10 November 2009

Ninety Years—Nine Lives

As late as the 1930s, J. R. Bray's Colonel Heeza Liar was remembered as "the Mickey Mouse of his day," but the first true cartoon superstar was Felix the Cat. I've covered this character's great appeal before, but there's never enough Felix for me—so I'm taking the occasion of his big 90th anniversary to offer some specials for your reading and viewing pleasure.

Let's start with animation. While a picture isn't always worth a thousand words, classic Felix creator/director Otto Messmer crafted beautiful, artistic acting that really does defy description now and then. Here's a special Ramapith birthday tribute just for our hero—oops! Looks like Felix's pals Kitty, Inky and Winky (and Dinky), Laura, and Skiddoo got into it too...



(Music: Scott Joplin's "Pineapple Rag"; Itzhak Perlman, violin, and Andre Previn, piano)

Longtime Otto assistant and Magic Bag inventor Joe Oriolo came aboard in the 1940s (at right: probable cover collaboration with Jim Tyer, 1949). While we can never forget Oriolo's most famous creations, odd-couple bad guys The Professor and Rock Bottom, I'm sharing a different side of Oriolo today. His circus story "The Big Finale," below (from Harvey's Felix the Cat 106, 1959) is one of my favorite Oriolo works—with its 1920s-style mayhem, inimitable punning, and a great one-off female lead. Joe cut his artistic teeth at the Fleischer Studio, and the Betty Boopish "Katrina" is a sweet tip of the hat to his old mentors.
By the time of "The Big Finale"'s publication, Oriolo had taken over creative control of Felix and launched his famous TV series. But I'm not sure everyone at this particular circus considers our hero a "wonderful cat"...


Today Felix keeps on walking, as Joe's son Don plans new projects at Felix the Cat Productions—including a few that I think fans of the classics will appreciate! Don is also personally taking oil to canvas to paint Felix modern art, visible now on the studio's Facebook page.
Special thanks to Don for encouragement in the course of prepping today's little tribute. And props to the unsinkable Tom Stathes and Mark Kausler for providing select source materials. On his own blog, Mark is also celebrating Felix with classic 1930s daily strips right now... don't miss them!

(Magazine spread courtesy Cole Johnson; art attributed to Dana Parker)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great tribute to Felix, David! I like all the "pacing" clips and the "drunk" Felix sequence. Felix was so known for his pacing that in the Our Gang 1934 comedy, "Shrimps For A Day", Leonard Kibrick tells George Brasno, who paces up and down nervously, "Listen Felix, get in bed!" They hadn't forgotten Felix's key moves even by 1934. Which little chanteuse is singing the "Felix the Cat" song at the end of your montage? Those are different lyrics than on the Paul Whiteman record. Cheers! Mark K.

Arnaud said...

"Black cats for luck" pages are so great, thanks a lot !

Mark Newgarden said...

David-Great post as always...not so sure about the attributions on the comics though... I'll buy the strip as Oriolo,in part anyway -but don't think that cover is his and I don't see Tyer there either.

ramapith said...

Hey Mark—next time I post on Felix, I'll be showing some samples of Tyer's work for the Dell Felix comics. The character models look very, very different from what Tyer would use in the 1960s.

Rick Roberts said...

Early Felix the cat pictures made even some the off the wall 40's cartoons look conservative by comparison.

Mark Newgarden said...

David-I've seen quite a few of Tyer's FELIX pieces- I just don't think that cover is one of them...

ramapith said...

Hey, who says I'm always right? We'll have a chance to bicker soon when I blog about Felix again...

Brookslyn said...

Looks like there is a new Felix The Cat Hardcover re-print book coming out by IDW in June. David, are you at all involved? Also, do you know if the Australian comic book Vol 1 contains all the reprints of the daily strips from the 20s?

Oscar Grillo said...

Check this...Is in my wall:
http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/2265/1719/1600/Felix.jpg