The History of Felix the Cat

The history of Felix the cat began with a Paramount short, entitled Feline Follies, released in November of 1919.

In this first screen outing he was known as Master Tom, the mischievous feline cartoon character did not gain his familiar name until the release of Felix Saves the Day in 1922.

These very early animated cartoons give very little indication of how Felix would develop throughout the history of his fame.

The cat has a somewhat rat like appearance, with a long snout, sharply pointed ears and stringy body.

From 1924, with Felix fast gaining popularity, the character's appearance was modified for easier drawing so more adventures could be turned out swiftly.

The little cat became rounder, the snout disappeared and the eyes became larger.

Felix the cat as we know him had arrived.

Likewise it took two or three episodes for the hallmarks of a Felix cartoon to develop. The string of question marks coming from his head when the little black cat is bewildered, the pacing up and down for inspiration, the ability to detach his tail and use it in a variety of ways.

Felix was the cat that was always willing to help, and this willingness often landed him in hot water.

He was at one and the same time, the cat that caused all sorts of mischief and the hero that employed imaginative surrealistic methods to save the day.

The friend of Hollywood stars in one cartoon, using an exclamation mark to fight off a bear in another.

Chasing after sausages that have a life of their own, flying off to Egypt on a magic carpet, joining the circus and helping the fat lady to slim, being chased across an island by a cannibals - Felix copes with it all in his own magical way.

At this point in his history (1925-1928) Felix held sway as the King of the cartoon characters, his name and image was used to sell stuffed toys, dolls, cigars, baby oil, clocks and many other consumer goods.

Comic strips of Felix's adventures were syndicated around the world. Felix also made history as the first character to appear on television, not in one of his cartoon adventures, but as a toy model used to test RCA's experimental television transmitter in 1928.

Then around 1928/9 something happened - sound.

Walt Disney hit the cinema going public with his new Silly Symphonies complete with fully synchronized soundtracks, and the public loved them.

Felix's studio continued to produce their silent cartoons which relied on mime and speech balloons to tell their story, the public lost interest.

In an attempt to win back popularity sound was added to some existing Felix films, but it was too late, the public had found a new cartoon hero - Mickey Mouse.

The History of Felix the Cat - Television

Felix was left to wander, head bowed, hands clasped behind his back, all but forgotten about, until the creator of Casper the Friendly Ghost Joe Oriolo produced a new series of Felix cartoons for television. 260 TV cartoons were produced from 1959 to 1960.

Felix was given a slightly more family friendly personality, and this series introduced Felix's Magic Bag of Tricks a bag that could take on shape of anything Felix needed.

New characters entered the world of Felix such as Poindexter, the Professor, Vavoom, Rock Bottom and Master Cylinder the Robot.

The History of Felix the Cat - The Humans Behind Felix

Otto Messmer was an animator who created the character of Felix the Cat while working in the studio of Pat Sullivan. At first known as Master Tom, Paramount producer John King named the little character Felix.

Sullivan was a master publicist and invented all sorts of stories about the cartoon cat, without once acknowledging Messmer as Felix's creator.

Messmer retired from drawing Felix in 1954, and his assistant, Joe Oriolo took on the task. When Oriolo made his series for television he fully acknowledged Messmer as Felix's creator, and the world learned from whose inkwell the little black cat had sprung. 

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