NEEDLE DROP NOTES
July 2, 2017 posted by James Parten

Sing Me A Cartoon 1: Felix the Cat

As early as 1913, “Tin Pan Alley”–that combination of songwriters and music publishers who represented the music industry out of New York–discovered that people were going to movies.

Over the next several years, we got such shows as The Girl On The Film (1913), and such songs as “He’s Working In The Movies Now” , “Poor Pauline” (both 1914), “Since Mother Goes To Movie Shows” (1916) and “Take Your Girlie To The Movies” (1919). The songs, at least, are all q. v. on YouTube.

As the animated cartoon was still something of a stepchild of the burgeoning movie industry, it took longer for songwriters and publishers to discover that people were watching–and laughing along with–animated shorts.

And when that discovery was made, it was not made in the environs of “Tin Pan Alley”. And to think that it happened in Denmark Street.

Denmark Street was–and may still be–London’s answer to “Tin Pan Alley”. It was the center of London’s music publishing scene.

And… in 1923, lyricist Ed Bryant and composer Hubert David found a new subject which had become near and ear to film fans from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

That was a black-and-white cartoon character who’d been brought over from the States–Felix the Cat.

According to all lore and reports, Felix the Cat was even more popular in Great Britain than he was in the United States–and the Felix cartoons were amazingly popular here. One wonders if some British critic, observing this, thought that this might be America paying the English back for sending over Charlie Chaplin!

One thing people noticed on both sides of the proverbial Pond was Felix’s walk.

When deep in thought–which is an interesting idea to convey through the medium of silent film–Felix would pace up and down, hands clasped behind his back, bead downward.

The results of the inspiration of Messrs. Bryant and David was “Felix Kept On Walking”.

The song caught on in Britain, and soon, most of the manufacturers of gramophone records were interested in :”covering” the song. Not only was it covered as a song (with lyrics) by several comanies, it was also covered as a fox-trot without lyrics–a record to which one could dance.

In total,the song has three sixteen-bar verses, and no fewer than six twenty-bar refrains. All through the lyric–which includes the loss of Felix’s tail, an excursion onto the fence where the tabbies awaited, and no fewer than two attempts at feline murder–Felix is said to have “. . . kept on walking still.”.

The next year, Felix underwent a redesign–allegedly by Bill Nolan, no small talent with the pen himself. And this may have been the inspiration for “Since Felix Has Been Shingled”, written by one Stanelli.

“Shingled” was a close-cropped hair style that was enjoying some degree of vogue among the “flappers” of the time. It was more extreme than merely having the hair “bobbed”, and one suspects it might have had something to do with the popularity of the “cloche” hat then in fashion.

This new song was not nearly as popular as “Felix Kept On Walking”, but it did get covered, again both as a fox-trot for dancing, and as a humorous vocal. Courtesy of David Gerstein the song is embed below.

The popularity of Felix the Cat in Britain lasted all through the ‘Twenties–which didn’t roar as much for the Brits as they did for the Americans. And, even into the 1960’s (if not later), a popular brand of cat food in the United Kingdom was “Felix” Cat Food.


NEXT WEEK: Mickey Mouse Songs

10 Comments

  • One indication of how much the “Felix Kept on Walking” line had gotten into the British consciousness is a reference to it in editorial cartoons. Sydney “George” Strube of the London Daily Express did one such cartoon in January, 1926, featuring then-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill, and his hapless “Little Man” character. https://archive.cartoons.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=GS0093 shows a copy of this cartoon. (The reference to Coal involves some long-running efforts by the British government to sort out the chaotic conditions in the coal-mining industry, which were a source of great unrest throughout the 1920s.)

  • For that matter (and my apologies for a second post), Sir David Low, while he was drawing for the liberal Daily Star in 1924 (before his long run at the conservative Evening Standard) commented on a rash of “cat burglaries” in London with, what else, Felix. It’s striking in this example how closely Low hewed to the cartoon style. (The “Big Four” is a popular reference to the high officials of the police at Scotland Yard.) https://archive.cartoons.ac.uk/GetMultimedia.ashx?db=Catalog&type=default&fname=LSE7207.jpg

    Felix also shows up a few years later (1927) in a bit of snark by Low directed at, inter alia, Chicago mayor Big Bill Thompson and his 100% American bluster. Low commenting on aspects of American culture. https://archive.cartoons.ac.ukhttps://archive.cartoons.ac.uk/GetMultimedia.ashx?db=Catalog&type=default&fname=LSE0290.jpg There are a lot of then-current cultural references here (e.g. Leopold & Loeb, Sacco & Vanzetti), along with Felix.

  • luv luv LUVVV!!

  • Great article!!!

    The music here is really fun, but, honestly, this little black cat is nothing but trouble!

  • The Felix Cat Food in the U.K. is still popular and now owned by the U.K. branch of Purina (originally Ralston-Purina now leased to Nestle of Switzerland). What’s unusual is that Felix Cat Food didn’t use our cartoon Felix the Cat as their “spokescat” – but instead a black cartoon cat that looks like something out of a Halloween decoration – later replaced by a black and white Tuxedo/Felix (yes it’s a breed of cat named after Felix the Cat in Britain).

    But Felix still can be seen as the official mascot of Felix Chevrolet off of Figueroa across from the Galen Center and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles – but I digress…

  • Well, I wonder what the U.K. thinks of the later incarnation of FELIX as I first got to know him, as that cat with the Magic Bag of Tricks. Apparently, there is a release of almost all the Trans-Lux cartoons over in Europe, but we here in the States don’t get anything further than the first two-disk set from Classic Media. There are links to some of the episodes on You Tube, and I gather that some of these are lifted right from the disks available Overseas. Loved this post, though, and I wish I had seen many of the FELIX silent cartoons, where it all began.

  • Is there a link to ” Since Felix has Been Shingled” ? I would like to hear that song.

    • Yes there is a link. I indicated it in the post above. It can be heard on David Gerstein’s blog: http://ramapithblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/mystical-felix-monday-theres-more.html

    • The lyrics are there, but there is no link to the audio, if audio there be.

    • I’m wondering if its your browsers…? On my Safari browser, on a MacBook Pro laptop… I see this image on David’s site – I drew two red arrows pointing to indicate where the link to the audio is. Do you guys see this?

      gerstein-felix-song

      Regardless, the song is now embed, via You Tube, in the post above.

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