Clown-Boby

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This little find caught my eye recently and I decided I really needed to own it. These early vaudeville-type animal acts seem to be a fascinating sub-genre and I can’t resist them. Quite awhile back I found and wrote about another French card I believe is from the same period with small dogs and a cat piled on a larger dog (shown below – it translates as Dog Scholars and the post about the card can be found here), and earlier than that another somewhat primitive but favorite card for an animal act called Mad Betty (find it here) which was in the United States, on the west coast. Finally even a bit more frowzy, Dashington’s (here), also American. Alfred Latell and my posts about him (here and here) and his vaudeville act must be counted as well.

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The Clown-Boby card was never sent, nothing inscribed on the back, and therefore my thoughts on dating it are approximate, however Chien Savants is postmarked 1905 and I think it is fair to assume that this is from the same general period. Clown-Boby’s card declares that he is a Membre de la Société protectrice des animaux and we are glad he wanted to acknowledge that he took good care of his animals. Despite his very scary white clown face, he does have a sort of kindly look – although I must say if I was going to be afraid of clowns Boby is where I might start. The quality of the postcard printing is a bit low and primitive – cut poorly along the bottom with a white strip and overall a low resolution job.

The cats shown are a varied group mixing spots, stripes and between, although each wears a bow – with one in a sort of royal ruff and I wonder if he was the lead kitty. As cats will, some look engaged and others annoyed. Lead cat is slightly blurred because of course getting them still is another matter entirely. And I like the variety – ending with a smart looking tabby. I do wonder what the act was like, my imagination probably beyond the capacity of Clown-Boby.

Sadly I could find no history of or reference to Clown-Boby and his act online. I did however, find the image below showing him with a rooster act declaring Clown Boby and Miss Mosa Original Dressuract. (Can anyone out there translate dressuract to English?) He appears a bit younger here with Miss Mosa if you ask me, and it is in reality a bit whackier and charming photo altogether. (I will admit that Google Images did not want to share this photo and I apologize for the digital thievery.)

I cannot help but wonder if and how the kitties shown in my card got along with Miss Mosa and company – or perhaps more likely that they were a sufficiently subsequent generation of the evolving act.

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

 

Alfred Latell: Animal Imitator, Continued

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: So last week’s Deitchian pre-Valentine’s Day post (From My Sweetie which can be found here) touched on Alfred Latell, and today I make good on the promise to add to an earlier Latell post of mine (here), to be featured this week. My interest in Alfred Latell, born of the card I purchased shown below, helped to inspire Kim’s animal impersonator-themed Valentine this year, egged on by the fact that I had just recently acquired this publicity photo of Latell – the best and virtually only one I have seen of him not in costume. So today I endeavor to dig a little deeper into the Alfred Latell story, hoping not repeating myself while offering a fairly fulsome tale for those of you just tuning in.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Alfred Latell was a vaudeville performer with an animal act which evidence shows took off in about 1902 and ran into the early 1940’s – arguably the 1950’s in Australia it seems. Latell went to great lengths to rig up elaborate animal costumes, with moving parts such as a tail, ears or even a ridge of fur on his back. My favorite fact is that he would sit outside at night in his cat suit, watching felines in the backyard, learning how to ape their ways. This is how I see him in my mind when I consider him, outside at night in his cat suit, watching and hearing a kitty chorus on a back fence somewhere, making mental notes about them.

Dogs were a challenge he relished; he felt they were the closest to humans and his Bonzo dog appears to be the one he was best known for later in life. Latell didn’t speak in his act, perhaps the costumes precluded it, although evidently he did bird imitations when clad in an early bird suit. He always had a partner who would do the talking, and that partner was first wife one and then, Sylvan Dell, wife number two. He and Ms. Dell are shown together below in photos I found via Google and on the site referenced below.

Pausing for a moment, I reflect on Bonzo Dog and his copyright. As I think most of you probably know, Bonzo is a British comics invention by George Studdy in 1922. Born at a similar time as the likes of Felix the Cat, Bonzo comics set off a merchandise boom, first in Britain and then, much like Felix, making its way around the world. I happily own several Bonzo toys (yep, and some of those can be found featured in posts here and here), but clearly the copyright wasn’t being guarded so carefully that Alfred Latell couldn’t cheerfully make a name for himself with this act and bearing the Bonzo Dog name.

This photo bears an interesting newspaper article, glued to the back of the photo which talks about his act. It mentions Sylvan Dell and also the other acts on the bill including Pablo South America’s most famous magician and The Three Chocolateers, one of the fastest colored dance teams ever seen in Seattle. Something referred to as human pretzels rounded out the fare. As you can see from the back of the photo, shown below, this comes to us almost exactly 85 years ago to the day, February 27, 1934.

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Fellow blogger Travelanche has a post about Latell (which can be found at Alfred Latell Animal Impresssionist) which contains more biographical information and the Travelanche author corresponded with Latell’s family. (The family also contacted me after my prior post, asking if I had information beyond what I had posted.) My favorite image on that post is of an 8×10 publicity photo of Latell as Bonzo, autographed to Duke Ellington, with the inscription, To Duke Ellington, The master of Rythm may you never lead a Dog’s life, Latell 1931. The photo above with Sylvan Dell is signed by both Dell and Latell and also inscribed to Duke Ellington, To Duke Ellington, Wishing you much happiness and continued success Sincerely Sylvan Dell with Al Latell, also dated 1931.

Sadly, ultimately Alfred Latell appears to have died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave. The above referenced post says his widow was so distraught…she threw out anything that reminded her of her husband, including his famous dog suit. So much for my secret hope and dream of finding the dog suit some day.

I see that my original post is frequently read, evidence that people are searching the internet for information on him. As far as I can tell, Alfred Latell’s available credits are all for stage work; sadly I can find no evidence of him on film, although his career certainly covers a period when he could have been recorded. Hopefully a movie or other film appearance will turn up eventually so we can see him in action. (Of course, I will add that I am also very anxious to find an image of Latell in his cat suit as well.) For now, I add another, albeit thin, page to the story and lore of Alfred Latell, the great animal impersonator.

 

From My Sweetie

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who are familiar with Deitch Studio and Pictorama tradition, today is the long anticipated day when the nexus of Valentine’s Day’s meets my birthday (tomorrow) and the Kim Deitch Pam-specific annual creation is unveiled. Yay! Recent readers may remember that I foreshadowed animal imitators with my post, Ratters and Mousers (which can be viewed here) and this year’s spectacular missive from Kim addresses my affection for folks dressed up in animal costumes.

This interest in animal costumed performers pre-dates my meeting Kim and the beginning of our story. My own drawings and paintings favored this as a theme for a number of years. I collected animal masks (cheap plastic ones) to this end for awhile, and I like to think it was this fascination which provided a germ of the idea for the cat costume storyline featured in Kim’s book Alias the Cat. (What kind of wife would I be if I didn’t provide a link to purchasing it here?) I have had a deep (to date) unfilled desire to find a definitive antique cat costume and searched eBay for years to no avail. When I purchased my first photo of kids posing with Felix, I did wonder if it was perhaps a small person in a costume, until I was able to study it closely enough to know for sure it is a stuffed toy. (Quick photo off the wall below, low quality but it tells the story.) If I am being honest they do frighten me a bit, people in animal costumes, but it that good scared way that just makes you think hard.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Luckily film arrived on the scene in time to capture things like the 1907 Dancing Pig – which I adore and Kim has included in his drawing. (For those of you who have never seen it, a version resides on Youtube, here.) I am overjoyed when I can find such snippets, however like so much popular entertainment of the past, much is lost beyond remnants and I am afraid this is true of Alfred Latell and his Bonzo Dog performance. I wrote about Latell (yes! you can read it here) after discovering a photo of him. I was subsequently contacted by some of his family seeking to find out information about him. (Keep a weather eye out for a further future post about him which helped inspire the Valentine theme.)

I think this Valentine also somewhat inspired by my morning habit of reviewing my Twitter feed which is, by design, almost exclusively cat videos, photos and a silent film and early music feed. Occasionally there is a GIF, video or photo so great I demand that he stop working and come see it. (Kim is very patient about this considering this is already part of his workday.) While a bit of bad news and world decay occasionally creeps in, this Pam practice is devised to be a largely happy, pure entertainment way to start the day. (There is a dose of the New York Times online each morning too – so as not to get too far removed from the realities of every day – heavy sigh.)

Meanwhile, who could ask for more than a husband and partner who seeks to recreate that which is lost to the sands of time (or perhaps never was, but should have been) for my personal entertainment? That rascal Waldo even makes an appearance. Thank you Kim! It’s wonderful. Here’s to many future Valentine’s to come!

 

Sunnyside Follies

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I may never find out what the Sunnyside Follies of Barrington, New Hampshire was, but I am pleased to have this remnant. Even I have a little trouble imagining what this act might have consisted of – I would love to have seen it though! Four women with stuffed, beribboned toy cats and wearing cute little outfits which appear to sport scottie dogs upon close inspection, seems promising to me. (I admit to possibly being something of a minority audience however.)

This card was never mailed and there is nothing written on it so there is no indication of when this was made. From hair and outfits I am pegging it in the 1930’s. Barrington, New Hampshire appears to be a summer resort town – I am imagining it as the New Hampshire version of Catskill, New York in the same time period. Family camps on lakes – perhaps a WASP version of the upstate New York scene?

I am finishing up a week’s vacation between jobs as I write this – at home in Manhattan, what we might call a stay-cation these days. I have never been much of one for vacation travel, and Kim is even less likely than me to want to travel from home base when we take time off. For me this lack of vacation wayfaring may go back to my childhood. As I have mentioned, I grew up in a shore town in New Jersey within walking distance of the ocean. My father, employed his entire career by ABC News as a cameraman, traveled all over the country and the world for work. When he took his vacation (usually a month in the summer) he was also anxious to enjoy being home so we stayed put. Not a hardship, but I never got into the habit of going some place else to relax. My sister Loren did not have this limitation and was likely to take vacations to ski and even took a cruise or two. She was extremely fond of Italy, and traveled there frequently in the last several years of her life. I am sorry that she and I never figured out a trip there together although we talked about it.

My non-work travel has been to exotic places like Tibet, and I was lucky enough to do a fair amount of interesting domestic and international travel for the Museum as well – getting me to South America and Europe. However, I have never been one to travel to a resort (spa, beach or rent a house) for recreation. Perhaps being a pair of non-drivers has added to this travel inertia. For fun and relaxation we stay right here, denizens of Deitch Studio with each other and the kits. It is our slice of heaven and indeed good enough for us.

Cat Boxing, Round 2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I usually hold the line against these posed cat photos, but once in awhile I am sold. Previously I have caved on Flying Dutch Kitties and Breaking News and this is the latest entry. This card was never sent and there is nothing written on the back.

I am somewhat curious about the man in the double breasted suit behind these battling kits. Odd attire for a referee I would think. It’s hard to see at first, but the white cat has a very striped tail. That must be an interesting looking kitty. A close look also shows us that these kitties are wearing harnesses which look rather hateful really. Everyone has their piss-cat ears on.

The cat boxing concept has long been put forth in various forms. (I have covered some of this territory before in my prior post Cat Boxing so I apologize for any repetition.) I am convinced that it all grows out of the natural tendency of cats to, well, box. Anyone whose lived with a couple of cats has seen this show eventually. Cats will stand on their hind legs and, often in a sort of slow action (I call it slow mo’ boxing when Cookie and Blackie go at it) engage in a kitty version of fisticuffs. It entertains the heck out of me when they do it, although by its very nature it usually descends into a proper fight, and everyone has to be separated and sent to time out in their neutral corner. The very best recording of this is the Youtube sensation, Cats Playing Patty-cake which never seems to fail to elicit peals of laughter from me. (As good as drugs really for a day when I am especially down.)

Back to the beginning of cinema, among the earliest surviving images from the dawn of film, is a famous half minute film of two kits going at it, Boxing cats (Prof. Welton’s 1894). It isn’t hard to see that Professor Welton is manipulating the cats in question – much as I assume our be-suited friend is in this photo. Kim says he remembers as a kid being entertained by a similar act on Ed Sullivan and his dad, Gene, telling him that it was all faked – and about the early kinetoscope version.

I can’t remember the first time I saw the film, nor the first time I saw my own cats do this dance. I can say that, more than any cats I have ever known, Cookie and Blackie seem more comfortable standing on their hind legs in general and they will routinely square off at each other this way. (I, of course, have assumed that this is an evolutionary step forward for cats, but perhaps that is another post. It is the way my anthropomorphizing mind works.) Given all of this, I am pretty sure that somewhere, somehow – perhaps in the remote areas of Russia where performing animal acts still thrive – there is a cat boxing act still on the road. The distant descendants of Professor Welton and generations of Vaudeville performers.  And, if not, we certainly have Youtube!

Krazy Kat Inn

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Pam’s Pictorama: This sort of pulls the idea of cat advertising in another direction. While this card, with its cat characters more Terry Tunes and Aesop’s Fables than Krazy, first called out to me for the location here on West 48th Street and Broadway, the patter on the back sold me. It should be noted that the artist who drew this thought enough of his swipe to sign his name –  or at least Rusty signed with gusto and underlined below Miss Kitty. It is a later entry, decades after the glory days of Victorian cards, but as we well know, cats continued to sell.

In 1930, Krazy Kat the comic strip was roaring along in the midst of its run. Two of the five studios that were to have Krazy Kat entries had just about shot their bolt and in 1930 Columbia was launching their entry. The earliest cartoons, made in 1916 and ’17, were International releases. These are hard to find, but real gems in my opinion. Krazy maintains a look more or less true to the comics in these and some even have a sense of Harriman’s own hand. She/he gets more stylized as we move through the Bray and Winkler years. The toys seem to be based on this design for the most part. Finally, as we get to Columbia Krazy looks much less like the newspaper self. I was a bit stunned by this at first and dismissed them. However, Jerry Beck was kind to send us a disk of these several years ago and just judged on their own, I love these cartoons regardless of how little they resemble the comic strip. I am a tad sorry that no toys appear to have been made with this model – I would love to be wrong however, let me know. Meanwhile, I offer links to a sample of these cartoons here: Krazy and Ignatz at the Circus (1916)A Happy Family (1935). We are so lucky to be able to snatch a look at these on Youtube these days!

Diving down the internet rabbit hole of Buddy Walker and Harry Delson I found some references to Buddy Walker and Harry Delson at the Krazy Kat Inn in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1930 which helps date this card…the Krazy Kat Inn, where somebody ought to do something about Harry Delson. According to Variety he was heading a list of principals at the Alamo on 125th Street…a real vaudeville act when handled by these competent performers back in the teens. And further back, in 1912, he was the main feature who kept the audience spinning with laughter all night. I also found a radio listing for a broadcast from the above listing for the Krazy Kat Inn, so I guess it had at least a touch of prestige. Without find a real description Delson’s act was described as Hebrew humor and evidently Walker was known for a notable comedy performance in black face in the 1920’s. An obit for Harry Delson, vaudeville performer, who died at age 62 in New York City, appears in 1950.

Stretching this a bit further into the territory of interesting speculation and trivia. My husband Kim is related on his father’s side to the actress Gloria Delson. Gloria is a former Goldwyn Girl, actress and vocalist, once married to famed lyricist Sammy Cahn. Although I was unable to tie them out as related, we more or less assume that Harry was related to her and therefore to Kim as well.

 

Alfred Latell

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  I had my eye on this postcard on eBay for a while – holiday purchases needed to all be complete before I could justify the splurge and buy it. I adore animal imitators from the turn-of-the-century – starting with the 1907 Dancing Pig from France (possibly the very best short film ever) to George Ali as Nana in the 1925 Peter Pan – and all those wonderful early Wizard of Oz films. I love them all! Kim knows my passion for them and this is one of the first drawings he ever gave me – Animal Impersonators – a play on the idea.

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This postcard was used. Addressed on the back to The two Brothers “Mathuss” Cassimo si Paris Theater, Burner Pesth, Hungary. The postmark is illegible but the message reads, in English, Dear Boys, good wishes to you. great success. My sincere good thoughts. Your father. The photo studio is Atelier & Bromsilber which seems to have been a well-known studio.

This photo is my introduction to Alfred Latell whose career evidently started in 1902 and lasted into the 1940’s. Online I found a 1936 ad for a show with Alfred Latell as, yep you guessed it, Bonzo Dog – which is how this card was also advertised. An online Encyclopedia of Vaudeville calls Latell one of the most curious acts in vaudeville. It says, He specialized in the impersonation of animals, not only dressing in various guises but also providing the appropriate noises. He began his career in 1902 and by 1909 had gained considerable notoriety for his imitations of monkeys, billy goats, bears, and dogs. It was the last animal that Latell found the most difficult to imitate, for as he explained in an article in The New York Dramatic Mirror, ‘To play the part of a dog and not to buffoon him, one is obliged to make a close study of his every action. The dog is so close to mankind that he is know more intimately than any other of the domestic beasts, with the exception possibly of the horse…The cat is a difficult animal to impersonate, though not so much as the dog, because of the fact of its slower movements. I have gone out at night with my cat suit on and have sat for hours watching the smaller back yard cats as they stalked along the fence or sat watching the moon rise o’er some neighboring buildings.’

He went to great lengths – rigged up a hind leg, improving his dog movement, and had a special tube made for his mouth which allowed him to appear like he was lapping up milk.  With a string he could raise the fur on the back of the cat suit! He also impersonated birds, ‘The parrot was one of my first bird impersonations, and I found it one of the most difficult of all, because of its crouching posture and the consequent tendency to fall over while walking.  There are nine strings which have to be operated in working the head, bill and wings, and the work is laborious in every sense of the word.” (The Art of Animal Acting, The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 1, 1909.)

Evidently Latell had an act with one and then a subsequent wife – his characters did not speak and he had to perform with a partner who would introduce him and do the talking. The internet is spotted with a mention in Green Book here and an ad in a theatrical paper there. His career peters out with a random performance or two on Broadway in the 1940’s. I was not able to find any film clips of him to share. For another photo of him and a bit more information, I refer you to another WordPress blog post Stars of Vaudeville #561.As a salute to great anthropomorphic animal entertainment, a link to the wonderful French dancing pig below!