60s Popeye: Rags to Riches to Rags, with Wimpy, who never wears rags


And now as promised we are into the big patch of Seymour Kneitel. He’s credited for the story, the direction, and the production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. Here’s Rags to Riches to Rags.

Wimpy is such a great character. If Elzie Segar had created him before Popeye, it surely would have been Wimpy that took over the strip, down to its name. Wimpy’s blend of sloth and gluttony and intelligence and venality and luck fits so well together. As it is Wimpy almost overthrew Popeye. The Lost Popeye Zine has been publishing late-30s and early-40s Thimble Theatre strips showing how much more action Wimpy drove in that era.

So this cartoon is Wimpy-focused. Popeye’s essential, sure, but we open with Wimpy inheriting a fortune. Also a butler, Jeevie, a joke I wouldn’t get when I was six, voiced by Jack Mercer finding the median of his Wimpy and Popeye voices. Also since Lord Percival Wimpy has only the one living heir we learn Wimpy’s the only survivor of his immediate family. I’m sure that’s the one piece of the Popeye continuity to never be challenged in any medium, ever.

If I expect anything from Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts it’s competence. The premise will be clear, it’ll develop reasonably, it’ll end at an appropriate spot. Also, I’ll wonder if this is adapted from a Thimble Theatre storyline. I don’t see that it is. I have suspicions, though. That Popeye’s scheduled fight is against “Kid Nitro”, not Brutus or a Brutus-model character, is suggestive. The scene of Kid Nitro training by punching out a train of identical boxers is the comics strip’s sort of thing. Jeevie also feels like the sort of supporting character brought in for a Thimble Theatre story.

Wimpy counts out Kid Nitro, who's been knocked through the floor of the boxing ring. As he counts, a bag of money with angel wings slowly floats away from him.
How do you get decent odds going up against Popeye? His fight record is something like 2,038-0, with 2,036 wins by knocking the opponent out of the arena and into the crescent moon, that flashes a giant ‘TILT’. Kid Nitro would have to be rated as, like, a thousand-to-one shot, surely, in which case Wimpy can’t put his whole fortune up. There isn’t the money to cover the bet.

And the central scheme of the cartoon feels very comic strip. Not that Wimpy would see a way to double his fortune gambling. But why bet against Popeye? Other than how the cartoon needs some conflict? (Maybe also a way to reset the status quo, but there’s many ways to do that.) Wimpy or Olive Oyl would bet against Popeye in this sort of scenario all the time in the comic strip. But this would get some motivation, like, they think Eugene the Jeep predicted Popeye to lose. Or the odds given for Kid Nitro are just so good it’s almost wrong not to rig the fight.

That logic gap aside, there’s a lot done nicely here. You get why Wimpy’s doing all this. Joining the fight as referee makes sense, and opens the prospect for good mischief. Likely that’s more fun than just seeing him enjoy his wealth. (Although there’s probably jokes about Wimpy living in a hamburger mansion they could have made.) Wimpy’s change of heart is inevitable, and maybe sketchy but reasonable. And it has a nice sequence of Wimpy imagining his fortunes floating away as he counts Popeye out.

The resolution, Wimpy cadging a burger at a diner (Roughhouse’s Cafe?), is emotionally satisfying. Popeye closes by singing how “Even down to the end // You’re still the best friend // Of Popeye the Sailor Man”. The sentiment is almost justified by the action. It’s one more thing to make me wonder if the story’s condensed from a better-motivated version.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

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

3 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Rags to Riches to Rags, with Wimpy, who never wears rags”

    1. Plausibly! If not Roughhouse then Geezil, which would be a mixed development. Geezil’s a more dynamic character but he’s got a lot of ethnic coding that would play badly these days.

      I could see it turning out where we meet Wimpy as we really did, as a fight referee, and Popeye gets introduced as a boxer, and then we just have Wimpy with the frequent adventures of his pal Popeye along for the ride.

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