60s Popeye: The Big Sneeze (warning: sneezes not all *that* big)


Today’s is another Gerald Ray-produced cartoon. Direction is credited to Tom McDonald and there’s no story credit. I can tell you it’s copyright 1960, at least. So here’s The Big Sneeze.

This is not an Abominable Snowman cartoon. It’s circling around the idea, though. I guess Popeye cartoons come closer with the Alice the Goon cartoon Frozen Feuds. But Popeye, Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and a St Bernard are out enjoying the mountain peaks and playing with the echo and all that. I thought the St Bernard might be the dog that turns up in Hy Eisman’s Popeye strips on Sundays, the one whose name I can’t remember. His name is Chester, in Hy Eisman’s take on things. Or Birdseed, in earlier Thimble Theatre comics and comic books. Anyway neither seems to be the dog here, who gets called Bernie.

The story’s this amiable, mostly nonsensical stuff going on. While Popeye is off skiing, figures unknown swipe Olive Oyl’s new raccoon coat. She storms off, following it, to a little door on a cliff side. There she’s encased in ice and captured by Jackson Beck doing his French Guy accent. Popeye, Swee’Pea, and the dog follow the tracks and Swee’Pea gets caught in ice too. We meet the mysterious figure: it’s Quasimodo, the Halfback of Notre Dame.

This is an identification aimed at kids smart enough to know there’s something called the Hunchback of Notre Dame. And who are so pleased that the cartoon acknowledges they know of such a thing that they don’t care the reference makes no sense. So I thank Gerald Ray for thinking of young me. Also adult me.

Bernie the St Bernard breaks into an ice-covered cave. Inside Olive Oyl and Swee'Pea are frozen into blocks of ice, and Popeye and Quasimodo are encased in snow.
Popeye wasn’t really worried about being trapped in snow until he noticed he was shaded in graphite and didn’t have animate eye holes, the mark of being immobile for the whole scene.

Quasimodo’s the echo of Echo Peak. He stole the coat for good reason: this is the first time he’s been warm in years. Why not light a fire? Quasimodo shows, by lighting a fire, which melts enough of his ceiling that everybody gets frozen. At its worst, this gets him to sneeze, get buried in an avalanche, and be lost until spring, which cuts into his work as an echo. Fair enough. And then Quasimodo pours water over Popeye to freeze him until spring. Popeye protests he only has a two-week vacation (from what? Or is that the joke?).

Everything works out basically nicely, though. Bernie’s able to dig in and pour spinach into Popeye’s pipe. He punches Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl free of the ice, and she grabs her coat back. And Olive Oyl has a plan for Quasimodo to get warm. Bernie goes off and gets little collar-casks of spinach for him. Happy ending for everybody.

This isn’t a zany cartoon. It’s more silly, with a few doses of wacky humor like making the menace be Quasimodo the Halfback of Notre Dame. It feels rather like a comedy sketch about the Old Man of the Mountain that Popeye and company got cast in. I’m amused by it all, anyway.

The Stan Freberg Show: the final episode, with a bunch of highlights


So the 20th of October, 1957, The Stan Freberg Show came to its end. Freberg had promised to feature some of the most popular bits of the show and said he was getting card and letter from the listening audience about what to select. The show hadn’t quite given up, though: there are a couple of new bits, including what might have become running gag characters, appearing for the first time here. Still the show is mostly recreations, sometimes in abbreviated form. And of what?

Here’s the show:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. It’s no longer an episode of a brand-new radio series, but rather a clonked-out radio series. And they’re bidding a fond farewell to r-a-d-i-o. And a trick of memory. I had remembered the last episode as opening with a more busted-up theme, one with sound effects of a machine conking out, and the music losing tempo and falling out of tune. Not so, but given the show’s use of that sort of sound effect (as in the fifth episode) I’m surprised it didn’t.
00:56 Opening remarks. Freberg’s grateful to his audience, and will miss talking to people like — some character who hasn’t appeared before. A jumpy, character complaining the road’s blocked by sheep, and who follows his lines with singing the line again in a high-pitched voice. He’s a brain surgeon.
02:45 Mr Tweedly, Censor from Citizen’s Radio. Stan Freberg tries to sing Old Man River, while getting buzzed for not saying thank you and for using needlessly harsh songs and bad grammar and such. This ran in the sixth episode.
06:26 Peggy Taylor. She’s crying, not because they’re going off the air, but because Stan Freberg’s on her foot. She gives a gift, not a sleeping bag but a Freberg Cozy, and I like the idea of calling a sleeping bag a personal cozy. She sings “The Birth of the Blues”. This was done in the second show, and I’m surprised they would redo a song. A good song, sure, but it’s not like 1957 was short on radio-ready music.
10:06 Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields. Soundtrack of a “typical” (adult) western, including sponsorship from the Eating Corporation of America. It’s truncated from the original, of course; just some examination of the fence and one commercial. This appeared on the 11th show originally.
15:20 Capitol Record. A “whole list of name” requested a performance of Day-Oh, the Banana Boat Song. It’s a bit too loud for the bongo player, who keeps insisting Freberg get farther away to be at his loudest. This appeared on the seventh show, and featured a bongo player who’d also been in the opening and closing segments of the fourth episode. I’m not surprised that St George and the Dragonet didn’t make the cut — the sketch is too long and has too big a cast, and doesn’t really condense well. I’m more surprised that Wun’erful, Wun’erful didn’t, but see the next item.
20:34 Billy May has a gift for Stan Freberg: an accordion-playing bandleader found in Balboa Bay. Reference to the Wun’erful, Wun’erful sketch from the fifth episode. In that, a Lawrence Welk parody floated out to sea. Their Welk is there to laugh at Freberg. “You don’t have to make fun of me.” “Look-a who’s talking!” Welk gets to play “a short medley based on the names of girls-a”. Mostly “Every Little Breeze Seems To Whisper Louise”, and stuff that can’t quite get going. The sketch was turned into a Capitol record, as announced the 13th show.
23:00 Package for Stan Freberg, about ten feet tall. New messenger character. The package is the Abominable Snowman. He’d been introduced the second episode. Abominable asks Freberg if it’s hard on him doing both voices like that; he admits it’s hard on him. It’s a bit of fourth-wall-breaking and plays on Freberg’s ability to shift character fast. Abominable Snowman isn’t wearing orange sneakers today, just purple, a new “ensemble”. Abominable and his wife Gladys are thinking what they could do to help the show. (Gladys was introduced, as his fiancee, in the ninth show.) “I could scare a couple of sponsors for you.” “We’ve already done that, thank you.” Abominable offers to teach Freberg how to be an Abominable Snowman, which gets to be funnier when you remember they just pointed out how he’s doing both voices.
26:48 Conclusion. Freberg admits they didn’t have time for Mr Poulet’s tuned sheep, the one sketch promised last week that they would do. Poulet and his Muppet Show-ready sketch appeared on the first episode and without the sheep turned up in the seventh show. Freberg thanks his audience, especially the press who supported the show so.
27:51 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. And now they are complete, too.

The Stan Freberg Show: The Second Episode; Meet A The Abominable Snowman


Archive.org has this really nice system to embed media in other pages. Both videos and audio files. The scheme works really well if there’s a single file on the archive.org host page. If there’s multiple files on the page, though — if it’s an archive page with whole collection of something, like, every episode of a radio series — then it gets harder. The simple “Share This Item” link gives code that shares the whole collection. And that defaults to the first item in the collection. A bit of URL hacking can fix that. But I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. So if you play this, and it’s just last week’s episode again, please let me know. I’ll try fixing it.

So here’s the rundown for this episode, from the 21st of July, 1957:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. Stan Freberg interrupts one of his own comedy records again; only the one, this time. This record is “John and Marsha”, his first comedy record. The original is a story, in which a woman says “John” and a man answers “Marsha”, and that’s basically it. The comedy’s all in the structure; for me, it works. But that’s also why the interrupting Freberg saying they have a lot to say to each other is a punch line.
00:40 Opening Theme. So now you see how this quiet bit of customization is going to go.
01:30 Interview with the Abominable Snowman. This instance of the Abominable Snowman turns out to be ten and a half feet tall and wears size 23 sneakers. I do, really, have a friend with enormously long feet in real life and I’m not sure they don’t wear size 23. Not quite that tall, though. The narrator’s introduction about how the show “goes everywhere, sees everything, does everyone” riffs on newsreel hype.
08:00 Great Moments In History: the story behind Barbara Fritchie. Quick little sketch based on a poem that I only know because of a Rocky and Bullwinkle sketch, this bit, and a sketch from the Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America albums. The sketch shows that sort of cheery, lightly cynical existentialism that at least I see all over cartoons of the era.
09:15 Song. Peggy Taylor sings “Birth of the Blues”.
13:00 Carving A New Statue At Mount Rushmore. Absurdist bit about carving a 400-foot oleomargarine statue. The sort of sketch you can only do on radio or the cartoons. Mary Mararet McBride did a daily housewife-advice chat show on radio for decades, including what sounds like an admirably eclectic line of interview subjects. This sounds all respectable enough, although by 1957 she’d been on the air for roughly a quarter-century. Likely she served well as an old-enough-to-be-square reference. My favorite line is the carver declaring of someone, “I hate her but she’s a lovely girl”.
16:00 Wrong number. The major sketch this piece, without the political energy of last week’s Incident at Los Voraces. It’s a simple slow-build, slow-burn sketch where a onetime common accident just keeps getting bigger. My favorite line is its most instantly dated, the man declaring he’s so tired he “wouldn’t go out to see Davey Crockett wrestle Marilyn Monroe”.
23:50 Stephen Foster Medley. Is there any dated comic premise more wonderfully dated than the late-50s/early-60s hate-on-rock-and-roll bit? I say there is only if you divide the early-60s-hate-on-the-Beatles into its own genre. This sketch revives a record-producer character from Freberg’s record “Sh-Boom”, mentioned early on, who’d helped a recording get to true modern greatness by avoiding problems like the audience being able to make out a word the singers were performing. This is the same premise, doing a rock-and-roll version of Stephen Foster songs. It’s more cleverly done than funny, and I don’t think just because Freberg writes for clever. Nor because the premise is hilariously dated, embedded as it is in a moment when American popular music styles changed to what is still the default mode, and writing from the perspective of the now-obsolete styles. I think Freberg (or his writers) got caught in an authenticity trap. They got so committed to making plausible arrangements that, actually, “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” set to the tune of “Rag Mop” works. I’ve been caught in this kind of authenticity trap myself. I suspect it’s caused by certain nerd personality traits. Particular strains of cleverness and industriousness and perfectionism can combine to where the goal becomes executing an idea perfectly. It’s easy to forget that you haven’t developed or escalated the idea past the original premise.
28:00 Closing Remarks. No teaser for next week; the first episode said the Barbara Fritchie bit would be here.