60s Popeye: Duel to the Finish, one of the good ones


Today’s is another Seymour Kneitel festival: he gets credit for the story, direction, and production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios piece. Here’s Duel to the Finish.

It’s hard to have no sympathy for Wimpy. He’d have taken over Thimble Theatre, if only Popeye hadn’t been there first. He has this great blend of gluttony and larceny. He pairs well against Popeye. There’ve been a couple cartoons that pitted him against Popeye. The most notable was 1939’s Hello, How Am I. In that one Wimpy pretends to be Popeye so he can get hamburgers out of Olive Oyl. Here …

All right, there’s a certain overlap. But it has a different start, and different progression. Here, Olive Oyl is bored with Popeye, and we can see why. She wants to make him jealous, so starts making hamburgers to woo Wimpy. And Popeye sees this for what it is, Olive Oyl and Wimpy using each other. It’s not until Olive Oyl offers a kiss that Popeye cares. Which is a nice dramatic irony as Wimpy couldn’t care about such things as kisses. So it’s a duel.

A contented Wimpy sits at the table, surrounded by dirty plates, with three hamburgers in front of him, a hamburger in his right hand, and a fork holding a chunk of hamburger in his left hand.
Olive Oyl has a lot more plates than I do. Also, Wimpy has the power not just to eat hamburgers with a fork but to single-handedly cut out a slice of hamburger using a fork.

Wimpy makes it an eating duel, challenging to see who can eat the most hamburgers. He’s not a stupid person; it’s just amazing Popeye accepts it. Right away we see Olive Oyl worn out from making burgers, and Popeye struggling to chew. And Wimpy puttering along, happy, even eating burgers with both hands. One of those hands has a fork. I’ve heard of people eating New York-style pizza with a fork, but hamburgers is a new one. And he beats Popeye! This is the rare cartoon where, not only does Bluto/Brutus not appear and not be the antagonist, but Popeye also doesn’t win. You have to appreciate Wimpy’s cunning.

But Popeye has to win anyway, and it comes about by forfeit, again a rare event. Olive Oyl can’t cook another hamburger. This breaks Wimpy’s interest in her, because he’s unaware that she might be able or willing to cook at a later date. The beaten Popeye grumbles at Olive Oyl for having started the whole mess, and that’s the end.

Bedraggled Popeye and Olive Oyl slumping on the couch after being exhausted in the eating contest.
In retrospect, this makes Popeye being boring at the start of the cartoon look like wisdom.

Wimpy goes home. It’s never clear what he thinks about this whole day. That he recognized a chance to eat if he flattered, yes. He had a similar relationship with the Sea Hag, at least in the comic strip. He came in, spotting an advantage he could take, and used it for as much as he could, and wandered out again. It’s as though he barely notices the mortal lives of Popeye and Olive Oyl and drifts in, like a magical creature, while there are rewards to be had.

The whole cartoon’s a story well-established by the characters in place here. And it explores consequences that aren’t obvious from what we already knew of them. Solid stuff. Could have been a quite good theatrical cartoon.

60s Popeye: The Baby Contest (nb, ‘contest’ is a noun here, not a verb)


I had thought that all these Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced shorts were from 1961 anymore. Nope. This is a 1960 production. So as much as I did not understand how King Features’s YouTube page was bundling these shorts together, I now understand them even less. Or I don’t understand them more. Whichever. As usual for a Paramount-made cartoon, Seymour Kneitel’s listed as director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Now to think something about The Baby Contest.

I have no idea where Brutus got this kid, either.

The title promises, and the cartoon gets around to, a string of contest jokes. A bunch of small stunts, the bad guy cheating to win all or most all of them, and then the good guy pulling out a last-second win. Here, the bad guy is Bully Boy, I guess. I think we only hear his name from the egg-rolling-race announcer. Also they have an egg-rolling-race announcer. Of course it’s Jackson Beck, who did this sort of narrator-type work for every old-time-radio show ever. It might confuse the casual viewer that Brutus is narrating the race. I don’t remember ever finding this confusing when I was a kid, though.

It takes its sweet time getting there, though. We don’t even get to the contest until two minutes in, and it’s another half-minute before the events start. The start of the cartoon’s filled instead with Swee’Pea moping. Olive Oyl and Popeye try to lift his spirits and that’s a reliable cartoon premise in itself.

Swee'Pea sits up in the living room, looking sad. Olive Oyl and Popeye watch; Popeye is pointing to Swee'Pea and in the midst of saying something.
“Ahoy, Swee’Pea! I knows ya is feelin’ the aliennagration of the atomiskized mod’rn sock-siety likes that, and ya has gots ta find yer own ways ta handle the crushing weights of existentikalistical dread an’ all, but I hopes ya will cornsider what’s almost allus worked fer me: polka!”

Wimpy introduces the contest as a best-two-of-three affair. The contest organizers are lucky only two babies entered. There’s three activities: a potato-sack race, an egg-rolling contest, and a crawling contest. The egg-rolling contest and the crawling contest look suspiciously similar. I’m surprised they didn’t swap the egg-rolling and the potato-sack race so the reused animation would be less obvious. I’m surprised they couldn’t think of a fourth and fifth event, but maybe the trouble is thinking of ones that would not need much new footage. I also wonder if only having the three events is why they spent so much time establishing Swee’Pea’s unhappiness.

We get the expected cheating on Brutus’s part (Bully Boy seems completely innocent) and counter-cheating on Popeye’s. At least in the potato-sack race. In the crawl, we see Popeye notice that Brutus is using a lollipop on a fishing rod to lure Swee’Pea away. It’s Bully Boy that Brutus brings in, though. The implication is that Popeye did something, but what? And when?

After losing, Brutus offers Wimpy a huge plate of hamburgers for the trophy. His plan fails, maybe because he tries in the open after all the contests have been judged. I mean, Wimpy is a supremely bribable judge. Two burgers before the start of the match and it wouldn’t even matter what the contest was. Also, Brutus is unaware that you can just buy trophies. Seriously. They’re cheaper than you’d think.

In this cartoon, Popeye does not eat spinach, but Swee’Pea does. Swee’Pea also gives a rhyming couplet to close things off.

60s Popeye: County Fair, and that’s about all there is to say about it


Are we back to 1961? Yes, we’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios. County Fair is directed by Seymour Kneitel, like every Famous Studios or Paramount Studios Popeye short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer.

The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.

What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.

And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.

Farmer Brutus and the pig he holds looking shocked and amazed that Farmer Popeye has his arms full of dozens of wrapped hams.
Oh, here’s the other moment of personality this cartoon. Popeye winning the hog-calling contest demands he do something spectacular with calling a hog. So it has to be either he gets an enormous number of pigs, or at least one tremendous pig, or, this, here to horrify that adorable pig Brutus has.

Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.

Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.

No Robert Benchley Society Contest For 2016


My love asked whatever happened to the Robert Benchley Humor Writing Contest. It’s a good question. I hadn’t heard anything about it and wondered what happened. It happens they just made an announcement:

No Benchley Humor Writing Competition this Year

I regret to inform you that the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Competition will not be held in 2016. Watch this blog for further announcements about Society activities.

This is way too much effort to make to find a way not to give me the award. Guys, I can take rejection. It’s all right. I don’t look to you as a way to get my feelings hurt. I just enter the contest for the sport of it. I’ve got people I’d been intimate with for years to hurt my feelings when I need to feel hurt.

Anyway, I’ll pass along any word I receive about why they aren’t doing anything. Also I’ll look up the Donald Ogden Stewart Society Humor Writing Contest. And my mathematics blog did comic strips again yesterday, so please enjoy that if you will.

Robert Benchley Society 2014 Award Winners Named


I’m not among them, which is a pity for me. Also I never managed to find the finalists list, so I don’t know how close I came to amusing final judge Mark Russell with a piece based on that bread-throwing ghost from Plaisto, London. (The piece was shrunk to 500 words, per the submission guidelines, which required a complete rewrite, which made for an interesting writing exercise. I’m not sure which I like better. The shorter has a punchiness I like, even though I enjoy the longer’s rambling.)

Anyway, the grand prize winner was Lowell T Christensen, with a piece titled How to Help Children With Attention Deficit Disorder; runners-up were Cy Creed with Just The Socks Please, Nothing But The Socks, Kathy Myers and A Brief History of Writers, and Eileen Mitchell and The Science of Stumbling. And the whole set of entries can be read, with the authors concealed, so good luck figuring out which one was mine. I just noticed mine has a typo in it.

Anyway, I’m sad, but I’ll recover, I suppose. And there’ll be other things for me to write about or contests to enter, I tell myself. Send doughnuts. Congratulations to the winners, none of whom are me.

Fun Activity Puzzle Time!


Can you spot the winner of Cheerios’s “Win An Appearance On Star Trek: The Next Generation” contest in this picture?

Tasha Yar, Worf, and two people we never saw before are dressed in shiny blue spandex.
Yes, I am being needlessly mean to a person who’s never done me the slightest conceivable harm, apart from playing Sela Yar.

Answer: It’s Denise Crosby!

Other Things You Might Read Besides This


The Robert Benchley Society’s got its 2014 Humor Prize Competition entries collected, available for the reading, with all entries anonymized. I’ve got an entry in there (I won’t tell you which), which is actually a complete rewrite of one of the longer-form Friday pieces that I’d recently posted. (The Friday pieces aim for being 700 to 800 words, while the contest wanted no more than 500 words, and just trimming it down wasn’t going to work.) I like to think the piece got rather better in the complete rewrite, which does carry some implications for the stuff I post around here, but I’m trying not to think about that too much.

Meanwhile, in mathematics (hi and sorry, LFFL!), over on that blog I’ve gotten another thousand words or so together to say about comic strips that mentioned mathematics in one way or other. They were mostly the one way this time, but, there were a lot of them. I hope you enjoy.

Robert Benchley Society doing it again


I defer to maybe like four hundred people in my appreciation for Robert Benchley, although most of them aren’t people I know personally. Among my acquaintances I’m in the top six, definitely. Anyway, the Robert Benchley Society has opened up its 2014 Humor Writing Competition, to be judged this year by Mark Russell. It’s for an original “Benchleyesque” essay, not more than 500 words long, wide, or high, and has to be delivered to them (along with a $14 entry fee) by the 15th of September. Past winners of the award do not include me, although I reached the finalist stage a couple years back.

Folks who have a general interest in Benchley may want to follow the Society’s blog, which may not be a very chatty one but is pretty well on point. The society also has a slightly busier Twitter feed that you might also consider.

Disappointment


I missed the announcement of it, but the Robert Benchley Society has announced its finalists for the 2013 Humor Writing Competition. Since the ten finalists were announced back on the 9th of October that pretty well says where I placed: no higher than 11th. I’m disappointed, obviously, but if I weren’t basically quite confident in the stuff that I write I wouldn’t go on writing it.

There’s no accounting for taste, obviously, especially someone else’s. I imagine one thing which went wrong was that I submitted a trimmed-down version of “Giants of the Colonial Era” — a piece I think has a lot of that Benchley patter — in order to meet the 500-word limit, and the cutting out of something like 250 words from the original drained much of the writing’s flow. I might have done better to throw out all the words and rewrite it from scratch instead.

Well, on to more writing and waiting to see when Finley Peter Dunne Society gets around to its humor contest.

(Also, do take the chance to read the finalists as there’s an excellent chance you’ll like at least one of them, and it’s not as if you have enough things that you like in your day.)

First-Class Prize-Winning Thinking


The Post Office had a nice, big sign in the glass of the front door, which is useful as it keeps people from being scared by their views in or out of the front door through. The poster warns: “If it costs $250 to collect your prize it’s probably a scam.”

It’s the “probably” that gets me. Someone with the Post Office No Scam Bureau looked over the records and found, yeah, these first 88 money-for-prizes deals were frauds, but then here came two ones where they legitimately turned the prizes over, and the copy went from “it’s a scam” to “it’s probably a scam”.

Also, boy, you have to figure the guy running the cash-for-prizes scam who was charging just $247.85 was looking at those posters and thinking, “Whew! Under the wire! Nobody’s going to suspect me yet!”

The Competition


The Robert Benchley Society has put up its valid entries for the 2013 Humor Prize, on a web sit that safely anonymizes all the contributions. I know which is mine, I hope, though I reserve the right to change my claims about authorship if someone else’s gets through the preliminary judging. You’re free to find someone else’s better, but if you do please don’t tell me as I’m still recovering from that whole two- and three-star ratings issue.

Robert Benchley Society Contest: One-Week Notice


I have posted this before, but since the deadline’s now only a week away I felt it worth repeating that The Robert Benchley Society’s 2013 Humor Writing Contest deadline is the August of 30th, or something around like that. I should probably check the rules over carefully before putting in my submission.

I have got a submission figured out, if you were worried, although I’m open to suggestions if you, the reader at wherever it is you are, have an essay I’ve written in mind as something particularly Benchleyesque and at least editable down to below 502 words. (At least in past years it was fine if the piece wasn’t new-composed for the contest, as long as it was original to the submitter, which is why I won’t be entering my essay about reading Benchley’s famous essay about quoting him.) And if you want to enter your own piece against me, well, I’m not going to say anything directly but you’ll be getting such a disapproving glare from our pet rabbit.

Robert Benchley Society Announces 2013 Writing Contest


It’s conceivable I’ll be making life harder for myself by spreading the word, but, I still think it’s worth spreading. The Robert Benchley Society, which celebrates the writing and other works of you-know-who, has started its 2013 Humor Writing Contest. The deadline for submissions (up to 500 words) is the 30th of August, and the final judging is to be done by Dr Gina Barreca, author of They Used To Call Me Snow White But I Drifted and a good number of other works.

I’d entered the 2008 contest (final judge that year, Bob Newhart, to my delight — whatever else might happen in my life, Bob Newhart read something I wrote with the intention of being funny), but only reached the finalist stage. I’ve meant to enter in years since, but kept missing the announcements of the contest, and I don’t want that sort of disappointment to happen to other folks if I can help it.