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
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.
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"
(Pathescope 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, Pathe issued dozens of
short notched Felix subjects both in the UK and abroad. One or
two longer titles like S549 "Felix Knight Errant",
SB826 "Felix Is Hungry" and M5016 "Felix
Falls In Love" appeared. Naturally Pathescope 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
G785 "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 Pathescope issued a series of twenty one
9.5mm silent 200ft Felix cartoons, together with five 60ft
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
G9Felix/gln/22.3.99 @G.L. Newnham 1999
Click for the Felix music: "Felix
Kept On Walking"
See the Felix cartoon "April Maze"
(released on 9.5mm by Pathescope as M30772 "And Now Felix
Prepares For A Picnic") on You Tube:
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
"FELIX - THE TWISTED TALE OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS
- by John Canemaker. Published by Da Capo Press, New York 1996.
"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)
You Tube film clip link added 28Jan2013
Extra You Tube link added 27May2013
Last updated 29 May 2013 .................
felix1.htm ................... Grahame Newnham's web pages