Felix the Cat
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Felix the Cat is a cartoon character created in the silent-film era. His black body, white eyes, and giant grin, coupled with the surrealism of the situations in which his cartoons place him, combined to make Felix one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in the world. Felix was the first character from animation to attain a level of popularity sufficient to draw movie audiences based solely on his star power.
Felix's origins remain disputed. Australian cartoonist/film entrepreneur Pat Sullivan, owner of the Felix character, claimed during his lifetime to be its creator as well. American animator Otto Messmer, Sullivan's lead animator, has more commonly been assigned credit in recent decades. Some historians argue that Messmer ghosted for Sullivan. What is certain is that Felix emerged from Sullivan's studio, and cartoons featuring the character enjoyed unprecedented success and popularity in the 1920s.
From 1922, Felix enjoyed sudden, enormous popularity in international popular culture. He got his own comic strip (drawn by Messmer) and his image soon adorned all sorts of merchandise from ceramics to toys to postcards. There were several manufacturers who made stuffed Felix toys. Jazz bands such as Paul Whiteman's played songs about him. The most popular song of 1923 was "Felix Kept On Walking", and further songs followed.
Nevertheless, Felix's success was fading by the late 1920s with the arrival of sound cartoons. These new shorts, particularly those of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, had made the silent offerings of Sullivan and Messmer, who were then unwilling to move to sound production, seem outdated. In 1929, Sullivan decided to finally make the transition and began distributing Felix sound cartoons through Copley Pictures. The sound Felix shorts proved to be a failure and the operation ended in 1930 with Sullivan himself passing away in 1933. Felix saw a brief three cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios.
Felix cartoons began airing on American TV in 1953. Meanwhile, Joe Oriolo, who was now directing the Felix comic strips, introduced a redesigned, "long-legged" Felix in a new animated series for TV. Oriolo also added new characters, and gave Felix a "Magic Bag of Tricks", which could assume an infinite variety of shapes at Felix's behest. The cat has since starred in other television programs and in a feature film. Felix is still featured on a wide variety of merchandise from clothing to toys. Oriolo's son, Don Oriolo, now controls creative work on Felix movies.