Felix, that wonderful cat with his bag of tricks

There are some animated characters that stay with you all your life. I was never much of a Mickey Mouse fan. My favourite character was always Felix the Cat.

The cartoons were very old when I was a child, being made in the 1920s, long before even my mother was born, but great animation always remains so. The song was what got me, too, and the idea of having a bag of tricks that you could reach into whenever you got “in a fix”.

I went to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Melbourne’s Federation Square recently. Having an interest in the history of film and TV, I kept meaning to go, and never quite got there. Fortuitously, this outing was part of a class trip I had to take some students on.

ACM’s permanent exhibition, Screen Worlds, is free, and it is packed with films, sound, interactive opportunities and memorabilia. How delighted I was to come across this little fella, then. Yes, it’s Felix, and it reminded me that it was an Australian cartoonist and silent film maker, Pat Sullivan, who was one of the originators of Felix.

Felix

This is controversial: although Sullivan (c1887-1933) was the owner of the character and the producer, he always said he had originated Felix.  US critics have usually credited his American employee, Otto Messmer as the original animator, but an Australian Broadcasting Corporation show, Rewind, in 2004 seems to have confirmed Sullivan as the originator. Whatever, Messmer and Sullivan drew the comic strip, which started in 1923, with another American animator, Joe Oriolo, later replacing Messmer. It was Oriolo who gave Felix his famous bag of tricks.

Felix started out as a character in the silent film short Feline Follies (1919), before being adapted for print and syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. He was around long before Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse. Ironically, a mouse often being the target of a cat, it was the popularity of Mickey Mouse that led to Felix’s demise in the 1930s, before he was reinvigorated by Oriolo for US TV in the 1950s and given that magic bag of tricks.

Some trivia: the original voice of Felix in the 1930s was performed by Mae Kwestel (1908-1998), who also did the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She appears to be the only woman to have voiced Felix, with at least eight male actors to have played Felix over the decades.

Interestingly, DreamWorks Animation acquired the rights to the character this month (June 2014), with CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg quoted as saying his company will make Felix into ‘one of the most desired fashion brands in the world.” Oh no! I was hoping for a new Felix cartoon series also starring Felix’s nephews Inky and Winky.

For the record, Felix the Cat was ranked number 28 in TV Guide’s list of the “50 greatest cartoon characters of all time” in 2002. Well, Felix is still number one for me.

 

Sources:

ABC http://www.abc.net.au/tv/rewind/txt/s1229985.htm

ACMI http://www.acmi.net.au/screen_worlds.aspx

Felix the Cat official website http://www.felixthecat.com/history.html

The Wrap http://www.thewrap.com/dreamworks-animation-acquires-felix-the-cat/

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_the_Cat

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Sullivan_%28film_producer%29

 

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It’s a cat’s life

Sometimes, I wish I were a cat. Well, I wish I were my cat, Lucy Locket. She has a charmed life, though in her typical cat’s way, she would probably dispute that, saying she has only what she deserves, as princess cat of the world.

Anyway, this is what I mean. While I was making a start yesterday afternoon on marking 92 exams of 1800 words each, this is what she did. I will let Lucy Locket tell the story herself:

“Started the afternoon with a nice nap in my upstairs bed, but was woken by Mama phaffing around with some papers.”

Lu 1

“Since I had been rudely awakened, it was time for a stretch.”

Lu2

“And a wash. My owners have been putting some vile stuff on one of my claws lately, on orders of my doctor. Really! Hmmm, did I hear a bird out that window?””

Lu3

 

 

“No, no, it was thataway. Better investigate.”

Lu 4

*Makes a flying leap on to desk and sidles behind computer to look out the second-storey window*

Lu15

“All quiet on the western front.”

Lu5

“Hmmm, think I’ll just sit here for a bit. Nice change of scene.”

Lu6

“Well, that was a hard day’s work. Think I’ll go back to bed, and the afternoon is…”

 

Lu9

 

 

“…just about…

Lu10

“Done.”

Lu12

 

 

What price a newspaper?

newsI saw a pile of local newspapers when I was at the supermarket on Saturday. They weren’t free: they wanted 40c for a copy, the cover announced.

As I’m new to the area, I thought perhaps the local rag or ‘two-minute silence’ as we used to call such publications, would be a good source of community information.

Then when I saw the price, I hummed and hahed, and finally decided not to buy one. As I walked away, I realised how ridiculous that was. It was only 40 cents! I pay 10 times that for a coffee without baulking (well, I do baulk at it, actually, but that’s what you have to pay).

Today, I went back to the supermarket to buy the Berwick News. As a former print-media journalist, my profession for more than 20 years, I feel I should support old-fashioned newspapers, even in their dying days.

Unfortunately, there were no copies left. And the joke’s on me: the assistant informed me that those copies were going free, because they were left over from earlier in the week, when they were sold at the nearby news agent. Today I went to the news agent and got one: also free, though I’d happily have paid.

I know most community newspapers are run by big media chains, but they’re still important. The other night, in my street, there was some sort of emergency, with sirens and evacuation loud speakers, after midnight. I asked on the newspaper’s website if anyone knew what had happened. Someone from the paper has replied and is looking into it.

I met an old friend at a party recently who used to work with me on a national magazine in the 1990s. The magazine moved interstate, then she was out of the workforce for a few years as a full-time mother. Then, about seven years ago, she started looking for a job again. She found one as a sub-editor at a local paper, and loves it.

“I think we make a real difference in the community,” she says. “Everyone in the office cares about the paper, and it’s so nice working in the same suburb I live in.” She’s been promoted, too, and is now chief sub-editor.

It was a heart-warming story. Here’s cheers to all the journos I know who have reinvented themselves, retrained, or found work on a different sort of publication than they once imagined themselves working on. It’s a difficult terrain out there for our profession at the moment. You have to take what you can get: but sometimes, what you get turns out to be surprisingly OK.

Oh, and if you see a local paper for just a few cents, do buy one.

Where are they now? Aussie stars of 1994

Through much of the 1990s, except for four years in Thailand, I worked for TV Week, which was then Australia’s biggest selling entertainment magazine (more than 500,000 copies a week). We also ran the TV Week Logie Awards (“the Logies”), which were, and still are, screened on Channel 9.

The Logies—named after the Scottish inventor of the TV set, John Logie Baird—were a big deal in those days, akin to the Emmys in the US. The televised live event was always one of the highest-rating shows of the year.

Of course, it is an invitation-only event, and in those days, we TV Week reporters received our own invitation and entered via the red carpet like anyone else. (Unlike the stars, however, we had to return to the office about midnight and write our stories. Later though, we were able to return to the all-night parties, and we got a hotel room each thrown in).

Logies

When I moved house recently, I found my invitation to the 1994 Logies, pictured above. It’s poster sized, came in a tube (which I still store it in) and featured illustrations of some of the top stars of the day.

It’s interesting, 20 years on, to see their younger selves and to reflect on the industry. Some of them are, sadly, no longer with us, including the irreplaceable actor Ruth Cracknell (left, next to my name), who I had the pleasure of interviewing about that time and who won the peer-voted award that year for Most Outstanding Actress. She died in 2002, aged 76.

The other who has gone is Graeme “Shirley” Strachan (bottom, third from right), lead singer of the 1970s group Skyhooks, who had become a lifestyle-show host. He was killed in 2001 at the aged of 49 when the helicopter he was flying crashed on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

There are many in this poster whose careers kicked on and who are still involved in the media or entertainment industries, I’m pleased to say: Garry McDonald, (Most Outstanding Actor), John Farnham, Georgie Parker, Wendy Harmer, Andrew Denton, Ian “Molly” Meldrum, Gary Sweet and Sonia Todd (Most Popular Actor and Actress, respectively, for Police Rescue), Red Symons, Melissa George (Most Popular New Talent), Libbi Gorr (as Elle McFeast), Ernie Dingo, Rob Sitch, Natalie Imbruglia. Cricketer Shane Warne, then aged 25, is there in his hey-day, too.

Ray Martin (centre right) not only hosted the show, he won statuettes for Most Popular Light Entertainment Personality and the big one, the Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Australian Television. He won many Logies, but he once told me every single one of them was precious to him and he loved winning them.

At centre left is Daryl Somers, host of the long-running show Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which ran for 27 years before being cancelled in 1999. Somers and the show made a short-lived comeback in 2010.

There are others there who we thought were big stars at the time but who perform only occasionally now or who have gone on to other things: Kimberley Davies, Dieter Brummer, Bruce Samazan, Scott Michaelson.

There are a few glaring omissions: It’s extraordinary that Bert Newton isn’t pictured. One of the best known Australian entertainers, then as now, he had hosted the show 18 times, including the year before.

The other omission is the great actor Bud Tingwall (1923-2009), who was inducted into the TV Week Logies Hall of Fame that year.