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Cartoon History Lesson #1: Felix the Cat

Felix head. He was from head. Felix the Cat

Felix the Cat's head shot

You can hear the tune in your head as the words come to you.

Felix the cat, / The wonderful, wonderful cat. / Whenever he gets in a fix / He reaches into his bag of tricks. / Felix the cat, / The wonderful, wonderful cat. / You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache. / Your heart will go pit-a-pat, / Watching Felix the wonderful cat.”

Felix the cat was introduced to me at a very young age. I grew up in different houses belonging to different family members, but one of the most influential was my Uncle Ribbert. He is only thirteen years older than me and I idolized him. He was watching Felix the Cat: The Movie one day when I wandered into the living room and sat down. I asked what he was watching and he wrapped an arm around me, pulled me close and said “We are watching the coolest cat in the world. This, my dear niece, is Felix the cat.” I sat next to my uncle on the couch and was enchanted into Felix’s world of adventures with his silly antics and his funny friends. I fell in love with Felix the cat so much as a child that I named my first born after him because he had all the qualities I wanted in my son; Friendly, Honest, Curious, Happy, Adventurous, Loyal, Clever, Intelligent, and Polite. To me, Felix is a great role model for my son. That is why I learned the lyrics to the Felix theme song and I sing it to him.

Felix the cat in his first cartoon "felin...

Felix the cat in his first cartoon "Feline Follies" (1919)

Research says that Felix had a humble beginning as a curious and inventive feline character dreamt up by American cartoonist, Otto Messmer. His squat, angular, black body, huge wide eyes and grin were instantly recognizable. His first appearance was in a short film called Feline Follies in 1919. After that King Features ran Felix comic strips in over 250 newspapers in a multiple languages, reaching countries over the globe. Today he’s published through Felix Comics, Inc.. No one suspected back then that the squat, angular cat would evolve into the rounder, more lovable character he is recognized as today.

Felix the Cat’s creator, Otto Messmer, had no idea that Felix would become so popular with audiences. Joe Oriolo, Otto’s protégé, began working closely with Felix. He began to work solely on Felix and received from Otto permission to create a “new Felix”. Joe Oriolo thus created the new Felix with a new image, new personality and new characters, including The Magic Bag of Tricks, Poindexter, The Professor, Rock Bottom and Vavoom.

Felix on 1st TV Broadcast

Felix became so famous that he was chosen as the mascot for the Fighter Squadron 2-B, emblazoning their F-3 biplanes with a logo of Felix holding a bomb. Felix is also the first Television star ever! Felix’s image was the very first image to be broadcast over the television airwaves. When the engineers at RCA Research Labs were creating television they used a rotating Felix doll as their test model in their very first transmission on NBC. Felix’s image has adorned everything from clocks, Christmas ornaments, and was even the first balloon featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Felix has been there for a lot of firsts in our culture.

The only two cartoonists ever to draw the Felix Sunday comics in those early days were Otto Messmer and Joe Oriolo. At this point, a young Don Oriolo began his close relationship with these popular characters. Don spent many hours looking over the shoulders of both his dad and Uncle Otto as they drew the Felix newspaper strips and comic books.

As the new Oriolo-drafted Felix became more trendy, so did the desire by the public to have Felix dolls, cards, toys and jewelry. By the end of the 1950s, Joe Oriolo produced 264 five-minute episodes of the new Felix for Trans-Lux TV that were immediately picked up for first-run syndication. They were instantly embraced by audiences of all ages. Felix cartoons have been reinvented over the decades. These shows are still being shown around the world. I remember watching The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat as a kid. Today its still one of my favorite cartoons.

Felix the Cat: The Movie

Poster for Felix the Cat: The Movie

Near the end of his career, Joe recognized his son, Don’s, imagination and passion for Felix and asked him to bring Felix into the 21st century. Don Oriolo continued the legacy of his father’s work. Don had learned well from his father, inheriting his gag development and storytelling talents.  In time Don brought his son, Michael, into the business working to keep Felix the Cat at the front-lines of popular culture around the world and continuing the work and creativity started by Otto Messmer and grandfather, Joe Oriolo so long ago. Ask Don where Felix is heading, he’ll smile and tell you “on the same straight and narrow path to success that was paved by my uncle Otto Messmer and my dad, Joe Oriolo!”

Today Felix is everywhere in our culture. He’s tattooed on the arm of the guy that pours your coffee, or on the panties of the hot chick that just winked at you in Boarders. Maybe Felix is hiding on a patch you attached to your ski hat last winter before you went snowboarding. To me, Felix is my son. Cute, clever, and always on an adventure.

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One Response to Cartoon History Lesson #1: Felix the Cat

  1. Pat Carbonell

    April 22, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Wow. I had no idea he has such an impressive resume.