Saturday, June 23, 2012

Felix the Cat & Me!

First TV image broadcast!
After Charlie Chaplin, Felix the Cat was the most famous icon in the entire world through the 1920s, and may still be the most famous cat in history.  Alas, Felix did not make the transition to sound.  He never found his voice and faded from the big screen in the 1930s.  It's a complicated story about Felix' owner, Pat Sullivan, becoming an alcoholic and dying in 1933 while Felix' creator and animator, Otto Messmer, went on to other projects.  Read all about it at Wikipedia or in John Canemaker's excellent 1997 book "Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat."

Felix holds a unique spot in the invention of television.  Wikipedia: "Felix was one of the first images ever broadcast by television when RCA chose a papier-mache Felix doll for a 1928 experiment via W2XBS New York in Van Cortlandt Park. The doll was chosen for its tonal contrast and its ability to withstand the intense lights needed. It was placed on a rotating phonorgaph turntable and photographed for approximately two hours each day. After a one-time payoff to Sullivan, the doll remained on the turntable for nearly a decade as RCA fine-tuned the picture's definition."

The broadcast image is shown above and the studio set-up on the right.

The silent Felix the Cat cartoons flooded into TV stations in the early 1950s on 16mm prints along with Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol shorts, Soundies, B-westerns, syndicated series of live shows on kinescopes and anything else distributors could lease cheaply from defunct studios like Mascot, PRC and Monogram.  Outside of the network feeds still in their infancy, 16mm was the only format that local stations could use to expand their daily programming.

In 1953, Official Films purchased the Sullivan-Messmer shorts, added soundtracks to them, and distributed to the home movie and television markets. The films do not seem to have been sitting in some vault well preserved for re-release like at Disney or Warners.  More likely Official got whatever they could wherever they could from old exchanges, resulting in a great many Felix titles not being released to TV and many are still lost today.

As a young film collector in the mid-1970s, one of the rare deals I stumbled into was acquiring over 400 Felix prints that had been sitting in an Official Films warehouse in New Jersey.  There were many multiple copies of the same title and only around 40 different ones.  I put every one in a projector to check the quality and made a curious discovery.  Some were quite nice quality with sharp focus and good contrast; while others were dupes with lesser quality and a third generation were dupes of the dupes with poor, muddy quality.  I conclude that Official quickly wore out their original negatives and copied the positive prints they had.  They must have churned out thousands of them!

Many of the vintage Felix the Cats are in the public domain because their copyrights were not renewed or they were never registered in the first place.  However, a great many were renewed and are still owned by someone, though I am not sure who.  The original © was by Pat Sullivan.  Some good cartoons I once had but could not release are Felix Hits the Deck where he gets mixed up with a deck of playing cards come to life, a Halloween themed Felix Switches Witches where he gets chased by a witch who removes her costume at the end to reveal she's a hot number, and Felix in Romeow.

I did put 16 public domain cartoons from this collection into my first VHS exclusive release called Felix the Cat Frolics, Vol. 1 & 2.  My VHS box cover is shown above.  I do sell one collection of silent Felix today on DVD in my public domain cartoons.

From "Felix the Cat's Greatest Comic Book
Tails" by Craig Yoe at
Lest I forget to say it, most of the silent Felix the Cats personally animated by Otto Messmer are inventive surrealist gems that entertain as much today as the silent comedies of Buster Keaton.  My favorite public domain one is Felix in Comicalamities where the animator's hand helps Felix in a hopeless pursuit of a cute girl cat.  When she spurns him after he gives her a fur coat and necklace, Felix simply rips her off the sketch pad and tears her up.  Another great one is Felix Woos Whoopee, a 1930 sound one with a music track and mumbled voices but the style is exactly like the silent ones.  Felix gets drunk on New Year's Eve and is pursued by monsters on his trek home to wifey.  In Sure-Locked Homes Felix gets trapped in a spooky house pursued by monstrous shadows.

Because the original Felix holds a place in both the invention of TV and in 1950s TV programming, we plan to include one in the upcoming Lost & Rare Primeval Television DVD currently in preparation.  We are fortunate to have one that has been lost in its complete form for many years -- Felix in the Bone Age (1922).  At least it has not surfaced in any DVD collections to date.  IMDB only reviews a 3-minute excerpt: "Felix comes upon a caveman and his girlfriend. The girlfriend is crying, and when the caveman asks her what she wants, she points to Felix. The caveman chases Felix, who escapes by using the tails of some friendly monkeys to make his way down a steep cliff. Later he makes friends with a baby monkey, but winds up getting in a fight with a huge gorilla."  Here is a brief clip of The Bone Age that few have ever seen, followed by Comicalamities (1928).

16 mm film was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1923 as an inexpensive amateur alternative to 35mm film format.  Initially directed toward the amateur market, Kodak hired Willard Beech Cook from his 28mm Pathescope of America company to create the new 16 mm Kodascope Library. In addition to making home movies on 16mm, one could buy or rent films from this library, one of the key selling aspects of the format.  Many silent films only survive today because the Kodascope versions found their way into collections. Felix in the Bone Age is one such happy print that still runs after 80 years!

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Testing! One! Two! Three!

Dear Friends, Fans and Readers,

I recently discovered that Google Analytics was keeping track of visitors to this blog on a handy graph and - surprise - I have a lot more readers than I knew about!  Thank you for checking back weekly!  I will endeavor to post something of interest every weekend, which won't be hard with all the rare films coming along.

My focus continues to be on the Lost and Rare series as discussed in recent blog entries, but there is always more to discover.  I now have DVDs of Lost TV Pilots and Sports Immortals in stock from our duplicator for immediate delivery.  These are not only authored DVDs with menus and introductions before the films, but they have bar codes and are shrink wrapped.  In short, professional in every sense.  They are for sale at Movies Unlimited,, my lostandrare website and will shortly be offered by Alpha Video.  We are looking for a sports retailer to sell Sports Immortals online.

I have a new Festival Films logo as shown above, designed by Pete Bedell, that is animated at the head of each DVD before the introduction continues into Lost and Rare Film & Video Treasures.  You can view this opening at beginning of the film clip below.  In fact, and I believe it's unusual, we have brief prevue films at the website of all 10 films on the first 2 DVDs.

So far we are mainly collecting short subjects -- cartoons, TV shows, Industrial films, vintage documentaries, advertising films, theatrical shorts and commercials.  Collections of vintage shorts are relatively scarce on DVD.  "We" refers to me (Ron Hall), Bob Campbell and Derek Myers.  Upcoming films are so fascinating we feel putting them together in thematic releases will find a large and growing audience.

Lost and Rare are the key words.  We will include a few films each time that most fans have never seen or heard of before, like episodes of Top Secret (1954) that feature the first computer to play a role on TV.  Other criteria for inclusion are TV episodes that are not out on DVD, films with better quality or more complete versions of films presumed lost for years.  An example of rare TV is The Drug Pushers episode of Martin Kane Private Eye.  An example of better quality is a rare Kodachrome print of a Judge Roy Bean and a more complete film is Felix in The Bone Age.

While filling early orders for Volumes 1 and 2, we are conducting a beta test to answer many questions about where we are and what comes next.  We are asking questions such as...

determine suitable amount of content for future volumes ­­ 5 films, 10 films, more? 
decide if future volumes should remain single disc, 2 discs, more?  
determine ideal price points? 
decide the ideal release pattern – 2 volumes released monthly ­­ quarterly?  
find wisdom and guidance how best to tailor the series for educational markets. 
develop creative partnerships with existing archives that share a similar mission. 
explore potential sponsorship branding opportunities.
explore potential for grants or in­kind help with film restoration work. 
explore how the DVD series might be adapted for a TV and/or Webcast market. 
explore potential theatrical venues for some of the collections. 
explore on demand and streaming video platforms. 
develop distributor partnerships beyond Movies Unlimited and 

Lloyd Nolan as Martin Kane
"The Dope Pushers"
In short, we are sharing the website, the Lost & Rare concept and video clips with all interested parties, asking them these kinds of questions and getting valuable feedback.  If you have any answers, ideas or guidance, please email me at

One discovery last week was the need to change the name of an upcoming release.  While one can't copyright a title, I had overlooked that Bruce Simon at KineVideo already had an established series called "Prehistoric TV."  After ruminating a spell, Prehistoric transformed into Primeval Television, and primeval is actually a better word since it is more mysterious and does not conjure up dinosaurs or cavemen. Primeval: "...of or relating to the earliest ages."

Last week I added to the website descriptions and film clips for Primeval Television.  This page is a work in progress -- Coming Soon.  We have the films that we show excerpts of, but are working to secure others equally as exciting and rare.  Changes and additions will show up on that web page right up until release in the fall.

Enjoy this opening from Top Secret that we bet you have never seen.  These 12 minute stories (!) starring Gena Rowlands and Paul Stewart were designed so two could run in a half-hour segment.  Here is how the computer - AMIC - is used in a typical story - The Lost Child.  A grieving scientist who has recently lost her son disappears.  A BSI agent phones headquarters to ask AMIC where to look.  Later they ask AMIC how to restore her sanity so she can report to a conference.  The answers are surprising and the resolution is quick (remember, 12 minute shows).

Many pages at the website announce "If you have a lost or rare cartoon, short, newsreel, TV show, war documentary or movie on film (except 8mm), please contact us.  We may be interested in licensing your content for our series."  So if you do, then please do that!  Email me at

Visit my websites at Lost & Rare and Festival Films.