Cats, a Mouse & the Old House :: How Would You Make a Mouse House Doorway like Tom & Jerry?
Some thoughts inspired by Tom & Jerry
I don’t know about you, but throughout my childhood, after-school cartoons were a staple. More frequently than not, the viewing schedule included afternoon reruns of Tom & Jerry; it just seemed that this cat and mouse were always playing around somewhere.
And today, it strikes me as odd that my daughters are so taken with those same misadventures. Through On Demand programming (provided by Comcast) we can select Tom & Jerry cartoons anytime we (Read: they) want. And setting aside any judgments of my parenting skills, please listen as I spend a little time on cats, a mouse, and the old house.
We give the girls a light snack before they hit the bed. Set up in a centralized bedroom we call the playroom, the girls can sit (well, they don’t always sit) and eat a snack of cookies, cereal, or whatever as they watch an episode or two of their favorite television.
And if you have kids, you may chuckle. I mean, trying to get two independent, strong-willed sisters to decide on a single program to watch can be a very challenging endeavor.
With On Demand, and through either Boomerang or the Cartoon Network, you can find five or so Tom & Jerry cartoons in the menu at any given time. Each title contains four shorts compiled from episodes created throughout the years. On average, the airing, uninterrupted by commercials, runs about 25 minutes. Surprisingly, it is one program I can typically get them to agree upon.
Sometimes, when I am not brainstorming business schemes or helping my wife with something, I sit and watch with them. I mean, after all, it kinda takes me back; plus it is always good occasion to think about and/or to discuss things.
The art of animated short film, and the tie-in
Tipping my hand a little, and in typical blogger fashion, I dialed up the Wikipedia page. I needed to do some research. And let’s be honest: I really can’t claim to have a special knowledge or insight into Tom & Jerry and/or into cartoons, in general, for that matter; I am simply a recreational viewer with some thoughts.
While I have to think that making a cartoon is a relatively labor-intensive task, I was still surprised to find just how many hands had been involved in the production of these cartoons.
Just think about it — all the writers, all the artists, the musicians, editors, directors, producers, and all the studios. You see, ownership of Tom & Jerry has changed hands several times, but Tom & Jerry has been in production, in one form or another, almost consistently from 1940 – nearly 70 years.
It is, in fact, quite an impressive volume of work. But for this article, I will focus specifically on those shorts created between 1940 and 1958, then under the direction of team known as Hanna and Barbera.
Tom, the tomcat and Jerry, the house mouse
In the shorts of this era, comic, unreal violence is set counterpoint to your typical American home. And this is how I land at my point. As an old house owner myself, it strikes me to see just how accurately the house of that time is usually drawn.
Is this the appeal? I mean, my daughters, three and five, and as they look around, they see the traditional 3-part colonial baseboard, the exposed wooden lath in some locations, and 2-prong electrical outlets fed by corrugated electrical wiring.
And as the compilation rolls from one short to the next, and as they watch usually speechlessly, one or more of our three frisky house cats may grab their attention as they pass through looking for a place to rest for the night.
Marz, Foof, and Lulu are really quite different from one another. Each has their own unique personality. None are pampered; they are indoor/outdoor cats (again, please refrain from throwing any judgment my way).
There is at least one litter box on each of the four floors of our house. They enjoy a regular diet of Fancy Feast. And it seems that they are never engaged in any of the shenanigans that we would associate with Tom. That is, at least not on inside of our house.
While they are subject to being grabbed by the girls at any given time, they pretty much roam free. They can go in and out as they choose. (I even installed a cat flap in a T-bar screen door to make that passage just a little bit easier.)
While the cats rarely spend the night out, I am often greeted in the morning with the carcass of a mutilated field mouse. While most mornings, and especially on work days, I dispose of things quickly. There are times, however, especially in the yard during the summer when the girls come across similar sights. It just can not be avoided.
Evyn, my five-year-old, will usually call her sister over, pick up a stick, and begin probing. This usually provides a good fifteen minutes of entertainment. And when I walk over to join the fun, our conversation almost certainly turns again to Tom & Jerry. I say, and they understand, He really doesn’t look quite as cute as Jerry; does he?
Common house mice
Chances are if you own a house, at one point or another you will have to at least make some sort of consideration for the mouse. They really are pesky little things. Small in size, I have heard that they can enter the home through an opening smaller than a nickel. And unless you are really conscientious, chances are the exterior of your home has an opening or two around that size.
Exaggerated when you live near wooded areas or in winter months, these little guys will try to make their way in. It is their nature. Now, I am not saying that it is difficult to take care of a mouse infestation. In a lot cases, as I suggested above, it may be just as easy as sealing the penetrations in the exterior of your home.
Please don’t think that spray foam or steel wool will completely take care of this problem, though. I mean, you need to think like a mouse. Better solutions are to cover an opening with wood or metal, call a professional (there are many in business to serve you); think mouse traps, poison, or simply — get a cat.
Back to the show
As we sit and watch our cat and mouse go at it, the German clapboard siding and full-round downspout rolls by during a fevered outdoor chase scene. Jerry then stuffs Tom’s tail in an electrical outlet. I explain to the girls, You don’t stick anything into an electrical outlet. It will kill you.
As Tom gets thrust into a plaster wall, exposing the wooden lath underneath, I know my girls know it all too well. The girls know that daddy does construction, and that he is always working on the house. And in our house, we still have a lot of plaster and lath.
As we sit and talk, I teach and I laugh; I hug them and tell them that I love them. But always in a moment of reflection, I come back to one thought: How much of a master carpenter is Jerry? I mean, just think – in the 1940s, how difficult it must have been for a guy of his size to cut such a perfectly uniformed arch in a baseboard at the floor.
Making a mouse house door
Suspend disbelief for a second. I say this for two reasons. One, I know it is only a cartoon. Two, I am little lazy with my research for these pieces. I can’t at this time make an accurate assumption about whether or not Jerry would have had access to power tools. But for this piece, let’s assume Jerry did cut his hole by hand.
Today, though, to make something like Jerry’s mouse house doorway, it would probably be a combination of both:
On an interior wall, possibly already probed with a stud finder, I guess I’d probably grab a drill. Having removed the shoe molding and being careful not to damage the floor, I would drill two, I don’t know, 1″ holes where the baseboard meets the floor. These holes would be spaced maybe 3 1/2 apart – and they would represent the base of my arch.
I would then probably grab my compass (remember from geometry). After finding the center point between the outside of edges of both holes, and holding the fixed point off of the floor slightly, I would scribe the arch in a dark pencil line.
Being how a common jigsaw and/or other reciprocating saw would be hindered by its guards, guides, and fences, I’d have to then reach for my keyhole saw (a fine-toothed, thin-handled detail saw).
I would cut carefully along my line trying to make sure that the saw blade was absolutely perpendicular to the surface of the baseboard. This would get me most of the way there. If I were careful, I could probably leave myself a pretty good rough cut. I’d follow behind with first a round file (or rasp) and finish with two subsequently finer grits of sandpaper.
What do you think — do you think this is how that little mouse pulled off such an elegant doorway? (Editor’s Note: I am amazed at how many images of a Mouse House Doorway can be found via quick search of Google Images. You guys Rock!)
One last thing before the iris-out
Houses built before or during the period of production for these cartoons employed a framing technique called balloon framing. All but totally outlawed in some municipalities, this technique had its benefits over previous techniques, but fails to rival today’s standard — platform framing.
With balloon framing, and unlike today’s platform framing, the wall studs were typically attached directly to the house’s sill and run in some cases uninterrupted to the roof rafters. In this configuration, the floor joists were nailed to the wall studs, and the subfloor, or in many cases just the finished floor, was then installed. Only after, was the final wall material (typically plaster and wooden lath) applied.
With today’s platform framing, building occurs in a more modularized fashion. Exterior and interior walls are built as units and are then assembled to bring the house up from the ground. In this technique, walls are typically built lying down and are later raised. These wall units are capped with a piece of lumber at the top and the bottom. They hold the whole thing together. They are known as plates.
Why do I bring this up? Well, you see, if Jerry lived in a house of today and if Hanna and Barbera were still making this cartoon, every time Jerry quickly entered his home, we would have to jump over a 2×4. Either that, or he would have to also cut it out.
Tom and Jerry image via http://myriad-of-thoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/tom-jerry-mouse-hole-and-bowling.html
More Moxie (Related Links):
Tom & Jerry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_and_jerry
Pest Control: http://doyourownpestcontrol.com/mice.htm
Wilson, Shane. “Handsaws.” 20 March 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. 05 February 2010.: http://home.howstuffworks.com/handsaws.htm
Balloon vs. Platform Framing: http://www.hometips.com/diy-how-to/house-framing.html
6 thoughts on “Cats, a Mouse & the Old House :: How Would You Make a Mouse House Doorway like Tom & Jerry?”
Often in television we have to apply a willing suspension of disbelief, such as when the CSI’s coax the owner of a fingerprint from a database in seconds, but I think you have hit on one of the rarely heralded things which make cartoons so appealing to youngsters: The way they use reality to help complete the fantasy. I remember the first time I saw Toy Story, I marveled that the paint on Sid’s window sill was old and realistically alligatoring.
This post ran the realism in reverse, pointed out that there was at least one hole in the production teams vision and then in true cartoon fashion described how a human or ‘toon would go about cutting it. I like when construction writing draws on the real and not so real world. I feel like I just watched an episode!
"One hole" get it. Barry, thanks for the thoughtful commentary. And you provide another excellent example of artsman/artswomanship spurred by real life in Toy Story. Great movie!
In writing this essay, it amazed me that it actually took me some 30 years (and probably thousands of episodes) to slow down long enough to see that mouse hole for what it is — nothing similar to a real mouse "doorway."
In this case, and for all the things that I should thank my daughters for, I see that they offer an opportunity for something approaching a joint "quiet time." It really is something that I have never experienced before in my life.
Thanks again Barry and as always Be Moxie Be More. jb
Good read! I'll never look at Tom and Jerry the same again.
Lucy O'Neil from Old House Web
Lucy, I'll take that as a big compliment. Thank you for reading and have a great weekend. jb
It's amazing — having read this thing a handful of times since January, I am still finding typos/miscues — and not to mention things I'd want to change about the read. Writing is re-writing I guess they say. anyway. jb
whew — it really did need an edit. Sorry, for everyone's sake, for waiting so long. thanks. jb