The image is blurry and flawed but identifiable: Felix the Cat, hero of a thousand comic strips and a hundred animated cartoons, America’s first authentic television star. Long before Ed Sullivan, long before even Milton Berle, Felix’s was a name to conjure with on the two-inch tube.
Beginning in the late 1920s, RCA engineers in a mid-Manhattan studio trained their arc light on a papier-mache statue of Felix, picked up the reflections on a battery of photoelectric cells (above) and sent his likeness whizzing all the way to Kansas. There, and at points in between, it was picked up by fellow video buffs on their primitive 60-line receivers and analyzed for quality.
Later, with the switch to 120-line transmission, Felix’s picture improved. But despite frequent patching and repainting, by that time, Felix had fallen off his turn-table once too often and had to be retired in favor of a statue of Mickey Mouse.