by Kathy Wolfe
This week, Tidbits invites you to tune in to memories of some of our favorite cartoon cats.
• The first cartoon cat made his debut in 1919 during the silent film era. Originally called Master Tom, Felix the Cat is one of the most recognized cartoon cats, a mischievous black cat with great big white eyes, and a giant grin. Felix had a regular comic strip by 1923, followed quickly by merchandise such as figurines, stuffed toys, and postcards. His creator, Pat Sullivan, was raking in an estimated $100,000 a year just from licensed merchandise. There was even a song played by jazz bands called “Felix Kept on Walking,” and an Indiana high school named Felix as their school mascot.
• Felix faded in popularity when Mickey Mouse cartoons with sound became the rage. Felix’s creators were late to jump on the sound bandwagon. But in the 1950s, an updated and redesigned Felix was back, airing on American television, a series of 260 episodes. From 1995 to 1997, a second Felix series aired.
• Sylvester the Cat was first introduced in 1945 in a cartoon short called “Life with Feathers,” and went on to appear in 103 Warner Brothers shorts between 1945 and 1966. Only three other cartoon characters – Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck – appear in more cartoons than Sylvester.
• Three of Sylvester’s cartoons received Academy Awards. His name is taken from the scientific name for the wild cat, silvestris, the ancestor of domestic cats. His full name is Sylvester James Pussycat, Sr. He’s most often associated with Tweetie Bird, the fellow pet of elderly owner Granny. Sylvester didn’t appear with the little yellow canary until the 1947 short “Tweetie Pie,” the cat’s first attempt to eat Tweetie, a production that won the Oscar for Animated Short Film. The pair appeared in the 7-minute film “I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat” in 1948, leading to a novelty song of the same name. The song reached No. 9 on the Billboard pop chart in early 1951, where it enjoyed a seven-week run, selling more than two million records.
• Baby boomers might remember the leader of a gang of alley cats, a lazy but clever character known as Top Cat. TC, as his friends called him, was a yellow cat who stood on two legs, and was garbed in a purple vest and hat.TC and his gang, Fancy-Fancy, Spook, Benny the Ball, Brain, and Choo-Choo, lived in Manhattan’s Hoagy’s Alley, and kept busy devising get-rich-quick scams, while continually dodging the local police officer, Officer Dibble. The cartoon originally aired in 1961 and 1962.
• The fat black cat known as Lucifer spent his day bullying Cinderella, her mice friends Jaq and Gus, and Bruno the bloodhound. Introduced in Walt Disney’s 1950 animated classic film, the spoiled and sneaky Lucifer was the pet of Lady Tremaine, the wicked stepmother. When the film’s animators were struggling to design the perfect mischief-making feline, Walt Disney visited the home of one of the animators, Ward Kimball. As the men visited, Kimball’s cat Feetsy continually brushed up against the non-cat loving Disney’s legs. Looking down, Disney proclaimed, “For gosh sakes, Kimball, there’s your Lucifer right here!”
• Tom the cat started chasing a clever little mouse named Jerry in 1940. In his debut appearance, Tom, a gray and white shorthair cat, was named Jasper, while Jerry was called Jinx. After the first episode, the cartoon’s creators Hanna and Barbera wanted to change the names of the characters and launched a competition within the studio, giving employees the chance to win $50. One of the animators, John Carr, suggested Tom and Jerry and won the prize. For 163 episodes, Tom never seems to be able to outsmart the bright and cunning brown house mouse. The duo very rarely speak during the cartoons. There were several instances when Tom and Jerry exhibited friendship when they joined together to engage in a common goal, for example, keeping a baby away from danger when he eludes the careless supervision of a babysitter. In the early episodes, Tom walked on all fours, but was changed to walk on two. Tom and Jerry cartoons were nominated for 13 Academy Awards, winning seven. “The Cat Concerto” episode, winner of the Oscar in 1946, featured Tom playing Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” on the piano.
• In 1951, Disney Studios released the animated film “Alice in Wonderland,” featuring the smiling Cheshire Cat made famous by Lewis Carroll in his 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the movie, the grinning feline is a purple-and-pink-striped character who guides Alice through Wonderland, occasionally getting her into trouble. The Cat often appears in the branches of a tree, and has the ability to disappear gradually until nothing remains but the grin, leading Alice to comment, “I have often seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat.” The Cat speaks of its disappearance, “Most everyone’s mad here. You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself!”
• For over 45 years, comics lovers have adored Jim Davis’ fat orange cat Garfield. Davis named his creation after his grandfather, James A. Garfield Davis, who, in turn, had been named after the 20th U.S. President James A. Garfield. “Garfield” holds the Guinness World Record for the most syndicated comic strip, published in close to 2,600 papers, with upwards of 260 million readers across the globe. Garfield lives with his owner Jon Arbuckle, who happens to be a cartoonist; however, Jon is only seen at his drafting table in the very first comic strip, and never shown there again. Garfield shares the house with another pet, the playful dog Odie. Odie was originally the pet of Jon’s wacky roommate Lyman, who departed after five years of the comic. While Jim Davis has complete control over Garfield’s final daily strips, he no longer draws the feisty cat.
• The cat on the longest-running animated television series in U.S. history is named Snowball. There have been five cats in the Simpson family since its 1989 premiere, with the current cat named Snowball V. The first Snowball, a white Persian, was already dead by the first episode, with Marge mentioning that the feline had been run over by a Chrysler. After 15 seasons, Snowball II was also run over. Snowball III was adopted from a shelter and drowned in the family’s aquarium. Snowball IV perished after jumping out of a window. Snowball V continues to live!
• The 1955 Disney film “Lady and the Tramp” introduced us to the two villainous identical twin Siamese cats known as Si and Am. They are the pets of character Jim Dear’s Aunt Sarah, who dislikes dogs, most of all Jim Dear and Darling’s cocker spaniel Lady. Her cats are no exception, tearing apart the house and pinning the dirty deed on Lady. The two cats were voiced by jazz singer Peggy Lee, who was also the voice of Darling and a stray Pekinese named Peg.