Die Kleine Mutter

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card turned up in my searching because Mary and her kid compatriots are dressing poor long-suffering kitty in this checked cloth regalia. Poor kit! Why do we love to dress them up so much? In fact, as I have discussed in Pictorama previously, there is something irresistible about it, at least for some of us. Wonder if Dr. Freud ever wrote about that!

This film was originally and more famously known under the original US release title Through the Back Door. Die kleine Mutter appears to be the German language version of this 1921 silent. Interesting that the original title makes reference an issue about class and money, and the German title focuses on a somewhat smarmy aspect of Mary caring for these war orphans she picks up along the way.

I don’t know the whole story, but I just watched the film and this scene does not appear. Therefore the scene was either specific to the German version, or it never made it into the film at all. Most likely the former I think. One does, however, see the kids and I think a tablecloth with this checked pattern fabric – but no kitty outfitting. Too bad! Kit belongs to a wealthy New York family – Mary’s mother who abandoned her as a small child and thinks she is dead. As I mentioned, the kids are some WWI war orphans Mary has gathered up as part of her retinue. The story is a bit complicated, but you are really in it for the visuals and the fun of it.

There is a cat theme running through the film, so I am not surprised that there was another cat scene shot. First in Mary’s childhood Belgium there is a fine looking white cat, short hair, wearing a large bow that gets into considerable trouble – a chase scene, and is responsible for a few plot points. The fluffy Persian has a smaller part in New York. In addition, there is a wonderful, huge Great Dane with her in the beginning of the film and a hot scene with a highly skilled mule who made us laugh out loud.

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Famous shot from Through the Back Door, not in my collection – I wish!

 

Some other highlights include an early appearance for a young Adolphe Menjou. Perhaps most notable though is the gorgeous photography by Charles Rosher. The first half of the film is comprised of one stunning landscape after another – much of my beloved diffusion lens used to create cunning little portraits and visual vignettes. The other highlight, again in the first half, is a series of capers with Mary playing her younger self, getting into all sorts of trouble. Clearly some influence on the Little Rascals, where some of the gags were clearly grabbed up later. The film is available on Youtube at Through the Back Door and I thank this eBay find for introducing me to it. I say there are worse ways for you to spend some time on this chilly Sunday in March!

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A scene grab off of Youtube posted on the internet

 

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Catting Around

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: While I am mostly known about the house as a rather superb sleeper (Kim says if it was a competitive event I would medal, maybe even take gold) recently I have been having some insomnia which for me takes the form of wakefulness from the hours of approximately 2:30-4:00 each night. However, unlike the gentlemen in this photo, I can’t blame it on the kitties. Generally speaking, I find them snoring gently at my feet when I wake. I occasionally nudge Blackie awake to have a conversation and some pets – I figure that keeping me company is one of their cat jobs. I guess he regrets not reading the fine print on his cat contract as he is usually anxious to get back to his Zzzz’s.

I had to look closely to find the black cats perched on and out the window in this odd scenario. I am not sure why the sign over the bed reads, Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast – referring perhaps to the kitty accompaniment responsible for their wakefulness? This reminds me of one of my favorite purchases and posts in recent years to be found at Kitty Sextette Singers – a kitty orchestra on a fence with a doggie audience. Noisy cats on a back fence make up an almost infinite string of cat cartoons, from Felix to Terry Tunes.

This photo postcard seems to belong to a bizarre sub-strata which I have tapped into lately of strange photo cards. It reminds me a bit of the recent photo and post Cat of the Sea? in that it appears to come from something other than just the origin of postcard photo. This one looks like it might be a still from a silent film, although that seems unlikely really. Perhaps a series of cards?

This card was mailed and has a postmark date of October 21, 1918. It appears to have been mailed in Scotland to Miss Smith, Seabourne, Broughty Ferry, Scotland. The pencil scrawled message on the back is a bit inane and what I can make out reads, Just a PC to let you know that I got your let allright (sic) Well I have not got a chance to write you but don’t send any word here till I write you as I am going to leave here and will send a PC at the end of the week. This is followed by a sign off and signature which goes over the message and is utterly illegible. All this to say, got your card, don’t write me – I’ll write you. Funny how rarely people write with pencil now, pens are so ubiquitously available, but they weren’t then. I am here to tell you that a message written with a blunt-tipped pencil more than 100 years ago is generally hard to read!

I have rarely, if ever, experienced first hand the kind of caterwauling this card pokes fun at – thankfully the stray cat population has been successfully reduced in a number of ways, at least in the places I have lived. However, just before I go to sleep most nights, Cookie and Blackie have a tear around our one room apartment, which generally ends in a fight and me yelling for Blackie to stop killing Cookie – right now! And then Blackie, feelings hurt and all wound up, goes and meows at the door to the apartment in a dejected fashion. I guess we have our own version of a late night kitty concerto.

 

Wild Bill

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: These came as a bundle buy on eBay and I gather they had been kept together over the years. The only objection I have to this otherwise great photo is that it is overexposed, which interferes with my ability to study some of the wonderful images a bit closer which I are itching to do. Empress is a common name for a theater (which seems a bit odd if you think about it; I mean, why?) and from a quick search I was not able to locate one with an entrance that matched this so I do not know where it was or is. I only know that this is the Empress Theatre because of a holiday card which was also included in the sale. Hearty Xmas Greetings and Good Wishes – The management of the ‘Empress Theatre’ wishes it’s ever increasing circle of patrons and friends a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year. Unfortunately no address, nor is a year, is indicated; there is nothing on the back as this one was never mailed.

Clearly this theater was very excited about showing the William S. Hart film, Wild Bill Hickok because in addition to the poster with the lobby cards surrounding there is even an extra lobby card hanging in back – and somehow this postcard of him, below, has remained with this photo as well. William S. Hart, who rates near the very top of my list for silent film stars in Westerns, could be shown to better advantage than he is in this photo. He was a good looking guy, but could easily look like he is all nose and oddly proportioned if caught at the wrong angle.

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I wasn’t a big fan of Westerns when I met Kim. I had seen one or two in passing, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and that sort of thing, but despite an interest in early and silent film, did not count a Western among them. Kim quickly took care of that and Westerns of all sorts were daily fare pretty much from the first day we settled into life together. It took me a little while to warm up to them, but eventually the beautiful photography began to intrigue me and soon I too was a fan, especially of the early silents. I love the chance to see long vistas of untouched, wild looking countryside, horses running through them. William S. Hart was one of first I took to and I remember a glorious festival over several days devoted to him at the Museum of the Moving Image where I got a crash course under my belt over a few days. (Kim and I caught up with a few newly restored ones at the Museum of Modern Art a few months ago – they do turn up.) Below is a superior still from the film, Wild Bill Hickok (found at True West Magazine) and a nifty description of everyone in the photo. (Kim brought this one to my attention.)

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Bert Lindley as Wyatt Earp in 1923’s Wild Bill Hickok.
The studio caption reads: “The Dodge City Peace Commission meets the pompous buffalo hide buyers, the silk hat brigade, from Boston.” William S. Hart as Hickok, Jack Gardner as Masterson and Bert Lindley as Earp make up the commission, with unknown actors in the group playing Doc Holliday, Bill Tilghman, Luke Short and Charlie Bassett.

Of course, to my great joy an unidentified Felix cartoon is also playing at this theater and that is what led me to this photo in the first place. It may just be too overexposed to see the title, but I guess not. I think this was their generic Felix poster they put out whenever Felix was the cartoon that day or week.The theater team is a dapper looking group – from the woman with carefully done hair, to the bow-tie wearing gentleman, the older solid citizen who I am going to assume was the manager, and the young squirt with hair combed and a tie as well. That’s today’s tribute to festive theater going in an age past – W.S. Hart films, neatly dressed theater proprietor’s having their photo in front of their glorious entrance, and a holiday card sent to thank their patrons. Although Wild Bill Hickok is out there for viewing, it is not available online. I leave you instead with a jolly early Felix, also from 1923, which may have been shown that day – and no less, look for the cameo by our cowboy in Felix the Cat in Hollywood.

 

 

Betty Jewel – and Felix!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Betty poses here with this sprightly Felix strolling on a stick – a toy I have bid on, but not won to date. In pencil on the back it reads, Betty Jewel 1927 Arizona Bound (followed by something I cannot read which might be C/SE7). This photo has been cut down to its current, approximately, 8″x 10″ form as you can tell from the white margin at the bottom. Another actress is almost, but not quite, cut out of the photo. Since no other women are credited on the film I can’t even make a guess.

Betty is very perky here indeed. This film, currently lost, starred an as yet relatively unknown Gary Cooper. The Wikipedia entry has a brief plot from the film which seems to portray Gary’s character as spending all his time looking after his white wonder horse Flash – love that. White wonder horse – hotsy-totsy I say! The IMDb database has a review by someone who says that saw 90 feet of it at the Library of Congress. (Unfortunately, it would not appear to be the piece with Felix in it I will add.) I have slipped in another still from the film – this one between Betty and Gary, although again, sadly minus Felix.

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Betty Jewel, born Julia Baroni, on April 29, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska died in 1963. She has eight acting credits between the years of 1923 and 1927 – with three of them in 1927 and she disappears from the scene after that. Betty seems to have started in the biz as a Ziegfield Girl in the teens. (As Kim pointed out, this means that there is a nude photo of her bouncing around as there is of each Ziegfield girl – and sure enough Google images complied. There is a semi-nude photo of her by the Ziegfield photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston. I was unable to grab a usable image so you will  have to search on your own if you are interested.)

Meanwhile, Gary Cooper was bursting forth on the scene and ’27 was a turning point for him with seven films. Not many of these seem to survive however. Kim contributes that Cooper’s big break was in the 1926 film The Winning of Barbara Worth. He is not the star, Ronald Coleman is, but instead a supporting role, competing for Vilma Banky. The film does survive in good condition and a great looking clip that has Gary in it can be found on Youtube here: The Winning of Barbara Worth. Obviously, Gary continues to work and moves into more leading roles. As one review points out though, maybe it wasn’t until you could hear his rather wonderful voice in sound films that he really takes off.

I digress however. Getting back to Felix who brought us here in the first place. Those of you who have frequented Pictorama in the past know that in his day, everyone posed with Felix and that he made such guest appearances as this in numerous films and with many stars of the day. By way of reminder, these former posts are part of the genre and I have linked to some of them below. For those of you these posts are new to – enjoy!

Felix Plays a Prime Prop
Felix is the Cat’s Pajamas – Zita Harrison and Pagliaccio the Cat
Mistinguett – Felix Goes to the Dogs
Felix Makes the Picture Better!

 

 

A Picture is Worth Many Words

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This film still is an odd, 5″x7″ size, came as part of a collection we amassed purchasing pieces off an artist photo archive being sold on eBay over a period of weeks, a few years back now. I believe it was a photo morgue assembled by an illustrator. Among the photos we purchased from that group was one I featured on an earlier post, Jes Call Me Bill. There are additional future posts to be had from that wonderful group of photos. There’s no information about this one and we haven’t been able to figure out what film it might have come from.

This photo was on my mind and I could not put my hands on it until recently while cleaning up and going through some photos given to us by a friend of Kim’s. This one had accidentally found it’s way into that pile. In part it is the composition that attracts me. I couldn’t ask for better. The light that is hitting the roof is great and there is just barely enough of it. The whole story is here – he’s pulling her into that thatched house against her will, the guy on the horse is covering him with a gun and looking off in one direction, but meanwhile, no one sees our hero coming out of the doorway. He’ll save her! Not really a beautiful photo so much as a good one. This is the beauty of both silent films and good photography. The picture grabs you – and gives you the whole story.

Try a Skyrocket!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:This was a surprising find – it is a press photo of the Our Gang kids. It is dated July 28, 1925 and says, The Cleveland News, Reference (something I can’t read) Cleveland, Ohio. Also written on the back it says, Don’t Hitch Your Wagon to a Star! Try a Skyrocket! Here are the diminutive Pathy comedians of Roach’s “Our Gang” celebrating the Fourth in their own fashion. Quite the fire crackers, yes? I have always thought that if I was going to have a still from Our Gang that I would want one of the crazy machines or cars in it and this is pretty dandy, even though it isn’t a still, but a photo made expressly for this purpose. I just wish they could have gotten Pete up there too! The photo is a collage montage of images and the “flames” shooting out the back and the lines indicating speed seem to have actually been scratched onto the negative. Very resourceful.

Like many people, I guess, some of my earliest television memories is a wonderful, never-ending unspooling of Our Gang and Little Rascal shorts on weekend afternoons. These films informed our childhoods and convinced us that we should have a neighborhood gang of kids and dogs, and be capable of building glorious fire engine go-carts, our own taxi cabs, other cars, and club houses – and sit around eating huge cream puff donuts the like of which you never see in real life. (Having said that, I actually finally had a cream puff donut of the kind I am describing the other day – it was on special at Le Pain Quotidien and I split it with a friend – absolutely glorious. I now understand why they were always longing for them in the shorts.) It was years before it occurred to me that those wonderful go-carts and club houses were built by talented adults with virtually endless resources – not a superior kind of extinct child from an earlier generation. It was probably good to have the bar set high however.

Although I watched them all with impunity, it was the earliest generation of them that I liked best. (However, I did not catch up with the silent ones until adulthood so I am thinking of the first generation of sound ones.) I loved this image when I saw it and it set me thinking about a short where they do indeed build a rocket and take off around the neighborhood. Surely there was one like that, wasn’t there?

Mistinguett – Felix Goes to the Dogs

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Shown here is a recent acquisition. A press photo of a French stage star posing with her dog – and Felix! Plenty of evidence that, in addition to regular folks, stars enjoyed posing with Felix to help burnish their public image. (My Felix Makes the Picture Better illustrates this point, and look for several of actress Lilian Harvey that will be future posts.)

This one is undated which is unusual for a press photo. Glued to the back is a scrap of paper that reads, MISTINGUETT, the French musical comedy star, concluding her appearance here in ‘Innocent Eyes,’ sailed yesterday with her ‘million dollar legs’ for home abroad the Paris. She was accompanied by her dog, Alfred! And his stuffed playmate, Felix. staff Photo-Steffen

Okay, more about Mistinguett in a moment – but the Felix belonged to her dog? As a toy collector I am, needless to say, a bit horrified. We will assume that, if true, those particular toys are unlikely to show up on eBay today – although an interesting story for someone who finds one with little dog-toothy tears. How often did the Felix-es need replacing I wonder – Felix is almost as big as Alfred. I take comfort in the fact that I deeply suspect that it was a put up job for the photograph and that the pristine Felix toy went on his way with the photographer awaiting his turn with Dolores Costello and others.

There is a huge amount of information about Mistinguett on the internet. Born on April 5, 1875 as Jeanne Bourgeois she evidently decided to be an entertainer at an early age. She took the stage name Mistinguett and became the toast of Paris – the highest paid entertainer of her day. Her actual skill as a singer seems to be questionable, but clearly she had something and was quite the ‘It Girl’ of her time. The lover of Maurice Chevalier and King Alfonso XIII of Spain, she was a famous dancer of the Apache – one of France’s contributions to socially acceptable S&M entertainment. The IMDb database claims that her legs were insured for a mere 50,000 francs – but let’s not quibble. Her long filmography starts in 1908, but with only one film in the sound era, the 1936 Rigolboche, which appears to be available. One review sites her as a bit long in the tooth for the part – understandable since she was 61 at that point. (In all fairness, there’s a leggy photo of her when she was 50 that is pretty hotsy-totsy. It can be viewed, with much additional information on her at www.yodaslair.com/dumboozle/mist/mistdex.html) There are several fuzzy dupey clips of her singing on Youtube and I have spared you any of these.

Innocent Eyes, the show mentioned on the photo, was mounted to feature her and introduce her to American audiences and was pretty soundly panned. She never clicked here. Mistinguett seemed unperturbed however and I snatch a quote from the above mentioned website, In her autobiography, Mistinguett recalls the results of her efforts to learn English for this engagement:  My pronunciation was a great success.  ‘Innocent Eyes’ on my tongue became ‘Innocent Asses.’ I was begged not to improve on it. She was, as my grandmother used to say, a real piece of work.

And I can only guess that she was perhaps less than entertained with the idea of posing with the American film super star, Felix. Perhaps that is how she came to demote him to the role of dog toy!

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Are those cat ears? An early poster image borrowed from the Google photo file.