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    Other Side Of Maleficent

    I have been looking forward to Maleficent with equal amounts of anticipation and dread. On one hand, she is easily my favorite Disney villain, so cold and so pure, and I want desperately to see more of her and her back-story. On the other hand, she is easily my favorite Disney villain, and I would hate to see her parodied, taken lightly or ultimately destroyed in a film that does not understand this great character. The good news is that this film almost gets it right; but that is also the bad news.

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    Renegades of Animation: Pat Sullivan

    Pat Sullivan became famous worldwide for his creation of Felix the Cat. What most animation histories gloss over is Sullivan’s checkered past and longtime standing as a wildcat renegade. He didn’t follow the rules. And he made damn sure to fully protect his intellectual properties.

Pat Sullivan and Felix the Cat

Discussion in 'Silent Animation' started by sidestreetsam, Jan 13, 2014.

  1. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    ~ Howdy, Students of Animation!

    Felix the Cat is a funny animal cartoon character created in the silent film era. The anthropomorphic black cat with his black body, white eyes, and giant grin, coupled with the surrealism of the situations in which his cartoons place him, combine to make Felix one of the most recognized cartoon characters in film history. Felix was the first character from animation to attain a level of popularity sufficient to draw movie audiences.

    Felix's origins remain disputed. Australian cartoonist/film entrepreneur Pat Sullivan, owner of the Felix character, claimed during his lifetime to be its creator. American animator Otto Messmer, Sullivan's lead animator, has been credited as such. What is certain is that Felix emerged from Sullivan's studio, and cartoons featuring the character enjoyed success and popularity in 1920s popular culture. Aside from the animated shorts, Felix starred in a comic strip (drawn by Sullivan, Messmer and later Joe Oliolo) beginning in 1923, and his image soon adorned merchandise such as ceramics, toys and postcards. Several manufacturers made stuffed Felix toys. Jazz bands such as Paul Whiteman's played songs about him (1923's "Felix Kept On Walking" and others).

    On 9 November 1919, Master Tom, a prototype of Felix, debuted in a Paramount Pictures short entitled Feline Follies. Produced by the New York City-based animation studio owned by Pat Sullivan, the cartoon was directed by cartoonist and animator Otto Messmer. It was a success, and the Sullivan studio quickly set to work on producing another film featuring Master Tom, the Felix the Cat prototype in The Musical Mews (released 16 November 1919). It too proved to be successful with audiences.

  2. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    ~ Howdy, Gang!

    Otto Messmer gave two different versions of how Felix got his name, the one on his official site ”Rejoining Sullivan with a great idea for a new character named Felix the Cat, and the second that ”Mr. (John) King of Paramount Magazine suggested the name "Felix", after the Latin words felis (cat) and felix (lucky), which was used for the third film, The Adventures of Felix (released on 14 December 1919). Pat Sullivan said he named Felix after Australia Felix from Australian history and literature. In 1924, animator Bill Nolan redesigned the fledgling feline, making him both rounder and cuter. Felix's new looks, coupled with Messmer's character animation, brought Felix to fame.

    The question of who created Felix remains a matter of dispute. Sullivan stated in numerous newspaper interviews that he created Felix and did the key drawings for the character. On a visit to Australia in 1925, Sullivan told The Argus newspaper that "The idea was given to me by the sight of a cat which my wife brought to the studio one day." On other occasions, he claimed that Felix had been inspired by Rudyard Kipling's "The Cat that Walked by Himself" or by his wife's love for strays.

    Members of the Australian Cartoonist Association have demonstrated that lettering used in Feline Follies matches Sullivan's handwriting. Pat Sullivan also lettered within his drawings which was a major contradiction to Messmer's claims. Sullivan's claim is also supported by his 18 March 1917, release of a cartoon short entitled The Tail of Thomas Kat, more than two years prior to Feline Follies.
  3. peterhale

    peterhale Moderator Staff Member I SUPPORT BCDB!

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    Pat Sullivan was the figurehead who owned Felix, and like every other cartoon studio head he took personal credit for his studio's creation. This was the prevailing wisdom of the time (probably still is!) - that it was important for the public to identify the product with the man whose name appeared over it. Simplification is the basis of advertising, so "Walt Disney" was presented as the sole creator of the Mickey Mouse cartoons (even though Ub Iwerks got full onscreen credit), Max Fleischer as animator of the "Out of the Inkwell" films, etc,. It was simply good publicity for Sullivan to assume authorship. (And Sullivan's greatest skill was as a promoter!) In fact, by the time of Feline Follies Sullivan had stopped animating and was concentrating on finding distribution for the product of his newly reopened studio, with its staff of animators (of whom Otto Messmer was the mainstay).

    The 'John King' origin of Felix's name is probably true - the 'Australia Felix' one was suggested later, mainly as a bit of flag-waving on behalf of Sullivan's homeland.

    The supposed handwriting analysis is fundamentally flawed - some spurious similarities are presented while a massive dissimilarity, the difference between Sullivan's and Messmer's 'A's, is conveniently ignored. And the cat in The Tail of Thomas Kat has none of Felix's characteristics (which are present in Feline Follies). The naming of a cat Tom or Thomas was hardly original, even in 1917.

    Feline Follies was made at short notice as a filler for the weekly Paramount Magazine newsreel, after Sullivan sold John King on the idea of 'livening it up' with cartoon items. While it is quite possible that Sullivan suggested a cat-themed cartoon, there is no reason to doubt that Messmer provided the plotting and animation for Feline Follies and the rest of the Sullivan Felix films.

    The 'Sullivan as author' case was promoted by an Australian cataloger with no knowledge of animation history, and in their attempt to credit Sullivan as Felix's animator the ACA failed to acknowledge his true achievement - the successful promotion of Felix into a worldwide star.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
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  4. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    ~ Howdy, Folks!

    The continuing controversy over the creation of Felix the Cat rages on unabated. Otto Messmer first joined Sullivan’s studio in 1916 after working with Henry "Hy" Mayer, a well-known cartoonist. Mayer and Messmer collaborated on the successful animated series The Travels of Teddy, which was based on the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Messmer subsequently worked for Sullivan, who handled the business side of the work, while Messmer handled the creative responsibilities.

    In 1917, Sullivan was convicted of rape in the second degree of a 14 year old girl. He spent 9 months in prison,during which time his studio went on hiatus. While Sullivan served his prison sentence, Messmer briefly returned to work with Mayer, until Messmer was drafted into World War I. When Messmer returned stateside after the war in 1919, he returned to Sullivan's studio, and was hired by director Earl Hurd of Paramount Screen Magazine for a cartoon short that would accompany a feature film. Sullivan gave the project to Messmer, whose end result, Feline Follies, starring Master Tom, a black cat, who was a prototype to Felix, which brought good luck to people in trouble. Sullivan's involvement in the project is disputed, although handwriting in the animation has been identified as his.
  5. peterhale

    peterhale Moderator Staff Member I SUPPORT BCDB!

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    PatSullivanLetters.JPG

    Pat Sullivan's lettering - note the 'A's are plunp, curving outwards. This is a constant in his lettering.




    OttoMessmerLetters.JPG








    Otto Messmer's lettering - note his 'A's are concave on the righthand side. This is a constant in his lettering.






    Sullivan did not do any of the lettering in Feline Follies or any other Felix film. His characteristic 'A's are nowhere in evidence. However, it does not necessarily follow that Messmer did the lettering either. Much of the lettering is in a very tight, formal style - not as loose as the lettering done by Sullivan and Messmer in their comic strips - so it is quite likely it was done by a third party: either an assistant, who had the time to devote to precision lettering, or a specialist letterer, employed by the studio to create main title cards.
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  6. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    ~ Hey, Peter!

    Top knotch analysis! We will never really know the true facts of Felix's creation. One thing is for sure; Felix is the Cat that Walks by Himself.
  7. peterhale

    peterhale Moderator Staff Member I SUPPORT BCDB!

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    Sullivan was an Australian cartoonist and caricaturist who, unable to find sufficient work in Sydney, emigrated to New York via London. While in London (1909) he contributed cartoons to Ally Sloper's Half Holiday, a comic magazine. He also tried his hand in the music hall, and as a motion picture exhibitor.

    Arriving in New York in 1910, he earned extra money boxing to support his cartooning efforts, until in 1911 he secured a post as assistant to successful cartoonist William F. Marriner. He worked on several of Marriner's strips, as well as submitting a few of his own.

    But after 3 years Marriner died, and Sullivan, looking round for other work, joined Raoul Barre's newly formed animation studio. This was 1914, and the animated cartoon had just come into its own.

    Sullivan wanted to be his own boss, and soon left Barre to start his own studio, promising his distributor, Pat Powers, a series based on one of the Marriner strips he'd worked on, Sambo and his Funny Noises. (This strip was not as bad as it sounds! Although a black stereotype, the star of the strip, Sammy Johnson, was not particularly patronized. An illiterate street kid, Sammy was an inventive entrepreneur with boundless enthusiasm. Although his schemes often failed, it was usually his dumber white companions who were the butt of the jokes.)

    Sullivan produced 10 Sammy Johnsin cartoons, released by Universal throughout 1916, and a few one-offs. (The plots of the Sammy Johnsin films do not echo the strips, but are more generic cartoon stories, where lazy Sammy dreams his adventures. Half way through the year the spelling of Sammy changes to Sammie - was this to avoid any copyright infringement, or just because it was a funnier spelling?)

    Sullivan was not animating alone - he employed other cartoonists, including Otto (Otz) Messmer. In 1917 the Sammie Johnsin films no longer include his name in the title, and a new series starts, featuring a hobo named Boomer Bill. Other one-off characters are also tried out. The plot device of a dream remains a constant. Pat Sullivan's animators get a credit on some of their films: George D. Clardy, Will Anderson, Ernest Smythe, Bill Cause, W. E. Stark and "Otz" Messmer.

    After Sullivan's release from prison, in the summer of 1918, he got together with Messmer to work on a new cartoon series for Universal. Called Charlie, the new character was clearly based on Charlie Chaplin, but no permission was sought, and his surname never used. After the first films the spelling was changed to Charley, this time definitely to avoid any copyright problems! A second series was also devised, this time a serial starring detective duo Hardrock Dome and Doc Walloper, who pursue the villainous Baron Lightfinger through 3 chapters to recover the stolen formula for the cure for red noses.

    Like most heads of cartoon studios, Sullivan spent more of his time promoting his business than actually animating.
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  8. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    ~ Hey, Peter!

    Thanks for fleshing out the details regarding Pat Sullivan and company. You really know your animation history! I used to have the John Canemaker book on Felix but unfortunately lost it in a house fire. That volume was the mother lode of all things Felix! All of Canemaker's stuff is like gold as I'm sure you are aware. My Great-Aunt, Ruth Elder, was one of the first women to fly across the Atlantic just a few short months after Lindberg's historic flight. I remember my Grandmother showed me a pre-flight photo of Ruth holding a Lucky Felix doll as mascot. That was my first remembrance of Felix the Cat. This was back in the late 1950's. I wish I knew what happened to that picture.
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  9. DJ Hot Wheel

    DJ Hot Wheel Newbie New Member

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    Hello all, I am new to the BCDB here but, been watching it for years for info.
    Last fall I had visited a toy show and came across a huge load of Felix (everything). Toys, promos, comics and more.
    The lady selling the items said it was her mothers personal collection. This lady had to been in her 60's at least and almost everything was near mint.
    I grew up as a huge Felix fan and did what I could to have cartoons and comics as such but, this one I feel I hit some gold!

    The lady at the show had a few foamboard mounted orignal Felix comics from 1936 era in full color. She was asking $15 per panel. The mounts were not done well and had seen batter days and I passed on them.
    Then in another pile I found 4 full sized newspaper comics of just Felix! I asked how much for these and she said $20 takes all. I bought them all!

    Taking a closer look when I got home. I opened the comics up and they are in very good shape.... and wait...what is this??? A huge stamper logo on the bottom "from the files of Pat Sullivan". This was stamped on the bottom of each comic and you can tell they were stamped and not news printed. Then there is tons of faint pencil writings and markings to adjust the comic info with proper wording. They look like a proof sheet of sorts. The comics are news printed but, with annotations all over them with corrections and such. I wonder if this was Pat's proof sheets for pre-press?

    If possible, can anyone pinpoint these from 1936? Are these the real deal? Is there someone who I can speak with on these comics?
    Any info is greatly appreciated!

    Righty'O Thanks!
  10. peterhale

    peterhale Moderator Staff Member I SUPPORT BCDB!

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    Curious. Not Pat Sullivan's own annotations - he died in 1933. Anyway, the comic strip was mostly the work of Otto Messmer. After Sullivan's death Messmer won the right to continue writing and drawing the strip, but ownership of Felix (and any profit from the strip) belonged to Sullivan's estate.

    The stamp seems an odd choice of wording - it sounds like it's from an archived collection of Sullivan material: how this ended up in the possession of this lady's mother would have been good to know!

    I'm no expert on comics, but I'm sure someone here can suggest someone you could speak to. But it would be interesting to see some images of the stamp and annotations.
  11. saltyboot

    saltyboot A Moderating Moderator Staff Member Forum Member

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    Yes, pictures will be great and very helpful. It can give someone a better idea of what we are dealing with.

    Here is a link to Tom Stathes' website. His specialty is silent cartoons and animation history. I'm sure he can help you with this.
  12. Greg Chick

    Greg Chick Newbie New Member

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    Does anyone realize that "Felix" invented the "PC" or personal computer in the episode where Felix is reading Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your spectrum grow" as there is a picture on the bedroom wall above poindexters bed that says, "Home is where the computer is". And that an image silhouette of Felix was used as the first image presented on a "TV" screen in the laboratory of Trans Lux. In addition to that, Poindexters anti magnetic gravity generator could be the very thing that allows free space travel, if we could just make one...

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