Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Playing Kat and Mouse

by Connie Cortright

For many years this antique rested on my husband's dresser. The wooden toy, in the shape of a mouse, is held together by elastic strings allowing it's arms and legs to move in any direction. My husband told me his father played with this toy when he was a boy, which means that it is from the 1930s.  It has now been passed down to my son to sit on his dresser. We need to keep it in the family.

I recently learned that this is Ignatz Mouse, a cartoon character from the 20s and 30s.

Krazy Kat and his sidekick Ignatz Mouse were created by George Herriman around the year 1910 after he had an accident, leaving him unable to continue his job as a house painter. Switching careers, he tried his hand at cartooning and became successful with the creation of Krazy Kat, drawing 3,000 cartoon strips over the next thirty years.

The basic plot of Krazy Kat was rather elemental. A simple-minded, innocent Krazy Kat was in love with Ignatz Mouse, trying to show her love to Ignatz in many ways. However, the mouse would have none of it. During most cartoon strips, Ignatz Mouse ended up throwing a brick at the head of Krazy Kat to try to knock some sense into the cat. Krazy took this brick-throwing as a sign of returned love by Ignatz so did not try to escape the thrown brick.

Herriman added another character to come to the rescue of Krazy Kat. Offissa Pup often arrested Ignatz Mouse, leading him off to jail by the end of the strip. In the latter years of the strip, Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse became more friendly, even ganging up against Offissa Pupp to keep him off their track.

Krazy Kat cartoon strip was first published in the William Randolph Hearst papers in 1913 and ran continuously until the mid-40s. In the last couple years, the cartoon was published in the Sunday edition in full color.

The comic strip was animated several times in shorts starting in 1916. During the 1930s another animator worked with Krazy Kat cartoons changing them significantly from Herriman's original plot line and mimicking the Mickey Mouse plot that had also started about that time. When Herriman died in 1944, Hearst also stopped the newspaper comic strip to honor the original creator.

I hope my son has more respect now for the little toy mouse sitting on his dresser. He'll have to watch his back when he walks past him just in case he tries to throw a brick at his head.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Krazy Kat

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Walt Sent Me

by Connie Cortright


Speakeasies were products of the Prohibition during the 1920s. Not too many people today know what they are, so here's a bit of explanation.

First, a bit of background. In 1919 the country passed the 18th Amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the United States. The law took affect on January 16, 1920.  The Temperance Leagues around the country celebrated the end of over-drinking in bars. They thought the problem was solved.  

           The law banned the manufacturing and sale of all alcoholic beverages. It didn’t include private ownership or consumption, so many people made their own beer for occasions like weddings. In many parts of the country homemade stills were erected to make whiskey, however, when the whiskey was sold illegally and secretly, it became known as “bootleg whiskey”.

            The problem with the new law was that there was no way to enforce the law nationally. Thus, the illegal sale of liquor gained popularity during the Roaring 20s in places called “speakeasies,” where the sales went underground. I read that New York City had 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies alone.

            A speakeasy was a former tavern that had to be converted after Prohibition became the law.  The structure was divided in half by building a wall in the middle – or maybe a back room or basement was added to house the speakeasy. The front of the building housed an ice cream soda shop or other above-board enterprise. 

There would be a “secret door” somewhere on the back wall that only local customers would know about. If a known customer would use the password (example: “Walt sent me”), the door was opened up into another world entirely. 

A quote from "Guide Me Home" my first novel describes a speakeasy:

“Emma looked through the smoky haze to see that the area was much larger than the restaurant. It held a wooden bar almost mirroring the ice cream bar in the front – the major difference was bottles of liquor lining the shelves instead of ice cream bowls. The crimson wallpaper, accented by golden colored leaves, seemed to wink mockingly at the dark wooden wainscoting encircling the entire room. In the corner a piano played tinny music as several half dressed young ladies on stage strutted their stuff. The room was filled with men and women, who were mostly dressed in knee length fringed flapper dresses with feathered headbands and long strands of beads, laughing and talking loudly enough to drown out the music – most of them with cigarettes in their hands – including the women. In the other hand, almost everyone had a glass of liquid – some drinks were golden colored and others coffee colored. Emma could easily recognize other full glasses of amber liquid topped with snowy white foam – beer. Was this a speakeasy?”

            At least you can get the feel of what they were like. On some occasions these establishments were raided by the police, but with the overwhelming numbers around town, they couldn’t be controlled.  That is the eventual reason the Prohibition was repealed in 1933.            

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Milk Door - The Swim Suit Issue

by Connie Cortright

Top story in New York Times: Twenty-one year old Louise Rosine from Los Angeles was arrested yesterday in Atlantic City, New Jersey when she refused to cooperate with the authorities. For her day at the beach, she wore bathing attire that was not deemed appropriate. She refused to roll up her stockings to cover her knees when ordered to do so by a police officer.

This wasn't the actual quote in the newspaper, but the incident did occur in 1921. Such were the regulations that women faced when they wanted to go swimming at the beach. Prior to the 1900s, men and women were required to swim at separate locations on the beach so that they weren't able to see each other. Even if the men did see the women, the swimming suits covered the women from head to toe. As shown below, women had to wear stockings under their knee length suits for swimming. By 1920 they were allowed to show their arms, at least.

Young women in the early 20s opposed the Victorian-era standards that their parents and city officials placed on them. They pushed back and sometimes got arrested for it. Older folks saw these new bathing suits with knees showing as immoral displays of promiscuity. Annette Kellerman was arrested for indecent exposure in 1908 for wearing a form fitting "body stocking" because it clung to her, displaying her shape.

Although, women's attire was more criticized, men's bathing suits weren't exempt from regulations. Before 1920, men's swimwear consisted of a one piece knee-length suit with short sleeves. The fashion world continued to cut back on the sleeve and leg lengths until finally during the 1930s, men were finally seen at the beach without shirts.

Since there were so many rules that differed from community to community, each city had to make the decisions as to what passed muster and what didn't. Beaches were patrolled by "beach censors" searching for people who weren't wearing proper attire. These "guardians of morality" took their positions seriously, often patrolling the swimming area with tape measures ready to fine or arrest women who weren't measuring up to snuff.

Beach censors were most often hired by municipalities to regulate what was worn in public. They sometimes were specifically hired for the job of censorship of beaches and at other times were merely police officers. When the censors determined that the attire was not appropriate, the swimmers would be escorted off the beach - or worse.

Even though beaches often had lifeguards on duty for the safety of the swimmers, these lifeguards never were given the extra job of being a censor. They were two distinct positions of authority on beaches. With time, the culture around swimwear loosened up. By the late 30s and into the 40s, these strict regulations finally disappeared along with the beach censors.

Maybe we should bring them back again with some of the attire that is worn on the beach today.

Did you notice what they wore on their feet while at the beach in the pictures? They were required to wear stocking and shoes. Fashionable ladies wore beach boots that laced up around the calf, resembling today's wrestling shoes. Maybe they prevented sand from spreading into the house when the swimmers arrived home.

Information taken from Skirting the Skirts at the Bathing Beach.