Nana

Pam Photo Post: If I hadn’t already been a fan of silent film, the 1924 version of Peter Pan would have sold me. I remember that the first time I watched it, a beautifully restored and version toned in sepia and blues, thinking it just doesn’t get better than this – the perfect incarnation of a film of its kind. The entire movie is beautiful and magical, but for me it is all about George Ali in a giant part-puppet and dog costume playing Nana in the first part of the film. (He also returns as a scary yet somehow jolly Tick-Tock the crocodile later in the film.)

peterPan-kino

This snatched off an online ad for the DVD of the film. A shot of Ali later in the film as Tick-Tock.

 

I cannot express how much I wish I had had George Ali-sized Nana as a nursemaid in childhood. I do believe I felt a bit that way about our huge German Shepard and childhood partner in crime, Duchess, who I have written about before. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, must have had a huge and protective dog as a kid too. I find the father’s treatment of the beloved Nana unforgivable in the beginning of the film (the oaf), but of course necessary so that the ever-vigilant Nana is not able to prevent the action which sets the story in motion.

$_12

My post on Alfred Latell in 2015 remains one of the most popular.

 

Pictorama readers already know that I have a serious affection for animal impersonators. I have devoted past posts to Alfred Latell (those can be found here and here) and those are among the most popular posts on my site. I also count an early volume on constructing homemade version of such costumes among my prize possessions. (That post about the book How to Put on a Circus can be found here.) Ali was born in 1866 so he and Latell would have been working the same side of the street at the same time starting in the early 1900’s in vaudeville and stage acting, and then early film. Ali gets the breaks and today is the better remembered of the two, primarily because of this role in Peter Pan, although he was much in demand for his roles on the stage as well.

Scan 1

Ali as Nana is shown to great advantage in this tatty still I dug out of the fascinating box I keep on my desk – largely of photographs, only lightly explored, that were sent to us by Kim’s friend Tom Conroy and which continues to turn up the occasional gem. (I wrote about another of these recently in the post Art School which can be found here. If we dig a bit deeper, back in 2015, I also wrote about a more Felix-y one here.)

Shown in this photo with Philippe De Lacy, we get a nice close up of Nana’s costume, somehow wielding a sponge, fluffy fur, the smiling mouth and most importantly we get to see the eyes and brow, all which were controlled by strings allowing George to create the expressions and move the ears and tail. His (her?) collar is nicely visible. The tile on the walls is painted on and the towels are a sort of charming mismatch of strips, checks and floral.

Ali is said to have started his career as a gymnast and scored the role of an out-sized Tige in a traveling show devoted to Buster Brown in the 1900’s. He stole that show with rave reviews throughout the United States and Britain. I share an excerpt below on the subject from fellow blogger Mary Mallory (her post devoted to Ali is here.)

The January 21, 1907 edition of “The Rock Island Argus” called him tops in the line of animal pantomime, stating many recognized him as “the foremost four-footed actor” for the past several years. Ali toured both America and England for several years playing Tige in various iterations of the show. In fact, during one production in Pennsylvania, Ali visited a local city hall and bought a dog license making “Tige” legal in town.

Buster Brown

The image for sale at George Glazer Gallery, NY

 

According to her Ali went on to play Dick Whittington’s Cat, a dog in Aladdin and several other roles, traveling across England, Scotland and then throughout Europe. He was 58 by the time he is back in the United States and takes the film role of Nana. Like Latell, Ali either made his costumes or, like this one, they were made to his specifications.

Sadly, the 1924 film of Peter Pan appears to be George Ali’s only film credit, although Mary Mallory sites a reference to an earlier 1921 film appearance in Little Red Riding Hood, where of course he plays the wolf, I assume it is not known to be extant and I cannot find any other reference to it. You never know with films, let’s hope this one materializes one of these days.

Little Red Riding Hood 2

From the lost 1921 film of Little Red Riding Hood. This photo is from the book, Fort Lee: Birthplace of the Movies.

 

Meanwhile, it bears mentioning that the original book of Peter Pan is definitely worth a read. The Disney version had never much appealed to me, but after seeing the 1924 film I found the original book and read it. Although the character of Peter Pan evidently appeared briefly in an early adult novel of J. M. Barrie’s (and Peter was to some degree based on a brother who died in childhood; their mother, comforted by the idea that he would remain a boy forever), Barrie developed it first for a stage play, where it was very popular. He wrote the book after. The popularity of the story in all its incarnations overshadowed and eclipsed all of Barrie’s success before and afterward.

I picked up an early copy inexpensively years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I would imagine it is available on Project Gutenberg or other online sites for free or also inexpensively; however I enjoyed holding that slim early incarnation in my hands. I highly recommend readers search out both the easily available film and novel. Treat  yourself to them today.

 

The Fur Person

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This book was a prize when I discovered it and gave it to my mom, back when I was in college. Mom was reading May Sarton’s poetry and journals at the time. Being a keeper of kitties herself, the slim volume discovered in a used bookstore, devoted to and written from the perspective of Sarton’s adopted stray Tom Jones, was a score for a holiday gift for mom and quickly became a family favorite.

Some of the phrases Tom Jones uses to describe his world quickly integrated into the cat lexicon of the Butler family home and remain in use for many a subsequent generation of cats, both in New Jersey and the Manhattan branch, of which of course I am in charge. The kneading paws of our kits became starfish paws and a cat sitting in his or her favorite window, watching the world go by, is reading the newspaper. Even before discovering the book my mother had already christened our inordinately smart girl cat, Winkie, her Fur Child, and would allow that the sixth chair at the kitchen table was hers and Winks would perch there, ever politely. These phrases have been used so often I had somewhat forgotten their origin, traced to this book.

I hadn’t thought of the book in decades, but recently when researching and writing a Pictorama post, the memory of it nagged at the edges of my memory until I finally remembered it. The edition I gave my mother was a hardcover, early edition, much like the one I purchased for myself recently. I located an inexpensive copy online, hardcover and illustrated as I remembered, and it arrived quickly, a gentle explosion of mothballs and mold when opened. (It is still in print and also available in inexpensive paperback form, I believe, complete with the original illustrations by Barbara Knox, which I think you want to complete it, although I find them a tad uninspired.) I recommend it as an absolute must read for cat lovers.

Tom’s story is one of a stray tom cat who, as he comes of age, realizes the attraction of living with a housekeeper and sets off in search of an appropriate set-up. After abandoning the small boy who claims him as a kitten, briefly considering life in a grocery store, he ultimately determines that an old maid with a garden would be best suited to his needs. After some trial and error, he finds his home with not one, but two, old maids – presumably May and her partner, Judy Matlock, although only identified here as Gentle Voice and Brusque Voice.

Judy, Gentle Voice, is the first to invite Tom into the house and the one who names him; she is the cat lover in this family. May, Brusque Voice who smokes and is less likely to pet and coddle, eventually grows into loving the critter in their midst. She is the one who works at home all day, forging a special bond as shown when they both care for him during a serious illness – my guess would be a bad case of ring worm from the description. It is clear he has become central to their lives. (I can tell you that the cats here have an entirely different relationship with Kim who is central to their all day every day, although perhaps that is shifting some now that I have been pandemic installed here now for several months. That is a long time in cat days.)

May Sarton’s tone is indeed a tad brusque which keeps the book from falling into the saccharine, maudlin or childish. Tom Jones is a un-spayed male cat and Sarton gives a fair, if comical, view of what was on the mind of a young boy cat who came in off the streets. She also relishes describing the kitty joys of digging, tree climbing and has an especially entertaining interlude with his introduction to catnip. A novella, barely topping 100 pages, it is a quick read. It is a book that could be enjoyed by younger folks, but is written for adults.

My copy of this book, is inscribed on the inside cover with the name Mildred Krainock, Aug. 1957 in a neat script, written in pen. Despite a 1957 copyright, the fly leaf announces that this volume is in its third printing so the book was popular from the first. (May Sarton had already published a clutch of books – novels and poems – and was an established writer.)

As a book penned in the mid-50’s Sarton is both tongue in cheek with her language – she would have only been 45 when she published this book – but probably also accommodating a time when old maids would have been the most acceptable way of looking at two women living together. I don’t think Sarton was much bothered about keeping her sexuality under wraps even in those early years, but she assumes the mantel of an unimpeachable role for the times here.

I am happy to tell readers this isn’t one of those awful books where the denouement is the death of the pet in question, but while researching this book I realized that Sarton wrote it either just before or during the time she and Judy separate, as noted by Wikipedia, was in 1956. The book is dedicated to Judy and while the back fly leaf assures us that Tom Jones and Sarton continue to live together in Cambridge, MA, evidently in reality Sarton had left for New Hampshire after the death of her father by the time of publication.

While it is unclear where Tom Jones would have landed in their parting, the book implies that he is somewhat more fond of Judy than of May. I realized that I was enjoying the idea of their happy household, ruled by Tom at the the helm, continuing for years beyond the book, and was sadden by the knowledge that it was most likely written in remembrance and tribute, honoring days now passed, or passing.

IMG_3962

Judy Bolton Mysteries: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: While bunker-style living here in Manhattan during our modern plague has not resulted in an increase in reading time (quite the opposite as days seem to somehow blur into seven-day-a-week, 14 hour day work-a-thons), I do make time every night for a bit of Judy Bolton before bed. With the last few volumes looming on the horizon I know I will miss her and the dollop of her 1940’s daily life when I eventually finish the last volume. However, today I offer this next Judy installment as suggested reading for those of you hunting a little escapism from your current reality.

judy3.2

I have always believed that in stressful times that one should be extremely thoughtful about what one is reading. (Kim is currently deep in Max Brand – I thought he’d already read all of him – and of course Little Orphan Annie on weekends, but none of this is different, just business as usual for him.) These days I read only what I feel is necessary of the newspaper in the morning and quickly move on.

In the evening, I need something to lead me into a relaxed enough state to sleep. Therefore, I try to put down the phone (Wynton Marsalis, please take note) and pick up my Judy Bolton novel to read a chapter or so. I am finishing up volume 20 currently, The Warning on the Window, and am fascinated by the fact that my copy, with a 1949 copyright, sporting a dust jacket and purchased on ebay, had never been read! I found several pages that had never been split. Imagine this book being passed from hand to hand over seventy years and never read. Extraordinary!

 

As I mentioned in my first post about Judy (which can be found here) about halfway through the series Judy marries one of her two suitors throughout the earlier volumes. While Judy’s role is not diminished to one of housewife, some of the aspects of 1940’s pre-feminism jabs at me in these latter volumes. Judy’s husband leaves his nascent law practice to join the FBI after one of their adventures and somehow the series that was about her with him occasionally helping becomes about her helping him. Although hers always does end up being the star role the author now feels the need to work at storylines that allow for this. (Meanwhile, reality has never been a strong suit of these books, but the evidence of this sticks in my crawl a bit.)

Meanwhile, Judy and Peter have acquired a child along the way, Roberta, whose father is mysteriously “at sea” and from what I can tell they have never heard a peep from him. As a result they now have a ready made family and Roberta’s mystery solving abilities, given her age, somewhat make up for Judy’s post-marital status.

204004417.0.l

 

 

As part of this shift in storyline, I was a bit worried about Judy’s black cat, Blackberry, who seemed to be meeting his demise in The Living Portrait. A puppy, Tuffy, was introduced in this volume as Roberta’s pet and I was quite peevish when it seemed that Blackberry would be sacrificed for him. I hope I am not giving away too much plot when I assure readers that he makes a strong eventual comeback and remains part of the family. (In fact up next, The Black Cat’s Clue.)

The thing that interests me most about the second half of the series is that Margaret Sutton’s writing style seems to morph in tandem with Judy’s role as wife. Almost immediately the books become a bit more complex. The mysteries go from being excuses for a storyline with unreal plots to more logical storylines. They are still stuffed with really bad criminals and if anything Judy appears to be in actual danger in some of these stories. In particular The Secret of the Musical Tree managed to have me a bit worried about her at one point. (Even if harrowing at times, all is of course viewed from the safety of knowing that Judy appears in another volume, waiting patiently for me next to the bed.) Judy as an adult clearly meant that Sutton could step out a little in a different direction.

unnamed.jpg

Undated photo of Margaret Sutton

 

To both Judy and Sutton’s credit, Judy spends little if any time worrying about her appearance (Judy’s attire is only ever noted if it is a plot point) and only glancingly makes mention about things like cleaning the house or cooking a meal. Judy’s mother tends to worry about Judy’s mystery solving ways and one gets the sense that this is the evolution of young women of the times moving yet another notch out of the home and into the working world.

Still, plot devices are needed in order to get Judy away from her husband and let her do her stuff, which by today’s standards is unnecessary and even insulting. Peter can therefore expect to be conked on the head unconscious, or to find that somehow Judy is off in another town, unable to phone, and turns out to be knee deep in trouble. Despite being dated in this way, these books are a more or less perfect antidote for the stresses of the spring of 2020 for me. Just intriguing enough to lead me peacefully down the garden path, again and again each night. I highly recommend them if you like me need a bit of evening escapism.