60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pizza Palace, an exciting journey into pizza-themed madness


Popeye’s Pizza Palace is a 1960 Jack Kinney joint. The story and the animation direction are both Eddie Rehberg’s doing. It’s … a cartoon, certainly.

It’s hard to imagine now but there was a time when just mentioning pizza was a sure-fire laugh line. Foods go through this as they become part of The American Diet. In the 80s, sushi was such a crazy idea that saying someone liked it was the shorthand way to establish they were Not From Around Here. Possibly not from the planet. I recall a Fred Allen quip, circa 1940, where he described a bagel as “a doughnut with a hangover”, an image funny enough it doesn’t matter it doesn’t make sense. Somewhere in my copybook is a note about H L Mencken protesting the people who eat olives instead of a good normal salty food like anchovies.

Snoopy, in his doghouse, which is just under the eaves of the Brown house from which a giant icile dangles, thinks: 'I'm doomed!' Inside, Lucy watches Charlie Brown place a call. Charlie Brown: 'Hello, Humane Society? We need your advice ... how do you get a dog out of a doghouse before an icicle falls on him?' To Lucy: 'He said to try coaxing him out with his favorite food ... something he just can't resist ... ' As he picks up the phone he asks, 'What's the number of 'Villella's Take-Out Pizza Parlor''?'
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts for the 12th of February, 1960, from a story that even as a kid I thought was weird because since when is Snoopy’s doghouse right next to the main house? And why the quote marks around “Villella’s Take-Out Pizza Parlor”?

So. The late 50s/early 60s were pizza’s turn to be really hilarious as everybody in America discovered they liked the basic idea. This observation gives us the premise, sure. It also gives us the choice to fit the word “pizza” into every line of dialogue. It’s a bold choice, one that works in a way I’m not sure Rehberg intended. Like, I believe Rehberg figured he was stuffing the dialogue with a zany funny word. But the endless repetition ends up creating this absurdist word music and I got into that.

Popeye holds up his 'parasol pizza', an umbrella whose surface, apparently, is a pizza. There's olives dangling from the edges.
Does … does Popeye know how people generally use pizza in their lives?

The whole — I can’t really call this a story. The whole scenario has this absurdist air. It starts with Popeye juggling pizzas and shuffling a stack of pizzas like cards, and ignoring Wimpy’s pleas for hamburger pizzas. The absurdity grows as Popeye lists a bunch of bonkers pizza concepts. This includes the doughnut pizza you eat from the inside out, the sun bonnet pizza, the parasol pizza, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza. (Every time my Dad drove me up Route 17 in North Jersey he’d point out where the Leaning Tower of Pizza restaurant used to be in the 60s.) There’s not a one of them that customer Brutus is at all interested in. It sneaks up on those Monty Python “dictionary” sketches where they run through asking the same thing four hundred different ways.

Popeye tugs a circle of pizza dough down his head, looking uncannily like the Fat Albert character 'Dumb' Donald. Both of Popeye's eyes are visible through the pizza dough.
You may ask why Popeye has two eyes peering through a layer of pizza dough here, but if we’re going to be honest, having just the one eye would somehow be hideous. Instead it just looks like that Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids character you remember as being named Mushmouth, but who was in fact “Dumb” Donald.

As a story there’s not much here to make sense. Wimpy trying to cadge “hamburger pizzas”, sure. Turning to Brutus when Popeye won’t even answer him? Sure. Brutus offering to buy Wimpy pizza? All right. Popeye then asking Brutus what he wants, leading to the long string of baffling concept pizzas? Introducing the weird pizza conveyor belt? Brutus deciding he wants a tamale pizza and Popeye getting red-hot furious at this idea? I can’t figure any motivation here. It’s all people tossing off strange sets of words into an absurd universe.

Because it’s an odd moment, to close off a string of odd moments, let me share Popeye’s closing rhyme:

I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I beats ’em and rolls ’em
As fast as I can
‘Cause I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!
Pizza!

This is an apt summary of the cartoon.

Popeye stands behind his counter, holding up a pizza, vertically, to the audience. On the pie are the words 'The Pizza Ends'.
Fun activity: what scene in this cartoon, if any, convinced you that the animators knew exactly what a pizza was and how it looked?

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

4 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pizza Palace, an exciting journey into pizza-themed madness”

    1. Afraid I do not! But I was only in that area, mostly, driving to and from grad school and it wasn’t really a good spot to stop for lunch. Mostly when I would stop there it was for Hi-Way Hobby House to get kits that I still haven’t built, or maybe that two-storey Barnes and Noble with the really good used book section.

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