkin rings abound (because of course why wouldn’t you want your initials on a napkin ring?) the idea of a dedication on one is truly odd. I searched the internet numerous ways and didn’t find another example of this sort of dedication on a napkin ring, nor on anything except jewelry.

I did find another item very similar, identified as an Edwardian napkin ring, with the name Lucy written in script. It was on a site that was no longer accessible which appeared to have sold silver. Full names as monograms are less common than initials, but you do see some when searching such things online. Did DTA give LRL a full set of rings, now lost or at least separated for all time? I assume so, but it seems a mystery I am unlikely to solve, even as I try to imagine being seated at that long-ago table with heavy napkins in their engraved holders. Meanwhile, this single ring has come to reside among the toy cats and other curios here at Deitch Studio.