When I first moved to LA I always said I’d go for a walk and look at the famous Felix the Cat sign over Felix Chevrolet, at the corner of South Figueroa St and Jefferson Boulevard. It would be a 16 mile round trip, which isn’t totally out of the question, but it’s a long walk just look at an advertising sign, and one way or another I never did it until this weekend. And I still didn’t walk there, at least not from home. I happened to be at USC, talking about walking, and since Felix Chevrolet is right there by the university it wasn’t much of a stretch from the campus to the dealership.
I have a special affection for Felix the Cat, partly because when I was a kid and I was out with my mother, if I slowed down or got distracted she’d say, “Be like Felix, keep on walking.” I knew what she meant, but only lately much later did I know who Felix was, and only long after that did I actually see a Felix cartoon.
Felix as a character, has been around since 1919 when he appeared (though not under that name) in an animated short titled Feline Follies. It was produced by Pat Sullivan, directed by Otto Messmer. The people I know who care about these things, are convinced that Messmer was the true begetter, though Sullivan did claim credit, sometimes saying he was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Cat That Walked By Himself.” I don’t honestly buy this, though this illustration by Kipling himself is pretty wonderful.
My mother, I think, was referring to the song 1923 song "Felix Kept On Walking," music by Hubert W. David and lyric by Ed E. Bryant. There was a cartoon titled Felix the Cat Kept on Walking which came out in 1925, so the song must in some way have inspired the movie, but perhaps only the title. In the cartoon he walks to England, where he is chased by immigration officers, then kicked around, and eventually out of the country, by soccer players.
As the image on the sheet music suggests, Felix wasn’t a very happy cat in this incarnation. He softened and became more affable (some might say more Mickey Mouse-ish) as the years went by. He didn’t only appear on screen and in song, but om all kinds of advertising memorabilia including this piece which sold at auction for about 1200 dollars recently. I've never understood why the feet had to be so square and lump.
He still looks grumpy there, and not at all the way he does on the sign above Felix Chevrolet. A man with the scarcely improvable name of Winslow Felix, opened Felix Chevrolet in 1921 at (according to some authorities) 12th Street and Grand Avenue in LA (others place it at 11th and Olive, which is certainly close by). Felix was a friend of cartoonist Pat Sullivan, who in exchange for a car, told him to go ahead and use Felix the Cat in his advertising.
In 1958 the dealership changed hands, moved to its current location at 3330, S. Figueroa Street, and the sign was installed. In 2012 the sign was spruced up, and that included restoring the neon which hadn’t been working properly for some time.
Of course Felix is not actually walking on the big sign, he’s just standing there, but at least I was walking when I saw him, even if not very far.