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?
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.