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Is Felix the Cat Australian?

Updated on August 23, 2017
VladimirCat profile image

Vladimir is a former champion ratter (retired). His hobbies are bushwalking, birdwatching and nature studies

What Nationality is Felix the Cat?

Is there anyone who doesn't know Felix the Cat? Felix became an international cinema star in the 1920s, almost a decade before Mickey Mouse was born. He was the world's first animated superstar and rightly deserves the fame he receives as a groundbreaker in his profession as well as accolades from the millions of Felix aficionados world-wide.

But the whereabouts of his birthplace has become an international tug of war.

For 50 years it was known that Australian Pat Sullivan was the creator of Felix. But in 1977 American animation historian John Canemaker claimed Felix was an American!

International relations are strained and feelings run high. Sanctions have been mentioned, fists shaken and sabres rattled but no one is any closer to achieving an amicable ending. Even Felix can't help.

The disputed nationality of Felix the Cat

I'm an easy-going chap. Faults I may have, but one of them is not rampant nationalism. Nor am I in any way concerned about an individual's ethnic identity or cultural heritage. Amongst my acquaintances I number two old females from Burma, a rather haughty young thing from Siam and a recluse from Abyssinia. Some of my best friends are Persians.

So I see no reason for humans to place so much emphasis on countries of origin. Felix would find it incomprehensible too. Ironically, for 30 years, Australia and America have been fighting like cats and dogs over the nationality of Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat.

An Australian cartoonist, Pat Sullivan was always known as the creator of Felix but after he died, an American animator named Otto Messmer, who had worked with Sullivan, claimed credit for the famous feline star.

The Cartoonist Pat Sullivan

Australian cartoonist, Pat Sullivan, left Sydney for London in 1909 to seek fame and fortune. How he eventually got to New York is something of a cartoon plot in itself. He was farewelling some friends aboard a ship bound for New York and, after a heavy bon voyage drinking session, fell asleep. When he woke, he.was on his way to the Big Apple. He jumped ship.

The Hollywood moguls were crying out for cartoon shorts to play before their silent movies, and Pat Sullivan seized the opportunity. He set up an animation studio in New York in 1915, and one of the first artists he hired was 24-year-old Otto Messmer.

Sullivan began developing a cartoon series based on a cat. 'Thomas the Kat', which, by 1920, had become 'Felix the Cat'. And that creation became an instant hit. The Sullivan studio went into overdrive, pumping out 13 'Felix' films in 1922 alone to meet the public's craving for the frisky feline.

By the time Sullivan died in '33, there were over 100 animated films of Felix.

State Library of New South Wales

An Australian Greeting Card

State Library of New South Wales

A scrap of hand-crafted Greeting Card from Pat Sullivan to Hubert Wilkins, the Antarctic explorer (among other things). The hand drawn card is believed to be from 1918.

The fur begins to fly in 1967

While Sullivan was alive, no-one questioned that he was the creator of Felix. But for almost 30 years now, American animation historian, John Canemaker, has been laying siege to Sullivan's reputation.

In 1967, Otto Messmer, an artist hired by Sullivan, claimed he had created Felix. This was 34 years after Sullivan was dead and long after everybody else that worked in the studio was dead too. Messmer claims that he created Felix and developed his personality for 14 years. He also never made the enormous financial profit that Sullivan enjoyed from Felix.

Sullivan's studio was very busy, according to Messmer, and falling behind their schedule Messmer says he was told to make up an extra cartoon quickly and he did so. ...in his own home and featuring a black cat. (Not just for the dramatic effect of black but so the animators didn't have to worry about outlines). The film, in which Messmer said he created Felix, was Feline Follies.in 1919

If, as Messmer said, he created Feline Follies in his own backyard all by himself, why is Pat Sullivan's lettering all through the animation?

Who created Mickey Mouse?

Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse, but he didn't draw the cartoons, nor did he draw the comic strips. But they carried his signature.

Disney was the creative thrust behind the success of that character. He oversaw the creation of those films and how the animators worked. Just as Pat Sullivan did, overseeing the work of his animators, one of whom was Otto Messmer.

Felix the Cat
My first encounter with Felix the Cat was in the form of a flickering, hazy, black and white reproduction on the television. Nothing to write home about. Bu...

What's your opinion

Without launching into legal intangibles and/or discriminatory remarks, let your views on this international tension be known.

What Nationality is Felix the Cat?

A lot of Australians would say it's the Americans claiming - yet again - something that was created elsewhere to be their own when there's ample evidence to suggest that they only borrowed Felix. And won't give him back!

Speaking personally, I don't care where Felix came from. Let's just say he's a hybrid, a crossed breed, and that's how he got his striking personality. In those very early series you can what Felix stood for, how he raised awareness of cats, how he displayed so well what all cats can do and all humans want to do. The silent Felix was a cat who could reason, a cat who could resolve problems and then communicate his ideas to the audience.

When Felix wasn't surrounded by the fantastic, he simply created it. What more could anyone want?

Any pawprint will do, I repeat, I'm an open minded chap.

© 2009 Vladimir

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    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Well, the claws are clearly out - how about a compromise like Australican, or Ameralian?

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This sure was an interesting and enjoyable lens about Felix the Cat

    • profile image

      CleanerLife 8 years ago

      I remember seeing Felix cartoons on TV when I was a kid, they were always some of my favorites!

    • ctavias0ffering1 profile image

      ctavias0ffering1 8 years ago

      Very interesting lens Vladi 5*

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      "Your heart will go pitter-pat, watching Felix the wonderful cat." Vladi, I think you did a fabulous job on this lens. My kitty cat friend, Misty Blue, thinks so too.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Very interesting topic and a great lens too. 5***** I wonder if they will ever know? Probably not. It's just going to be one of those unsolved mysteries.