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Felix in Hollywood

1923. Sullivan Studios. Directed by Otto Messmer.

So this is how Felix got into the movies! Cecil B. DeMille awarded him a "long-term contract" after a camera crew caught him rescuing Douglas Fairbanks from a pack of mosquitoes.

It would be poetic if the cartoon in which this happens, Felix in Hollywood, were actually Felix's debut, but he was already a well-established character, if not as famous as he would become later in the 20s. His visit to LA is just one of his adventures, not his moment of self-actualization. Anyway, Felix never actually "worked" in Hollywood; a creation of New York-based Sullivan Studio, he was definitely an East Coast type.

So Felix goes to LA as your standard movie hopeful. The trip west is actually the idea of a ham actor friend of his (Felix goes along disguised as the actor's valise). The sequence where Felix raises money for the trip by sticking people's shoes to the street with chewing gum and then selling them new shoes is by far the cleverest and best animated of the film. Once he arrives in Hollywood, all of the animation energy goes into caricaturing (and not very well) famous movie personalities. There's a funny scene where Felix, as part of his audition for the head of Static Studios (Will Hays?), imitates Charlie Chaplin and then bumps into Chaplin himself (that is, a drawn caricature of Chaplin) who chases him out of the studio.

It's interesting that movie star caricatures, that in-joke staple of Warners cartoons in the 30s and 40s, are almost as old as Hollywood itself. Felix in Hollywood is the earliest example I know, but someone can probably trump me on this.

Like characters played by Colleen Moore, Harold Lloyd, Marion Davies, Jerry Lewis, and many others, Felix wins his Hollywood contract inadvertently. He heroically intervenes in a dangerous situation, only to discover that a film shoot in progress and his rescue has finished off the scene perfectly. This cherished myth about spontaneous film-making is especially striking in a cartoon, where every aspect of the scene has been painstakingly drawn and laboriously animated.


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copyright ©2005 Barbara Bernstein