Felix the Cat is a famous feline cartoon character who is considered by some film historians to be one of the earliest movie stars. The character first appeared in the early 1900s, and was wildly popular until the late 1920s. After a brief lag, Felix made it big in television in the 1950s, and he continues to appear in comic strips and television shorts. Like many cartoon characters, Felix the Cat has also been through his fair share of metamorphoses, and the modern Felix is quite different from the original.
Felix's early origins are somewhat murky. The animated cat came from the studio of Pat Sullivan, who claimed to have invented the cat and his trademark style of motion. However, it is believed that Felix the Cat actually sprang from the mind of animator Otto Messmer. Messmer certainly animated most of the early Felix cartoons, and it has been rumored that he based the angular looks and choppy motion of the early cartoons on the movements of Charlie Chaplin, a popular entertainer of the period.
The first Felix cartoon was Feline Follies in 1919. Initially, the cartoon cat did not have a name, although studio employees started to call him Master Tom. After some debate, the name “Felix the Cat” was settled on, in a reference to the Latin words for “cat” and “luck.” The original Felix the Cat was inky black and angular, although in the 1920s he began to metamorphose into the more roly-poly, jolly looking cat that people associate with Felix today.
Both short films and comic strips featured Felix the Cat from the very beginning. He quickly became a popular figure in American culture, drawing people to see his films and shorts on his cartoon star power. He is particularly associated with silent films, since Messmer drew Felix with a great deal of expressive mannerisms which did not require sound. In the 1920s, Felix began to be supplanted by the stars of the “talkies,” early films with sound, because the Sullivan studio initially resisted the concept.
Through the 1930s and '40s, Felix the Cat faded into obscurity, only to be revived as a television star in 1953. The 1953 Felix was accompanied by a broad cast of characters, along with an assortment of gags such as a “Bag of Tricks.” Felix cartoons can often be found on television, and in the 1990s the original Felix the Cat shorts also experienced a resurgence in popularity, as people became interested in the origins of the lovable cartoon cat. While more people are familiar with Mickey Mouse than Felix the Cat, rumor has it that Mickey's original creators initially intended to make another cartoon cat, but they felt that Mickey could not compete with Felix, the original cartoon superstar.