60s Popeye: how to treat Popeye’s Junior Headache


I believe this is the first time, since I started doing these cartoons systematically, that I’ve looked at a Gerald Ray-produced 60s Popeye cartoon. The director’s listed as Bob Bemiller. The credits, done with this nice split of typefaces that makes me think of a mid-century bowling alley, don’t list a writer. On the other hand, we’re promised eight animators worked on drawing this one. It’s 1960’s Popeye’s Junior Headache. Spoiler: it does not feature Popeye Junior.

The plot is just that an exhausted Popeye’s roped into babysitting Olive Oyl’s niece Diesel, and she’s your traditional hellion. The obvious plot is how bad she can get before Popeye grabs his spinach and Does Something about all this. The short does that plot; the question is how good it is at that.

The first shot is promising, though. It’s a view of Popeye slumped over in bed answering the phone. The view’s from a ceiling corner of the room, an angle harder to draw than the scene strictly needed. His room’s got a full bed, chest, curtains, a rug with an anchor on it, a ship’s-wheel clock. The scene would read as well as a side shot of Popeye sitting in a bed, with the wall and floor suggested by a pair of flat colors. That the animators put some personality into a boring scene bodes well.

Gerald Ray was, among other things in a long career, one of the directors for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Other Titles. Bullwinkle was never a lavishly animated show. But it used a good trick: a lot of short scenes moving between funny pictures. Ray imported that to here. It’s really cheap to animate, as they do at about 19:20, Popeye talking by having the book covering his face move. It’s also no effort to put Diesel Oyl standing there with a magnifying glass on the book. But together this makes a funny scene. I mean at least funny in intent. You might not like the joke, but you know what’s supposed to be funny there and why it’s supposed to be funny.

An example of this style: Popeye finally has enough and gets to the kitchen. It’s not actually my childhood kitchen but boy did it give me warm nostalgic feelings. Anyway, he eats a can of Something That’s Not Spinach. He gets his power-up music; his pipe falls apart. If you aren’t watching you might miss that, or even think it’s an animation error. But having his spinach power-up go wrong like that is a good joke. It wasn’t necessary; watch the cartoon with the sound off and the story goes as well. But it makes things more fun to watch.

Deisel Oyl — The Popeye wiki says Deezil, on what grounds I don’t know — is a creation of the cartoons. I don’t know whether she appeared outside the 60s cartoons specifically. She’s voiced by Mae Questel, who’s using basically the voice she has for Swee’Pea. I can’t say this first appearance has made me fond of her. But you can also see where Swee’Pea couldn’t work for the story. Popeye’s Nephews might work, although I’m sure King Features figured they had no right to use those characters. Remember, these cartoons have “Brutus” rather than “Bluto” because they weren’t sure whether Bluto was created from the comic strip (which they owned) or the Fleischer Cartoons (which they didn’t).

So this is a basic cartoon, but executed well in that there’s plenty of funny pictures to watch as the action carries on. I suspect had Gerald Ray done more of the King Features Popeyes the series might be remembered more fondly.

The Stan Freberg Show: The Fourth Show, with yogurt and soap


The Lux Radio Theatre was a longrunning radio specialty. The show presented hourlong, audio-only renditions of popular movies. The compression for time, and the adaptation to reflect that everything has to be audible, make for sometimes fascinating differences. There’s a version of The Wizard of Oz where the Cowardly Lion is played by … I don’t know, but it sure sounds like Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger; the singer declaring you’re a mean one, Mister Grinch) to me. And it’s not bad, but it highlights how Burt Lahr was just an enormous fuzzy ball of lovability. The adaptation of Jack Benny’s then-infamous (and not that bad) flop The Horn Blows At Midnight dropped the framing device and improved the film by at least one full letter grade. For a dozen years it was hosted by Cecil B DeMille, who performed just as you might imagine if you were writing a comedy sketch about an old-time Hollywood director introducing movies he didn’t make. By the mid-40s DeMille stepped down and William Keighley and then Irving Cummings took over hosting duties. But the DeMille thing is what’s being riffed on here, the fourth episode of The Stan Freberg Show, originally aired the 4th of August, 1957.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. Freberg talking with a bongo player who’s sensitive to how loud the show is. The sensitive bongo player’s from Freberg’s Banana Boat (Day-Oh) record, which was also released in 1957 and is how I know he’s a bongo player; that information’s not given here. I don’t know whether the record or the show came out first and so which was promotion for or callback to the other. Freberg expressing fear that he might be mistaken for a commercial might reflect how the show hadn’t got a sponsor, which you’ll notice now, and would become a minor recurring theme in the show’s run.
01:23 Great Moments In History. The story behind Paul Revere’s Ride. The punchline is the same as the story behind Barbara Fritchie, in the second episode. Historical researcher Robert E Tainter is mentioned again, described as having to mail his piece in.
02:24 What Is Yogurt? If there is a funniest-in-retrospect bit of comedy, it’s people not understanding foods that have since become commonplace. Recommended other examples of this genre: articles from the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 explaining what a “bagel” is; the way “pizza” was a reliable laugh line about something someone might eat from about The Honeymooners through the Kinks’ Soap Opera album.

Anyway, this is just a way to get Peggy Taylor in early to sing “I Like The LooksLikes Of You”. I’m assuming that’s the title of the song. Searching on the lyrics didn’t pin down, for me, a clear idea of what song this was.

05:15 Hi-Fi. Doctor Herman Horn explains Hi-Fi. It’s a fine bit of nonsense, with a bunch of weird sounds and odd explanations. I love the low-key nerd correctionism in Horn warning that “Hi-Fi” is two words and he won’t tell you again, which he doesn’t.
11:00 Lox Audio Theater. The melodrama Rock Around My Nose, all about the terror of a man who can’t get close to his son. If you’ve wondered where the phrase “nose full of nickels” come from, you’re fibbing. (The particular cadence for chanting “nose full of nickels” reminds me of a running gag on The Jack Benny Show. I don’t know whether that’s a deliberate reference, a coincidence, or if both are a reference to something I’m not getting.) I love the line about how “that 73 cents bothered me”.

The sketch has an example of that motif where the child is “really” a cranky old man, part of a line of jokes that would include Baby Herman, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Of course, the kid is really played by June Foray, which makes the sketch sound even more like a Aesop and Son piece from Rocky and Bullwinkle Daws Butler (whom, an anonymous commenter points out, is using the Elroy Jetson voice).

The close of the sketch, in which all the actors start fighting, is a direct riff of the close of Lux Radio Theater episodes. Those always featured, of course, the cast talking about what a great time they had and how they use Lux Soap all the time.

The close teases that the next adaptation will be Love Thy Neighbor. This is conceivably a reference to the 1940 Jack Benny/Fred Allen comedy based on their famous radio feud. I wouldn’t think so, since the movie was 17 years old at that point and I can’t imagine it lingering in the public consciousness, but I’ve been proved wrong about Fred Allen’s lasting reputation in recent weeks so what do I know. And Freberg and his writers might not have cared if they referenced anything anyone recognized as long as they were amused. But I’d bet on it just reflecting that it’s funny to say “love thy neighbor” in the midst of a brawl.

22:25 The Yellow Rose of Texas. Adaptation of Freberg’s 1955 The Yellow Rose of Texas record, in which the lead singer squabbles with the drum player. This record was also one of those referenced in the cold open to the first episode of the series.
27:12 Closing. The bongo player has fully sampled the show and concludes it is loud.
27:50 Closing Music.

All my recaps of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

In Which I Make Your Life Better by Explaining Why You Think You Heard Of Bernard Baruch


The name “Bernard Baruch” is nagging you as something familiar because it was a reference on one episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s the start of the “Moosylvania Saved” story, the last serial of the last season. Fearless Leader was looking for advice on his country’s bankruptcy and went to an electrical brain which the Narrator introduced as “Pottsylvania’s answer to Bernard Baruch”. You saw this while watching WNEW, Channel 5 (“o/` The fun’s on channel five-five-five-five, the fun’s on channel five! o/`”) when you recognized it as being some kind of a reference to something, the way that “Kirwood Derby” thing probably was. But it also registered as probably not a reference to something real, the way that jewel-crusted toy boat supposed to be owned by Omar somebody apparently was.

Yes, Ray Billingsley’s comic strip Curtis is in reruns too. I don’t know why or for how long.

Popeye: The Last Resort


Previously:


I seem to have fallen into a theme of sampling the Popeye cartoons made in the early 60s from each of the various studios that King Featured hired to produce several zillion cartoons over the course of twenty minutes. Today’s, “The Last Resort”, was animated by Gerald Ray Studios, and I’d like to tell you something about them.

I barely can. The Internet seems to have overlooked Gerald Ray Studios in its entirety; the only references I can find to it are pages mentioning the 1960s cartoon. Fred M Grandinetti’s Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History offers that Gerald Ray had worked with Jay Ward — of Bullwinkle fame — on Crusader Rabbit and directed several Fractured Fairy Tales, and went on to form a Mexico City animation studio. You probably would have guessed these facts just from watching the cartoon, though.

If you weren’t sure there was a lot of Bullwinkle DNA in this studio then I recommend you try watching this cartoon with the sound off, because doing that makes clear how funny it is to watch. One of the guiding ideas behind Jay Ward’s style was that they may not be able to animate the scenes lushly, but, any given picture could be a funny one, and even if all you could animate in a scene was one character’s mouth moving you can at least switch between several different scenes showing the characters in different poses. It’s a simple trick, but it pays off well: the brevity of any given shot and the switching between shots fools the eye into thinking there’s more animation going on than there actually is.

And, as with Bullwinkle, the pictures are funny even when they don’t need to be, and sometimes in complicated ways: it would be enough of a joke that the Sea Hag is counterfeiting three-dollar bills. We didn’t strictly need to see one of them, but if we are going to, it’s funny that a three-dollar bill should have Benedict Arnold on it. And it’s funny enough that a three-dollar bill should show Benedict Arnold, but it’s funny on top of that that he’s shown hanging. It’s the sort of incidental detail that makes a tight budget work for you.

The cartoon’s also interesting in that it features the Sea Hag and Toar. Both were characters introduced to the comic strip in the 30s and, strangely, neither appeared in the Fleischer cartoons. They also didn’t appear in the Famous Studios cartoons, but the Famous Studios cartoons gradually forgot about all the Popeye-universe characters besides Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and two of Popeye’s nephews. Poopdeck Pappy, Eugene the Jeep, the Goons, and the other two nephews just faded out; if nothing else we can thank the 60s cartoons for bringing them back around.

I can’t think of a good reason the Fleischer Studios, particularly, didn’t use the Sea Hag. She makes a wonderfully compelling antagonist to Popeye, smart in the ways Bluto really can’t be and with the added plot complication that Popeye feels he can’t hit her. Come to think of it, that might be the problem, since that would make it harder to end a short on a big action climax unless the plotting was stronger, and of all the things Fleischer Studios did well, plotting was not among them.

Toar’s late appearance in animation is easier to understand. E C Segar introduced him in the comic strip as a prehistoric brute who, thanks to drinking from a magic pool, enjoys eternal youth. He started as a villain, but pretty soon fell in line as one of Popeye’s loyal supporters because Popeye is made of awesome. (A lot of his antagonists in the strip followed that character trajectory.) Having him introduced as the Sea Hag’s lackey is authentic to how he was introduced in the comic strip. And it’s easy to understand why he wouldn’t be introduced to the cartoons before the Sea Hag was: if he isn’t the real villain’s lackey, then there isn’t much plot role he can serve that Bluto can’t do at least as well. (Toar’s even voiced by Jackson Beck, Bluto’s voice.)

Gerald Ray Studios only made ten of the 1960s Popeye cartoons, which is a shame. The Bullwinkle-style limited animation serves the characters well.

Thinking About Rifftrax’s Queen of Snow Bees


Like over twelve but under eighty million people nationwide I was at the Rifftrax Live movie theater thingy to see people who own cars and houses make fun of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, which included this short feature Santa and the Snow Fairy Queen. The Rifftrax guys explained that the Snow Fairy Queen was from some Germanic folklore and she was the Queen of Snowflakes that Look Like Bees. I don’t dispute that there are snowflakes that look like bees, for sufficient definitions of look like and bees and snowflakes. It’s just the specificity of the queendom here that captures my imagination.

I admit I grew up with pretty pedestrian fairy tale habits, mostly getting what I could out of the Fractured Fairy Tale segments on Bullwinkle, which was mostly different ways they did Rumpelstiltskin, who in the proper original fairy tale just gets cheated, and lots and lots and lots of versions of Sleeping Beauty. But while I’d imagined that sure, you needed a fairy queen of snowflakes, the idea of partitioning them into (at minimum!) Snowflakes That Look Like Bees as well as Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees was something I just didn’t see coming. I don’t doubt that it comes from an actual fairy tale because who could possibly make that up? I mean, other than the person who made up the fairy tale?

Unless they got it from someone with a vested interest in the borders of the Fairy Queendom Of Snowflakes That Look Like Bees. If it was that, then, was it someone who was happy with the snowflake situation, or was it some anti-Looking-Like-Bee irredentist who was promulgating the propaganda campaign to establish a casus belli for an invasion from the Fairy Queendom of Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees? Or vice-versa? We’d need specialists to say.