MiSTed: Imagine! Your Christmas Greeting Inside a Chinese Fortune Cooky (Part 2 of 2)


And here I finish off the “Chinese Fortune Cooky” advertisement I started last week. I don’t find much in this Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic that needs explanation. You can see I wrote this when I still thought I would make a go of that Web Site Number Nine replacement. At the end of this is a bit that’s supposed to be an ASCII art representation of the mailing blanks, and HTML, alas, cannot understand the concept of “I want blank spaces here”. (Yes, I know about the non-breaking space.)

The original advertisement has a line delivered in that insulting “Chinese” stereotype fashion and while I make fun of it, if you don’t want that stuff in your recreational reading, you are right, and can safely skip this. While it was a fun MiSTing to do I can’t say this has any all-time great lines you’d regret missing.


>
> Yes! If you order twelve of these amazing Christmas
> Greetings,

MIKE: Twelve? Who could possibly have twelve friends at Christmastime?

> the price is only $4.98 for the complete package delivered
> to your door — or only about 40c each!

CROW: 45 cents if you don’t have a door.

> If you order twenty-five,
> then each fortune cooky greeting gift cost you only 36c each!

MIKE: If you order 36, then each costs only twenty-five cents.

> If,
> however, you order fifty or more, then the price can be lowered to
> only 32c each, or $15.95 for fifty.

TOM: They sound hesitant.

CROW: Yeah, like they’re rethinking the whole cookie business model.

> This is far less than many good
> quality cards that cannot compare in the impact and joy that they will
> give your friends!

MIKE: I’d like to see a direct joy comparison on these cards.

>
> CHINESE SANTA CLAUS SAY:

TOM: Oh.

CROW: Please, no.

> “Have Happy Thought

MIKE: Oh, dear.

> — Give
> Greeting that is also Gift!”

TOM: That’s enough, please.

>

CROW: Oh, thank goodness.

> Rush your order today to get your cooky greetings in
> ample time for Christmas mailing.

MIKE: Lest Chinese Santa Claus pop back in with more directions.

> Orders received
> after Nov. 20th will be returned.

TOM: Orders received before November 20th will be rotted out before Christmas.

> So send coupon
> right away.

CROW: Please tell me that’s not more Chinese Santa Claus.

>
>
> +——————————————————————-+
> | HARRISON HOME PRODUCTS CORP.,

TOM: The only home products corporation named for President William Henry Harrison.

> DEPT. 10-DC |

MIKE: Department 10-DC, box 37, desk 4, altitude L-24.

> | 250 Passaic Street, Newark, N. J. |

CROW: Newark: where Christmas meets fortune cookies!

> | |

> | CHECK personalized greeting of your choice: |

TOM: Choose wisely. Wrong answers will be punished.

> | ___ Merry Christmas and Happy New Year |
> | Your Name Here |

MIKE: Ah, ‘Your Name Here’, renowned Chinese fortune cookie teller.

> | ___ Season’s Greetings |

CROW: o/` In our souls … o/`

TOM: o/` Yummy Fruity Pebbles in our bowls. o/`

MIKE: Stop, both of you.

> | Your Name Here |

MIKE: If you have no name, the name of someone you know may be substituted.

> | |
> | I want greetings signed ………………………….. |
> | PRINT PLAINLY |

TOM: I want greetings signed `PLAINLY’?

CROW: Worst Mad-Lib Ever.

> | |
> | Please send me ……….

MIKE: Please send me … [ drumroll … ]

> Personalized Fortune Cooky |

MIKE: [ Cymbal clash. ]

CROW: Yeah, still doesn’t quite work.

> | Greetings, complete with Gift Boxes and individual mailing |
> | cartons. |

TOM: Yes, but will they be mailed to you?

> | |
> | ___ Payment enclosed ……. |

CROW: They rolled it up and slipped it into a fortune cookie.

> | ___ Charge Diner’s Acc’t No. ……… |

MIKE: Charge! Diner’s accountant? No! [ Drumroll! ]

> | |
> | ___ 12 for $4.98

TOM: 13 for $5.38!

> ___ 25 for $8.98

CROW: Six will get you eggroll!

> ___ 50 for $15.95 |

MIKE: You know, I’d kind of like a hoagie instead.

> | SAVE MORE! For each additional 25 over fifty add $7.50 |

TOM: For 25 fewer under fifty subtract $7.50, and it’ll all work out.

> | |
> | NAME………………………………………………… |

[ CROW, TOM, and MIKE snicker overenthusiastically through this. ]

CROW: [ to MIKE and TOM ] All right, all right, ssh, shh, shhh …
[ to the ad ] FIRSTNAME …

[ ALL burst out laughing at this. ]

CROW: [ to MIKE and TOM ] Be cool, be cool. [ to the ad ] … M …

TOM: OOoh, hoo, hooooo, the silliness!

MIKE: Sssh, you’ll wreck it, Tom!

CROW: LASTNAME!
[ MIKE cackles ]

> | ADDRESS……………………………………………… |

TOM: [ to CROW and MIKE ] I got this one, ssh, stop giggling …
[ to the ad ] One Two Three …

[ CROW cackles and then keeps giggling ]

TOM: … 123 _MAIN STREET_!

MIKE: [ Clapping, and then to TOM and CROW ] I got this, you’ll love it.

CROW: Oh, how are gonna top …

> | CITY……………………………

MIKE: ANYTOWN!

[ TOM and CROW are bowled out of their seats laughing. ]

> ZONE….

[ TOM and CROW pull themselves up just enough for this ]

TOM: Zone? Zone is forbidden!

CROW: Take permits many.

> STATE……….. |

[ TOM and CROW giggle in anticipation. ]

MIKE: [ Stoner voice ] State of Confusion, man!

[ ALL cackle and hoot at all this, and then … ]

> | |

[ ALL stop abruptly. ]

TOM: Well. What next?

> | In Canada:

TOM: Oh. Canada.

CROW: My something something something land.

> Order from Harrison Home Products Ltd., |

MIKE: A *completely* different company.

> | 675 King St., W.,

CROW: [ As Jimmy Durante ] It’s under the big St!

> Toronto, Ontario |

TOM: Wait, Toronto doesn’t get zones?

MIKE: Canadians just don’t get zones, man.

> +——————————————————————-+
>

CROW: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. MIKE has a tray with some fortune cookies on top, and a paper-wrapped shoebox, and another similarly wrapped box about twice the size. TOM and CROW are to the side, watching this. ]

MIKE: Now, each of you has picked one fortune cookie and I’m giving Tom here the chance to trade what’s in the cookie for what’s in the little box, do you want to trade?

CROW: Take the box!

TOM: The box … the cookie … the box … yeah, I’m gonna go with the box.

MIKE: All right, and inside the box is … [ he lifts up the shoebox, revealing two fortune cookies inside ] Ah, another cookie!

[ CROW laughs at TOM. ]

MIKE: Now, do you want to look at the contents of the cookie, or do you want to trade it for the modestly larger box?

TOM: I … I …

CROW: Keep the cookie!

TOM: All right, the cookie.

MIKE: [ Cracking it open and eating the cookie ] And inside the cookie … ‘You get the modestly larger box!’

[ CROW cackles ]

MIKE: And inside the modestly larger box is … [ lifting it up, to reveal another fortune cookie ] … another cookie, with … [ MIKE cracks it open, eating the cookie and reading the fortune ] … ah! You win the original two cookies!

TOM: [ Completely baffled ] Uh … yay?

CROW: Ah, Tom, loser-boy, you get … uh … wait …

[ MIKE slides both cookies over to TOM. ]

CROW: I’m confused.

MIKE: Then we’ve had a good day. And if you at home are having a good day, why not consider the new MiSTings archive lurching its way into existence at http://www.-.com/mst3000/ ? It’s got MiSTings, and … uh … quotes from MiSTings, and isn’t that plenty in these troubled times? Thank you, won’t you?

[ MADS sign flashes; MIKE taps it. ]

[ DEEP 13. PEARL FORRESTER and DR FORRESTER are looking over boxes of DEEP 13-labelled stuff which they study. ]

PEARL: You know, if we have them buy cookie dough, and set delivery …

DR. F: Yeah, then they forget it and we can keep the money and the dough.

PEARL: [ Breaking concentration ] Is that a pun?

DR. F: No! No no no no no no no no … no … wait, was it?

PEARL: That was *totally* a pun. and you know what that means.

[ DR FORRESTER reluctantly turns around and walks, ashamed, to stand in a corner. ]

DR. F: [ Calling out ] Ah, until next time, cookie puss?

PEARL: Clayton! Rules.

[ DR FORRESTER slumps sadly in his corner. ]

PEARL: Cookies. What were we thinking? It should have been pot luck.

[ She presses the button ]

                 \  |  /
                  \ | /
                   \|/
                 ---O---
                   /|\
                  / | \
                 /  |  \

Mystery Science Theater 3000, its characters and situations and everything are the property of Best Brains, Inc, and don’t think anyone is challenging that at all. The Fortune Cooky scheme belongs to the Harrison Home Products Corporation of Newark, New Jersey, of 1962, and was advertised as such in the Diners’ Club Magazine of October 1962. http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2009/01/29/imagine-your-christmas-greeting-inside-a-chinese-fortune-cooky/ for the original.

Keep circulating the posts.

> CHINESE SANTA CLAUS SAY: “Have Happy Thought — Give
> Greeting that is also Gift!”

MiSTed: Imagine! Your Christmas Greeting Inside a Chinese Fortune Cooky (Part 1 of 2)


Now for two weeks of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction I probably should have run back in December. Ah well. This is another advertisement reprinted on a now-defunct Modern Mechanics blog, offering just what the subject line suggests.

I set the host sketches for this MiSTing in Season 7 of the show — the Pearl-and-Dr-Forrester year — because there were almost none set then. I think there were more MiSTings where people came up with their own, post-season-6 “new settings” than that short season ever got.

The New Jersey Big Sea Day is something that I, a New Jersey native, never heard of before running across a mention in Walt Kelly’s Pogo. It’s this early-August festival in Manasquan, on the Shore, with sandcastle-building and stuff like that. Von Steuben Day is a late-September celebration of Friedrich von Steuben, the Prussian military officer who introduced General Washington’s Continental Army to “training”.

The riff about where fortune cookies came from reflected the best information I had on hand around a decade ago when I wrote this MiSTing. It’s also not any kind of joke, but what am I going to do with trivia, not shove it in front of people’s faces? That would be impossible.

Axiomatic to my riffing is the supposition that it’s a silly idea to have customized messages printed in fortune cookies. But it’s not that silly. It would definitely get people to talk about whatever you or your organization put in there. It’s just what they would say is, “Huh. Cute” and then stop. It probably would take more than ten minutes to make fortune cookies from scratch, but not that much longer. They only need, like, five minutes to bake, even if you have a 1962 oven.


[ SEASON SEVEN opening credits. ]

[ 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. Desk. MIKE is reading the SATELLITE NEWS; CROW and TOM carrying bags slung over their shoulders enter. The bags are full of greeting cards. ]

TOM: [ Hesitantly ] Ahem?

CROW: [ Coughing ] Um … uh …

TOM: [ Nervous, once MIKE, perhaps unwisely, looks up ] Ah, good day or evening sir and/or ma’am?

CROW: [ Also as a frightened child ] And with the upcoming seasons of seasonal greetings with calling for celebrations of seasonal greetings to be given out around the holiday seasoning …

TOM: [ To CROW ] You’re skipping, let me! [ To MIKE ] And for only twenty cents per card on certain deals you can have a customized and personal message for convenient home delivery?

MIKE: [ Patiently putting down the newspaper ] Oh, let’s see. Tom? Crow? Trying to build an economy on me sending cards to you, Crow, and Gypsy for Christmas?

TOM: Not merely for Christmas mister and/or missus Mike but for any of the holidays you can send out cards for.

MIKE: So I could send my wishes to the three of you for any holiday that I felt like?

CROW: Our fine line of finely lined cards are open to many interpretative holiday acts.

MIKE: Ah-huh. So you’re actually getting me set for the New Jersey Big Sea Day, and not just, oh, running some thing where Doctor and Mrs Forrester get you to swipe my meager paycheck for a promise of delivery of cards about three months after I forget I ever wanted any at all?

[ DEEP 13. DR FORRESTER and PEARL FORRESTER are squinting into the camera. ]

DR.F: Mother, they’re on to us!

PEARL: Clayton, go deep, break left, watch for the long pass.

[ DR FORRESTER runs to the far end of Deep 13. ]

PEARL: All right, if we can’t get you on cards … [ She punches several miscellaneous buttons as DR FORRESTER prances back and forth in the background ] … We’ll get you *cookies*!

DR.F: I’m open!

[ PEARL grabs a piece of Deep 13-crusted camera gear and tosses it at DR FORRESTER, who catches it, knocking him over. ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. MIKE is staring at the camera while TOM and CROW bump one another’s card bags. ]

MIKE: … the heck?

[ MOVIE SIGN starts up. ]

ALL: Aaaah! Movie sign!

TOM: I want cookies!

[ 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.. ]

[ ALL enter the theater. ]

> Imagine!

TOM: Now stop imagining! Settle! Now rationalize your settling!

> Your Christmas Greeting Inside a Chinese Fortune
> Cooky!

MIKE: A `cooky’?

CROW: What a kookie idea.

>
> Your Friends will be Amazed and Delighted

TOM: You know, the way people are often amazed by fortune cookies.

> When They Open this
> Gay Attractive Package

CROW: What, in public?!

> And See Your Personalized Greeting

MIKE: Even now their eyes are rolling and they’re sighing patiently at your kookieness.

>
> Think of it!

TOM: Keep thinking of it, until you have a good idea instead.

> Just picture this scene, taking place in each of
> your friends’ homes!

CROW: OK, we have a place, now, we need professions.

TOM: Dentists!

CROW: OK, a bunch of dentists at a friend’s home and what are they there for?

MIKE: Elvis impersonations!

CROW: Elvis-impersonating dentists at a friend’s home, there’s our scene, let’s go!

>
> Approximately one or two weeks before Christmas this year,
> your friends’ doorbell rings!

TOM: Sure, like your friends even know people who *ring* doorbells.

MIKE: That doesn’t even mean anything, Tom.

TOM: Er … hush.

> There, in the hands of their postman,

CROW: It’s a letter in the bag for me!

> along with the usual run of ordinary Christmas cards, is something
> completely different

TOM: It’s a Christmas Belgian Waffle!

> — a small, cardboard Christmas container, with
> their name and address on the front, but with no other
> identification!

MIKE: Immediately the bomb squad is called in.

>
> The ordinary cards are tossed aside!

TOM: The recipients panic, wrecking their home while fleeing!

> Eyes focus on this
> mysterious container as your friends slip it apart!

CROW: Your cookies are detonated at a secure facility in Utah!

> And just picture
> the expression on their faces when they draw out of that container a
> lovely Christmas Ornament Box

MIKE: A Box? Why, that’s even better than being *loved*!

> — with its brilliant red braided silk
> string to hang it on their tree

TOM: Murray, you’re supposed to hang it on the Christmas tree, not the diseased elm out back.

> — with the year 1962 in blazing red
> numerals on its face

CROW: The moldy, rotted remains of ancient cookies on the inside.

> — with its sides and bottom covered with gay
> white, red, yellow and brown Christmas figures

TOM: That certainly don’t reflect dopey old-time casual racist stereotypes so stop bracing for that shoe to drop.

> — and with its top
> printed with the command, in red letters, to “OPEN ME HERE”!

MIKE: OR SUFFER MY MIGHTY COOKIE WRATH!

> As
> your friends open that top, as they peer into the inside of that
> beautiful little Christmas box

CROW: .. as they free the unimaginable cookie spirits within …

> — what they see is a Chinese Fortune
> Cooky — the eternal symbol of good luck, good fortune and long-lived
> happiness!

TOM: That were invented around 1910.

CROW: By Japanese immigrants.

MIKE: To San Francisco.

TOM: That’s kind of eternal, right?

>
>
> ON YOUR TREE

MIKE: ON YOUR TREES, EVERYONE! This is *not* a cookie drill!

> — a Gift for Every Friend and Neighbor!

CROW: For up to four friends or neighbors.

> Hang your tree with colorful ornaments that become Gay

TOM: Wouldn’t a cookie drill just break?

MIKE: Huh?

> Greeting Gifts when neighbors and children drop in
> this Holiday Season.

CROW: But the holiday is Von Steuben Day.

TOM: I mean as soon as you tried drilling something with it. Cookies are fragile.

MIKE: Thanks for being on top of that, Tom.

>
> And when they break open that Fortune Cooky, there, inside,

CROW: Is the bomb!

> individually printed on colored Christmas paper, is your personal
> greeting — SIGNED BY YOUR OWN PRINTED NAME!

TOM: Oh, my stars.

MIKE: It’s like a Christmas card, only complicated!

>
> Yes! This Christmas, you can amaze your friends and loved
> ones

MIKE: Never before had they imagined such reasons to avoid you!

> with a completely different kind of Christmas Greeting Package —

TOM: A *box*!

> that gives them a thrilling surprise when they open it

CROW: Wait, you can *open* the box too? That changes everything!

> — that hangs
> as an attractive ornament on their Christmas tree after they open it

MIKE: Peeling the tree open with band saw and corkscrew.

> — that they’ll pick off that tree and show with pride to their
> friends for months to come

TOM: Your friends who leave their trees up for months after Christmas.

> — and yet, that costs you no more than a
> ordinary, good-quality Christmas Card that you buy in a store!

CROW: You know, the kinds of cards that people like.

>
> No wonder your phone will ring constantly the week before
> Christmas,

TOM: As your phone seeks revenge!

> congratulating you on this amazing Christmas greeting!

MIKE: It’s so amazing, you could buy something that takes nearly ten minutes to make from scratch!

> No
> wonder your friends will beg you to tell them where you got it!

CROW: And you’ll withhold the information, cackling with glee at your casual cruelty.

> No
> wonder they’ll hang it in a place of honor on their tree — take it
> off that tree to show to their friends.

TOM: Thereby defeating the point of hanging it on the tree.

>
> THE PERFECT GREETING FOR YOUR COMPANY OR ASSOCIATES

MIKE: “GREETINGS, COMPANY OR ASSOCIATES!”

TOM: Perfect!

> Wish your clients, customers and business associates
> Good Fortune and Good Luck for this Holiday Season
> and the New Year.

CROW: Their lucky numbers are 24, 33, and 33, and on the back are the Chinese words for “headache” and “potato”.

>
> And how much does all this fun cost you?

TOM: Remember to add the cost of lost dignity.

>
> As you know, regular good-quality Christmas Cards usually
> cost 50c — 75c—even $1

CROW: Two dollars!

TOM: Eighteen dollars!

MIKE: A million dollars!

> or more each!

TOM: Uphill! Both ways!

> But now, if you take
> advantage of this special offer, you can send your friends these
> personalized Chinese Fortune Cooky Christmas Packages — complete —

MIKE: What’s an incomplete fortune cookie?

CROW: That’s where they forget the little laminated bill for the buffet.

> for as little as 32c each!

TOM: That seems kind of pricey for a cookie for 1962.


[ To conclude … ]

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.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Double Trouble, featuring 1 (one) Popeye


So, everyone here. Do you like Seymour Kneitel? Like, a lot of Seymour Kneitel? Because these Popeye cartoon reviews are heading into a thick patch of Seymour Kneitel-produced, Seymour Kneitel-directed cartoons. Today’s has a story by Joseph Gottlieb but don’t worry, after this, we get a bunch written by Seymour Kneitel too. This … is Popeye’s Double Trouble, from 1961.

The cartoons I watched growing up led me to believe I would encounter doubles of myself much more often than I actually have. It’s easy understanding why physical doubles turn up so much, though. They let you get into comedies of misunderstanding and you don’t even have to make a new character sheet. This cartoon’s one of the set where there’s a specific reason for a double. This time, the Sea Hag poses as Olive Oyl. She’s trying to get back a wish-granting good-luck coin that she accidentally gave Popeye.

Put like that, the gimmick of the cartoon sounds goofy or ridiculous. It doesn’t feel goofy, though. It’s set up matter-of-fact enough to seem reasonable. Sea Hag meant to jinx Popeye by giving him her bad-luck coin, that she carries around with her. She never wonders if keeping her bad-luck coin on her might relate to how Popeye foils all her schemes. Her vulture, in an inexplicable stroke of bad luck, pulls out the good-luck coin. She doesn’t realize until Popeye’s picked it up and wished for a chauffeur. Also the good-luck coin grants wishes. This seems like an arbitrary trait, or two magic-item ideas getting conflated. But the wish-granting turns out to serve the plot well. It gets Popeye out of the trouble of not being able to tell which is Olive Oyl and which is the disguised Sea Hag, since Mae Questel does both their voices.

The Sea Hag, disguised as Olive Oyl, holds Popeye upside-down, smashing his face into the floor.
Really feel Olive Oyl should see a warning sign that Popeye did not think this was out of character.

The story feels well-constructed. Not just in comparison to the loose motivations given the last couple Jack-Kinney-produced cartoons. And there are some touches I quite like. For one, I’m amused that Popeye accepts how the disguised Sea Hag smashes him into a wall or holds him upside-down to shake the coin off him. This doesn’t register as un-Olive-Oyl behavior. Also the waving her arm to shift into Olive Oyl’s appearance is a nice effect. I also appreciate that Olive Oyl gets to take the story lead. She sings the Vulture to sleep, unties herself, is sensible enough to wear a different hat so the audience can tell her from the Sea Hag. And she gets a rare chance to eat the spinach and so save the day. Good showing all around even if she wanders around like she’s dizzy and drunk after her spinach power-up. Well, they have to get a punch line to the dance contest from somewhere.

Wonder if the Sea Hag considered and rejected just asking Popeye for a coin for the phone or something. Yes, I know, if he turned the coin over then the short would be over too soon. Still, it would’ve been the first approach I’d try.

60s Popeye: Camel Aires, a sketch of a cartoon


Today’s Popeye cartoon has a story by Carol Beers, previously noted for Popeye’s Museum Piece. Direction is by Hugh Fraser, who’s had a bunch of credits to his name. And the producer was Jack Kinney. From 1960 is Camel Aires.

You know when you hear that “Popeye, you’ve done it again” music that the cartoon’s gibberish. It’s amiable gibberish, yes. But so far as it makes sense it’s because the characters and situations are familiar enough. Of course Popeye and Brutus are competing over something and it turns out to be Olive Oyl. Of course Wimpy will have some task he’s easily bribed away from. Brutus wil turn out to double-cross whoever’s working with him, and kidnap Olive Oyl. And Popeye will get his spinach and stop Brutus.

And I know I say this about half these cartoons but, wow, this is a sloppy one. Like, to start, Popeye and Brutus read in the paper how a rare stone was discovered in Egypt. OK, fair that they both have the idea of going to recover it for the intersted museum. The subhead says “Princess Olive Oil Believed Owner Of Valuable Gem”. It’s apparently the gem in her crown. What is the word “believed” doing there? And why can’t they get Olive Oyl’s name right?

Popeye has trouble with his camel, Camille, OK. Brutus, riding Frampton, meets up. “Hope you ain’t going to Egypt after that rare stone ’cause you’ll never make it on that ca-mule!” is pretty good trash-talking, echoing how Popeye had said Camille walks like a mule. They’re already in Egypt. This sort of combination deft and sloppy line runs through the cartoon. We see Olive at the top of the pyramid staircase Brutus and Popeye run up. Wimpy with an axe blocks them. Brutus offers a bribe of two hamburgers for Wimpy to show him where the princess is. Not sure who Brutus thought he was running towards right in front of him.

Brutus and Popeye stand at the base of golden stairs. At the apex is Princess Olive Oyl wearing a gem in her headdress. Halfway up the stairs is Wimpy, standing guard, with a battle axe in hand.
Wimpy as guard may seem odd but who would be a better choice besides literally any other Popeye character, including Roger the Dog, Swee’Pea, or one of the cheese men of the Moon?

There’s a nice bit of animation when Brutus punches out Wimpy. And Wimpy has a good line, “O, the perfidy of mankind!” And that’s the last time we see animation of anything important happening. Olive Oyl cries what sure sounds like stock cries for help and Popeye finds his way through the tunnels that are somehow there, only for Brutus to somehow tie him up. That’s all right. Wimpy, after declaring he’s too weak from hunger to save Popeye, passes up his chance to untie the very flimsy handkerchief holding Olive’s hands together, to go save Popeye, whose name she knows for some reason. Wimpy feeds Popeye spinach for some reason. Popeye blows out the flames he’s been tied over, which somehow frees his hands to untie himself, and then I guess Brutus’s camel throws him? Maybe Popeye has something to do with it? Anyway, Brutus is beaten and does it matter if it was Popeye or just the perfidy of camel? Anyway we all close up with Popeye and Olive riding Camille and Frampton, everybody in love with their species-matching partner.

Mulling this over I realize what the story structure is. It’s the narrative equivalent of the simplified, abstracted backgrounds of UPA-influenced cartoons. That is, the important features get highlighted, and everything else gets a perfunctory appearance if at all. When it’s done well, you get a production that’s just the stuff worth your attention. When it misfires, you notice how the chairs can’t stand on that floor.

60s Popeye: Seer-ring is Believer-ring, which isn’t about Wimpy offering to pay somehow?


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon puts us back in the capable, if dull, hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios. Seymour Kneitel’s the director, with animation by I Klein, Jack Ehret, and Dick Hall. The story’s credited to I Klein. Here’s 1960’s Seer-ring Is Believer-Ring.

The sparse information that Popeye The Sailorpedia has for this cartoon does not say it was adapted from a comic strip or comic book story. I suppose it wasn’t, then. There is this feel, though. The cartoon introduces a new menace, Evil-Eye. I initially wrote him as a new “villain” because he’s coded as one. The name, sure. His being generically ethnic. Olive Oyl even calls him “a foreign-looking gentleman”. But his actions?

As presented, after all, all he’s really trying to do is get back the magic ring that Olive Oyl’s gotten. And Popeye slugs him for it. Evil-Eye escalates to hypnotizing Popeye and Olive Oyl. That is a heck of an escalation, although it’s also the clearly safe thing to do when you’re trying to get around Popeye. Evil-Eye would have presented himself better if he’d asked for the ring openly, though. You don’t need a ring of foretelling to know flirting with Olive Oyl in front of Popeye ends badly for you.

The ending feels unsatisfactory. It feels truncated in a way that I associate with the Bud Sagendorf comics, which would end when Sagendorf felt he’d shuffled the pieces around enough, never mind if anything was resolved. The setup’s decent. Evil-Eye, whose ring can foretell anything except how he’s going to lose it, loses it in a sidewalk vendor’s box. Olive Oyl picks it up and has amazing visions. Popeye doesn’t believe she can see the future. Sailors are, by reputation, a notoriously un-superstitious bunch, after all. But even her foreseeing Wimpy offering to treat everyone at Roughhouse’s Diner doesn’t convince Popeye. Also, what the heck is Wimpy doing offering to treat everyone to anything, ever? Possibly he figures he needs to do a little bit of paying-you-Tuesday in order to keep his line of credit open? It’s still a weird offer.

So Evil-Eye tries to swipe the ring off Olive Oyl’s hand by flirting with her, and that goes wrong, a scene not foreseen by Olive Oyl. Wonder how she missed Popeye acting jealous. Popeye spins him out of the picture. Evil-Eye zaps both with his hypnotic … evil eye … but that doesn’t stop the unconscious Popeye from pulling out his spinach and clobbering him. This sends the ring rolling off into the sewer and Evil-Eye has to fish for it. Also … maybe because of this? … Olive Oyl and Popeye wake up. Neither of them seems to remember Evil-Eye, or her ring. They just walk past and Popeye cracks a joke about Evil-Eye.

This may be another case where I’m too old to understand the plot. Maybe a kid is faster to accept the idea that of course part of Evil-Eye’s hypnosis is suppressing your recollection that he was even there. Or the thing he was interested in getting for you. It doesn’t seem like asking too much from the premise.

Popeye is staring huge-eyed, into the camera. In front of him, Olive Oyl has stretched out her hand and she's delighted by Evil-Eye holding her wrist and calling her 'Ninotchka' and trying to grab the ring off her hand.
[ Record scratch ] “Yup, tha’s me! I bets youze is won’nering how I gotsk meself into this sit’chee’ation.”

Evil-Eye is voiced of course by Jackson Beck. So is the ring seller. There’s an interesting bit in Olive Oyl’s visions of the future, in that Mae Questel tries to do the voices of Popeye and Wimpy and Evil-Eye. Her version of Popeye seems to land somewhere near the Sea Hag. Her Evil-Eye sounded closer to Swee’Pea than anything else. Her Wimpy didn’t evoke any particular character to me. It’s interesting we get yet another reference to Roughhouse without actually seeing him. Roughhouse is becoming the Boba Fett of this series, building up a lot of reputation without doing anything.

So far as I know this is the only appearance of Evil-Eye. That’s a shame. He seems to have more going for him than the usual one-shot villain. Not so much as the hypnotist from Nix On Hypnotricks, but still, he seems like he could have done more.

The art here strongly embraces a flatter, UPA-influenced style. Evil-Eye and the ring seller are much more deliberately limited characters than our regulars are. I’m curious how much of that was Paramount’s animators wanting the artistic challenge of the newer style and how much was just budgetary. It looks most distinctive when Evil-Eye is nearly done spinning about 10:02, and he’s represented with a simple slide back and forth under the camera. It suggests spinning without making any literal sense as a spin. That’s a neat effect to have.

Really would like an explanation of what Wimpy is doing offering to treat anyone, though. He has that wad of bills that would seem to show his sincerity. Maybe he’s figuring to coax them to Roughhouse’s and then dump the check on them? Something’s not working with that part of the story anyway.

60s Popeye: Uranium on the Cranium, because Popeye cartoons are where you say things like ‘cranium’


We’re back to a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon this week. The director on record is Paul Fennell and the story is by the ever-reliable Charles Shows. Back to 1960 and Uranium on the Cranium.

My first problem with this cartoon is that I know the history of Popeye too well. There’s a better version of this cartoon. Of course there is; by the time we reached this cartoon there were … I don’t know, three hundred Popeye shorts out there? A lot of premise was covered. But the Fleischer Stealin’ Ain’t Honest covers a lot of the same territory, including BlutoBrutus stealing the map through a periscope and racing to an island. Between the 1940 predecessor and this 1960 version the gold mine has turned into a uranium mine. That’s nice and timely. Updating the Macguffin doesn’t affect things any, of course. But it’s curious we don’t see any use of radioactive materials as magic, capable of any sort of weird fun story event. Or at least giant glowing monsters. Yes, I know uranium doens’t really do that. Who could possibly care?

The most interesting change is Brutus putting on a gorilla suit to mess with Popeye. This is a danged good idea. Popeye has an aversion to beating up “dumb aminals”. He’s not as consistent with this as we’d wish from our heroes. But it takes more to get him to beat up a gorilla than to beat up Brutus. A good costume shop would let Brutus get away with murder.

A gorilla facing off against Brutus, who's left the head off of his own gorilla costume.
Well, you got me: this one isn’t from my DeviantArt account anyway.

Of course there ends up being a real gorilla in the mix, and Popeye thinks the real gorilla is Brutus and then Brutus thinks the real gorilla is Popeye stealing his gimmick. That’s a fair enough use of the gimmick. It seems like it could have been better.

There’s a writing tick that I noticed here and now I’m curious whether it’s a Harmon-studios specialty. That’s one of forming a joke by repeating a word, maybe in different contexts. Asked if he’s sure nobody can see the map at sea, Popeye says, “Sure I’m sure.” Shown the Geiger counter, Olive Oyl says, “I can hardly wait for the buzzer to buzz”. As Brutus ties her up Olive Oyl tells Brutus “you are a crooked crook!” Brutus answers “this mine is mine, all mine!” Any one of these is unremarkable. They even fit the language pattern of Popeye’s immortal declarations about how he yam what he yam and that’s all what he yam. Or how he’s had all the can stands, he can’t stands no more. I suspect if I were more intersted in the cartoon I wouldn’t notice these things. But there you go.

60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat


… I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the actual title of this short. We’re back to Larry Harmon productions for the cartoon this week. It’s another short directed by Paul Fennell, with story by Charles Shows. Let’s take a moment to watch Track Meet Cheat. The moment takes about five and a half minutes, with credits.

So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.

If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.

The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.

It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?

Picture of Brutus looking up, nervous, and holding a small consumer-grade circa 1960 camera.
Brutus looks like he’s only now realizing the horror that setting a bomb in Popeye’s hand would actually be. That or he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Polaroid.

If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.

So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.

60s Popeye: Sure, I heard of a Sheepish Sheep-Herder


This week’s King Features Popeye takes us back to Larry Harmon’s studio. So, you know, the future Filmation crew. The story is by Charles Shows, of Muskels Shmuskels, of Foola-Foola Bird, and of Childhood Daze. The director here, as in the three already mentioned, is Paul Fennell. Here’s Sheepish Sheep-Herder.

So, first continuity error: Popeye isn’t a sheepish character. He might go reluctantly into something if he doesn’t see why it’s his business, but that’s not sheepish.

Popeye’s interrupted watching his Western show by Olive Oyl, bringing a telegram that I guess Western Onion trusted her with. Poopdeck Pappy needs help with rustlers. Plus, hey, Poopdeck Pappy! He disappeared after Fleischer Studios became Famous Studios, to fit Paramount’s vision of their cartoons being “not so interesting”. (There were a couple cartoons in 1952 and 1953 with him, one a cameo, one disappointing, and one a remake of Goonland too racist to put on TV.) King Features, though, was glad to use everything they had a trademark on.

Popeye heads out, in the engine of a small train; is it his? Anyway, Pappy meets him with a shotgun. Pappy is, as traditional, a twin to Popeye, except with a beard. And, here, a red cap. And, another continuity error: Poopdeck Pappy is also never sheepish.

Poopdeck Pappy, clean-shaven so he looks like Popeye, standing in cave with both eyes half-opened and looking off-screen. He's supposed to look devious, but the pose could also be read as sultry.
Sultry, yes, I’ll grant you Poopdeck Pappy is sultry sometimes. But not sheepish.

Brutus comes in, wearing a long coat, to swipe some sheep and I am childishly delighted that his plan is “sneak sheep out under his trenchcoat”. It’s the joke you’d make if you were a podcast host joking about the premise. The sheep are cute in this vaguely UPA style tool. Brutus goes in with a helicopter, too, having abandoned the trenchcoat plan because … I don’t know. This one outright fails.

Brutus orders Popeye out of town at gunpoint. Popeye uses the countdown to twist the gun barrel and, in a joke I like, ends up pointing it at himself and getting blasted anyway. He asks what he did wrong. It’s not only a good cartoon joke; it’s a joke building on decades of confident cartoon protagonists twisting the barrels of hunters’ guns.

Poopdeck Pappy, shaving, overhears the gunshots. Did you notice that he’s shaving? Because that’s important. But it’s also a good plant for what’s to come, and I imagine seven-year-olds who figure this out feel really clever. Anyway Brutus has tied up Popeye and shoots at his feet until he hops off the cliff. This seems like extra work to go to throw him off a cliff. But, confident he’ll never see Popeye again, who walks in but Popeye? In a red hat this time. Did you notice it was a red hat? … Not that it would be bizarre if Popeye were to be back on top of the cliff. That kind of thing happens in cartoons.

Brutus ties up Pappy with a stick of lit dynamite, and runs off. Popeye runs in, extinguishes the fuse and frees Pappy, and doesn’t say anything to his father. Nor does his father say anything back. I’m surprised by how much the animators are trusting the audience to follow what’s going on. I don’t think they’re wrong to, but I’d expected a reassurance line to emphasize that Pappy looks like Popeye now.

Oyl family reunion; Castor Oyl, Nana Oil, and less familiar relations are standing around. Popeye: 'I don't understands it. How can you be related to these people not look like any of 'em?' Olive Oyl: "I think there's a family resemblance.' Popeye: 'Resemblance sure, but why ain't ya all identical? Takes me family, f'rinstance! I yam the spittin' image of e'ryone in me family. If ya compares me to Pappy, or even me great grandpappy Patcheye we is practically clones o'each other. [ Pictures of Poopdeck Pappy and Patcheye, who look like redraws of Popeye ] Even peoples what marries into the family, like me dear old Ma or sainted Granny. Sure, they looked diff'rent before [ pictures of Popeye's mother and granmother, normal-looking figures ] but after gettin' hitched in, they started lookin' jus' like the rest of us. That's how you know they is family! That's how family works!' [ Pictures of Popeye's mom and grandmom, who look like redraws of Popeye.] Olive Oyl: 'I suddenly don't mind that we've never gotten married.' Popeye: 'It's just as well. This old world can only handle so much beauty.'
Popeye’s Cartoon Club made a reappearance this week, with a bunch of strips from Randy Milholland. This one, from the 30th of May, talks a little about everybody in the Popeye clan looking like Popeye. By the way members of the Oyl family include her brothers Castor and Crude Oyl, her parents Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl [ “Banana Oil” was a slangy way to call something “nonsense” in the 1920s ], Castor’s estranged wife Cylinda Oyl; nieces Diesel Oyl (we’ll see her) and Violet Oyl; uncles Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl. And, when Bobby London was doing his thing, a sultry blonde cousin Sutra Oyl and corporate-magnate Standard Oyl. Wikipedia figures “Violet Oyl” is a play on “volatile oils”. I guess maybe that’s what they were going for? It’s a tough name, anyway.

Brutus, not having heard the dynamite explode, goes into the mine where he had tied up Pappy. I admit I’m cowardly around fireworks and such. My college summer job was in a nitrocellulose plant. Still, I would not go in to investigate a stick of dynamite that isn’t exploded yet. Popeye appears to encourage him to go in and look, which makes good cartoon logic but: why would you do that, Brutus? Think out what things could follow from the information you have. How many of them are good for you?

Going on inside is Pappy re-lighting the dynamite so it’ll go off when Brutus arrives. And he walks past Brutus, again raising the question whether Brutus is paying attention to what he’s looking at. The blast throws him out the cave, and on seeing two Popeyes he goes bouncing off the cliff. He’s caught by what seems like an excessively deep tree root, right where a sheep can kick him over and over.

This is a pleasant cartoon. Solid enough story. Between the trenchcoat, Popeye asking “what did I do wrong” at twisting Brutus’s gunbarrel, and the way we get into the duplicate Popeye stuff, there’s decent comedy here.

The animation is pretty solid. Not so solid that, like, we ever see a character’s legs when they walk. We instead pull tighter in while the figure bounces up and down. But we do get tight focus on people’s faces, which gives us something to look at. Also to wonder at how everybody’s leaning so far over all the time. Their backs have to hurt so. It’s not a great cartoon; there’s not a moment of great delightful surprise to it. But it’s pretty good throughout.

60s Popeye has Childhood Daze


There’s a fairly new syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by John Kovaleski. It’s a pleasant strip about a single father and his baby, and sunk a bit by its name of Daddy Daze. “Daze” is the inevitable pun for anyone wanting to make something with the shape of a pun on “days” and I don’t know that it helps. Maybe they’re aiming at a market which I am not in. Anyway, here’s the 1960 Popeye cartoon Childhood Daze.

I knew from the video’s thumbnail that it would involve a baby-size Popeye. The opening credits give us that it’s Larry Harmon-produced. The animation director’s Paul Fennell. The writer’s Charles Shows. Shows also had writing credits on Muskels Shmuskels and Foola-Foola Bird. These cartoons had decent enough premises and stories that mostly made sense. My expectation by the end of the credits was that it’d be a fair cartoon, maybe stiffly animated, with a dotting of weird little bits along the way. Also that the animation would probably be pretty stiff, and since it had a new model for Popeye, it wouldn’t have any really good bits. The mystery would be how to get a Baby Popeye.

The answer’s early on, as we visit the daringly mid-century modern home of Professor O G Wotasnozzle. Wotasnozzle’s a character from Segar’s other gig, the husband-and-wife strip Sappo. Wotasnozzle with his wacky inventions turned their boarding house premise into something where goofy weird things happened. When Sappo faded out Wotasnozzle transferred over to the main strip, a minor character who could set off some nice nonsense. For some reason Famous Studios never did anything with him, or a lot of the weirder Thimble Theatre cast. The King Features cartoons brought him out and for just this sort of thing: want to make Popeye a baby? A caveman? An astronaut? Six inches tall (I’m guessing, but I’m probably right)? Wotasnozzle can make it happen.

And that’s basically what happens. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus are gathered at Wotasnozzle’s place to see him turn a chicken into an egg. Does it work on people? Let’s find out. Brutus volunteers, specifically he volunteers Popeye. It’s a dumb gag, and yet one time in high school my geometry teacher let me get away with that when he was looking for a volunteer to go to the board. I am truly sorry, Larissa. I should have realized he’d go with the gag.

So we get a Baby Popeye out of the little slot for stuff that’s gone through the Atomic Youth Machine. (I saw Atomic Youth Machine open for Presidents of the United States of America in ’98.) I’m curious how Wotasnozzle figured an ‘adult’ or ‘teen’ or even ‘child’ human would fit in that output slot. I guess he really had not thought through whether this thing would work on humans.

It’s taken two minutes, of a five-and-a-half minute short, to get Baby Popeye. That seems like a lot of time watching characters stand still and blink. Olive Oyl’s shocked that the Atomic Youth Machine, that she’s just seen turn an aged chicken into a chick, and that was set to make Popeye into a baby, turned Popeye into a baby. Thus we see the difference between understanding the proposition that “this will turn someone into a baby” and believing the proposition.

Olive Oyl holding up a Baby Popeye, who looks like regular Popeye with shorter arms and legs missing underneath a skirt.
The reboot of Tod Browning’s Freaks went in surprising directions.

For as simple as the premise is there’s stuff I don’t understand about it. Like, do the adults understand what Baby Popeye is saying? Popeye talks back to Brutus at about 2:20, and Brutus doesn’t really respond. But it’s not like these cartoons usually have tight dialogue. And for much of the cartoon Olive Oyl and Brutus talk about Popeye as if he’s not there. The one time there’s definite communication is Olive Oyl responding to Popeye’s cries to be fed, but that’s something any kid could ask for. Other than asking for spinach, I mean.

There’s a bit at 3:05 where Brutus is spanking Popeye. Or, talking about spanking Popeye and in the pose where he would be spanking, with Baby Popeye crying. But there’s no actual movement on Brutus’s part. Did the censor not allow them to show spanking or were they saving on the animation budget? Also baffling: why is there a long red carpet in Wotasnozzle’s house?

This is a disappointing short. After we get a Baby Popeye he doesn’t do anything. Olive Oyl doesn’t do anything. (After he introduces the premise Wotasnozzle doesn’t do anything either, but that’s kind of his thing.) Brutus at least rolls him up into a basketball and tosses him through a hoop that Wotasnozzle has inside his house for some reason. But Brutus could do that anyway, before Popeye gets riled enough to eat his spinach. Also every time we see Baby Popeye being held up, he looks like regular Popeye but his legs fell off. I’m not sure what a Baby Popeye ought to do, but standing in lines blinking isn’t it. The obvious thing is to make them all kids and go through their usual nonsense but with kiddie-level attention spans. Or have Olive Oyl and Brutus forced to babysit Baby Popeye while Wotasnozzle gets something to fix the machine and make him an adult again, and Popeye is a difficult child. Or have Baby Popeye get in on Swee’Pea’s world. Something, anything. The premise is better than the cartoon made of it.

60s Popeye: Searching for the Foola-Foola Bird (it’s easy to find)


New Year, new old Popeye cartoons to watch. It’s another Larry Harmon-produced cartoon here, this one written by Charles Shows. I don’t have him on record yet, but these records are still quite young things. Going in, I don’t expect great animation — again, see the Hal Sutherland/Lou Scheimer credits — but I’d expect a couple of interesting figures at least. And a solid story makes up for a lot of animation flaws. So here from 1960, it’s Foola-Foola Bird.

We open on a picnic that certainly doesn’t look at all like it’s setting up stock footage that could frame any story. I like the way they’ve drawn grass, though. Popeye and all are tuned to KPLOT-AM radio, where Jackson Beck is doing his Jim Backus impersonation. It’s an adequate way to set up the premise, if you don’t just want to have Popeye and Olive Oyl sailing to Foola-Foola Island and explaining the plot to each other.

The National Birdwatchers Society is offering a million dollars for a Foola-Foola Bird. Nobody says what they want it for, but, given the era … I mean, this was made before Rachel Carson proposed that covering the earth eight feet deep in neurotoxins to save the cost of road crews cutting brush back from highway signage was bad, actually. I have concerns about the well-being of any animals in captivity. But that’s outside the scope of the cartoon. Popeye knows where to find a Foola-Foola Bird: they’ll be on Foola-Foola Island. You’d think more people would try looking there. But I like that Popeye knows where to go. It suggests he’s picked up sailor’s lore, and I like when he gets to be a sailor.

There’s a neat little dissolve, between Brutus and a sneaking Popeye, at about 1:40. And then we get “the last” of the Foola-Foola Birds, although I don’t know how Popeye’s so sure this is the last of them. The bird’s pretty good at taking care of himself, at least.

Popeye does this cheery little song about how “I will fool-a the Foola-Foola bird”. I don’t know why I liked this so. It seems playful, like the way Jack Mercer’s improvised mutterings in the 30s did. I’m curious whether the line was written or whether Jack Mercer just spruced up a dull moment in the recording studio. Or replaced a boring line announcing what Popeye was doing with this.

The Foola-Foola Bird passes out when Popeye “scientifically” sprinkles salt on its tail. Why? I know the legend is that you catch a bird by sprinkling salt on its tail. But, like, I’ve seen every Woody Woodpecker cartoon and he was never taken by that, except when he was going along with a gag. Is the Foola-Foola Bird going along with Popeye’s nonsense to see if this leads anywhere interesting?

So after Popeye walks through the slowest snare trap in the world and gets caught, Brutus takes the Foola-Foola Bird, then drops it to tie up Olive Oyl. The Foola-Foola Bird gives Popeye his spinach, because … why? I’d like to think the Foola-Foola Bird has figured out the moral landscape here, but I don’t see that the bird has reason to. Popeye said he was going to give the Foola-Foola Bird a nice new home, but the bird already has a home.

There’s a perfunctory fight between Popeye and Brutus. If it counts as a fight when only one person throws a punch. And then we get Popeye and Olive Oyl sailing home, deciding to leave the Foola-Foola Bird alone: why? It’s a plausible change of opinion, yes, but why did either of them make it? One line of Olive Oyl regretting the trouble they’re causing the bird would carry a lot of work here. And give Olive Oyl a use in the cartoon. We have the cute ending that the bird’s followed along, and even dragged Brutus with him. Nice enough, although I don’t know why Popeye talks about the Foola-Foola Bird being there as if it were a problem.

So a question for me: why did the cartoon make up the Foola-Foola Bird? The Popeye lore already has the legendary and rare Whiffle Hen. Your tiring friend who wants to Well Actually things will tell you how the Whiffle Hen’s lucky feathers were the original source of Popeye’s indestructibility. There are King Features cartoons that feature the Whiffle Hen, a creature from the original comic strip. So I’m curious whether Charles Shows didn’t know about the Whiffle Hen, or didn’t think he could use it, or whether there was some draft where the Whiffle Hen would have been definitely wrong and something new had to be brought in.

The story makes sense, whether you’re a Whiffle Hen partisan or not. And Brutus talking so much about “getting the bird” or “giving me the bird” sure sounds like somebody was supposed to say something to camera. The animation is all rote stuff, though. There’s some good backgrounds, such as the first look at Foola-Foola Island, but nothing that moves looks all that interesting. It’s altogether a cartoon that’s all right.

60s Popeye Watching: Irate Pirate


Irate Pirate is another of the Larry Harmon-produced line of 60s cartoons. Just looking at the title card I thought: well, “irate” and “pirate” only really rhyme when Popeye is saying that, and only some of the time even then, right? It’s all right to rely on an idiosyncratic thing of your title character, especially a character as generally swell as Popeye. But it’s symptomatic of this cartoon, where I ended up thinking more stray thoughts than actually watching the plot. Let’s see if you agree.

The cartoon’s competent enough. Everybody has a model and they stick, stiffly, to it. The story’s quite direct. There’s not really weird moments in it, either. So I’m left with stray thoughts while I watch. Here’s some of them.

  • Hey, it’s a cartoon where Popeye the Sailor is actually doing something with boats!
  • Though it is odd that we’re set up with a collapskible boat that we never see collapsking. Just un-collapsking. A button is a setup to have a button pressed repeatedly, at awkward moments.
  • “Ooh, Popeye! I just love that salty dialogue!” is definitely (at about 0:55) a line I did not understand when I was seven.
  • Olive Oyl asks what the one and only button is for. Popeye wants to stop her from pressing it, but he doesn’t want to stop her so much that he moves in any way.
  • So why does BrutusJolly Roger have a French accent this cartoon? Did it start out at one point as a New Orleans-set river-pirates thing and then that setting got dropped? Did they record the audio for this the same day, or near enough, to Mississippi Sissy? Was Jackson Beck just trying to add a little flavor to a dull part?
  • Popeye complains that Olive Oyl, atop the mast, is rollicking the boat. But since the animation doesn’t have her actually move, it looks like he’s the one rollicking the mast.
  • BrutusJolly Roger has a point about not wanting Olive Oyl to be on Popeye’s homemade tub rather than his own actual boat. Also I like Popeye’s indignant, “whaddaya mean homemade? I builded this boat meself!”
  • It’s really not until 2:51, when Olive Oyl’s finally tied up, that we see BrutusJolly Roger doing something villainous. If he did tie her up; we have to take it on trust that he had some part on it. There’s easily one chance in four that Olive Oyl spontaneously manifests ropes tying her up at about this part of a cartoon.
  • Olive Oyl hugging the top of a ship's mast, smiling and with her eyes closed.
    Well, glad Olive Oyl’s enjoying herself.
  • At about 3:30 Olive Oyl demands, “Don’t you dare hurt Popeye, you – you – pirate, you”. BrutusJolly Roger says, “Oh, I would not think of it” and immediately shoots his harpoon without explaining the apparent contradiction. Yeah, all he does is sink Popeye’s inflatable boat but I’d expected some mention of why he’s well, actually not hurting Popeye.
  • While handing from BrutusJolly Roger’s fishhook Popeye declares there’s “nothing like strained spinach to tickle the tonsils”, and when he eats it there’s this watery sound effect. What’s gone and strained his spinach? Is this supposed to be watery after Popeye was dunked in the sea? I guess that makes sense?
  • Those button noses on the ends of BrutusJolly Roger’s sharks given them a weirdly puppy-dog look.
  • BrutusJolly Roger’s boat starts out pretty sleek and modern, but as it goes on he seems to pick up older-style pirate accessories. Like, were they even still making cannonballs in 1960, apart from for historical reenactments? I honestly don’t know and don’t know how to look this one up.
  • After getting partly blown up by a cannonball that Popeye’s caught, lit, and passed back on, Olive Oyl declares “Let’s go ashore, sailing is so boring”. So she’s fed up with cartoons where all she does is get tied up by the Big Bad and urges Popeye on to doing something, too.

There’s probably some way to measure how much I’m buying into a cartoon by how many stray distracted thoughts like these that I have about it.

Popeye goes Ski Jumping this time


We’ve finally got a break from Jack Kinney-directed episodes. This one’s … oh. Larry Harmon. You know, the with the crew that would go on to be Filmation. I mean, I like Filmation. They made a lot of the cartoons so deeply weird that they appealed to the young me. Who else would think to do a cartoon refresh of Gilligan’s Island by just moving everyone to a new planet? I don’t expect great animation. I’m happy if I can get a weird cartoon, though. So here’s Ski-Jump Chump, another 1960 piece.

This isn’t the first skiing cartoon from Popeye. It’s also not the first one where Jackson Beck plays Bluto as some wholly new character with a French accent. Maybe French-Canadian. Beck was apparently comfortable with that accent; he has it on a fair number of old-time radio characters too. Here he’s Gorgeous Pierre, greatest ski jumper in the world. I too wonder if that’s a riff on Gorgeous George, the 50s pro wrestler who’s the guy being riffed on in those cartoons where a pro wrestler has curly blond hair and a perfume bottle.

And it’s not even the first cartoon this month where the story is Popeye and Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre doing stunts to win Olive Oyl’s affections. What makes this stand out mostly is the animation getting weird. Like, in the first scene Popeye’s right eye keeps doing this little fluttering that made me think they were accidentally opening it. No; it’s just that his eyebrow jumps between spots. Which is a mistake that curiously makes his face look much more alive and real than the animators wanted. So that’s worth talking about because it’s an animation error that makes the cartoon kind of better, somehow. It’s superior to Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre using a jack to lift the end of a ski jump, which my eye keeps trying to parse as an optical illusion. And I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening about 3:04, when Popeye skis into the rope.

This all comes to a ski race because I guess they needed some structure for the back half of the cartoon. We see Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre being all devious by going right after the race starter says to “go”, while Popeye stands around blinking. And here I realized I have mixed feelings about the character designs here. They’re very simple ones. Like, I look at them and think, “I could draw that,” which is a sign of a very simple character design. But simple isn’t the same as bad. I admire how they’re able to get Popeye and Olive Oyl and You-Know-Who drawn and recognizable with so few lines and as many as five colors.

Bluto, using a very long handle on a car jack, lifting up the end of a ski jump by its base. No two elements seem to be in reasonable places, relative to one another. The horizontal bar of the ski jump's posts seems to be at an angle, or else the ends of the posts are cut at an angle and one goes about six inches farther down than the other. It's all subtly disorienting in its composition and layout.
Artist’s challenge: find a vanishing point that could possibly apply here. Civil engineer’s challenge: how did this ski jump pass the state inspection when its foundation is just “sitting on top of the snow, with a jack underneath its one cross bar”?

We do get that cartoon-race motif where the villain would win easily if he didn’t keep stopping to sabotage the hero. In the last minute and a half the cartoon finally gets weird for weirdness’s sake. Gorgeous Pierre paints a tunnel into a tree. It’s a Coyote and Road Runner gag, except for being senseless. There’s a reason to take a tunnel through the mountain; why aim for the one tree on the hill because you think you can pass through it? That said, I apparently like this sort of nonsense because I didn’t think about that until the third time through. Another bit of nonsense I like is Popeye drinking spinach juice for whatever reason. I wonder if this is riffing on some commercial people in 1960 would remember. The cartoon ends with a fight cloud, and a small-pawed bear being roped into things. The bear gets to win the ski race. And Popeye declares “like Napoleon said, you can’t win them all” and spontaneously dons a Napoleon costume. Why? I have no idea.

By now, you know me. I found this a dull but okay cartoon through most of its length. I got more interested as the cartoon got more ridiculous. Also that bear was adorable and I reliably like the comic premise of the character who’s important but asleep through the whole thing. I will not call this a great one, since it isn’t. Popeye turning into Napoleon is a nice surprise, but it’s not the sort of joke which won’t wear out.

Popeye in Caves


The next of this block of 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons is Caveman Capers. It’s produced by the Larry Harmon studios. So, you know, names like Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer who’d go on to give us Filmation. Going into the cartoon from that, I expected, if nothing else, all the characters to be faintly angular, and to move like they’re in a Flash web cartoon from about ten years ago. Let’s watch.

I would swear there are other Popeye-as-caveman cartoons out there. I’m not invested strongly enough in the question to look them up. But there’s a long record of caveman jokes in cartoon (and live-action movie) history. And, what the heck, we might as well try Popeye out in that setting. At minimum it gives us different props that he can play with.

We get a framing device on the action. I’m not sure why. Maybe they didn’t want to waste having designed a Popeye who’s squatting on legs one-third the length of his arms. Having a frame like this lets the cartoon paper over any gaps in the plot. But the cartoon doesn’t use that power.

Popeye squatting next to Olive Oyl and behind a picnic blanket. Popeye's legs are quite short.
Also, there’s three hamburgers, but only one slice of cake? Was Popeye guessing how many people would be on this picnic?

I so dislike Popeye explaining how Prehistorical Olive “was a striking beauty, so grandpappy struck her, as was the custom in that day”. I know the premise is just a stock Caveman Settings joke. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I was thinking about skipping this cartoon altogether. Still not sure I shouldn’t have skipped it anyway. I guess Prehistorical Olive reacting like Krazy Kat hit with a brick makes it less bad. Her putting up with this a while and then telling Popeye and BlutoBrutus to settle this like gentlemen and fight it out makes it more silly.

What I do like here is the color scheme. The world is green- and blue-tinted, while the characters are a clear bright tan. It reads pretty well in color. I imagine it also looked good on black-and-white televisions. I also like Popeye hanging out with a dinosaur; it has a nice Alley Oop vibe. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t try making a Eugene-the-Jeep dinosaur. They can’t have thought that would confuse the premise too much, with kids expecting a Jeep dinosaur to be doing magic tricks or something, could they?

There’s some dialogue I like. Prehistorical Popeye asking BlutoBrutus when it’ll be his turn to hit and getting the answer “not yet”. Prehistorical Popeye declaring that he’s gonna “call this stuff spinach, cause it looks like spinach”.

There’s a nice little fight cloud between Popeye and BlutoBrutus at about 5:02. It looks to me like the same fight cloud from when Popeye fought Irving. But this requires redressing Popeye and drawing BlutoBrutus in place of the robot monster. Which is worth it, surely. Once you have the motion traced out for a Popeye-versus-big-bruiser fight cloud just painting in different clothes isn’t too much work. I’m sue that as a kid I’d never have noticed that, though.

I suspect they had no idea how to close this cartoon.

60s Popeye: Jeep Tale; Popeye’s Island Adventures has ditched me so here’s Young Eugene the Jeep instead


I have no idea whether the Popeye’s Island Adventures series has wrapped up for good. Or whether they’re just taking a break after publishing a 25th short cartoon. There was, like, a monthlong pause after the first time they put up a two-minute short, after all.

So for want of a better idea I’ll dig into their archive of 60s King Features Syndicate cartoons. These have gathered four cartoons per video. I don’t feel up to reviewing all four in one essay. Not while I’m stalling like this. The first of their YouTube videos bundled Hits and Missiles and Plumber’s Pipe Dream, both of which I’ve already discussed. So let me go to the third, Jeep Tale, which starts at 11:29 in the video. Oh, I like Eugene the Jeep. This is sure to be good.

Jeep Tale was directed by Jack Kinney, the same as Plumber’s Pipe Dream. And right away the title card makes me think of a thing I didn’t acknowledge enough in Plumber’s Pipe Dream: the title card is beautiful. It’s this nice abstract midcentury-styled thing. So is the long, low cabinet that Eugene hops past in the first scene. They’re attractive to look at, at least to someone of my aesthetics. The Jeeps’ treehouse is cute, and to make it a bit funnier, it has a TV antenna. The animation is limited to the point of disappearing altogether, yes. But the pictures are nice to look at. Sometimes absurdly nice: the rendering of Eugene the Jeep and his family makes them amazingly adorable, moreso than I remember them ever being in the comic strip or the Fleischer cartoons.

The cartoon’s frame is Swee’Pea asking Popeye to explain stuff. This was used several times in the King Features cartoons of the 60s. Usually it was Swee’Pea wanting a story. I understand its value as a framing device. For one, it lets the cartoonists use any story premise they have, regardless of whether it’s got anything to do with Popeye. For another, it means like half a minute or more of the five-minute cartoon can be stock animation. And this sets up a story which evokes The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It doesn’t get too close to the original story, but it does want the audience to think of Peter Rabbit.

If there’s one thing Famous Studios Popeye cartoons teach us, it’s that there’s no good Popeye cartoons where he’s facing down an animal. Popeye loses them all, and comes off looking a jerk for trying. (I will defend The Hungry Goat as a great cartoon. I love it. But it’s so much a Tex Avery cartoon that happens to have slotted Popeye in that the cartoon even calls itself out for not being Popeye enough. It reads much more as a stealth pilot for the goat character.) So seeing Popeye and a family of Jeeps living in his(?) yard seemed like a warning sign. No, though; the backstory Popeye isn’t facing down an animal. Bluto is. That’s a conflict I don’t remember from Famous Studios cartoons. And it’s a good one. We can root for the animal to come out on top without feeling like we’re double-crossing Popeye.

The story Popeye tells has got something of a storyline. Young Eugene refuses his Jeep lessons, while his sisters are well-behaved. I don’t know whether his sisters ever get a “canonical” appearance where they’re not part of a possibly fictional tale. Their names are Flipsy, Mipsy, and Tossytail, names sure to come up at 60s-Popeye-Trivia Night. The story more or less follows. Young Eugene goes off to make mischief at the Bad Farmer’s, and quickly gets in over his head. His mother saves him, distracting Bad Farmer Bluto. She hypnotizes Bad Farmer Bluto who goes bouncing off and accidentally threatening Young Eugene’s life … so Young Eugene teleports for the first time. There’s a bit of slack in the storyline but it basically hangs together. I get why this stuff happens and in this order, more or less.

Making the conflict Jeeps Versus Bluto is a pretty good choice. It’s a fresh angle and it avoids making Popeye the antagonist. Making it a Young Eugene who’s not really magical yet, too, keeps the conflict from being a blowout. The plot structure leaves Popeye nearly out of the cartoon. But Popeye as the narrator means he doesn’t seem to be out of action. Good Farmer Popeye stopping in to kibbutz helps give Popeye presence even if he doesn’t affect things any. I laughed at how the “tool shed” Eugene runs to is an ammunition dump. It’s preposterous in a way that’s maybe a little out of tone for the rest of the quite gentle story, but it works for me. The hypnotized Bluto muttering “jeep … jeep ow … jeep ow ow ow” as he bounces on his rear end through thistles is also making me laugh. I will insist this is because Jackson Beck is performing such a nothing line well, not because I’ll laugh at the dumbest stuff.

There’s some oddities in the animation. This besides the problem of working out whether the Jeeps’ treehouse is on Good Farmer Popeye or Bad Farmer Bluto’s property. There are, for example, a lot of scenes which fade out instead of just cutting to something else going on in the scene. There are, in the first half of the cartoon, a lot of quite short shots. And, like, why the fade-out (at about 14:30 in the video) after Popeye tells of Eugene being locked in the cage just to Swee’Pea’s reaction of “Ooh, he was mean”? It seems like they were trying to save screen time. And then had 25 seconds for Eugene to fill time, doing a little magic and then dancing the Sailor’s Hornpipe. It’s cute — every moment of Eugene or his relative Jeeps is adorable — but why so much of it? And if Eugene is going to sing the Sailor’s Hornpipe would it have been too much trouble to have the soundtrack match?

Also so Eugene’s Mom can hypnotize people, but as far as I remember Eugene can’t? … Although I guess that fits with the story Popeye tells. Carry on, then.

1960s Popeye has Plumber’s Pipe Dream


I’m taking this week to build myself some margin in the Popeye’s Island Adventure series. I’m doing that by filling in a week with an older cartoon. This one, Plumber’s Pipe Dream, is part of the notorious 1960s series. In that, King Features made over two hundred short cartoons over the course of about three years to fill television with a heap of content. Doing this required hiring, like, everybody who could hold a pencil. This is a short that I thought King Features had on their official YouTube channel. They have a couple dozen of that run. So I’m posting a copy I can find. If you find it’s been removed, please let me know. I’ll try to find a replacement. It could be King Features will have added it to their official channel by that time.

This cartoon, at least, I can give credits for. It was made by Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney worked for Disney in the Golden Age — he directed sequences in Pinocchio and Dumbo. And he worked for UPA Studios at its peak too. You could get that idea from the stylish title card. By 1960 he had his own studio doing television work, King Features cartoons among it.

This is not a good cartoon. It is one I enjoy watching. It’s weird that those go together. A strain in pop culture, especially on the Internet, celebrates bad stuff. It’s been celebrated so long that we can forget that this is a strange choice to make. What’s fun about a bad cartoon, or movie, or book, or story?

I think it’s something you have to grow into. You start out taking in stories (cartoons, movies, whatever) and accepting them as stories. Then you get to knowing stories well enough. You can tell good from bad, and maybe why some are good and some bad. Most of us then stick to the good stories, and live a happy life with our entertainment choices. But some of us, in what feels like a nerdy thing to do, break that. I think some of us get so obsessed with studying stories, and why they work and why they don’t, that we overthink it. Like, we notice that most good stories follow (sensible) rules. A genuinely bad story, though? That won’t follow rules. Or it follows a weird distorted idea of the rules. It surprises in a way that a well-made story can’t. The surprise and novelty is great if you’ve consumed so much of a particular kind of story that normal ones are boring. And it’s great for showing by its mistakes how good stories come together. And, yes, a good story that defies rules and breaks expectations is also cherished. But there’s probably more ways to make a bad story than a good one.

So how does this hypothesis matter to this cartoon?


We start with Olive Oyl having a leaky faucet. Good premise. Plumbing cartoons are usually fun. Leaking water gives things a sense of urgency, and that often builds comic energy well. Swee’Pea suggests having it fixed, something Olive Oyl never thought of, even though they have the same voice actor. Olive Oyl insisting she wouldn’t have thought of that, and looking up “plumbers” under “P as in Plop”, are a couple cute throwaway dialogue jokes. They’re not quite laugh lines, but at least they’re cheery.

Popeye’s the designated plumber, and mentions how this call roused him from a snooze. There’s a weird momentary fade to black at about 1:31, before we see Popeye’s face making some weird expressions. This turns out to be plot-important, but you only know that in retrospect. Popeye’s first attempt only makes the leak worse and he rushes to the basement to turn the water off. This by the way takes about as long as a whole Popeye’s Island Adventure does. So I appreciate how much story compression has to go into those shorts.

Popeye can’t remember which apartment he needs to turn off, so he breaks that pipe too. So he figures now he has to go to the water main and runs out to the city sewer. Here, given the direction to turn the wheel right he turns it back and forth until it breaks off, sending even more water loose. You have get to wondering whether Popeye was always this incompetent. Boring Suburban Popeye, the character he mutated into in cartoons of the 50s, had a lot of problems. (And yes, this is Popeye in the city. But it’s the way he acts when the cartoon makes him the owner of a boring home in a boring suburb.)

Now the apartment is flooding to the point it looks lost at sea. Popeye needs to get to the city mains before a J G Ballard novel can break out. He hails a taxi, that gets there on distinctly dry streets, and calls out, “The City Water Works!” The shocked driver asks, “It does?” and so help me that makes me laugh every time. This is because I am a nerd. That a phrase might have more than one meaning is always funny to both nerds and four-year-olds. Four-year-olds it makes sense. They’re delighting in the discovery of how language works. Nerds, I don’t know. Might be we so like having things explained and sensible that a sentence which resists mono-meaning is delightful.

Now the water comes, with the city streets flooding or flooding more. Popeye swims toward the water works, only to find the water’s risen so high that it threatens to extinguish the Statue of Liberty’s torch. You know, the torch that has never been a literal fire.

There’s some spinach floating by, that Popeye grabs happily and eats. He gets his power-up fanfare and … water squirts out of his muscle bulges. Well, he puddles to the drowned shutoff valve, which opens a drain, threatening to suck him down. And then what do you know but it’s all a dream, and he’s still getting another call from Olive Oyl. He rushes to Olive Oyl’s apartment and once again forgets to turn off the water. The end.

Lay out the storyline like that and it seems workable. Making a small problem ever-worse is a standard comic method. It’s standard because it works so well. And there are a bunch of funny little drawings. Popeye asleep in his chair looks weird, but in a funny way. The taxi driver has some nice bugged-out eyes when he sees the flood coming. There’s more nice casual jokes than I remembered were in this short. It isn’t quotable, but that’s because all the jokes depend on their context to be anything. And a cartoon doesn’t have to be quotable to be good.

But what’s bad. Mm. Well, little things. Every scene takes a few seconds longer than it needs. The music was done by hitting shuffle on the King Features 1960s Background Themes playlist. I’ll give them a pass on how much animation gets reused within this short. They had like $20 and a heap of Green Stamps for an animation budget, and as many as twelve minutes to draw the thing. But did a third of all the dialogue have to be Olive Oyl crying out “Heellllp” in an endless repeated chant? (I likely find this more annoying than other people because the same chant gets used in many of the 60s cartoons. I recognize it like I recognize the exact same gunshot sound effect in half of all the M-G-M Tom and Jerry cartoons.)

For the most part, this cartoon is boring. Or it’s annoying, when Olive Oyl is crying out “Heellllp” in a sound clip they used in every King Features Popeye. It’s going a bit loopy, with the speed and magnitude of the flooding. But it’s not until 3:55, it changes. This is when Popeye notices the Statue of Liberty is almost drowned. Now the cartoon is not only bad, but great bad. Making the flooding worse by fixing it? That’s a normal line of action. That’s the plot thread that you could make a good cartoon around. Making the flooding “Oh, and it’s going to extinguish the flame in the Statue of Liberty’s Torch”? That’s not a logical thought. The cartoon leaps into some surreal, dream-logic territory. It’s surprising and weird. The rules of plot logic that we’re used to fail and that’s thrilling. Plus there’s a nice alarmed look on the statue’s face.

That it’s all a dream is … eh. The cartoon could as easily have had the big drain open up and let the city dry. Making it all a dream retroactively excuses Popeye making dumb mistakes, at least. And it sets up the here-we-go-again punch line. The cartoon manages, at least for a while, to be a great bad cartoon.


Next week I should get back to Popeye’s Island Adventures with a fresh essay at this link. Now watch as King Features double-crosses me and doesn’t post a new cartoon this week. Well, I have 219 other 1960s cartoons to look at. Plus they’ve posted episodes from Popeye And Son. I can wait them out.

Unlocking The City


I don’t fault you for not having heard about the city of Albion, Michigan. It’s a small college town that maybe is where tee-ball comes from? The city claims it was first played there anyway. But here’s something that I can be kind of sure-ish happened: In the early 1960s the Albion Malleable Iron Company made a bunch of Keys to the City, to showcase civic pride and how they could malleate iron. The City’s since given away all the keys and hasn’t got any left, and there is no Albion Malleable Iron Company anymore, so good luck malling your iron into another shape.

According to that link I didn’t read either, among the recipients of the Key To The City Of Albion, Michigan was none other than Aunt Jemima, who “visited Albion on a few occasions in the early 1960s where she participated in our local benefit pancake breakfast at the Albion Armory”, a series of events I am sure never produced any photographs or moments that might be awkward or embarrassing or terrible if reviewed today.

Another Key To The City Of Albino, Michigan recipient? Ann Landers. The key turned up on eBay in March 2003. So that’s a warning to all municipalities bursting with civic pride. Yes, you can give the Keys to your city to anyone you judge of good character, but there’s no predicting what will happen after that person’s death. You’ll need to keep a list of who you’ve given keys to and change the locks after each death. Really seems like a bother, but I suppose there’s some benefits.

Not quite related to this: in 2007 the city of Sault Ste Marie gave the keys to their city to the band Kiss. Kiss has also gotten the keys to the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I’m hoping the band keeps these keys in a safe location. Think of the potential for mischief if they don’t!

Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl


Previously:


And to wrap up my tour of the 1960s King Features mass-produced Popeye cartoons, here’s one made by Larry Harmon Pictures, Crystal Ball Brawl. I concede it’s not a very good cartoon, although it does capture an aspect of the original comic strips pretty well: a triggering incident offers the chance for riches and the characters besides Popeye start scheming to use it. The scheming doesn’t get very far — only Wimpy and Bluto get in on the villainy — but it does at least evoke how in the comic strip pretty much all the humans except Popeye have huge swaths of rotten in them.

If the name “Larry Harmon” nags at your mind it’s because you’re just about to place him as Bozo The Clown. Larry Harmon Pictures, or Larry Harmon Studios, was formed to animate Bozo the Clown, and the studio did work for Popeye, like everyone did, as well as animation for Dick Tracy and Mister Magoo. I can’t find much more information about it; the studio didn’t last long. The animation, featuring a pretty static set of poses with long camera pans in place of motion and a soundtrack that wanders in indifferent parallel to the action, doesn’t really commend itself like the work of some of the studios here.

And yet … look at that action and at the credited artists, particularly Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer. They would, after the closing of Larry Harmon pictures, create Filmation, which brought to the screen a lot of cartoons with pretty static animation, long camera pans, and a wandering and endlessly repeated soundtrack. Charitably, that seems to be because they rarely had the time or budget to do cartoons well: when given the chance, as on Star Trek or Fat Albert or Flash Gordon they created things that were quite solid, at least for television cartoons of the era. So this little cartoon is part of a thread that brings us to He-Man, if nothing else.

Popeye: Swee’Pea Soup


Previously:


OK, this is an odd one. It features King Blozo, another character who’d been in the Popeye comics since the 1930s but who’d somehow not gotten an appearance in the theatrical shorts, as well as O G Wotasnozzle in a surprisingly villainous role. King Blozo rules Spinachovia with a semi-competent, perpetually worried, often faltering hand. (Indeed, King Features’s current comic strip offering is a rerun of a story in which Blozo loses his rule to a homemade computer.) About all that eased Blozo’s worry in the comic strips was getting American comic strips delivered to him, although Popeye could help by telling jokes or, when he got around to it, straightening out Blozo’s ridiculous issues.

So the premise of this cartoon, Blozo losing control of the country when the population finds it thinks Swee’pea is just too cute, is really not far off something that might happen in the original source. The cartoon beginning in media res is a striking one; it starts the action off with some energy and vitality that pretty well mask how the cartoon takes three minutes before anything really, properly speaking, happens, and how it really only has the two scenes. I don’t know why Wotasnozzle is so villainous in this one, though; he was well-intentioned if impish in the comic strip and the 1960s cartoons in which he sends Popeye through time are … well, he’s a jerk to do it, but that’s a different kind of thing from trying to cook Swee’Pea. (Seriously, how is this even supposed to work? Go back to making Sappo’s wife a young woman again so he thinks he’s cheating on her with her, O G.)

You might guess the animators behind this from the drawing style and the pacing, although I spotted it by listening to the sound effects, especially of the shattered vase. It’s the same sound used for some shattered objects in the Tom and Jerry cartoons made in the early 60s by Gene Deitch for William L Snyder’s Rembrandt Films. We saw Deitch directing some of those 1960s Krazy Kat shorts, too.

While the cartoon’s pretty good at steadily presenting funny pictures, I don’t think Rembrandt Films manages to be as good at that as Gerald Ray Studios were. Individual shots are surprisingly long (though they do pan side to side quite a bit), and they don’t try to be silly as still frames. Of course, it is animated and if you watch with the sound off, you get to a funny part soon enough. That’s pretty satisfying.

Popeye: Out Of This World


Why not carry on with the 1960s Popeye cartoons? Last week I talked about Hits And Missiles, which inaugurated King Features’s production of some 6800 billion cheaply made Popeye cartoons and I’ll stand by my opinion that it’s not so bad. It’s cheap, but, it’s got a clear and character-appropriate plot, the story moves along tolerably well, and the animation is fair enough for the era.

To meet the production schedule King Features hired a bunch of studios, and Paramount Cartoon Studios, which did Hits and Missiles, I think was the best of the lot. Other studios were pulled in, too, and this week’s offering, Out Of This World, comes from Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney has a respectable lineage in cartoon history, working for Disney in its golden age, and UPA Studios, but, well, you know how television work goes. Remember him for directing sequences of Pinocchio and Dumbo.

Rather like last week’s, Out Of This World tosses Popeye into space. Unlike last week’s, the cartoon puts a framing device, in which a mad scientist — I believe it’s Professor O G Wotasnozzle, created by E C Segar to inflict crazy inventions on Sappo, but who slipped over into the Popeye universe because crazy inventions work out even better over there because Popeye has more personality than Sappo — picks Popeye for his time machine to venture into what turns out to be the future. Why is confusing, since the scenes there are entirely Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’pea having ordinary adventures in the world of 2500 AD and none of them seem at lost being halfway to Futurama. The best answer I can give is: they had this animation of Wotasnozzle fiddling around with the time machine and tossing Popeye into alternate eras, and this fills a minute of animation time for free. They’d use this framing device to send Popeye to other eras even though I’m pretty sure they could have just started with an establishing shot and let Jackson Beck narrate when it is, the way they actually do once Wotasnozzle is out of the way.

Intriguing to me is that this cartoon pretty much features the loose worldbuilding that the Jetsons would make iconic — all they really overlook is stuffing Space Age Puns into things — yet does nothing with them. The lethargic cartoon (it takes five of its six minutes just to land Popeye on the Moon!) can’t even be bothered to have Future-ish Popeye get in a fight with Future Bluto. It’s just Suburban, Domestic Popeye, the version of the character which made for the dullest cartoons of the 1950s and makes for ambitiously ignorable Sunday strips in the still-technically-running comic strip.

Well, at least Wotasnozzle is having fun working his time machine, there’s that.

Einstein’s Brain, Thursdays at 8:30


So you know Doctor Thomas Stoltz Harvey, and you do, although you don’t know him by that name. You know him better as “you heard how after Einstein died the guy doing his autopsy stole his brain and put it in a jar?” This is an unfair characterization, as he sliced it into 240 blocks about a cubic centimeter each and then encased them in plastic, he asserted he had the preposthumous permission of the prominent physicist, and it completely overlooks his work in removing Einstein’s eyes.

Anyway, I was reading Sam Kean’s book about genetics, The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales Of Love, War, and Genius, As Written By Our Genetic Code, and it mentioned that after leaving Princeton, Harvey ended up moving to Kansas and becoming the next-door neighbor to William S Burroughs, and yeah, that William S Burroughs.

So now picture the goofball mid-to-late 60s sitcom of this scenario: William S Burroughs. The guy who stole Einstein’s brain. Einstein’s brain in a jar. Which one of these three is the wacky neighbor? The world may never know.

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