The Troubles of Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card seemed appropriate to our current contagion days. Postmarked 1924, the postcard may refer to bed bugs or the like as Mrs. Felix seems to be itching, or it could also be a cold as Felix looks a bit unwell. Felix does look miserable and somewhat guilty under her accusation either way. Theaters would be ripe for such transmission bugs bacterial, viral or the many legged kind, and of course it follows that Felix couldn’t resist going to the pictures. Very tongue in cheek that the very cartoon folks would be pointing this out, but of course they knew our sympathy is always with naughty Felix.

In the 1920’s, movie theaters were more working class establishments and had just started to give way to the movie palaces designed to look like legitimate theaters and attract middle and upper class patrons. (An article from Smithsonian Magazine I read this morning tells the tale of popcorn as a snack in theaters – disdained at first as too low class, it gained traction during the Depression when the inexpensive treat was attainable for audiences as well as additional high margin income for theaters.) 1924 is still on the early end of the decade however, and the allure of the picture shows was still battling with an image of it as barely better than frequenting a working class saloon or bar.

This card was produced by a British company called Bamforth which, although it sold these cards both in Britain and the United States, appears to have done so without license. And, unlike the color postcards of Felix in the same era, these are all entirely black and white and Felix has what I think of as his more dog-like off-model look.

Bamforth was a company originally born out of the production of magic lantern slides. In addition to short film ditties of the 1890’s until 1918, they had a line of postcard which focused on what were generally considered saucy topics of the day. The postcard portion of the company was eventually sold and still exists in some form today, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. Their postcards, such as Felix fighting with his wireless radio, were so much of their time and place that sometimes we are left puzzling to figure out what they might refer to today. For example, there is one where he curses the demand notice for rate. (This seems to refer to a dunning tax notice.)

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Bamforth card, not in Pictorama collection

 

Another series of postcards printed by Florence House printers in Great Britain, shows Felix in a series of equally moral questionable scenes. I show one of those pulled off the internet below. I love the cigar and the overnight grip in this one. He is a naughty boy indeed.

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Florence House card not in Pictorama collection

 

In these years that are still leading up to the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics, Felix tells us to be mindful about drafts (in one card we spy him in the bathtub through a partially open door and he scolds, Shut that Door! You’ll have me laid up – and what will the picture shows do then without poor Felix?), and reminds us of what you might bring home from the pictures at night. Today he would don a mask and figure out a way to court the white girl kitty, despite keeping a six foot social distance.

 

Aesop’s Fables: the Stationery

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an item which fills me with a sort of jaw-dropping amazement. It is a single sheet of unused letterhead from the Aesop’s Fables Film company – so fragile that I worry that even framing it would hasten its demise and so riotously decorated it left little room for any actual correspondence. The idea of a single blank sheet fascinates me – it would be less mysterious if a letter had been saved, even a mundane one. Some smart person with foresight came across this sheet early on, appreciated the singular nature of this stationery, squirreled it away and somehow it was rescued – ultimately passing most recently into my hands.

I purchased this on eBay. Despite my fascination it was initially listed for such a princely sum that even I could not summon justification for purchasing it. Nonetheless, to even have seen it and known that it existed pleased me no end to start. Much to my surprise, the seller continued to re-list and lower the price until suddenly I thought – it’s mine! And here we are at last.

For Pictorama readers who might be new to the world of Aesop’s Fable cartoons I will provide a crash course. Launched on May 13, 1921, Paul Terry produced a series of popular animated short cartoons which was populated by a riotous cast of cats, mice, dogs and other animals in never-ending loops, usually with an outraged Farmer Alfalfa in the midst of it all, and each ending with a comic moral such as the one on this stationary, It’s a great mistake to drop the real thing for a fake! or the one cited on Wikipedia, Go around with a chip on your shoulder and someone will knock your block off. Paul Terry’s cartoons were evidently what a young Walt Disney aspired to when he started making cartoons.

With weekly cartoons being produced in the silent days, 449 titles are listed for the years between 1921 and 1929 when the move to sound and production slows a bit; 270 cartoons were produced in the final years from 1929 until 1933. However, Paul Terry leaves Aesop Fables in 1929 as well, to start the company which bore his name, Terry Tunes. The Aesop Fables cartoons continue to be produced by Van Beuren Studios until 1936. (As I write this Kim shares that Paul Terry took the Farmer Alfalfa character with him to Terry Tunes. He also tells me that Paul Terry eventually sold the company and became resident at a Westchester country club near where a young Kim Deitch was growing up – and that he even made a prank call to Terry once.)

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Paul Terry swiped from the internet, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I adore these cartoons with their anonymous black cats chasing comic mice and in turn being pursued equally by cartoon dogs – with the occasional other chicken, cow or other farm animal thrown in. Long-standing Pictorama readers know that in conjunction with these cartoons, a line of stuffed toys were produced. These have always represented a gold standard for toy collecting to me and I am proud and pleased to own several. (Posts about that aspect of my collection can be found herehere and here, just for starters. A sample of the cartoons can be found at A Jealous Fisherman.) The production history of these toys is a bit obscured and I find pulling at this string of animation-cum-toy history endlessly fascinating.

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Which doll is this? Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As for the stationary itself, starting with the address it should be noted that the Palace Theatre still exists. A glorious vaudeville turned movie theater in its day, evidently the original facade lurks behind the billboards of today’s Times Square in some sort of mediated agreement between the landmark’s commission and developers. The original, or at least restored, splendor remains inside the theater as some online photos indicate as below. It is nice to think it was not gutted of its charms. Presumably the offices referred to on the stationary were above the theater and noted as the Annex.

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Palace theater interior – photo not from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The Fable of The Dog and The Bone runs down one side, complete with illustration as shown below. (Signed by Paul Terry but Kim casts doubt that PT actually executed suggesting that, like Disney he may have routinely signed the drawings executed by his staff for this purpose.) The tale wraps with a moral, like the cartoons. I cannot help but wonder if there were other fables (and morals) on different versions of the stationery – how splendid would that be? Running along the bottom is a riotous parade of Aesop animals and the quote, Aesop’s Fables are to a show what pepper and salt are to a chop. It is a two color job meaning they spared no expense back when it would have added cost. As I started this post by speculating – not much room was left for actual correspondence. I have to assume that they had a second sheet produced that allowed for a typed sheet with somewhat more generous margins.

I am sure many mundanities were executed on these jolly sheets. Yet I do love the spirit of a company that would find expression right down to the stationary – and who wouldn’t find even a past-due notice more charming if executed and arriving on this paper?

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Detail from Aesop Fable stationary, Pams-Pictorama.com collection