Grahame N's 9.5mm Web Pages


FELIX THE CAT - OCTOGENARIAN

by Grahame L. Newnham BSc.


The year of 1999 marks the 80th birthday of probably the first real cartoon film star - Felix the Cat. Felix was created in America by Australian born, newspaper cartoonist Pat Sullivan, although actually drawn and animated on film by Otto Messmer, a young artist Sullivan had met at the Universal Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Felix first appeared on film in "Feline Follies" in a 1919 Paramount Screen Magazine. In "Musical Mews", his second appearance on screen, Felix actually got his name - suggested by Paramount producer John King.

According to Leonard Maltin in his excellent book "Of Mice And Magic" Otto Messmer created the character in his spare time at home: "The studio being busy, Sullivan asked me to do one in my spare time, at home. I did a quick one showing a black cat being outwitted by a mouse. I used plenty of picture gags. Paramount liked it and signed it up for their Paramount Screen Magazine. It made a hit with the public. I wrote and animated it along with the studio assistants."

By 1921 Sullivan had left Paramount and arranged a deal with M.J. Winkler to distribute the films worldwide. Felix films were then issued as proper one reel subjects, no longer just part of a screen revue. The first of these is probably "Felix Saves the Day". The simple cartoon cat became a great favourite in the UK and Sullivan boosted his income with Felix merchandising. Soon a song "Felix Kept On Walking" was published. In 1927 a Felix doll supposedly accompanied Charles Lindbergh on his historic flight across the Atlantic, another was claimed to be the first image broadcast in 1928 during American low-definition television experiments. Even today the UK boasts a cat food bearing his name.


Felix doll used for early scanning disc TV tests

The Felix cartoons of the later 1920's became remarkably sophisticated in humour and film technique. The stories were good and the gags quite ingenious. Felix was shown to have a mind, often walking up and down in pensive mood, sometimes with a question mark over his head till a solution to his problem was found. In "Felix In Hollywood" (Novascope C1064), he visits film studios imitating various characters including Chaplin; in "Comicalamities" (Pathéscope M30738 "Felix Meets Calamity Jane") he is talking back to the animator.

Unfortunately Felix did not really survive into the sound era. A few titles did appear as talkies, but these may have been earlier silent productions with sound added. Sullivan was unwilling to invest in sound equipment and fell victim to alcoholism after his wife died. He himself died in 1933 with his affairs in such disarray that production of Felix cartoons ceased. The Van Beuren studio did produce a few colour Felix cartoons in their 1935/36 Rainbow Parade series ("Bold King Cole" appeared on Super 8), but Felix was then banished to comic strips until a new series in colour appeared on American TV in 1960. This new look TV production, made between 1958 and 1960 had Felix armed with a magic bag of tricks. Five short episodes made up each show produced by Joe Oriolo who had taken over the comic strips. Voices were provided by Jack Mercer. Finally in 1989 a full length cinema feature "Felix The Cat - The Movie", directed by Tibor Hernadi was issued. Felix was brought into the Star Wars age, rescuing a princess. By all accounts it didn't do the Felix story any favours, getting poor reviews. "More likely to bury the ingratiating Felix beyond revival than to stimulate fresh legions of fans" wrote Philip Strick in the Monthly Film Bulletin.

On the 9.5mm home movie film gauge, Pathé-Baby issued dozens of short notched Felix subjects both in France, the UK and abroad. One or two longer titles like S.549 "Felix Knight Errant", SB.826 "Felix Is Hungry" and M.5016 "Felix Falls In Love" appeared. Naturally in the UK, Pathéscope changed the titles for 9.5mm and even now not all the original titles have been identified. In fact it is likely that some of these early Felix items only now survive on our 9.5mm gauge. The 9.5mm G.785 "Felix Is Adopted" was included in the recent "They Survive On 9.5" evening at the British Film Institute Museum Of The Moving Image as it was probably the only Felix cartoon to also include live action.

In the late fifties Pathéscope issued a series of twenty one 9.5mm silent 200 foot (60 metre) Felix cartoons, together with five 60foot (20 metre) extracts, these came from a late 1920s series distributed by Educational which had been edited for 1950s television presentation. In addition Film Office in France and Novascope in the UK also issued other Felix cartoons on 9.5mm silent. Whilst Felix cartoons seem rather simplistic compared to later offerings from Disney, Fleischer and other studios, at least the 9.5mm collector has a good range of titles to search for. Happy hunting!

G9Felix/gln/22.3.99 @Grahame .L. Newnham 1999


Click for the Felix music: "Felix Kept On Walking"

See the Felix cartoon "April Maze" (released on 9.5mm by Pathéscope as M30772 "And Now Felix Prepares For A Picnic") on You Tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5meg94NAlu4&feature=share&list=SP3DD2CC4415DB20E7

Watch an interesting programme about Otto Mesmer & Felix on You Tube: http://youtu.be/sB33UmwwzLM


See the international 9.5mm Felix printed films catalogue: FELIX FILMS or return to NINE FIVE MENU


Recommended reading:

"FELIX - THE TWISTED TALE OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS CAT"
- by John Canemaker. Published by Da Capo Press, New York 1996. ISBN 0-306-80731-9

"FELIX THE BLACK AND WHITE CATALOGUE"
- by Colin and Tim Cowles. Privately published in the UK 2001. Storylines of most Felix cartoons
- copies still available at £10 (12Oct2008) e-mail:
cecowles @ btopenworld.com (no gaps in actual address)


Created 23Mar1999 ....... Last updated 26 October 2017 ............. 95flmart/95flmartfelix1.htm ............. ©Grahame L. Newnham's Web Pages
28Jan2013 - You Tube film clip link added / 27May2014 - Extra You Tube link added
23Oct2017 - tidying, book scans added / 26Oct2017 - Felix scanning disc TV doll photo added