Today Tom and Jerry are familiar to us as the famous cat and mouse cartoon but to the nineteenth-century reader they were a pair of young men about town who introduced readers to life in London.
In 1940 William Hanna and Joseph Barbera produced their first cartoon film of a cat and mouse. ‘Puss Gets The Boot’ was hugely successful and MGM commissioned another twelve films and this led to the Oscar win- ning Tom and Jerry films we know today. However, in the first film, the cat is called Jasper, not Tom, and the production team named the mouse Jinx. So where did Tom and Jerry come from? For following films MGM held a competition to name the characters. An animator named John Carr won $50 for coming up with Tom and Jerry.
Tom and Jerry was a popular winter drink in the first half of the twentieth century in North America and remains so in some states (below I give a recipe from Montana). It is a warm cocktail made from brandy and/or rum, eggs, nutmeg and hot milk or water. In Damon Runyon’s 1938 short story Dancing Dan’s Christmas it says:
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.
The Tom and Jerry drink was popularised in America by “Professor” Jeremy Thomas, who published a recipe in his Bar-Tenders Guide of 1862. He was well known for his flashy style, juggling bottles and extravagantly shaking cocktails. He worked as a bartender in several American cities. He claimed to have invented the Tom and Jerry, naming it after two white mice he kept as pets.
However, the “Professor” toured Europe and probably picked up the idea in London. In 1821 Pierce Egan published a book with two characters named Tom and Jerry who explore ‘Life in London’. This was very popular and remained in print for a long time; my own copy is a 1904 edition. It inspired many imitators in print and on stage. Pierce Egan invented an egg-nog with brandy as a promotional idea for his musical stage version ‘Tom and Jerry, Life in London’.
‘Life in London’ has a rather longer alternative title ‘Day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom accompanied by Bob Logic, the ‘Oxonian’, in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis’. No wonder it was shortened to ‘Tom and Jerry’ for the stage. Jerry Hawthorn comes up to town from the country and is introduced to life in London by his cousin Corinthian Tom. Tom is the epitome of the man about town and much admired by all. This is an excuse to introduce the reader to London society in all its forms, high and low, as the characters explore London, from the grandeur of Carlton Palace to the Taverns of the East End.
Jerry’s first excursion is a ride on Rotten Row in Hyde Park. Corinthian Tom receives a host of nods and smiles from his acquaintances. A passer-by speculates on who Jerry is and comments that ‘His ruddy, unsophisticated, huntsman’s face, bespeaks him to be of the tally-ho sort’. Jerry admires three fashionably dressed young ladies riding with their mother in a carriage. He is transfixed by what he takes to be ‘three graces’. Tom explains that it is ‘Mother *****of great notoriety’ and the three ‘nymphs’ that have dazzled him are three nuns, a common name for prostitutes at the time. He goes on at length to explain how the new inmates of her house are dressed out in the finest clothes and carefully instructed before appearing in her ‘show room’. Tom cautions his cousin, that to attend her midnight revels, you need a ‘long purse’.
This is just the start of many adventures. Tom takes Jerry to Covent Garden and to a masquerade at the Opera House. They go to the Westminster Pit for dog fights. At Tattersalls they admire the horses and at the Royal Exchange Tom points out the principal men of business including Mr. Rothschild, dressed in black. They visit Carlton Palace and the book includes a detailed description of the each of the rooms and the furnishings. They admire the crimson drapery edged in gold and the carpets an inch thick, woven in Spitalfields.
Egan was an authority on boxing, having written a book on the subject with the title ‘Boxiana or Sketches of ancient and modern pugilism’. Our heroes receive instruction in the art of self-defence from Mr Jackson in Bond Street and, later, Tom shows his skills with the blade in an assault with Mr O’Shaunnessy at his rooms in St. James’s Street. Thus Jerry is educated in the pastimes of a gentleman.
One evening after a visit to a dogfight they fall into company that compels them to swallow repeated ‘flashes of lightning’ and now and then a ‘clap of thunder’ with a ‘damper to make all cool again’. That is repeated glasses of Gin, Brandy and Porter, after which they were all getting rather ‘funny’. Measures of spirits were sometimes called ‘nails in the coffin’ but a damper was said to cool the spirits and pull the nails out. It was only when it was too late to be corrected that they found the error in this. Finding a Charley (night watchman) asleep in his box, they turnover the box with him in it to great hilarity. The noise arouses the other guardians of the night and our friends flee, eluding capture on this occasion. On another occasion they end up at Bow Street magistrates.
In his second book about Tom and Jerry, published in 1824, Pierce Egan takes them to both town, and country. They explore the Zoological gardens and a kangaroo escapes, tipping up Sir John Blubber, also known as the ‘fat knight’. This ‘uncommonly big gentleman’ is a companion in many adventures and is subject to a wager on a visit to Covent Garden Market. The bet is that Kathleen Flannagan, a well-known strong women, could carry the fat knight twice round the market in a basket balanced on her head. He is raised up in a basket to the cheers of the watching crowd. However, after only a few steps, he begs to be put down, conceding the bet.
The friends receive an invitation to the Duchess of Do-Good’s Fete where no expense has been spared in preparing a magnificent affair. However the main interest is the opportunity to get a peep at the Duchess’s screen. She has risen in social standing from obscurity and much caricatured in the press. She has gathered the illustrations together and displayed them on a folding screen. She describes it as a chronicle of her life and an example of the freedom of the press. The Prince Regent collected caricatures and had a similar screen. This has been restored and was recently displayed at the Queens Gallery.
The author’s interest in boxing comes to the fore when our heroes visit the Half-Moon Tap in Leadenhall market, where Josh Hudson, the ‘John Bull Fighter’, exhibits his cups. The Corinthian orders one filled with champagne and Tom, Jerry and Logic toast their hosts. The 1815 Epicure’s Almanac says of the Half-Moon victuals that ‘you may live through many a whole moon without finding better articles to subsist on’. The tavern was rebuilt in 1881 and is now the New Moon but can still be visited at 88 Gracechurch St, with an interior that is not that different from the one shown in the illustration of this scene.
It is easy to see how ‘going wild’ could be known as ‘going Tom and Jerry’. The books became very popular and were translated into French and published in America. If the book was a success, the stage versions were a sensation, showing at five London Theatres at the same time; there were also performances in the provinces, including Edinburgh and Dublin. Many of the cast were drawn from street performers. Amongst these was a one legged black man by the name of Billy Waters, who had played the fiddle on the streets outside the theatre, in a naval uniform. In a stage version of Tom and Jerry, he played himself. Despite sadly dying shortly after this appearance, he had become so well known that Staffordshire figures of him were still in production nearly forty years later.
The stage versions often only very loosely followed the book and were frequently embellished, being based more on the illustrations than the text. The Sadler’s Wells extravaganza included a pony race with the track going from the stage over the pit and down the side of the auditorium. It appears that the races started and finished in the theatre but took in a circuit outside.
Egan uses the language of the streets, such as ‘Flashes of Lightning’ for Gin, and ‘Charley’ for a watchman. He introduced his readers to parts of London that they almost certainly never visited. Later Dickens was to fol- low Egan in describing the low life of London. Dickens also used George Cruikshank, to illustrate Oliver Twist, who with his brother illustrated Life in London. Damon Runyon in a series of short stories, that include Dancing Dan’s Christmas, similarly describes the low-life of prohibition era New York.
Thus we can link the riotous behaviour of a cartoon cat and mouse to Regency life in London, via prohibition New York and a once popular cocktail.
Willie Rinio’s Montanan version of Tom and Jerry:
Making the Batter
Separate the yolks and whites of three eggs. Mix the egg yolks and add 1 pound of sugar a little at a time while con- tinuing to mix. As they get thick add a good half jigger of rum a little at a time. This will kind of cut the batter so it will mix again. It is hard to get the whole pound of sugar into the yolks without adding the rum as it gets very thick. However you want it thick, so do not add to much rum.
Next beat the egg whites until they are quite thick and then fold the whites into the yolks with a wooden spoon – very gently a stir or two at a time.
Making the Tom and Jerry drink
Put half a shot glass of whiskey and half a shot glass of bran- dy (or just brandy) into a mug. Fill the mug with hot milk (or boiling water) to within half an inch of the top. Then add 1 or two heaped tablespoons of Tom and Jerry batter to the top of the drink. Sprinkle with a dab of nutmeg and stir gently with a spoon.
The Rinios always had some of this cheer at Christmas. Note that a jigger and a shot glass appear to be the same size (a US fluid ounce or 45 ml), but tradition has it that you can allow it to flow over. This contains raw egg so may not be appropriate for some readers.
By Jonathan Marriott