60s Popeye: Weight for Me and a cartoon that’s aged without a single flaw


We have another Gene Deitch-directed cartoon here. So the only credits I have are that the animation was by Halas and Batchelor. No idea about story credits and all. The producer is Producer William L Snyder.

There’s a content warning, though, as you maybe guessed from the title. And as you maybe inferred from the screen grab YouTube uses for its previews. If it gives the same preview to everyone, I mean. The premise is, Olive Oyl is fat! And Popeye wants to fix here! So there’s a bunch of fat-phobia and body-shaming going on here. If you don’t need that, and you don’t want to see Popeye being casually ugly, you’re absolutely right. We’ll meet back up in a week.

For those who can put up with that, or want to see how this plays out, here’s Weight For Me, another cartoon from 1960.

Popeye and Brutus are back from six months at sea! And while they were away, Olive Oyl was so lonesome that she overate, and now she’s fat. It’s that most startling of thing to see thirty years into a franchise: a new premise. Where was this when Famous Studios was gradually whittling down the number of Popeye’s nephews all through the 50s?

It’s obvious the cartoon has to be about losing weight, then. It’s not quite required that Olive Oyl end the cartoon skinny again. (The other resolution would be that after a lot of diet and exercise she and Popeye end up enormous.) But is required that she try. Brutus likes the fat Olive Oyl, though. It’s presented with this interesting energy, as though even he didn’t realize he was going to like her being fat. And this sets up what should be a crackling good conflict. Popeye trying to make Olive Oyl skinny versus Brutus trying to make her even fatter.

Where it goes wrong is that word, make. Popeye never asks Olive Oyl if she wants to be thin again, or if she wants any help. Brutus never asks Olive Oyl if she’s happy being fat. You can argue Olive Oyl clearly wishes she were thin, but thinks trying is hopeless. You can argue that Olive Oyl finds being fat more comfortable. Certainly having ambiguous feelings about it is natural and normal. Olive Oyl’s fickleness works here to make her more psychologically realistic than normal.

Brutus offering a big box of chocolates to an extremely overweight Olive Oyl. The sofa they're sitting on is buckling under her weight.
You might think it sexist that the sofa is crumpling under Olive Oyl’s weight, when there’s no chance she’s heavier than Brutus. But this is because a guy can be five times as overweight as a woman before suffering the same sorts of social penalties.

But gads, the worst thing about being fat? Other than how doctors will blame your weight for any ailment, including Covid-19, a broken arm, and seven cop bullets in your back? Meddlers telling you how to stop being fat.

So Popeye starts out really ugly here. And he never gets better, as he keeps putting Olive Oyl through exercises after she says she doesn’t want to. Brutus never asks Olive Oyl what she wants either. But he at least does invite her to a malt shop or to a steak dinner and she accepts. She might be eating for emotionally unhealthy reasons but she’s at least asked.

There was, a decade-plus ago, a web site article that asked whether the Famous Studios animators were on Bluto’s side. It listed all sorts of plots where Popeye’s more clearly the jerk. This one fits that tradition.

Apart from that, though? … It’s a well-done cartoon, is part of the thing. The animation’s decent limited-animation work. It hasn’t got as much small movement as Potent Lotion. I assume that’s because everybody’s energy was put into drawing Olive Oyl to a strange model sheet. But it does have small filigrees of movement. When getting off the ship, for example, Brutus quickly welds Popeye by a chain to the ship’s deck. And Popeye uses his pipe to free himself. It’s nothing needed for the story; it just makes the cartoon better.

Popeye has assembled a bunch of weight loss machines; the enormous Olive Oyl is caught in the one that wraps a belt around your waist, or in her case her rump, to shake around. There's also a machine with rollers on arms that go up and down, and another semicircular machine with several small long cylindrical rollers. In the foreground is what looks like a three-part foldable cot with a record turntable hanging off the side.
Very disappointed we did not get to see how that sectioned cot with a vertically-slung record turntable was supposed to lose anybody weight.

Popeye also brings in a fun-looking bunch of weight-loss machines. That thing with the strap that goes around your waist and shakes you, for example. And a bunch that didn’t get to be cartoon-and-sitcom famous. This thing with two rollers that go up and down looks amusing, whatever its scam was supposed to be. I have no idea what the thing Olive Oyl ends up trapped on is, the little thing that looks like a dangerous hot dog roller. It looks like fun, though.

We end with Brutus resigned to “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. He’s reading How To Reduce and is on the hip belt thing. Everyone laughs. It’s unusual for everyone to end on the same page and laughing about it. It’s appealing to see. I’m just sad it comes after a lot of Popeye being a jerk.

Picturing Me


So the new thing in the world of competitive pinball is not telling people the world of competitive pinball exists. That’s the old thing. It goes back to when pinball first started being competitive, which was about ten minutes after the second guy saw someone doing it. But the new thing is “Selfie Leagues”. This is a thing where they base your seeding in a tournament on your high score during some qualifying tables the weeks before the match. You prove your score by taking a selfie with the score displayed. And we know people can’t cheat because of that big, distracting thing over there.

I’m not a natural selfie-taker. I have no objection to them. It’s just I’m not much on taking pictures with people in them at all. I’m one of those people who can somehow photograph a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore at the height of summer and catch the one moment everybody’s ducked inside for a frozen custard. Or at least is looking away as if embarrassed. The height of summer is 14 feet, two inches.

I have some photographs of people. Most I took on dares. And I have a couple pictures of myself too. Most of those are from the early 2000s, when I lived in Singapore, and per request I got some pictures of myself in front of local landmarks. This was to prove to my parents that I was in Singapore and not just slow about answering their e-mails. I should probably send them some pictures sometime. But those were old-fashioned pictures of me, done with a camera tripod and a timer. Oh, I could have asked someone to take a picture of me, but that would involve me talking to a person and I went from 2003 through 2005 not doing that.

When I look over the pictures I took of myself I notice a couple things. The first is that I don’t look good. I couldn’t help that. I was quite fat at the time. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned sometimes, somewhere around age eight I realized that instead of eating a bagel I could eat two bagels. Also that instead of eating a bagel smeared with a little cream cheese, I could eat a bagel smeared with as much cream cheese as I could load up on before my parents caught me. And, now, I’m from what we regard these days as a large family; nearly all of us are over nine feet tall. (My little brother is the only one who’s not, and that’s because the rest of us kept pressing his head down while we were growing. He makes up for it in other ways, such as by punching us in the shins.) Large-family folks learn to make and eat food as fast as possible, before anyone can catch us. I’m not saying I’m an Olympian-class competitor for eating the 25-meter bagel. But I could go on to regionals and hold my head high, as long as I held my upper lip higher.

But the thing about being fat is if you’re also tall, then you don’t look fat. You just look badly proportioned, like you’re drawn by an art student who’s not quite good enough not to use references, or maybe by an elephant working on her MFA. So I have pictures of me standing beside, say, the sign at the Cavenagh Bridge as the unrealistic part of the scene. The Cavenagh Bridge is this small downtown pedestrian bridge that has an old sign warning about how it just looks like you’ve spelled the name wrong but you haven’t. (It’s named for Major General William Orfeur Cavenagh, so the committment to looking like it’s not spelled right goes back a long way.) If you visit Singapore you’re required to get a photograph of it. I was able to stretch a two-year contract into four years by “happening” to forget my camera when I went downtown that way.

Police notice: Cavenagh Bridge: The use of this bridge is prohibited to any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3 cwt and to all cattle and horses. --- By order, Chief Police Officer.
Singapore’s Cavenagh Bridge, photographed by me. Me nearly wholly omitted for clarity. Elbow awkwardly poking in from the right: me. Messenger bag I’m carrying: one of maybe a dozen identical ones my father picked up free from a company he did consulting for in like 2001. For a decade after every time one wore out, usually by the strap breaking, I grabbed the next off the stack.
The ‘cwt’, or ‘hundredweight’, is an old British measure for a weight which is not a hundred pounds.

I could improve a photograph of me by having less of me in it, of course. But that gets balanced by other problems. Particularly, the less you see of me the more you see of my face. I have three expressions in this kind of picture. One is, “Is the timer ever going to go off?” The next is “My eyes look closed, as if I’m asleep”. The last is “I’m trying so hard to not look asleep that I look as if I’m watching cattle transmogrify into flying saucers right here in the middle of the hipster bar! I don’t dare blink lest I miss the good part”.

But since those days I’ve lost a good bit of weight. (I didn’t really lose it. I just tucked it all in these plastic bins I left in the cellar where nobody will see them, because they’re disgusting.) But the result is I have what pass for normal proportions. And with other people, folks who aren’t me, taking the picture I can focus on better facial expressions. If I’m just off thinking about whatever, I have the look that says “the water bill’s been uncharacteristically low the past three months. I wonder if the metering system is faulty”. If I’m really interested what’s going on, paying attention to it all, my face expresses, “the FOOLS! I shall crush them all!”

Despite all this progress I’m not good at being photographed. Which all ties back to my original point which was … wait, let me check. Pinball? … This was about pinball? I … huh. Well, that’s what it says up there, isn’t it? Weird. I’m going to have to think about this and come back next week with an update.