Jean Arthur and Her Lucky Black Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photograph was one of those mercurial finds online. I stumbled on it and snatched it up immediately. When it arrived and I was stunned to find that it is in almost pristine condition. Written in pencil (twice) on the back is Jean Arthur, the Culver Photo Research Service logo (a snappy one with their address and phone is a part of it phone VAnderbilt 3-337251 E 42nd St NYC). In addition it is stamped, Reproduction of this PHOTOGRAPH must carry our credit line. This picture is loaned for one reproduction only and must not be sold, loaned or syndicated. Must not be used for advertising without written permission. It also bears the inscription, Permission is hereby granted for use of this photograph in Magazines and News papers. Credit to PARAMOUNT PICTURES will be appreciated. Photograph by Gene Robert Richee.

Kim has calculated this photo for about 1924-25. In a book he has a photo of Jean in ’25 with her hair bobbed however so this is presumably earlier than that photo. We cannot actually find her linked to a Paramount film in that timeframe so if you all have information let us know. Of course for me this splendid black cat on her lap is what makes the photo. A charming Jean is instructing stuffed kitty in the ways of the radio microphone. He seems like a sprightly fellow with this nice big bow. Although there was a popular Stieff model of this sort at the time, I don’t believe that is his pedigree.

Eugene Robert (E.R.) Richee (1896-1972) was a Paramount portrait photographer although online references disagree on the years he was there. (One states he worked there from 1925-1935 which would date this photo better, but another states that he started there in the late teens.) He is best known and most closely associated with well recognized photos of Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks, among others. He moved to Warner Brothers and worked there and for MGM later. Jean is listed among the stars he photographed at Warner Brothers as well. Some stars demanded him for their photos and one site quoted that Miriam Hopkins was being difficult from the moment she arrived, because Richee was not there. His style seems to morph from this sort of studio shot to silvered exquisiteness that epitomize a certain kind of early 20th century retouched perfection in photographs. I prefer the slightly kooky and offbeat charm of these earlier efforts.

As mentioned, Jean’s kitty appears to be of what I think of as a generic good luck black cat type, as opposed let’s say to a nice Felix, or even an Aesop Fable doll (see my post of Jane Withers in Van Bueren’s Aesop Fables – the Toys! ) which I am always on the prowl for. These black cats proliferated in the early 20th century, as did other “lucky” black cat items. (A whole lot of those are on display in my post Lucky Black Cat among others.) This toy is strikingly similar to the one held by the little girl in my post Altar of the Black Kitty and as a toy collector, of course I must add that I wouldn’t mind having such a nice fellow in the Pictorama collection, fluffy tail and all, sometime soon. I share a photo of an early favorite from my collection from another post, which I believe hails from the same general family, yet a bit different.

black cat w/ bow

 

 

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Travel Cat

 

Cats in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I wrote yesterday, I was a bit devastated by the realization that there were no toy dealers at Portobello market on the day I was there. I had really been looking forward to it and one in particular, Mr. Punch’s Old Toys. (I was given the name of two other far flung antique centers which also proved a bust for my purposes – one ultimately specializing in very high-end jewelry, and the other devoted almost exclusively to furniture and lighting.)

However, I did manage to acquire this very nice fellow, shown above, from a man selling ropes of beads and other items from Central Asia. Meanwhile, he had four cat variations on this fellow lined up for sale as well. This one was the largest and his neck swivels which the others did not, enabling him to have what I like to think of as an inquiring look. The seller insisted that it is Steiff, although I see no hole where the Steiff button would have gone. While Steiff certainly made quality toys, it is not an affiliation that I am hung up on either way. I trotted off to an ATM machine and acquired some cash and returned to barter him down a bit before tucking this nice guy in my bag.

Although my collection focuses largely on black cats, I have a bit of a history of picking up striped cats out-of-town, although seeming never online. I like to think it is the expression of a each cat that calls to me. Included here is a random white cat as well. He was purchased in Dresden while on an especially stressful business trip for the Met. I stumbled into an antique store on a free afternoon and found him – or he found me. He cheered me immensely for the remainder of the trip and did a stint in my office as well. The smallest of these was purchased for me by Kim at an antique center in Cold Spring, New York, and is the only one that sports a Steiff button on one ear – although the white one has a hole where a button could have been. The other cat with a bell came from an earlier trip to Cold Spring, and was the first one, purchased in a store more or less dedicated to toys and early holiday decorations I used to visit periodically.

These cats have the appeal of being toys I can easily imagine as a childhood favorite; one that is carried tucked in a stroller or into bed with a child at night. One of the features I like best about the new cat is his long, soft tail, unlike his tail-in-the-air friends. There is a trace of red on the back of his neck which makes me think he too used to sport a red bow like the others. I think his is a sincere face. (I have always thought the smallest one has a very worried expression for a toy cat. Poor kitty!) The kitties with bells have whiskers and I assume there is a chance that all did at one time – these being the most susceptible to disappearing with handling over time. Smallest kitty also has a head that moves – white kitty has had his head re-sewn onto his body, so he could have had a moveable head, but we do not know. I am open to hearing from those of you with more information about whether or not all these cats are Steiff or not. Please do weigh in.

As I wrote in Shanghai Pam and the Toy Store Adventure there is something grounding for me about buying toys while in a far flung places – especially inviting, and on occasion outright comforting, about finding toys while out in the world. These cats currently reside scattered across our apartment, in fact I had trouble finding smallest kitty. I am thinking though that maybe one should head to Columbus Circle and take up residence in my office. Currently no toys reside there and maybe new kitty could take up residence for moral support and offer his inquiring yet welcoming look to all.

 

 

L’il Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Another toy today – and celebrating the acquisition of a new and unusual Felix no less. This fellow hails, at least most recently, from the United States. I have never seen this variation previously.  I spotted him on eBay and, although the bidding was robust, I would have been willing to pay more than I did for him. It is unusual for me to find a design I have never seen, given how much time I devote to looking at them I have seen most I think.

Some of the aspects of this Felix that are not immediately evident are a solidly sewn thread at the back of his head, and printing on his little red ribbon. My theory is that this Felix was a carnival prize which hung from that thread, now torn. (See back view below.) I wish I could read his ribbon, but maddeningly I think one half of it has smudged over time. I think it actually reads Made in… He is about seven inches high. If this gentlemen was a carnival prize, unlike his British counterparts which exist in large numbers speaking to broad popularity, he was not one that was widely distributed. His arms move, his legs and tail were meant to stand him up tripod fashion, although he seems to need some help. It is a very simple design, although the moving arms, glass eyes and felt ears speak to some care and expense.

Felix back

However, this benign faced fellow does not seem to belong to the same clan as those somewhat malevolent toothy grinned Brits. The argument could easily be made that he actually isn’t Felix, but a generic toy cat, but in all the looking at Felix I have done I believed immediately that he was someone’s off-model rendition, cheaply churned out for a cheerful Felix obsessed public. This mild mannered fellow has already found his spot on a bookshelf in our living room – a space that is starting to absorb the toy overflow from our cramped bedroom. Needless to say, I would have been very happy indeed to have won him at a fair. I can see a thrilled, small me, gripping him in one hand, perhaps some cotton candy or a candied apple (love those!) in the other. However, given my skills at those kinds of games, maybe I would have spent as much as I did buying him anyway.

Squeaky Cat Head

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of fragile toys in other posts – mostly those devoted to brittle, delicate celluloid or equally ancient plastic. Today I focus on another toy, recently purchased, that was probably originally intended to have a similarly short life-span. This cat head, just a bit smaller than an actual cat head (I proved this by holding it up to Cookie shortly after arrival) hails from 1925, and it is my guess that no one imagined that it would still be kicking around, rolling forward to our current day, more than 90 years later. It is in fact unlikely, although not impossible, that the small child this was purchased for is still among us while this presumably disposable toy is.

For me there is a solid classic design to it that makes it almost archetypal. It is easy to imagine it as a prop in a silent film – or clutched in my hand as a toddler in the late ’60’s, or even today if it was a tad bit less frail. When I spotted it I wanted it immediately. While we can assume that the paint has faded with age over time and there is a dent in the back, I think it appears pretty much the way it most likely always did. I assume, without knowing, that it most likely squeaked when pressed at one time, there is a silver button on the bottom. It no longer squeaks, but there is a date, 1925, on the bottom with some other bits of information about the maker I can just make out. It reads, US Patent Nov. 18 1924 Jan 6 1925 Katnips Inc. Providence RI. I looked, but could not find information about the bygone Katnips company.

I found a listing for another one for sale online and that person was proposing that it is actually a cat toy. He or she must have some outsize cats! My Cookie and Blackie have shown little interest in this item – except that when I opened the package an amazing smell burst out – that old, attic-y, dusty age odor. Kim once called this the smell of nostalgia. Cookie was entranced by this and took a wide-eyed snoot full of it. It set her whiskers twitching!

I cannot even imagine what flashes through a cat brain when dissecting a smell like this, but I have always imagined that it is colorful and wild. While I don’t find this smell unpleasant, it is still more interesting than good. It snaps me back to attics, some houses and even antique stores I have known. Given my collecting interests it isn’t an uncommon smell, although perhaps not as frequent as you might think. Meanwhile, here in New York City it isn’t unusual to pass a construction site where a very old building is being torn down and be smacked with a variation of that smell. Strange, but somehow time passed, years and the life of a building or a toy, gets encapsulated in a smell. It comes out of nowhere as you hurry along say East 86th Street, a 19th or early 20th century smell, living again for a moment in your brain. Like Cookie, I pause for a moment and inhale that dusty (probably asbestos filled) smell and consider, before returning to my hurried walk and the email on my cell phone.

Plastic Puss

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My ambivalence about collecting these fragile items is well documented, although I don’t think those past items were expected to stand up to heavy childhood play for the most part. However, this little fellow, and his bulldog mate, shown below, were meant to really be handled and played with. (As always, I am sad when a set gets broken up. These toys were listed separately and despite a best effort I lost a bidding war on the bulldog, which for some reason was much more popular than the kitty. They were a great pair.) I believe in his day this toy was reasonably sturdy – although his thin plastic probably always prone to denting and breaking. The plastic seems brittle now with age, but I assume a bit more pliable closer to its time of origin, and his joints a bit more tightly strung. However, someone kept these in splendid condition all these years.

s-l400

This fine fellow is fully articulated – head turns, legs move – only tail does not wag. He has a serious look on his face despite that jolly pink nose and that tail is aloft at a jaunty angle. The white string seems to be a recent addition, but I am nervous about how best to extract it and have left it for now. On his tummy he is marked Japan with a small cross symbol, and there is a red and white sticker on one foot that says inspection and some other bits I cannot read. I believe his mark means he was made in a pre-war Japan, or the mark would be occupied Japan. This duo resided most recently in Fargo, North Dakota.

This is the sort of small toy, coupled with the dog, that your mom would buy you to occupy you for the an afternoon or weekend somewhere, to be spent at your grandmother’s house perhaps. Sometimes those five and dime buys turn out to be most beloved items. In addition to endless sets of Colorforms (I met someone who worked on many of those and it was hard to begin to describe to him what a huge part of my childhood they were – a visual vocabulary all their own in my memory) there was a black plastic doctor’s bag which fell into this category of toy too. Frankly not sure what mom was thinking on that one, but I did love it and was going to be a doctor for a hot five minutes. It had tiny pills in it – somehow I suspect that would not be allowed today – best part though. The ultimate of all these casual acquisitions was my stuffed dog Squeaky (already memorialized in the post Felix on an Outing) which I insisted on taking everywhere with me for what in memory seems like years.

I occasionally see small children clutching toys on the streets and subways of Manhattan. The carrying of toys seems like a much more precarious endeavor here than my suburban childhood of travel which took place predominantly in our sea green, Pontiac station wagon. Without knowing for sure, my guess is that the rate of loss is much higher on the streets of the big city. (In fact for a time Kim was forming a casual but interesting collection of small plastic abandoned toys acquired on the streets and sidewalks here.) There is a part of my childhood self which asserts itself and I find I worrying a bit when I see a child with what is clearly a much beloved toy on the subway or street. However, it does allow for a form of toy voyeurism that suburbia provides in lesser degree. Not often, but once in awhile I see a really great toy. I remember several years ago a little girl on the subway with a simple, but very nice stuffed cat that was almost collection worthy. A smart little girl, she kept a firm grip on it.

Master Willie Rowell

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Obviously it was the weird cat toy (at least I think it is a cat) on this oddball card that attracted me – strange, mysterious and sewn toy smile on his face, perched on that very worn ball toy. It must have been quite a day at the old photo studio when they decided to do that photo shoot. But he is perky (if a bit maniacal) and this card was beloved enough to make it down the generations to us today. Not surprising, perhaps, it is British and although I just received it in mail fairly recently I don’t remember it coming from there. I believe it was an American dealer.

The card was never mailed, no postage, but it is fully addressed on the back to Master Willie Rowell, Glendon, Castle Road, Torquay. Also written, To wish dear Willie a very happy day of many happy returns with love from Raymond xxxxxx x one from Phyliss. It is a sweet birthday greeting written in a clear, adult hand. Sadly birthday cards are becoming a bit rare in their own right (let alone thank you notes which, if you aren’t professionally inclined to them as I am, belong almost exclusively to the octogenarian set) as our birthday greetings now most frequently zoom across cyber space. This seems like a kindness to the less organized, who don’t have to time the purchase and mailing of a card. (They have no excuse for missing the date now however.) No less sincere, but far less tangible, the detritus of today’s felicitations will not be available for future perusal and subsequent purchase.

At the bottom is a birthday greeting written in verse,
Happiness be thine
Little lad with eyes so true
This greeting comes to-day
To wish the very best for you
On this they natal day

And, at last, I offer this as a sly advance (cyber) birthday wish to my own beloved guy – xxo and many happy returns of the day!

Toy Cat

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This cat is the sort I imagine I would have very much loved to own as a small child. He is sturdy, neat and bold in his black and whiteness, with round edges and a friendly face. There is a cheerful durability to him, small and convenient for a child to carry. I think I would have been very pleased to wander around with this guy clutched in my arms as a toddler. I feel compelled to report (Mom and Dad please take note) that I never had a toy stuffed cat as a child. Clearly I have been making up for lost time.

It is strange the toys that we do end up fixating on as kids. I have written about a soft black and white dog named Squeaky who went everywhere with me (featured in Felix on an Outing), but I also had a hard kuala bear my father brought back from a news junket to Australia, which I carried around when I was a little bit older. The bear did not have a name, just kuala bear, and he was made of some sort of real fur. That is a bit shocking to me now, however I was only about 6 and only thought that it was very soft. While the fur was soft the bear itself was stuffed with something very hard and he had spiky plastic claw paws. I no longer have him and have no idea what happened to him, but he seemed to belong more or less to the same family as the toys shown below from the Google image file.

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The question of the type of fur these bears sport seems to be open for debate online even now. The obvious guess is kangaroo fur since that country seems to have a surplus of kangaroos and no great love for them. I am sure that these days my mother (animal rights activist Butler) would never have approved it now. However, he was my constant companion for a very long time, eventually losing a claw or so and his ears and some other spots worn to baldness. We were inseparable.

This new toy cat has no maker tag for identification, but he came to me from Great Britain (a fine toy-making nation) and I assume it is his ancestral home. He does bear some resemblance to a small dog toy that came to me via Kim years ago, shown below. Perhaps not the same maker, but kissin’ cousins nevertheless. All of these are toys that have seen many miles and years, and much child love.

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