Felix the Cat

View Felix the Cat short feature films below.

Felix the Cat, a cartoon character first created in the silent film era, is widely considered the world’s first animated film star. Originating from the studio of Australian Pat Sullivan in New York, Felix first appeared in an animated short titled “Feline Follies” as Master Tom, released by Paramount Studios on 9 November 1919, nine years before Disney’s Mickey Mouse debuted in “Steamboat Willie” (1928).

Internationally there is much debate over who originally created Felix the Cat. Before his death in 1933 Sullivan widely asserted that he had invented a black cat as a film character; however, nearly fifty years later American animator Otto Messmer, who was a salaried animator attached to Pat Sullivan’s studio, claimed that he was the creator of Feline Follies and the character of Felix.

However, in 2005, Judy Nelson, Curator of the “Reclaiming Felix the Cat” Exhibition for the NSW State Library, brought to light that Pat Sullivan had registered a half reel of film called “The Tail of Thomas the Kat” for copyright in March 1917.

An article published in July 1936 by the Sydney Mail recounts the story behind the inspiration for Felix:

“One day, out of an ash-can in the next flat popped the scraggiest and most miserable black cat imaginable. “Why don’t you draw that cat?” said Mrs Sullivan as she carried the cat over to Pat in her arms. To show its appreciation the feline actor-to-be spat at the artist with vengeance. Pat made a few studies on the spot.”

In an interview for The Melbourne Argus, 1 December 1925, Sullivan said:

“I shall never forget the first film of Felix I made, it took me six months to do, and was a gigantic failure. I was, of course, utterly inexperienced in a new and highly technical art. The result of it was that I had a nervous breakdown, and was in hospital for 5 weeks. “

Roscoe Arbuckle holding Lasky Studio cat “Ethel” as model for Pat Sullivan to draw his Felix the Cat for the Paramount Magazine 1921
Pat Sullivan and his wife 1926

By 1919 Pat Sullivan was drawing cartoons for Paramount Magazine and later when he signed a contract as an animator with Paramount Studios in March 1920, one of the subjects specified in his curriculum vitae was a black cat named Felix who had first appeared in Paramount Magazine as a character named “Master Tom” in a cartoon series named Feline Follies.

As for how Felix got his name, following Feline Follies success Mrs Sullivan asked Pat “What shall we call him?”

“What about Felix?” said Pat. “You’ve heard of ‘Australia Felix,’ and I’ll draw him in solid black like old Peter Felix, the boxer, who used to frighten us kids in Sydney.”

So Felix the Cat “took his cue.”

Felix the Cat Short Feature Films

Felix Win’s Out, 1923

Bored with life in town, Felix sees an opportunity for some excitement when a traveling circus passes through, so he joins up. One day he overhears the Skeleton Man propose to the Fat Lady, then change his mind because she’s too fat. Felix decides to help her lose weight so the Skeleton Man will marry her, but this results in the ringmaster getting angry with Felix and firing him. Felix comes up with a plan to force the circus to re-hire him.

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Felix Turns the Tide, 1922

When rats declare war on cats, Felix dutifully joins the army, after securing a promise from his girlfriend that she’ll wait for him. However, when he returns home a hero after defeating the rats in battle, he finds that the girlfriend he left behind is now married and has kitties of her own.

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Felix the Ghost Breaker, 1923

Felix is trying to get some sleep in a graveyard, but keeps getting bothered by a ghost. He follows the ghost to the house of an old farmer, and the ghost proceeds to terrorize the old man, and when the farmer calls for help from the police, the ghost terrorizes them, too. Felix, however, suspects something fishy is going on, and with the help of the farmer’s donkey, gets to the bottom of things.

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Felix Saves the Day, 1922

Willie Brown’s Nifty Nine have a big game on an afternoon that Willie is tossed in jail for making sport of a cop. With their star behind bars, the Nifty Nine quickly fall behind the Tar Heels, a Black team, at the Polo Grounds before a packed crowd. It’s up to Felix to save the day. But first, he has to get to the park, then he needs an idea. In this mix of animation and live footage of cars, trains, and baseball fans, Felix needs an assist from Jupiter Pluvius.

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Felix Revolts, 1923

After enduring various indignities by the human population in town, including getting beaten up by the fish market owner and forced to eat hot mustard by a customer in a restaurant, Felix finally breaks when he hears the mayor give a speech vowing to drive all cats out of town. Felix gathers his feline friends and stages a revolution to restore cats to their rightful place in society.

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Felix Pinches the Pole, 1924

Seeing a man about to eat a roast chicken, Felix uses pepper to make him sneeze it out of the house – but it’s then grabbed by a snake. A kindly barber feeds Felix, though, and in gratitude Felix promises to replace the man’s stolen barber pole. And he knows just where to get one – the North Pole.

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Felix Out of Luck, 1924

Felix turns down several meals (a mouse, and a bunch of dog bones) because he says he’s got “real eats waiting for me at home.” He’s shocked, however, when he arrives home and sees a note attached to the door: “Out of town – back in a week.”

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Felix Lends a Hand, 1922

Trudging through the snow in his hometown, Felix sees a billboard advertising sunny Egypt, and says that he’d give four of his nine lives to be there rather than freezing in the snow. He then hears crying coming from his friend Abdul’s carpet shop, and it turns out that Abdul’s girlfriend has been kidnapped by an Egyptian sheikh. Felix promises to rescue her, and hops on a magic carpet Abdul has lying around the shop, says the magic word and flies off to Egypt to keep his promise.

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Felix in Hollywood, 1923

Felix decides to make his way to Hollywood, but has no money. The owner of a failing shoe store promises Felix $500 if he can help bring in new business, which Felix ingeniously manages to do, but Felix’s owner stiffs him out of the money. Felix finds a way to get to Hollywood anyway, and while there meets up with the famous stars of the day, like Charlie Chaplin and Ben Turpin.

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Felix in Fairyland, 1923

Felix is reading a book about Fairyland, and decides that it must be a wonderful place to be. Suddenly he hears a cry for help, and finds a fly stuck on a piece of flypaper. He rescues the insect, only to have it turn into a beautiful fairy princess who, in gratitude for his help, grants him one wish. He wishes he were in Fairyland, and is immediately transported there.

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Felix Goes West, 1924

Broke and hungry as usual, the free-loading Felix the Cat gets tossed from a Tea Room. He steals the painted flapjacks from a billboard poster but the also-painted Aunt Jamima gives chase. Losing ground, Felix makes a propeller out of an exclamation-point (serving as an idea sign), attaches it to a board and flies west. Hitching a ride with a Pony Express rider delivering grub to the Bar-Nothing boys, Felix eats up the food and is soon waging a gun-battle with the old cowhands from the Rio Grande. Escaping them he is ambushed by a band of hostile Indians. He rides an eastward-bound arrow back to wherever he started from and lands on the street in from of a tobacco shop. He then shoots up the wooden Indian in front of the cigar store and is chased off by a policeman.

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Felix Goes A-Hunting, 1923

A wife throws her husband out of the house, telling him not to return unless he brings her a fur coat. Deciding that the only way he’ll get one is to make his own, he grabs his rifle and goes hunting. All his efforts fail, though, until he meets Felix, who offers to help him shoot rabbits, and impresses the man with his marksmanship skills. However, it turns out that shooting the rabbits isn’t quite as easy as they thought it would be.

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Felix Gets Revenge, 1922

Felix strikes up a friendship with a small boy, but the boy’s father won’t let him keep Felix as a pet. Every time Felix tries to sneak into the house, the father throws him out, finally chasing him out with a shotgun. To get his revenge, Felix plants some very old cheese in the house, then waits for all the mice to smell it and swarm into the house.

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Sources:

  1. Reclaiming Felix the Cat, Interview with Judy Nelson by Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC Radio, broadcast 9 May 2005.
  2. Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, Michael Barrier, 2003.
  3. Sydney Mail, 1 July 1936, p. 18.
  4. Sydney Artist’s Films, The Argus (Melbourne), 1 December 1925, p. 17.
  5. The Home: An Australian Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 1, 1 Jaunary 1926, p. 76.
  6. Exhibitors Herald, 12 March 1921, p. 78.