60s Popeye: Popeye and the Magic Hat; yes, this is finally the one where Popeye’s a giraffe


We come to the finish of this little run of baffling Jack Kinney-produced cartoons. With a story by Osmond Evans (whose only story credit before this was Popeye the Fireman, though he has animation direction credits) and animation direction by Ken Hultgren, this 1960 short takes us on a tour of moments that raise the question, “Huh?” Here is Popeye and the Magic Hat.

So there’s a line here where Olive Oyl says of stage magician Brutus that she thinks he’s a big fake. This comes after she’s gone to see his show. He’s produced fireworks, a stream of water, several brass instruments, and petunias which he gave her. Brutus has taken Popeye as a volunteer. Brutus has made Popeye’s clothes jump off his body, then back on, then turn into a baby’s outfit, then a caveman’s, then a clown’s, then a ballerina’s, and then into a matronly gown. And then had a Jeep — Eugene, I assume — appear, crawling all over Popeye. Then had an apple appear on Popeye’s head. Then made Popeye’s legs disappear, along the way to making all Popeye’s body vanish, right out there on stage. And then gave him a body that would be big for Aunt Eppie Hogg over in Toonerville Trolley.

What sensible reason does Olive Oyl have for calling Brutus a “fake”? What would constitute “real” magic?

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
Is this one of the ordinary risks you assume by attending the show that they warn you about on the ticket to get into the studio? Olive Oyl in the seal form wears this nice teal scarf that I had mistaken as an accessory she was wearing as a human. She wasn’t, so I’m curious why it so evoked Olive Oyl to me. Maybe the color was enough like that blouse she wore in some of the 1940s shorts.

I focus on this as representative of this short’s baffling nature. The rough outline makes sense and has been done before. More than one time. (With variants.) The specifics are weird. Why does Olive Oyl call Brutus a fake after that? Why does Popeye say something like “Dreamy Squeamy, [ Brutus ] gives me the popcorn!” Why is Eugene the Jeep hanging around Brutus? Is he actually doing the magic and Brutus only does the patter? How much of this short is made up of Brutus waving his magic wand down and up once? I like Brutus responding to Olive Oyl’s cry of “fake” by turning her flowers into fish. Why does he then turn her into a seal? And then do a stunt of bouncing 10- and 16- and really-heavy weights off her nose and at Popeye?

And then we get a string of transformation jokes. Popeye asks if Brutus is trying to make a monkey out of him, because he hasn’t learned from past cartoons like this. And then he’s a monkey for a bit. Brutus turns them back to normal. Then turns Popeye into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a flamingo, because of reasons he doesn’t share with us. Popeye grabs the wand, creates a Delux [sic] Giant Size can of spinach and turns everything back to normal. Brutus flees into his hat, and Popeye and Olive Oyl follow. The resulting fight decimates Liddsville, but saves the animation budget because a hat jumping around is easy to animate. (There is a lot this short that’s easy to animate. The characters mostly stand still on a blank background, alone, while looking at the opposite corner.) And then the hat opens out wide and everybody pops up, a happy performing family talking about how “you were both adorable!”

Olive Oyl, holding her hands together, looks up at Popeye, who's been transformed into a giraffe and stands so tall that nearly his whole neck is out of frame. The giraffe wears an adapted version of Popeye's shirt.
“Popeye! You come down here this minute and explain why your shirt changed to fit you as a giraffe but your pants just disappeared!”

So … uh … what? What just happened and why? Was this all a stunt, with Popeye and Olive Oyl confederates making it look for the TV audience like they were fighting? And now breaking the scene to let everyone know it’s all right? Having written that out, I admit, I can read that as clever. That Popeye and his cast are performing the roles of antagonists in hundreds of these little scenes. There’s a reason his comic strip was named Thimble Theatre.

There are thrills in looking hard at these 60s cartoons rather than, like, the Fleischer cartoons that everybody loves. One is how weird the cartoons could get. There wasn’t the time and money (and maybe talent) available to make clear stories well-animated. This can produce a wild, bracing freedom. Until it happened I had no idea this cartoon would involve Olive Oyl turned into a performing seal. That surprise is a delight and I’ll take that, if the cost is my being sure why these things happen in this order.

On stage, Popeye is startled to find he's wearing a blue clown outfit with yellow polka dots, including a big pointed cap and humongous clown shoes.
Hey, it’s Popeye as the host of a 1960 kiddie cartoon presenting Popeye cartoons! Which goes along with the idea that all this action is “really” a show the gang is putting on for the audience within the cartoon and also the one at home. It’s probably a coincidence.

Seeing Popeye as a monkey and Olive Oyl as a flamingo got me wondering. So far as I know there hasn’t been a short that cast the Popeye gang as animal versions of themselves. (I’ve forgotten almost all the Hanna-Barbera series, but King Features has got some of it on their YouTube channel. And I’ve seen none of Popeye And Son.) It could freshen up a stock plot if you have new-looking animation and can toss in a bunch of animal jokes among the regular dialogue. I suppose it would cost too much, redesigning the characters and having to replace all the stock animation cycles for the one short. Could be it’s somewhere in the comic books, or should be. I’m interested in seeing adventures of Popeye the Monkey and Olive Oyl the Flamingo.

Robert Benchley: The Rope Trick Explained


There is no such thing as the Indian Rope Trick, the stunt where a rope gets tossed up in the air, and an assistant climbs up it and vanishes. There never was. The entire stunt was a creation of 19th-century western magicians. I know, I was shocked to learn it too. Peter Lamont’s The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick: How A Spectacular Hoax Became History describes much of the trick’s cultural history. Lamont mentions how the humorist Robert Benchley was an early and fervent skeptic that there was ever such a thing as the Indian Rope Trick.

In this piece, collected in My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew, shows off some of Benchley’s skepticism about the trick, although it isn’t one of the pieces Lamont quotes, for fair reason.

The Rope Trick Explained

In explaining this trick, I need hardly say that it is known as “the Indian rope trick.” That is the only trick that everyone explains, as well as the only trick that no one has ever seen. (Now don’t write in and say that you have a friend who has seen it. I know your friend and he drinks.)

For readers under the age of three (of whom, judging from several letters at hand, I have several) I will explain that “the Indian rope trick” consists in throwing a rope into the air, where it remains, apparently unfastened to anything, while a boy climbs up to the top. Don’t ask me what he does then.

This trick is very easy to explain. The point is that the boy gets up into the air somehow and drops the rope down to the ground, making it look as if the reverse were true. This is only one way to do it, however. There are millions of ways.


While in India, a friend of mine, a Mr MacGregor, assisted me in confusing the natives, in more ways than one. We dressed up in Indian costume, for one thing. This confused even us, but we took it good-naturedly.

Then I announced to a group of natives, who were standing open-mouthed (ready to bite us, possibly) that Mr MacGregor and I would perform the famous Indian Rope Trick under their very noses. This was like stealing thunder from a child.

Stationing myself at the foot of a rope which extended upward into the air with no apparent support at the other end, I suggested to Mr MacGregor that he climb it.

“Who—me?” he asked, hitching his tunic around his torso.

This took up some time, during which part of our audience left. The remainder were frankly incredulous, as was Mr MacGregor. I, however, stuck to my guns.

“Up you go, MacGregor!” I said. “You used to be in the Navy!”


So, like a true yeoman, Mr MacGregor laid hands on the rope and, in a trice, was at its top. It wasn’t a very good trice, especially when viewed from below, but it served to bring a gasp of astonishment from the little group, many of whom walked away.

“Come on in—the water’s fine!” called Mr MacGregor, waving from his pinnacle (one waves from one’s pinnacle sideways in India).

“Is everything fast?” I called up at him.

“Everything fast and burning brightly, sir!” answered Mr MacGregor, like a good sailor.

“Then—let ‘ergo!” I commanded, sounding Taps on a little horn I had just found in my hand.

And, mirabile dictu, Mr MacGregor disappeared into thin air and drew the rope up after him! Even I had to look twice. It was a stupendous victory for the occult.


“Are there any questions?” I asked the mob.

“What is Clark Gable like?” someone said.

“He’s a very nice fellow,” I answered. “Modest and unassuming. I see quite a lot of him when I am in Hollywood.”

There was a scramble for my autograph at this, and the party moved on, insisting that I go with them for a drink and tell them more about their favorite movie stars. There is a native drink in India called “straite-ri” which is very cooling.


It wasn’t until I got back to our New York office that I saw Mr MacGregor again, and I forgot to ask him how he ever got down.

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