Tin Hats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I stumbled onto this photo, somewhat outside of my usual bailiwick of cats and toys, and purchased it for its slice of life from the past quality. The woman is identified on the back where, despite evidence that it was pulled from a photo album, the neat pencil writing is still legible, April 1927 Marion Goodall 1495. West Adams Street. 

Marion, in her best bib and tucker, stands next to lobby cards for Tin Hats which, according the the IMDB database was a WWI comedy, made in 1926 starring Conrad Nagel and Claire Windsor. Although partially lost there is a rather detailed outline of the plot penned by a devoted individual who took the time to do so. (The author had seen some of it and filled in with a period description.) Roughly, it is a comedy farce that follows three soldiers who somehow get separated from their army unit in France just as the armistice is signed, and acquire bikes as a mode of catching up to them. Along the way, one falls in love with a German woman, they drink a lot of beer, and are hailed as heroes of the Occupying force (yes, there was a time when the French were really happy to have us there) and essentially have a jolly time of it. Spoiler alert – everyone gets happily married in the end.

Tin Hats was directed by Edward Sedgwick and his sister Eileen has a lesser role, as a second love interest. As an aside, Eileen’s twin sister was Josie Sedgwick who was a bit more of a rip roarin’ good time according to Kim. (A morning discussion about the merits of Josie is taking place as I write this.) The twin girls were born in Galveston, Texas on March 13, 1898 to a theatrical family which had a vaudeville act which ultimately incorporated the children, The Five Sedgwicks. While the girls were eventually plucked from the act, Edward on the other hand completed a university degree, went to a military academy, and contemplated a career in the military, before deciding to follow the family path into the theater and films as a director. Although Eileen made more than a hundred films (mostly serials) neither of the twins makes the transition into sound. Josie ultimately opened a talent agency. Eileen lives to be 93. Edward continued to work as a director however, until the 1950’s. His last listed credit is an episode of I Love Lucy in 1953.

Meanwhile, Marion Goodall’s interest in being photographed with these lobby cards is now lost to us. In her strappy shoes, good coat and with her marcel curled hair, she is indeed a snapshot of a woman of her time. More and more I notice silent films that are slipping into the category of having been made 100 years, or more, ago and even in my lifetime that seems amazing. It didn’t seem like they were made all that long ago when I started watching them with my dad in the 1970’s. These films, photos and music of the time remain little time capsules, ready to transport us back in time, at least for the flicker of a moment and these days at the touch of an internet button.

 

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Sittin’ on a Wall

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have already opined on the origins of Humpty Dumpty (see here for my post Humpty Dumpty where I discuss my version of the toy shown here, several amazing variations on it, and dip into Humpty’s humble beginnings) so I will not focus on that today. I admit that the weird toy attracted me to the card though. Even owning one, I remain fascinated by it’s strangeness and can’t quite get enough.

This Humpty wears a jolly beret! (Mine has a peaked cap, jaunty as well. Did Humpty always wear a hat? Did I miss something about that?) He and the little girl both hold their hands up in the air in an identical pose – she just wrapped in some illusion fabric rather than a dress, but seated on a little cushion and with those hotsy totsy shoes! They appear to perch together on more of a chimney than a wall, but perhaps we can say a piece of a wall? This card is clearly made by a professional studio and was never used, nothing written on it.

Hang on now because I’m afraid I am going to wander down that sort of meandering path I do occasionally when I have something scratching at my mind. I have been thinking a lot about the crucible of change and how I have gone through it at various points in my life. I wish today I had a story of how I went into it and came out the other side. While I know intellectually that there is always another side and I will eventually come out, I write today as I flounder in its midst; without even a glimpse of the far shore yet, trying to figure out to paddle my craft there.

Humpty Dumpty and his great fall are a good metaphor for this – man, once he fell all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. After the page has turned and change has begun, watch out because like Humpty, you aren’t going back to the old you. Last week I alluded to this (see Time is Flying) and the process I went through after my sister died years ago. More than I thought it would, my father’s death has propelled me into another catalyst for a transition that is roiling forward, somewhat of its own accord.

I feel like I am clutching a tiger by the tail, being thumped around as I try to hang on. This week I think I realized that you can’t fight it, despite a rather cat-like tendency of mine to abhor change I need to figure out how to embrace it. Transition and growth sound so positive that after the fact, you tend to forget the growing pains, but there is nothing now but to get on board. It is a tough path to be on and taking charge of it requires marshaling resources I will have to find. And it is hard to remember that it is not so much about putting the pieces back together – that ship has sailed – as it is about forging an entirely new whole.

 

Hanging Out

Pam’s Photo Post: This card was purchased at the April El Dorado of a postcard sale here in New York this spring. The screwiness of it attracted me to it. I assume this is not a one-of-a-kind card, but the back does not however indicate commercial production. The card was mailed to Miss Lilly – Lane M B Elliott Dillon Mont. Also written in a messy pencil script is, as written, This is a very nice winter so far & how I would like to see all you folks and Janes folks. Was all well last Heard from J Sam Bell & girls Last week. Will. This card was mailed on December 7 at 10 AM, 1907 from Ames, Iowa. (A quick look tells me that Ames, Iowa is where Iowa State University is. No evidence that our less than literate writer was attending however!)

Under close examination, these gents on the card do not appear to be hanging from this light pole. There seem to be lines run down from the top which affords some sort of foot hold, while holding on above. I will guess that this was officially a function of telephone line repair? Isn’t it odd that many places don’t actually have phone poles and lines now? There was of course a time when they were ubiquitous. I remember though at some point being aware that they didn’t have them and how odd that seemed. The town I grew up in has phone lines above ground and as a place which is prone to hurricanes, which routinely knock them down, you would think they might have committed to the cost of moving them underground, but perhaps more to it than that. In Manhattan they have of course moved them underground.

When I first saw this card I could not help, but reflect that it would have been an impressive amount of upper body strength if these guys were hanging from the poles. As an adult I developed an addiction to working out at a gym – I find it very relaxing and work out four or five days a week. However, despite developing more muscle than I have ever had in my shoulders and arms, I doubt I could do more than a chin up or two – especially with my arms facing forward – let alone hang from something like this. Ouch! I was abysmal at these sorts of things as a kid, rope climbing, pull ups, push ups and the like. I do occasionally wonder – what were they thinking testing us that way as kids? If I can’t do it now, why on earth would I, as a more or less average kid be able to do it then? It remains a mystery to me.

Lucky Kitty and the Sea Shells

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This postcard comes from Great Britain, but the location is unidentified. It was never sent and there is nothing written on it. I am on the fence about whether this was a mass produced postcard or something small scale, even singular. (Kim speculates even printed; we aren’t sure.) This shell garden may have been something of a local tourist destination, and perhaps they produced these cards – or maybe a lucky one off.

When I look at something like this garden I wonder how it all started. Was there a basket of shells, an abundant collection, which inspired someone to start affixing them, perhaps to a planter at first? Plunk a few on every Sunday until this is what the yard looks like? Or was the whole thing envisioned of a piece? While I suspect that the first is the most likely, I prefer to think that someone had a grand vision, started collecting shells and got to it. A living seashell mosaic. The kitty looks to be a lovely fellow and the seashells have a luminous quality. This card sends me day dreaming into thoughts of being tucked away in this garden.

Of course the handsome black cat makes the photo for me, although it does suffer from being poorly lit – we don’t even see glowing eyes or whiskers. Historically the British seem take a kindly attitude toward black cats, although admittedly I don’t know their feelings today. Therefore I do not think his or her presence was at all perceived of as unlucky – in fact they seem to take promote the idea that black cats are lucky. I have been reading a lot online lately about how people don’t adopt black cats because of the superstition. I think of the joys of living with our almost black kitty, aptly named Blackie, and I am stunned that someone might deprive themselves of living with such a great little guy. However, we did once have a cat sitter who wanted to see the white spot on his chest. She was sort of joking…and not.

Tea, Oil, Milk

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This mystifying little photo was one of the more random purchases at my postcard convention foray a few months back. These gents seem to be enjoying a private joke of sorts with their marked bottles of booze, tea, oil, milk – those on the table and the presumably dead soldiers (which appear to be champagne bottles) on the ground around it. There is nothing written on the reverse of the card and it was never mailed. It is a bit amateurish with the feet on one cut off and his head grazing the top of the frame, but it is very jolly and even sort of ambitious in its own way.

It’s a silly little postcard, but in some regards it illustrates what I love about this period of photography. Photography was novel enough that people would take the trouble to put together a whole scenario and pose for such photos. A statement of themselves and of purpose as such. In this case it is about boozing for these somewhat formally attired gentlemen represent their beverages as tea and milk and then the third bottle – of oil. The idea of getting oiled we’ll assume? Google tells me that the term is originally of British origin, for getting drunk of course, and perhaps derived from the thought behind a well oiled machine. Makes me think a bit of Popeye cartoons for some reason, although admittedly there was not booze in those. Although he had Olive Oyl of course, – a special oil, er Oyl unto herself! There was an Oyl family and Olive had siblings named Castor and Crude; my memory is that, for better or worse, they do not play a significant role in the strip however.

The photo postcard phenomena makes up the lion’s share of my collection. Either journeymen photographers who would take the image and presumably send it to the recipient later – or do a fast developing in a, more often than not, worn bucket of developer resulting in a faded image years later. One like this seems more homemade – both in the intention and execution, and I imagine it was a kit or something like a friend with a camera where the photos were sent off to be developed and printed on the postcard stock. We’ll imagine that a merry time was had by all in the making of this photo – meanwhile, it is hard to imagine people setting themselves up to take such a photo today, despite the ease of photo taking and ever present selfies that abound. Perhaps just one way the world is a tiny bit less fun than it once was.

 

Grandpa Love Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are roughly my age, you too may have photos of grandparents from this generation. My father’s parents were older than my mother’s and the few photos we have of them, one or two from this period, are comparatively formal. My father’s parents were immigrants from Russia and I do not believe there is a single photo of them which isn’t formal and posed. This is ironic considering that their son, my father, was a professional news camera man – trained to catch action. I have also seen a short reel of film taken by my dad of them, probably after acquiring the first camera of his trade, and it was equally posed – as if the idea or purpose of moving on film eluded them. The photo shown here, which is not of my relatives, both reminds me of them and is very unlike them.

It is an utterly foreign idea to imagine my grandfather even knowing who Mickey and Minnie Mouse were, let alone owning and scooping up stuffed ones to proudly hold in a photo. To my knowledge, my grandparents never owned a television and the question of whether or not they ever went to the movies is an interesting one, but my guess would be rarely at most. They were hard working people who owned and ran a dry goods store near their home in Mt. Vernon, New York. They were not unsophisticated by any means, but completely uninterested in popular culture from all memory. This did not result in a rebellious embrace of it by my father either, who seems to have been neutral on the subject, although interested in cinema – with a preference for foreign films. Still, when I was little he was good for cartoons with me on a Saturday morning, partial to Roadrunner and would read the Sunday comics to me until I was old enough to read them on my own.

The Mickey the man holds sports a hat and I feel like I almost know which model but I am not sure – maybe there is a railroad conductor? I have looked and could not find such a one online, but I have a memory of it. It is not the cowboy model, the hat is wrong. I like that Minnie seems to be smiling up at him. The men here have a strong family resemblance, but I am less sure about the woman. Is she a relative or spouse? This photo launches a series of stories and questions in my mind. Like so many photos in my collection, how odd that it got saved only because of the toys that were included.

 

Family Portrait with Pets

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo struck my fancy the other day. It is the sort of photograph which I liked better and better the longer I looked at it. It is, if you will, the sort of bread and butter photograph Pam’s Pictorama is largely made up of – early 20th century photos of people posing with cats. This one, identified on the back as taken in May (with a ? in place of a day) 1936, with nothing else written on the back. It is a photo postcard, but it is printed on a lesser, lighter stock than they usually are and as a result feels and looks more like just a photo – curling a bit with age. It was never mailed and I don’t know how well it would have stood up to those rigors.

I assume this is a portrait of a family, or at least mostly so. There isn’t a strong resemblance amongst them, but enough to convince me when I look closely, especially around those participants in the center. Only a single man and boy show up in this preponderance of women and girls in mostly spring finery. And of course what sold me was that between the dozen people crammed in here, no less than five of the family pets were scooped up for inclusion. While the three cats and the puppy caught my eye initially, it was the little girl holding the rooster that really made it special. I have debated on the possibility of Mr. Rooster actually being stuffed, but I think he is just standing at attention – there’s something about her hand around him that make me think he is alive. The kitten next to him is taking it pretty well if that is the case, but perhaps they know each other well. In general the cats seem to require a certain two fisted clutch in order to be kept a hold of – the puppy is content with being held, as they often seem to be too. I like the idea that when someone said family photo all these critters were scooped up too.

On this spring morning these folks are presented as a neat and well dressed group, boasting Depression era fashion including sporty berets on three of the girls, the toddler among them. Warm enough day that most of them are in short sleeve dresses, although they range from that to coats. I am somewhat undecided about whether that is some old snow stuck on the fence behind rooster-holding girl, although I land of the side of probably when I blow the photo up. I think you could have that on an early day first warm day in May where spring is just beginning to sort itself out.

When I began Pam’s Pictorama it was for the sole purpose of organizing my photos, mostly those of people posing with Felix, so that they could eventually be published in a book and to entertain myself with this project while recovering from foot surgery. Pictorama took on a life of its own expanding almost immediately and, more than 400 posts later, it has covered a lot more territory than that. Still, when I purchase a photo like this, I mentally file it in a future chapter devoted to photos of people and their pets, and oh what a book it will be.