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