Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.

Bessie Loves Kitten

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Once in awhile I do a random search at the crossroads of my two interests, early film and cats. It rarely turns anything up, but once in awhile I find something of interest. (The first such score of a photo of a young Jean Arthur holding a toy black cat can be found here.) This interesting 8″x10″ of Bessie Love playing with a kitten materialized the other day.

Both in subject and in execution, it appears to be a candid photo snatched up at the studio on the spur of the moment. (The quality of the photo suggests that it isn’t a proper still or photo shot under optimum conditions, although an original photo.) It is inscribed only Bessie Love on the back and is undated. It has many pin holes poked in the corners and has obviously spent time, beloved, on someone’s wall or board, held by push pins. Bessie has her luxurious hair (in my opinion one of her outstanding features in her early years) tucked under this kerchief, protecting it between scenes.

The tiny kitten has an unreasonably large rope tied around him or her, a serious attempt at keeping it where someone wanted it, but still ready for a little play with Bessie however. The kitten has that vaguely adolescent look, getting a little leggy and a tad less fluffy adorable. Let’s hope the complicated rope corralling of this fellow or gal meant that someone was taking care of this kit and (for those of us who worry about such things) it ultimately had a good home.

For those of you who are not familiar with Bessie, a quick bit about her and an early few photos below snatched off of Google. Born Juanita Horton in Midland, Texas in 1898. The young Bessie was eventually introduced to D. W. Griffith at Biograph Studios by Tom Mix of all people. She generally played wholesome parts, although I think it is fair to think she was a tad less utterly wholesome in her personal life. I found reference to her liking to promote herself playing the uke in somewhat rougher joints and venues for which she was criticized.

I probably first saw her in The Good Bad Man with Douglas Fairbanks in 1916. (Available on Youtube here if you are curious.) However, my first distinct memory of her was seeing her in The Matinee Idol one afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, a film notable for having been directed by a young Frank Capra, made in 1928. Bessie transitioned into talkies and, although her star fades decidedly by the 1930’s, she continues working at least in bit parts, for virtually her entire life. I tend to think of her as playing a lot of roommates and best friends in thirties films of a type.

Eventually she makes her way to England and continues working there on stage and film, embraces Christian Science as a religion. She has parts in both Hollywood films Reds and Ragtime notably however. The last entry listed in her filmography is in The Hunger in 1983. She died in 1986.

Meanwhile, I am glad someone managed to capture her on this sunny day, playing with this little cat between scenes, for posterity – and I am very pleased it has come to take its place in my kitty photo archive.

Cat House

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo of a handsome shiny black cat seemed like just the thing the other day as I scrolled through eBay. Unfortunately, as I often find when trying to capture my kit Blackie, a black cat can be tricky to capture, especially if lurking the shadows. He is positioned perfectly in the doorway to his kitty abode however – eyes glowing, a feline watchdog, vigilantly overseeing the situation. This cat house is a good fit for him size-wise, and he even has a pot of flowers out front. Those are sprightly, the plant behind a bit more anemic, although the overall impression is that this is a neat and tidy corner of the world. I purchased it from Montgomery, Alabama, but there’s no indication about where it might originate from and it was never used.

Back in June I wrote about the dog house from my childhood. (It can be found here in the post Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) Our dog didn’t spend much time in her house and we never even considered a house for our cats, other than our own that is. Over the course of my childhood our cats largely roamed free, in and out of the house more or less at will, numerous times a day. We were never possessed of a cat door, but cheerfully did their bidding at the door. Somehow over time we joined the ranks of those who kept our cats entirely indoors, where they were safe from predators, and cut down on their own preying on birds and whatnot. At some point there was a town ordinance passed which served to severely curtail free range pet cats – I was shocked to find this out, but it meant the Butlers no longer had indoor/outdoor running felines.

I have not seen many cat houses firsthand. Recently though Kim was on a panel at his alma mater, Pratt Institute and I did notice that they had several cat houses on their campus. Unfortunately, I only have the photo below snatched off my Instagram account, the original photo a victim of my attempts at good phone hygiene and the ongoing purging of photos. The Pratt cat house, one of several as I remember, was a more downscale model than ours above. Yet was probably a more practical affair, plastic over the door to help keep the winter chill (not insubstantial that day) out.

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I didn’t see any cats in these houses on that day. In looking for a better or additional photos of the Pratt cat houses I discovered that Pratt has a well documented history of caring for stray cats. An article in the New York Times from May of 2013 describes the steam plant at Pratt as the heart of cat central at the art school. The strays tended may range in numbers from dozens to more than 100 – but whose counting really? They are (or at least were, that was a few years ago) tended by Pratt Chief Engineer, Conrad Milster who christened them with names like Dulcie, Landlord, Art School and Prancie. The article explains that these free range kitties are fed and cared for by Mr. Milster at his own expense. Clearly the cat houses are another of his contributions. The cats contribute to the well being of stressed out students and faculty and are unofficial mascots of the Brooklyn school.

When I was in college in Connecticut I had a cat friend who I referred to as Ranger Tom. I do not remember where that name came from, but he was a hefty gray and white fellow – spotty nose like I generally am drawn to in a cat. He was more of a visitor cat – seemed well cared for and just making the rounds to see what acquaintances he might make, and of course what food he might get out of it. As a vegetarian I wasn’t his best bet, but would occasionally keep this or that on hand that a visiting cat might approve of. We were only acquainted in my freshman year, but I missed my own kitties and he was a welcome diversion therefore I say excellent work Mr. Milster. Keep those cat houses going.

Tuxedo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a soft spot for tuxedo cats – those felines whose white paws look like spats, ankle fashion for men from a former day, and whose white chests look like the white bib of a tuxedo dress shirt. Often there is some sort of black and white mustache to complete the effect. I have written about my first cat friend of adulthood, Otto, who was a fine example of a tux – perfect little Chaplin/Hitler style mustache, four white feet, bib and tummy – and there has been a tux in the house ever since. (As a child I had a splendid love affair with a tortoiseshell, polydactyl name Winkie, but have never owned another kitty with either of those qualities to date. One of those posts with part of her story can be found here at Tom the Bruiser. With Otto I inaugurated a long line of Butler tuxedo cats.)

Once these photos arrived in the mail I was surprised to find that these were both were originally larger photo postcards that had been cut down, the backs of each bearing part of the pre-printed postcard indicia, nothing written on the back. And not to bury the lead – I adore the photo above of kitty in the man’s arms, but giving him a little cat shove. Obviously it was that manuever which inspired my purchase.

Those of us who live with these little darlings know the get away from me polite-but-firm paw shove quite well. (The same cat Otto mentioned above, disliked my then boyfriend at one time. She slept on my pillow at night, draped around my head – and if he came too close she’d reach out with one of those many-toed paws and give him a little cat shove. I will, however, go on record saying that she was devoted to Kim.) All of the participants in this photo, cat, man and dog, are looking right at the camera – man, cat nor pert dog distracted by the stealthy and comical cat-shove. They make a nice family, these three, and I have to assume the man thought of them that way and that’s why he gathered them up for this photo.

I felt compelled to buy both of these photos of this little fellow so that they would stay together. The second photo just gives us a better look at our slightly portly pal the cat – a solid citizen as we say in this house. His or her expression sans annoyance in this one. The fabric of the chair sets off the tuxedo markings and it is a nice picture, but you have no sense of his personality as you do in the other photo, which plainly shows that this little fellow was a real card. I bet there were stories that were told about him and his friends, the dog and the man.

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Canton Ohio Photo Studio

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a sweet and interesting photo. The gentleman on the right appears to be in a WWI uniform – are they brothers? A fair guess that they are. The idea that that they posed this photo with their cat is of course extremely compelling for me. Nothing is written on this card and it was never sent. It is oddly filthy, with dirty fingerprints both front and back. Now that I have photographed it I will see about cleaning it, but am afraid I might damage it. Not like I know much about that sort of thing. These gentlemen pose in front of a faded background scene, their sharp shadows belying any illusion of realism.

Of course if I were to take a photo before leaving for war, of those dearest to me it would include my kits as well as my humans. This fellow was of course transported to said photo studio, M. Mimi’s to be precise, for this purpose. (I have my doubts about the quality of M. Mimi’s work, I must admit.) Those of us who live with cats are aware that, while the level of distress varies from feline to feline, in general they do not approve of involuntary locomotion and their distress runs from what I call end-of-the-world meows to mere dark muttering of malcontent.

I understand that some people have cats that travel contentedly (don’t look so smug!), but I have never been acquainted with one of those well adjusted fellows, not in my many cat relationships. Cookie and Blackie do not transport especially happily, but they are far from the worst felines I have known in this regard. When they were oh-so-tiny we transported them together in one carrier. This seems utterly impossible to imagine now. Anyway, I will assume that the cat’s appearance in this photo was a non-negotiable issue. Perhaps a copy of the picture went with the soldier and this one stayed here, as did the cat.

While I have often noted the tendency for people to grab their cat when they are being photographed, the idea of a posed portrait with one is much more unusual. In this case they had to also convince puss to sit still for the moment – and he or she did as it isn’t blurred at all. It’s odd, but the cat seems to be taking it seriously. In fact, all three are pretty serious. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe he has a cigarette in his left hand, uniform of the day pulling in some places, prescribed bagginess in others.

The man in the overcoat is a bit unusual as well, at least by today’s standards. He has kept this very long coat, hat and his gloves on for the photo. Under it he sports a full suit and tie, scarf. He smokes a cigarette. Unlike the cat he seems to be in a bit of a rush and they are awkward in their pose, not quite touching. The story is forgotten as far as we know, but the photo will be cared for to the best of our abilities at its current resting place here at Pictorama.

Chow Time!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The symmetry of this photo appealed to me, not to mention the tidy tabby and nice black cat whose white tummy we can just about see if we look carefully. These two may just want an ear scratch, but I suspect more realistically are involved in the ritual dance of food request.

We have decided to raise Cookie and Blackie more scientifically than our previous cat companions and they get a prescribed amount of wet food early in the morning as early as Blackie can get us up (yes, for some reason it is his job and not Cookie’s, she does observe the process however to make sure he gets it done) which is quite early. Kim and I are early risers (we’re talking around 5:00 AM) during the week. On weekends I tend to burrow deep into pillows and blankets and ignore Blackie stomping stoically over us, back and forth in a food protest march all his own, until Kim gets up. That is Blackie’s method and I will say it is his very own style. Some of his predecessors used the cold wet nose applied to face method, or the kind, but urgent paw tap. My cat Otto was even known to give me a little nip or hair pull if I really was unwilling to move. (When I was younger I really slept long, hard and soundly.)

Weekdays I am rarely home in time for the evening meal which takes place at 6:30 sharp. On weekends I do witness the gathering of the troops as early as 5:00 to remind Mr. Deitch that, although they may not wear watches, they are aware of the time. Poor Kim has to withstand an average of an hour or more under the glare of cat eyes and their tendency to draw ever-closer while he is trying to work! For those of you who think we are hard-hearted and starving the darlings please know that there is a dish of dry food out all the time in case someone grows terribly peckish. Cookie has her own ritual of needing to be assured that dish is full daily.

When I was growing up somehow this was all different enough that my mother actually used to call the cats to come and eat. When I think back on it – what was that all about? It wasn’t like we lived on a farm or something, just a house, but she would call chow time and they would all come running from different parts of the house. When I was a small child our cat Pumpkin got lost we placed an ad in the newspaper to try to find him. I remember asking if we should mention that he answered to that call. (This idea of putting an ad in a local paper seems so quaintly old fashioned that I suddenly feel ancient. A story for another time. However, be assured he was found having been brought to the local SPCA which we had alerted to his disappearance and was reunited with us after several days.) In all fairness, the cats would also come running when they heard the can opener – an electric one in those days, remember those? Before pop top cans. Returning now to the question, I wonder about it because like ours the cats at my parent’s house are the same milling, demanding group about food.

My mother, in charge of cat feeding in their house, makes no pretense at these silly ideas about feeding times and set amounts of food, and her cats have what I refer to as a constant rotating smorgasbord of cat food, both wet and dry. (I may also add that she has never subscribed to high end vet endorsed food, and with all of this she has had cats live into their early 20’s. So much for my high-end food acquired online and carefully controlled portions!) Notably and to my point, her cats also do not need calling these days either. Much like mine they mew and cajole when they are hungry, which makes me wonder – is this a small evolutionary change in cats? One of those tiny steps forward in cat brains that goes largely unnoticed? But a step toward – what? A race of assertive cats who stand up and ask for what they want? Perhaps not what we are looking for in our darlings, but where they are heading nevertheless? Or did cats in days of yore have more important things on their minds? Greater cat business and purpose, perhaps in the form of the occasional high-protein mousie snack caught on the hoof?

Sit Up There Buster

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have long held the pure fantasy of legions of cats who not only are trained, but also perform with Busby Berkley-like skill and perfection. I am talking about a sort of an all-singing, all-dancing cat review, sort of circa 1933. For a number of years I suggested to Kim that this would be a lovely birthday surprise, and yet Februarys have come and gone and still, no secret cat rehearsals in the hall, and no birthday cat performance. Imagine! And there is no evidence that Cookie and Blackie will be the ones to break into show biz. Out of all of our cats, they are I think the least inclined to attempt miming human activity, although Cookie will engage in a game of fetch and will do cat yoga in tandem with Kim’s daily work out. (It is my belief that Cookie just want to show how much better she is at stretching and exercise than humans are. She is right – and she is doing it as I write this.) Blackie prefers to maintain his own state of cat perfection and disinterest.

Fairness does compel me to point out that while we at Deitch Studio may have fallen short of two-stepping kit extravaganzas for my birthday, Kim has on many occasions drawn such epics for me and in this regard I am, as I so often reflect, a very lucky woman indeed.

The jolly fellow who authored this card looks like he may be training his cat while sporting evening dress, but perhaps it is just the poor lighting of this photo and he isn’t in dinner clothes. I like to imagine he is however – how dashing! The cat is more kitten than cat, good to start training ’em young I guess, and Buster seems mildly game if somewhat disinterested. The training quarters appear to be a porch railing. He should be told that pointing your finger at a cat never works however.

This postcard was mailed from Los Angeles and the postmark does not show the date over the penny stamp, however it is dated in his neat hand, Sept-12-11 and it reads as follows, Dear Friend, I am glad you are having so good a time Fishing and Hunting. I wish I were there too. Will have some fine kittens for you when you get back. Truly Yours Billy Lindsay. It is addressed, Mr. C. P. Sprague, Gardiner, Maine. Mr. Sprague was quite far from home and clearly in a place sufficiently unpopulated that he presumably was able to get this card addressed in this fashion. Meanwhile, Billy may have been trying to create that Hollywood all cat review I am waiting for! Go Billy, go!

I have touched on trained kitties numerous times, first in the early post Peeved Puss Postcard, and also later in Dashington’s and my favorite, Mad Jenny – and probably several times after that I think. It is almost a subgenre for us at Pictorama. What this man needs to know is that cats do not train blithely and a deep reserve of cat treats seems to be necessary. However, starting in early while the feline is still a kitten as he is probably is a good idea.

Meanwhile, although this photo is of more or less epic bad quality I sort of love that about it. In fact, sometimes a photo postcard that is printed this badly charms me with the reminder that this was a very manual process at the time, evidence of the human hand, and that this is indeed likely to be a singular photo. Although I certainly have numerous mass produced photo postcards in my collection, it is these (not infrequently poorly executed) one-of-a-kind ones that hold great romance for me. I took this photo and I decided to make a postcard out of it – and sent it to you! It took some work and some planning, but I did it! In some ways for me the specialness of this is now lost – although I am very charmed by exchanging photos daily with great ease via the internet. It is a lovely few minutes I spend with my Instagram feed a few times a day, seeing what my friends are doing and looking at, not to mention those photos exchanged by text, email, on Twitter and of course on Facebook. We live in a time of visual bonanza. Still, the extreme singularness of the bygone printed photo postcard and the evidence of it is somewhat lost in our time of phone tapping and computer clicking ease.