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.

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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!