60s Popeye: Bell Hop Popeye and what is with that tiger’s legs by the way


Today’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story is from Cal Howard, though, so it won’t be about skin diving. The animation director is listed as Harvey Toombs.

A quick content warning before getting into this. Olive Oyl’s portrayed in this cartoon as “the Maharani”. Mae Questel affects an accent I must describe as “generically ethnic”. So I’m not comfortable with the layer of Oh That Exotic India that’s built into the cartoon. It never hit the point where my jaw dropped enough to skip this nonsense. I’m not sure I made the right call here. If you don’t want to deal with a 1960 presentation of Olive Oyl as a generically Asian Indian woman, you are really right and we’ll pick things up later.

If you do feel this might be worth your time, then here’s Bell Hop Popeye for you.

I am uncharacteristically annoyed with Christopher Miller’s American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. I don’t see how this great guide to common and usually-vanished comic motifs from the first 70 years of the 20th century doesn’t seem to have anything on point. Miller’s work is impressive and, of course, he has to leave out some stuff. But I’m amazed there’s not an entry I can find about hotels, or about being service people to the cartoonishly wealthy. Or about the nobility-in-the-hotel premise. I’m not saying that’s a huge genre, but this isn’t even the only early-60s cartoon I can think of about oh, that exotic Asian nobility descending on a hotel. Why it should be funny to follow the bellhop dealing with Royalty is obvious, and I won’t argue that.

The cartoon has a curious open. Not that Brutus is the manager and Popeye the mere bellhop. It is weird that Popeye’s sleeping on the job, so soundly that Brutus is rightfully annoyed. Starting Popeye off as bad-at-his-job and not getting good until his spinach power-up has a good heritage. But he’s usually trying.

Olive Oyl, dressed in a 1960 white guy's idea of what an Indian Or Something woman's outfit might be, lounges on a daybed. In front of her a pet tiger wearing a jeweled collar stands, all four legs pointing in different directions, mouth open.
I know you’re wondering how Olive Oyl got that tiger into the hotel without the manager knowing. But since Brutus only learned the Maharani was coming when he read it in the newspaper, minutes ahead of her arrival, we have to suppose he is not a detail-oriented manager.

It takes about two minutes for Olive Oyl as the Maharani to appear. The cartoon takes a stab at being Brutus-and-Popeye being rivals for Olive Oyl’s affection. She orders 65 pounds of raw meat sent up to her sweet. Or maybe her suite. I wondered if Sweet is the name of her tiger, but when she looks for him she calls for “Tootsie”? (This might be an attempt at pronouncing an Indian language’s word that I don’t recognize.) In any event we get a bunch of Brutus running from the tiger. In a weird move, Brutus tosses the steak into a safe, and then runs into the safe himself. I grant I am not at my best when chased by a tiger, but it does seem like he could solve his major problem just by dropping the steak.

Popeye never has a show of strength this cartoon. Hauling Olive Oyl’s trunk up the stairs, I suppose, but that would happen whoever the bellhop was. There’s no spinach either. With that, and the opening showing Popeye asleep on the job, I wonder if the cartoon was a generic story pulled into the Popeye production circle. It would play the same with any trio of characters. Only the tiger’s irreplaceable.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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