60s Popeye: The Ghost Host, eventually


Sure, you like Seymour Kneitel as a producer. Maybe you also like Seymour Kneitel as a director. Do you also like Seymour Kneitel as a story writer? If you do, you’re in luck, as the 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short The Ghost Host is as much Seymour Kneitel as you could hope for. Enjoy!

So here’s another cartoon with Popeye facing ghosts. The thread isn’t continued, sorry to say. You expect ghosts to be good antagonists for Popeye, what with his being afraid of them and unable to hit them and all. So why does this cartoon take forever to get to them? Stranding Popeye and Olive Oyl at a haunted house is a good setup. But we get a flat tire and driving-a-convertible-in-the-rain as excuses for them to stop. Either would be enough. This eats up even more time than the extended cut of Popeye’s scatting to start. Why?

The budget, I imagine. If Popeye in the car isn’t already stock footage this sets it up to be. The new animation needed is for the ghosts, a trio. It’s hard not noticing that they only interact with Popeye while they’re invisible. Most of the time they’re using the same few shots of peering at the keyhole and laughing.

Maybe this is all meant to save money, or animation time, for other tasks. It’s an honorable goal. It cheats the story, though. The ghosts play pranks on the intruding Popeye and Olive Oyl by … lighting a fire for them, and then making a meal for them. The invisible ghost walking in shoes doesn’t even stop to kick Popeye in the rear. The ghosts sweep the meal away to replace with a horse, when Popeye says he could eat a horse, but then sweep it back in place again. Finally they gather the food up to smack Popeye with it, as if they just realized they haven’t actually done anything menacing yet. Popeye declares that’s all he can stands and whips out his spinach. It makes sense for the run time, but considering the provocation? The ghosts are fair when they call him a real kook.

(Also, the animation budget for the rain runs out the moment Popeye and Olive Oyl enter the house. Look behind Olive Oyl as the door first closes on them, and every view of the exterior afterwards.)

The ghosts talk like Beatniks, or at least what ageing comedy writers think Beatniks talk like. There’s no clear reason for this, not even an attempt to spoof Beatniks. I like it, though. It simulates giving the ghosts personality without requiring them to do much. This is a slight cartoon; we’re fortunate the ghosts were not made more boring.

This cartoon has about the write-up you’d expect on the Popeye Wikia. It has a more extensive write-up on the Halloween Wikia. From this I infer the Halloween Wikia takes an expansive view of their responsibilities. There’s nothing, not even the original airing date, about this short that’s Halloween-related. (Its first airing was the 6th of November, 1960, says the Popeye Wikia.)

60s Popeye: Deserted Desert (could use a few fewer people)


We’re back to Jack Kinney here. Kinney gets credit for the story as well as production. Animation direction’s credited to Eric Cleworth and Bill Keil. So here’s 1960’s Deserted Desert.

The easy joke is that these shorts had eight bars of music and had to make them last. In truth, yeah, they had libraries and not much time or money to go outside that. I have the feeling each of the studios had their own music libraries. What starts me thinking about that is how this short starts with a peppy, anxious background music. This for Popeye driving alone in the desert. He crashes into the one tree soon enough, but the music feels like a bad fit for the scene. The have more laid-back music. It’s used for Popeye walking in the hot sun, or even when he’s grabbed by a vulture for some reason. Was the tense music opening a mistake?

This cartoon’s got a very slight plot. Popeye’s in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine, and he has a bunch of mishaps on the way there. Really he endures everything but a flash flood and JJ Looper holding a gun on him. It’s one of the rare cartoons where Popeye is mostly on his own. Brutus doesn’t show up until almost four minutes into a five-and-a-half minute cartoon. Olive Oyl and Wimpy appear for the tag. In the main, this is Popeye battling nature. The vulture, the extreme heat of the desert day and cold of the desert night. Oases.

The exception is the population of the ghost town. We don’t get to see the ghosts as characters, though. They’re strange outline figures making weird noises, in a scene that looks like it was fun to storyboard. The ghosts are usually out-of-focus outlines slid past the camera, but that’s some merry action. Popeye tires of this fast enough and punches them. It’s a fun gag. The superfan remembers that ghosts are the rare thing Popeye actually fears, because he can’t punch them. But the superfan also admits the comic strip has probably retconned that long, long ago. And Popeye just ploughing through troubles has a compelling logic to it, too.

Popeye, sleeping unprotected in the desert, has his head on a pillow. The sun has just risen but he's encased in a block of ice. He's snoring.
This bit with Popeye using a rock as a pillow reminds me of a Hagar the Horrible that I read somewhere around 1980 . Hagar and Lucky Eddie are settling down in camp for the night. Lucky Eddie gets a rock because he just can’t sleep without a pillow. Hagar calls this being a ‘softie’. The paradox enchanted my young mind and apparently I’m still captivated. I’m not surprised the joke was done before Hagar. Just delighted it could be done by Popeye.

I’m a bit disappointed when Brutus enters. Popeye lurching ahead through the elements, and muttering to himself, is interesting enough. And the cartoon makes time for some fun animation. There’s the blurry outline ghosts doing their bits. There’s Popeye tossing a rock to break the Sun, and muttering, “Uh-oh, now I went and did it.” There’s also Popeye’s shoes opening their maws and barking, after Popeye says how the sand ‘makes me dogs start barking’. It’s a throwback to 1930s cartoons where idioms get drawn literally.

Brutus, in comparison, isn’t so interesting. And Popeye’s a jerk for declaring the mountain not big enough for both of them when the gold mountain is. Their fight has more action and more punching than a lot of cartoons where Brutus actually deserves it.

I don’t know how you’d resolve a version of this cartoon without Brutus. I think I’d like the fight they have put into a cartoon where it’s more justified, though. Instead end this cartoon the way the first three minutes and fifty seconds were going. Popeye was doing quite well in the desert by himself.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for Skeezix’s centennial? November 2020 – February 2021


So … uh … nothing. The 14th of February, 1921, was the day that Gasoline Alley turned into a comic strip anyone but a specialist would have heard of. It’s when Walt Wallet found an abandoned infant on the doorstep. The child was soon named Allison (Get it? Alley-Son), but everyone’s called him Skeezix. It was a milestone for the comic, and for comics. It pioneered the comic strip where characters grow up in something like real time.

The comic strip’s long acknowledged this big deal, as it should. And this year, for the 100th anniversary of the moment there was … a pleasant enough Valentine’s Day card and acknowledgement of Skeezik’s 100th birthday (observed). And that’s all, to my shock. I had expected this to be feted. I imagined at least another visit to the Old Comics Home. I have no explanation for why this wasn’t a bigger deal. Over at The Daily Cartoonist, D D Degg has similar thoughts, plus a good number of historic Gasoline Alley strips observing the day. This including Skeezix’s first appearance.

So this essay should catch you up to mid-February 2021 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, or if any news on the strip breaks, I’ll have an essay here may be of more use to you.

Gasoline Alley.

8 November 2020 – 14 February 2021.

When I last looked in, Slim Wallet had finished running a Halloween haunted house successfully, only to hear noises downstairs. It was his mother Lil, and his cousin Chubby. It’s an unwelcome-houseguests story, the kind where a vague relative visits. The kind where they have heavy trunks and don’t move them upstairs.

Slim, looking at a turkey: 'Mother! How did you manage to get this huge gobbler?' Mother: 'Easy! I shot dice with the butcher and ... ' Chubby: 'She won!' Slim: 'Honestly?' Mother, with her fingers crossed behind her back: 'uh ... honestly, I won!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of November, 2020. Still, they did think to get a turkey for everyone for Thanksgiving, so it’s not like they’re impossible houseguests.

Despite their help with thanksgiving, Clovia’s quite stressed having them around. Slim’s not too thrilled by them either. So in the tradition of old-time-radio and old-fashioned TV sitcoms, they hatch a Scheme. They’ll use the haunted house props to make Lil and Chubby think the place is haunted. To work! Lil’s makeup kit is out of place. The clocks are set wrong. A weird figure appears before them. This convinces Lil and Chubby, who flee. Clovia’s proud of her husband’s haunting. Slim’s baffled because he hadn’t even started haunting yet. But how could that happen?

Clovia: 'Slim! Lil and Chubby ran out of here like they'd seen a ghost! If you didn't scare them off, who did?' Ghosts behind Clovia, unheard: 'We did! We messed with the clocks again ... ' Clovia: 'Brr! A cold feeling just came over me and ... did you hear a voice?' Slim: 'Cut it out, Clovia! You're scaring *me*!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2020. You’d think Slim and Clovia would be used to it with this sort of thing happening to them all the time. Well, if we were good at noticing the patterns in our own lives we’d all have lives with different problems.

So that wraps up the story, on the 8th of December. The 9th of December started the next, again centered on Slim and Clovia, so there’s little transition needed. Bleck’s Department Store asking Slim if he can play Santa again this year. Trouble is in washing it. The dryer doesn’t work.

Clovia: 'Wake up, Slim! The electrician's here!' Slim: 'Grok! Umph! Huh?' Slim, rousing himself: 'You were due yesterday! What took you so yawn, er ... long?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooh! It's a long way from the north Pole to here by reindeer!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of December, 2020. The story had a lot of the Frank Nelson character. I understand some of that, since he’s a fun person to write and probably the Jack Benny Program regular most easily plucked out of that context. Having him in two key roles seems like maybe too much, though.

The dryer repair person says the dryer is fine. Dire news from the electrician: he’s the Frank Nelson character. He figures the dryer needs a new power cord. Fixing that doesn’t help. His next diagnosis is the circuit breaker. Now the dryer works … once. They yield to the inevitable and go shopping for a new dryer. The dryer salesman is Frank Nelson again.

This leads to a couple weeks of delivery attempts by Sidney and Lew. They feel like a reference to me. I can’t figure out who, though. There’ve been a lot of delivery-team scenes in the past. In the first delivery attempt, Slim’s fallen asleep and can’t hear them. On the second attempt, Slim and Clovia are awake. But they notice a dent on the back of the dryer, and touch-up paint on the front. I’m not clear where the damage came from. Frank Nelson offers them a $150 discount to take the dryer, but Clovia suspects it’s not a new dryer. She’s convinced by the promise of a discount, though, and Sidney and Lew are happy to leave. And the new dryer doesn’t work.

Sidney, trying to hold the dryer up against the front steps: 'Ring the door bell, Lew! [ Ungh! Oof! ] I can't hold this elephant forever!' Lew: 'Hush, Sidney!' [ He rings the bell. ] Sidney: 'Nobody's home! Let's leave it on the steps!' Lew: 'How many times to I have to tell you to hush, Sidney?' Sidney: 'Two thousand, two hundred, and twenty-two times!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of January, 2021. You see what I mean about this feeling like a reference, though? I’d expect if Sidney and Lew were screen characters that there’d be, you know, one tall skinny guy and one short fat guy. They’re almost identical, which evokes a Heckle-and-Jeckle or Mac-and-Tosh pairing. Or maybe this is just Scancarelli making up something that feels like a callback. He’s got the talent to do that.

So if you like this mode of American Cornball plotting? (I do, by the way.) You likely enjoyed Scancarelli’s skill respecting the styles and conventions of the genre. If you don’t like this, the story was like chewing tin foil. You know, these are the sorts of stories he wants to tell.

Sidney and Lew return, to take out the broken one and return a new one. And that seems to work, and to end the story, with the 6th of February.


Last Monday the current story began. It features Gertie, Walt Wallet’s live-in caretaker. At the supermarket she encounters someone in distress. She’s lost her glasses, and crying. Gertie volunteers to help. I don’t know where this might lead.

Next Week!

It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. How does the Ghost Who Walks help a Bangallan detective return from the dead? We’ll see, or we’ve already seen. All I do is recap what anyone could read. See you then, unless something urgent comes up.

Popeye versus The Phantom. Not *that* The Phantom


Popeye fears only one thing: ghosts. He can’t punch ghosts. I believe this was said explicitly, maybe as far back as Elzie Segar’s run that created the character. There are other inconvenient things, like the Sea Hag, who can’t be hit as she is a woman. But ghosts hold a special terror.

Let’s watch Popeye and the Phantom, from 1960 and Jack Kinney’s directorial eye. Again, not that The Phanom.

The promising opening is of a dark and stormy night. And a newscaster with the news that The Phantom is loose. The warning is what I’d expect for a notorious criminal breaking loose. Maybe a lion escaping from the circus and hiding over at Tom and Jerry’s place. Instead(?) I guess it’s a ghost. I would think that The Phantom’s a ghost being worth a mention in the news flash. Maybe also that ghosts are provably real things that torment the living. I hope when the TV station came up for its license renewal, someone mentioned this failure to serve the public interest.

Maybe not though. When The Phantom does appear he’s really not menacing. He looks vaguely like a Harvey Comics character. I don’t think it’s just that he wears a hat that looks like a quickly-drawn hamburger. But it’s also that his haunting amounts to little, faintly comic stunts. Like, so little that Popeye is certainly not going to turn his head and look at them. Then we get a solid 50 seconds of Popeye ducking almost far enough to avoid the … ghostly boats and giant wooden shoes and cars that The Phantom is driving? And that goes on until Popeye declares this is geting embarrassing, I assume for the Phantom. Popeye’s handling it with such casual disinterest that embarrassment can’t possibly stick to him.

The Phantom swipes Popeye’s spinach, which isn’t bad on his part. We do then get a solid minute and 40 seconds of Popeye trying to grab his spinach back from the ghost, missing when the ghost dematerializes at the last second. There’s some good stuff here. Popeye gets some funny looks of exasperation. The comic timing of the Phantom bapping Popeye on the head with the mallet is good. Popeye waving his flag of surrender and the ghost appearing as a butler is fun too.

Structurally though it’s about the same as those too-many cartoons where Popeye can’t outwit an animal. I think it works better than, like, Popeye not outwitting a gopher. The gopher’s just trying to eat. The Phantom is messing with Popeye and Olive Oyl. And The Phantom can be ridiculous in ways an animal can’t.

And then we get Popeye declaring these are friendly ghosts, an adjective and a plural not supported in the text. Popeye invites The Phantom to a game of bridge. I know three things about bridge and the second of them is that it’s a four-person game. I guess we have to suppose there are more than one ghost bothering Popeye and Olive Oyl. We only see one at a time. I guess that checks out. But it would be clearer if we saw a second ghost, even if it were the same model. The baffling moments keep coming. In the last seconds of the cartoon Olive Oyl, having been bothered by this ghost or ghosts all night, and played bridge with them for hours, declares she doesn’t believe they’re real. Things brings on a new round of ghostly laughter from a bodiless mouth. All right.

I know these cartoons give the impression of being written and animated in less time than it takes to watch. At least they give the impression of being done on a single draft. This one has a lot of things that could be fixed with quick tweaks. A moment of seeing a second ghost, for example, at the end particularly. The news reporter talking about The Phantom Gang and saying that they’re ghosts. … Really, that alone would at least make the storyline make sense. It would take more plot surgery to fix where Popeye doesn’t do anything for the first two and a half minutes. But we could let that slide. They were making about 750 Popeye cartoons a month. It’s refreshing if he doesn’t drive the plot in all of them. And maybe a story is better if it has some rough edges.

Still, it’s a cute Phantom design. I suppose we never see him again, which is a tiny shame.

Statistics Saturday: Word Counts Of _The Scooby-Doo Show_ Episode Titles


From the 1976 Scoopy-Doo/Dynomutt Hour. Dynomutt episodes omitted, even the ones with Scooby-Doo and the Gang crossing over.

Word Appearances
’76 1
a 13
an 1
and 2
at 1
awake 1
away 1
Aztec 1
bad 1
bats 1
beast 2
beeline 1
Bermuda 1
bottomless 1
bum 1
Camelot 1
caper 1
case 3
cats 1
chase 1
chiller 1
Chinese 1
claw 1
creature 1
creepy 5
crew 1
cruise 1
curse 1
dark 1
deep 1
demon 2
demons 1
diabolical 1
diller 1
disc 1
don’t 1
face 1
fear 1
feline 1
fiesta 1
fling 1
for 1
fortress 1
fortune 1
fright 1
frightened 1
froggy 1
from 2
game 1
gator 1
ghost 4
ghoul 1
go 1
grand 1
gruesome 1
hair 1
Halloween 1
hang 1
harum-scarum 1
Headless 1
heap 1
high 1
Highland 1
hoodoo 1
Horseman 1
host 1
hound 1
humor 1
in 5
iron 1
is 2
it’s 1
jaguaro 1
jeepers 1
kooky 1
lake 2
lot 1
make 1
Mamba 1
man 1
meets 1
menace 1
monster 1
monstrous 1
movie 1
near 1
night 1
no-face 1
of 10
old 1
out 1
Ozark 1
prix 1
quarterback 1
race 1
raiser 1
rise 1
sacked 1
sanitarium 1
scared 1
scaredy 1
scary 1
Scooby 1
Scooby-Doo 2
Scooby’s 1
shark 1
shocking 1
snow 1
spirits 1
spooky 1
steer 1
switch 2
tangle 1
tar 1
that 2
the 33
theater 1
there 1
there’s 1
thing 1
to 1
triangle 1
underground 1
vampire 1
Venice 1
Viking 1
Voodoo 1
vulture’s 1
Wamba 1
warlock 1
watch 1
Watt 1
where’s 1
willawaw 1
Wimbledon 1
witch 2
with 2
zombie 1

For the first time in the Scooby-Doo franchise neither Jekyll nor Hyde appear in episode titles. Also there was an episode in Venice that was never put into syndication for some reason? Canada too, and that one had a sea monster and everything. The heck, guys? When I was eight I’d have loved to see Scooby-Doo with a sea monster. You’ll give me the episode where, according to Wikipedia’s description, “the gang meets up with tennis star Jimmy Pelton, who has been cursed by a warlock”, but not a Canadian sea monster? The heck, I mean really, what the heck?

The Entertainer


I happened to look out a second-floor window. A couple houses down a woman was sitting on the patio, at the table. She was looking seriously and alertly at nobody there. Maybe she was waiting for someone who’d dashed in for something. I choose to believe she’s haunted by a ghost of the Adirondack Chair, but it’s not like a malicious ghost. It’s someone you can sit down and have an iced tea with. Well, the ghost has iced ghost tea. Maybe some ghost biscotti too, if the ghost has decided it’s a little chilly out and would rather have hot coffee. It’s basically a nice neighborhood.

Statistics Saturday: Word Counts Of _The New Scooby-Doo Movies_ Episode Titles


Word Appearances
a 1
affair 1
and 1
Baron 1
Bigfoot 1
candy 1
Caped 1
caper 1
carnival 1
coming 1
country 1
creep 1
Crusader 1
deep 1
dinner 1
Doo 1
Duncan’s 1
dynamic 1
exterminator 1
factory 1
fog 1
fracas 1
Frickert 1
from 1
ghastly 1
ghost 3
ghostly 1
good 1
guess 1
Hagglethorn 1
hall 2
haunted 5
horseman 1
Hyde 1
in 1
is 2
island 2
Jekyll 1
Knott 1
loch 1
medium 1
mess 1
missing 1
music 1
mystery 2
Ness 1
of 7
Persia 1
phantom 1
rare 1
red 1
Sandy 1
Scooby 1
secret 1
shark 1
show 1
showboat 1
spirited 1
spooked 1
spooky 1
sports 1
the 22
to 1
town 1
Wednesday 1
weird 1
who’s 1
winds 1
Winona 1

Most surprising point: while Hyde appeared in episode titles for both Scooby-Doo Where Are You and The New Scooby-Doo Movies Jekyll does not.

When Swords Dance And Porridge Explodes


Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies keeps being a source of just wonderful incidents and I had to share some more with you because you’ll just see at that. This one is drawn from the 1645 chapbook Strange And Fearful News From Plaisto In The Parish Of Westham, Plaisto being a totally real place and not the result of someone being challenged to say where it took place and bluffing, desperately, “Place … uh … to” and feeling bad for getting stuck with that answer. According to the Strange and Fearful News for one month Paul Fox, silk weaver, “a man of an honest life and conversation” suffered from a haunted house. I don’t know where his conversation enters into things.

The first problem was that a sword started dancing around the house. Fox handled by locking it up. I suppose if I saw a sword dancing around my house I’d try locking it out of the house altogether, but that strategy didn’t really work with a pretty determined mouse that kept getting into the kitchen last year. It didn’t work so well for Fox, though, because the sword came through the door and continued to dance.

The sword got joined by a cane, that hopped around the sword, and here I’m stumped. I can imagine putting an enchanted sword to some practical use, if it could refrain from dancing some. After all, 1645 was before documents had begun to protect themselves by warning not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them, so if you got, say, a phone bill you could chop it into tiny bits because it was obviously a scam, it being the mid-17th century and all. But a sword with a cane just seems one long dancing inanimate object too many to use. Maybe we aren’t getting the whole story. Maybe the sword, despite love of dance, was getting up in years and needed the cane for support. Or maybe the cane feared for its safety in the rough community of 1645 Plaisto.

But the sword and cane settled down — I bet they were friends and got into chatting about old times — and Fox seemed fine with all this until he started hearing a hollow voice banging on the door and demanding, “I must dwell here”. Told it could just go off and dwell somewhere else, it came back the next day and smashed his windows by hurling bricks, canes, oyster shells, pieces of bread, and “other things” at the house. I suspect the spirit didn’t quite know what it was doing. Breaking windows by using bricks is efficient enough, but, oyster shells? That’s a hard way to break a window, and pieces of bread? Was the spirit unable to find wads of kitten fur to throw instead? Or maybe bread meant something different back then, and throwing a “piece of bread” was slang for throwing a Roundhead or a Member of Parliament or something. Also, whose side was the dancing cane on?

Possibly the cane danced this one out, since a boulder weighing “half a hundred weight”, which if I know anything about English measures means it could weigh anything except fifty pounds, jumped out of the garden where it’d been content to all appearances for decades and tumbled up the stairs into the middle of the room. Fox had someone take it back out into the yard, but it just came right back up the stairs again. I assume the rock had just had enough with all the cane-dancing and bread-throwing and decided to pick a fight with scissors.

Fox stuck it out a while, suggesting you could just haunt a silk-weaver’s house for weeks before he’d get impatient with it. Or maybe he figured dancing swords were more interesting than the other pastimes of 1640s England, such as dying of plague or accusing people of being Anabaptists. But there’s limits to anyone’s patience, and his was reached sometime after a pot of porridge got splattered around the room and the spirits started pulling his family’s hair and knocking their heads. He eventually moved to a new house, where the spirit followed, and he moved back to the first place, figuring, I guess, why not?

By the time the pamphlet was written, Fox was still having trouble with house-haunting, but everyone was confident it wasn’t witchcraft. I don’t know what became of him or his house; maybe he came to appreciate having a bread-throwing ghost around. Hard to say.

Felix the Cat: Felix the Ghost-Breaker


This morning I’d like to offer the 1923 Felix the Cat short, Felix the Ghost-Breaker. I admit part of what interests me about this is that it’s not hard to see the premise — Felix the Cat runs across some ghosts, and takes on the job of ridding a farmer’s house of them — and imagine the Fleischer Brothers cartoon that’d be made from it. But Pat Sullivan Cartoon studios made more measured, more orderly cartoons than the Fleischers did, and the plot takes priority over ghost-and-haunting jokes, down to an ending that’s funny for its lack of connection to the plot and for the somewhat-modern pop-culture joke it makes me think of.

Nevertheless, I’m amused by the whole short, partly because I like the rhythms of silent-era cartoons, and the impressive look they have from being done in literally black and white, no greys. The short also features one of the conventions of silent cartoons, that of word balloons popping out of the characters’ mouths, a gimmick that really connects you to the comic strip forebears and that reminds you that comic strips didn’t really get word balloons so they looked right until about the 1940s.

There are also several nicely creepy moments; for my money the best of them is a scene with a skeleton seen in the darkness. Curiously, Felix is almost a passive observer for about two-thirds of the cartoon’s runtime.