THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
November 7, 2019 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Felix the Cat is 100 years old! Happy Anniversary!

I think that many important threads in the history of American animated cartoons are apparent, but often there are important elements that haven’t been as considered by the general populace; we accept the new and as the inspirations fall into obscurity. Such is the history and memory of the best of Felix the Cat. Felix occupied the top spot in the animated kingdom through much of the 1920s, reaching a level of popularity world-wide, in both cinema and merchandising that served as a perfect model for a certain mouse to follow immediately after.

Consider how short animated film history really is. As Felix turns 100 (on Saturday, November 9th), I think it’s important to consider the major stepping stones of character performance started with a small number of artists/animators, with some of the most influential working with each other. The small number of major animation studios in New York led to some interesting cross-pollination in ideas and execution, with the Hollywood studios following, greatly influenced by both the ideas, story and design direction of the New York Studios. Certainly the Disney Studio was wise to recruit East Coast animators, who brought with them tried and true techniques learned from years of cranking out silent shorts. These helped accelerate innovations in some ways, and limited them sometimes as well.

The Pat Sullivan Studio must be regarded as both direction setting for the industry as a whole as well as an important training ground for some key players in the industry. Character animator and cartoonist Otto Mesmer, the main director (and one of the key animators) of the series, never achieved the sort of fame he deserved, but his influence was profoundly felt throughout the industry. The same can be said for Bill Nolan, who’s influence on the design of Felix as well as animation innovations were heavy influences on animators around the world. Many of their animation personality timing and motion ideas can be seen in Hugh Harman’s early work on the Oswalds as well as Iwerks. Burt Gillett’s experience at the studio is hardly documented, but it’s clear that his work at the Disney and the general direction of character animation is greatly helped by the ideas presented in the Felix cartoons.

Perhaps the more important aspect of Felix in influencing the direction of the industry comes from merchandising. No other character, animated or otherwise, had more products featuring their likeness in the 20s. This worldwide phenomenon is clearly a model adopted by Walt Disney and his fledgling studio, allowing the company to expand the budgets of the shorts beyond what would be profitable to any other studio.

The evolution of the series as a whole has been hard to document up until this point, with a large amount of Felix’s history being difficult or impossible to see. We all of course hopes this changes sooner than later. From viewing many more of the films than are generally available, I’ve absolutely enjoyed learning much more about why the series was so popular as well as seeing how the evolution of the series occurred.

Universal (The parent company of Dreamworks/Classic Media) does have some licensed products being rolled out this week for the anniversary. Click the box above for one such item. As for other anniversary merch, here’s a nifty little post from Jerry over at Animation Scoop.

My one great collecting regret was once having a print of Felix Fans the Flames (1926) and giving it away! I’ve been on the hunt for this otherwise lost title ever since. I’ve managed to track it down I think, but accessing it is another matter.

I have to admit that I have more than just a complicated relationship with Felix; This little black cat is both a blessing and a curse, all the time. I’ll leave it at that for now. I thought it would be appropriate to share one of his adventures on his 100th Anniversary Week. Against what I’m sure will be some flak from a few friends, here is Draggin’ the Dragon (1928) in the 1930 sound reissue print. While this one contains quite a few stereotypes, it also has a really fun dragon near the end and some good gags and personality animation along the way. It’s a little harder to see of a title, so I though it would be a fun one to share.

Have a good week everyone… and Happy Birthday Felix!

16 Comments

  • Great film – Thanks for sharing it!
    I love the minimalism of the 1920s when done well like in Felix & Out Of The Inkwell.
    Speaking of the latter I guess that’s also been 100 years (or, having just checked, probably more like 101 years).
    What an amazing print &/or restoration of the Felix film – a real treat – Thanks again & especially for all the work you put into collecting, accessing & restoring/presenting so many great cartoons.

  • Something bigger would’ve happened to Felix if I hadn’t played my lottery tickets the unlucky way. And that’s ALL I am going to say,,,,,,,

  • Silent films that were reissued with sound had to make room for an optical track. That’s why there’s usually a chunk cut off on the left side of the screen, as you can see here, where the rounded corners on the right side are squared on the left. Sometimes a gag would be lost – in “Forty Winks” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Clj6mGQD8lw&t=491s
    Felix turns some bullet holes in a wall into wheels and skates away, though with the missing strip of picture you can’t really see it.
    Naturally it’s no use carping about this; many original silent prints would be impossible to find and we’re lucky to have any version at all.

  • Steve: Please contact me. I’ve been trying to contact you for a month. I want that Betty Boop set. Please.

  • When I was growing up, the local public library had a vintage Felix the Cat clock on the wall. It no longer worked, but it was still pretty cool.

    I was interested to see the centenary coins issued by the New Zealand Mint — which, I hasten to point out, is a private company that makes commemorative coins and such for the collectibles market. It does not actually mint the coins circulating as currency in NZ. In Australia, everybody believes that New Zealand’s coins are minted here, because they regularly turn up in our small change (which can be a problem, as their $1 coin is the same size as our $2, and vice versa). But I looked it up, and it turns out that New Zealand’s coins are in fact minted in Canada! So the old Australian habit of taking credit for other people’s accomplishments, epitomised by Sydney-born Pat Sullivan, is alive and well.

    I’m glad that Felix is alive and well after 100 years. Happy birthday, Felix! May we all live as long, conquer as many obstacles, and have as much fun as you.

  • I love Felix, and that is a beautiful print of that cartoon. It’s a shame there isn’t some restored complete collection available to celebrate such a momentous occasion.

  • Happy 100th, Felix!

  • My first exposure to Felix was certainly the Joe Oriolo series, but the first time seeing the original silent Felix films was in 1964. XEWT, a Tijuana station, had a local kids show called El Hombre Feliz, and among the cartoons he screened were the silent Felixes. This seven year old’s mind was duly blown.

  • I love Tommy Stathes’ Cartoon Roots sets (and am happy to help with them in some capacities). I also hope that sooner than later that as many as possible will be available.

    We’re still busy finishing off a lot of the ‘special’ and ‘Official’ Thunderbean sets, and sending a ton of things right now. The latest of the special sets is here: https://forum.blu-ray.com/showpost.php?p=17018580&postcount=3633

  • I may have one or two “older” Felix The Cat cartoons in my DVD collection – but the ones I mostly remember are the late 1950s ones with The Professor, Rock Bottom (with villains), Poindexter (Delix’s friend and The Professor’s nephew), The Master Cylinder (another villain who lived on The Moon, and then later on Venus and finally on Mars) who wanted Poindexter to make him “secret rocket fuel” so he could invade Earth.

    These cartoons were done by Joe Oriolo Studios, and released by Trans-Lux Productions (same folks who gave us Speed Racer). Felix The Cat will live forever because of the one thing the Professor tried to get (and “did” on two occasions, but NEVER got it to do things for him like Felix did:: The Magic Bag!

    Happy 100th Birthday Felix The Cat! May you always be “Righty-O”! 😎👍

    • And Joe Oriolo had the same people who did Casper… Winston Sharples (composer, original theme and otherwise reused cues from shorts such as Okey Dokey Donkey, Fiddle Faddle, Felineoue Assault and others), and Jack Mercer, voices, as well as Grim and Jim (Natwickj annd Tyer), as animators.:)

  • Just curious — how was 11/9 arrived at as Felix’s birthday? ‘Feline Follies’, starring Master Tom, was released in August 1919, and according to John Canemaker, the cat’s name was changed to Felix by the third film in that series. Was that film released on 11/9/1919?

    • Canemaker’s date was an estimate.

      Since its 1990s publication, the late Cole Johnson located confirmation that the Paramount Magazine episode containing FELINE FOLLIES was actually released November 9—and the Library of Congress recovered its (non-microfilmed, long inaccessible) Paramount Magazine copyright synopses, some of which included booking dates and, in the case of FELINE FOLLIES, confirmed November 9 once again.

    • As an additional note—that third film, THE ADVENTURES OF FELIX, was released December 14, 1919.

    • Thanks, David.

  • Righty-O

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