60s Popeye: Popeye in the Woods and … did Wimpy invent the bacon cheeseburger?


Today’s is a cartoon from 1960. I always lead with that, but I want that year particularly remembered. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the animation direction by Eddie Rehberg. So you know the producer (and director) was Jack Kinney. So, again, from 1960, here’s Popeye in the Woods.

This is another cartoon that feels like two cartoon ideas pushed together. In particular, it feels like a regular cartoon onto which a public service announcement was grafted, like Gene Deitch’s Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be. Here, it’s a camping cartoon plus a warning about not setting the forest on fire.

So it sends Popeye and Wimpy out to the woods, past a quick shot of commanding billboards, to sleep. They’re out in the open, without even sleeping bags. Popeye is kept awake by the quiet sounds of the woods. Apart from a squirrel dropping an acorn and a frog beating its chest, these are all insects. Or mushrooms popping up. I’m not sure why it’s almost all insect noises, except I guess for the comic exaggeration that a caterpillar is so very slight a sound.

There’s also the good comic instinct that Wimpy falls asleep and stays asleep. This after complaining he wanted hamburgers that Popeye said they couldn’t cook here. Wimpy snores, so we know he’s asleep. But he’s also interrupted by mutterings about hamburgers. And the most interesting one is a muttering, “hamburger with cheese and bacon”.

So, do you know the story of The Bacon Cheeseburger? Granting, yes, it’s always hard to track down where foods actually started. But the least-disputed claim is that bacon cheeseburgers first appeared at an A&W restaurant on then-US 16 in Lansing, Michigan. In 1963. (The road is now either Grand River Avenue or Cesar Chavez Avenue, depending on where the restaurant was.) Then-franchise-owner Dave Mulder thought the cheeseburger would be even better with bacon, and what do you know, was right. (Mulder would go on to be chairman of A&W, so, good instincts all around.) Granted, it’s absurd to suppose that no person ever had the thought of putting bacon on a cheeseburger before 1963. This still seems like an early publication of the idea.

And this is not Wimpy’s only act of food pioneering this cartoon. After Popeye finally silences the forest, the quiet wakes him up. Again, good story structure there. Wimpy sees the mushrooms that appeared and declares “mushroom-burgers are delicious”. He sets them grilling on what seems more like a mushroom kebab than anything else, but, still. Today, restaurants offer portobello mushrooms, for vegetarians who want something like a burger only disappointing. When did that start? When did that become widespread? People aren’t copying Wimpy’s inspiration here, right?

A chagrinned Wimpy imagines the burned-out forest, with survivor raccoon, two deer, and a rabbit crying over their fates.
If that were a skunk rather than a raccoon, I would wonder whether former Disney animator Jack Kinney was alluding to the movie version of Bambi. I’m still a bit curious whether that was still the goal but they thought a skunk would be a distraction in a way a raccoon wasn’t.

Wimpy’s campfire starts a forest fire, and Popeye eats his spinach so he can stomp it out. Wimpy has to jump into the water to put himself out, and ruins his mushroom-burger-kebab. And Popeye explains how bad forest fires are, starting from the killed trees to the displaced animals to the floods and human misery that result. And then cooks a chagrinned Wimpy some hamburgers, in a proper grill, because he’s Popeye the safety-in-the-woods man.

As with the tooth cartoon I’d like to know if this was meant to be a public service. I wouldn’t think it hard to fill a whole five minutes with camping jokes, especially since so much of the time was jokes about not being able to get to sleep. It makes more sense they couldn’t find five minutes of jokes about woodland fire safety, at least not before deadline. It would also make sense of Wimpy feeling regret about the innocents he might have harmed.

And I would so like to know whether Wimpy bestowed on us all the bacon cheeseburger and the portobello mushroom burger and didn’t even make a fuss of it.

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 Cure (not musical)


I’m back on cartoon-watching. Today’s is a 1961 short produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. The direction, as usual, is Seymour Kneitel. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cure.

There is a lot of story this cartoon. The broad sweep of it more or less makes sense. Popeye shames Wimpy into doing something about his hamburger addiction. The Sea Hag, who’s running a hamburger diner supported entirely by Wimpy, tries to get him back on burgers. Popeye tries to foil the Sea Hag’s scheme, but ultimately, Wimpy is going to eat hamburgers.

Having a character resolve to reform their disreputable side is a solid premise. I’m surprised I can’t think of Wimpy swearing off hamburgers before. (I also can’t think of one where Wimpy swears off scamming people, but that’s less seen in the cartoons.) He gets ensconced in Hamburgers Anonymous, which makes it sound like the cartoon’s going to be a spoof of Alcoholics Anonymous. It doesn’t. Maybe they were afraid of too closely imitating the Sylvester the Cat cartoon Birds Anonymous. On the other hand, Birds Anonymous won 20% of all the Merrie Melodies/Looney Toons’s Academy Awards. And who’s not going to imitate really successful work? Instead Hamburgers Anonymous looks like your basic sanitarium. Maybe they couldn’t think of anyone to cast as a hamburger-free buddy for Wimpy?

Still, as it is, there are a bunch of threads and I do like that the cartoon tries telling this complicated a story. It’s a good example of how a Popeye cartoon doesn’t have to be Popeye and Bluto punching each other until Popeye eats his spinach. I don’t see evidence that this was a condensed version of a story from the comic strip (or comic books), but wouldn’t be surprised if it were.

Wimpy standing wide-eyed, entranced by the aroma of grilled hamburgers nearby.
Hey, I didn’t know Popeye was being drawn by Off the Mark cartoonist Mark Parisi these days! Good for him! Good for him! (I’m joking based on the eyes. There’s a lot of wide eyes this cartoon.)

In its details, the cartoon doesn’t quite make sense. Some of this is just demanded by the plot. J Wellington Wimpy, a man whose life is defined by running low-level grifts on his friends, can’t think of a reason he told Popeye he hadn’t seen the quarter that fell in his hat? Forgivable; Wimpy has to get to where he swears off burgers, and there’s only so much screen time. Sea Hag needs to get Wimpy eating burgers again, so she sneaks one into the sanitarium. OK. She asks Popeye, who recognizes her, where to find Wimpy, because? I understand Popeye can’t foil the Sea Hag if he doesn’t know she’s in the cartoon. I suppose they couldn’t think of a more elegant way in.

Sea Hag comes around to kidnapping Wimpy, and demanding he sign over his life insurance to her. I have no idea where this comes from. If the story was condensed from the comic strip then I can at least explain it as a remnant of a lost subplot. I understand the desire to have some menacing climax. And that sometimes deadline comes before you can fix the piece’s problems and you have to go with what you have and hope it’s okay. I suppose it was. I felt satisfied on the first watching, and don’t feel the plot holes are bad enough to spoil the show.

The Sea Hag’s vulture — Bernard, in the comic strip — gets a fresh appearance, here as the “first airborne Saint Bernard”. She also has one of the Goons in, for a quick and fun little bit. That stock footage of her in a quarter-profile waving her right hand reappears, this time behind her restaurant’s glass window. There’s also a pretty nice shot of Popeye in three-quarters profile, scolding Wimpy, at the diner. Paramount Cartoon Studios always shows some polish and technique.

In Which The Pasta Was Nothing Special


The comic strips that don’t have stories to over-explain but do have someone say “algebra” in them I talk about over on my other blog.

Specials: Soup - Vegetable beef; Special - meatloaf slidders; Pasta -
The soup was Rack of Lima Bean. From the Blind Squirrel Tavern, Fremont, Michigan. (We were there for the pinball.)

No, I am not engaged in the lazy form of comedy in which someone notices a sign has a mistake in it. “Slidders” are a specialty of the restaurant, where they make extremely thin hamburger patties fried on an incredibly hot metal sheet. To keep the burgers from overcooking they’re literally slid down the heavily greased sheet. They’re then smothered under almost a soup of boiled onions and mushrooms, but that’s incidental. If this seems strange, is it really odder than planked shad? Anyway, I just want you to know they’re the tastestoostiest.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose thirteen points today and — wait, what, really? No, huh, that’s exactly what the point-o-meter says it did. Well, we have no explanation for this phenomenon.

109

What’s In The Refrigerator Still, Somehow


So sometime back I bought a pack of kaiser rolls. I’m not sure how far back, except I’m almost sure it was summer when I got them. We use them for (vegetarian) burgers, except I keep thinking they’re pretzel rolls when I’m not looking at them. That might seem like a curious mistake to make repeatedly but then remember I keep them in the fridge so they’ll last longer in the summer weather.

Thing is, we have four of them left in the pack. And we had four of them left in the pack last time we had burgers. I’m not sure when’s the last time we didn’t have four of them left in the pack, which is part of why I can’t really swear to just when we got the bag. It’s been a long while considering our veggie burger consumption.

Anyway, I just want to say I’m going to be cross if I’ve finally come across a magic endlessly-regenerating never-empty bag of something for my life, and it’s kaiser rolls instead of Boyer peanut-butter Smoothie cups. Or, I guess, pretzel rolls. Not that Mallo Cups are bad, just the Smoothie cups are harder to get in good shape.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Also, I’ve learned that people really, really like numbers. At least numbers they don’t have to do anything with. If they can just see a number that’s different from the number it was last time — but is the same just often enough to be exciting — they’re happy. So who am I to fight that? So let’s try this. I’ll start the index at 100, so today it’s:

100