60s Popeye: Popeye the White Collar Man and that seems weird to me too


Jack Kinney’s studios were, besides doing a bunch of 60s Popeye cartoons, also drawing Mister Magoo cartoons for UPA. You’ll see why I mention this.

Rudy Larriva’s directing again. The story is by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt. Popeye the White Collar Man takes us back to 1960 for a cartoon that keeps making me think harder about it.

Some cartoons feel like they were written for another series, or a generic series, and got Popeye characters hastily written in to them. This almost feels like one. But something about it also feels like a Bud Sagendorf-era Popeye comic strip property. The opening with Olive Oyl prodding Popeye to do something respectable. The initial failures and then the whole story focusing on one premise that’s sort-of related to where things started. And then the ending where everything stops and Olive Oyl is fine with Popeye as he was. So I don’t know whether to guess this as a generic story or a real Popeye story.

Here Popeye gets the white-collar job of door-to-door insurance salesman. This starts off with the expected series of doors slammed in his face. And a good bit of animation too, of nothing but doorbells and slammed doors. It’s nice when the artistically effective thing is also cheap to animate.

Finally, about two minutes in, things settle on Flim-Flam Film Studios and stuntman Brutus. For some reason Popeye is determined to sign Brutus up. And Brutus, for a wonder, isn’t hostile. He doesn’t even seem reluctant to sign the insurance policy; he just wants to read it first, and keeps getting called off to stunts. We do see Popeye tagging along for no good reason, and getting himself almost killed, mostly by accident. It’s a curious turn for Brutus; I’m not sure he’s ever been this non-antagonistic. It’s part of why the story feels like it was dropped on the Thimble Theatre cast.

The lion, inside the circus cage, is revealed to be a man in a costume. Brutus is in the back of the costume, looking dazed and confused and patting his face. The man taking off the costume resembles Mr Magoo.
Wait, the circus lion who swallowed Brutus whole in a scene I didn’t make time to mention was … Mister Magoo?!

Popeye spends a lot of time trying to sell insurance to a movie stunt man. That’s a good joke. At least it’s the setup for a joke, that Popeye is committed to the one sale most likely to get his boss angry with him. There’s never a punch line, though. It’s never even pointed out that Popeye’s surely working against his interests. If this cartoon were made today I’d think that was on purpose. That they were leaving some comedy understated and trusting the audience had enough people who’d get it. But for a 1960 kids cartoon?

I don’t mean to say they had to write kids cartoons stupid back then. But this was aimed at kids who are still learning the grammar of how stories work, and how jokes work. If they’re expected to find something funny, usually, they drop some clues that these are the funny bits. There’s throwaway jokes, sure, funny signs or a Jack Mercer muttering that doesn’t get attention. But this is something half the screen time of the cartoon is built on.

Lacking any way to tell whether they forgot a punch line or trusted they didn’t need one, though, I’ll give them credit, and say they wrote a joke confident that someone would notice and appreciate it.

Statistics Saturday: Fifteen Things Humanity Got Around To Before The Writing Of ‘Hotel California’


  1. Inventing the “float glass” process for inexpensive and very uniform transparent glass.
  2. Eliminating smallpox.
  3. All the theatrically released Mister Magoo cartoons.
  4. Establishment of the Ottoman Empire.
  5. Disestablishment of the Ottoman Empire.
  6. Domestication of guinea pigs.
  7. The Third Punic War.
  8. Composing the epic poem The Song Of Roland.
  9. Laying at least six trans-Atlantic telephone cables.
  10. Development of Metropolis-Hastings Monte Carlo algorithms.
  11. Inventing hotels, California.
  12. Landing people on the Moon and returning them to the Earth.
  13. The invention of photocopiers.
  14. Final adjudication of the “wedge” of territory west of Delaware’s Twelve-Mile Circle and claimed by Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
  15. Every performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

On the one hand, many of these seem like much more important things to accomplish first. On the other hand, as swell a song as it may be, it doesn’t seem like “Hotel California” should have taken that much effort to create, does it? History is a curious thing.