18 November 2009

Big Ramapith From the North

Another big blog entry coming soon, I promise; but I'd be remiss not to draw your attention to this update of my earlier Halloween post. Following on the challenge I gave you there, I've now got some in-depth analysis of 1920s production methods with—I hope—some interesting observations.
To the right we're seeing some of Vitaphone's original press material on Big Man From the North (1931), one of the relevant shorts. "Bosco" (sic) is spelled as such in most early Looney Tunes publicity materials I've seen, though the proper version of the character's name had in fact been formally registered as early as 1928.

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)

Ninety Years—Nine Lives (Preview)

November 9, 1919-November 9, 2009.
Incredible, ain't it?
Just a placeholder so I don't miss the actual anniversary (though I'm already a few minutes late by Eastern time). More soon.