60s Popeye: Messin’ Up The Mississippi (it’s in fact quite tidy)


Soundtrack recommendation: a little piece by Sparks.

Wow, feels like forever since I did a cartoon here. Messin’ Up The Mississippi is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. Story by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and directing by Seymour Kneitel, almost the team you’d expect if you just knew it was a Paramount cartoon.

I don’t know why this is set on a showboat. Like, what about this cartoon couldn’t be done at any theater in any town? The only joke here that would need to be rewritten is Brutus’s comeuppance, where he’s forced to run along the paddle wheel.

This isn’t to say the cartoon is wrong to set things on a showboat, or to set it in some generic Mississippi River town. It’s that Meyer and Mercer decided they wanted this set on a showboat for some reason, and that reason isn’t obvious in what came out. Did they discover in writing there weren’t any good story bits to do that involved the boat? Or at least weren’t bits that they had time for, once the essentials of the plot were out of the way? Or did they want nothing more than to give Mae Questel the chance to try a Southern accent?

On stage Brutus wears a caveman's skinned-hide outfit; he's holding his hand up and speaking confidently to Olive Oyl at the piano to play on.
How long has Brutus had that costume, and what was it acquired for?

The plot’s all good enough. It’s almost archetypical for a particular kind of Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s a performer, Olive Oyl the manager, and Brutus is the stagehand and janitor and ticket-taker and all. He’s jealous so figures to sabotage the act and take Popeye’s place. The sabotage works long enough for Brutus to run on-stage in his caveman skin. But Popeye’s finally aware that he wasn’t tossed greased bowling pins by mistake. So, he grabs some spinach and lifts Brutus who’s himself lifting a whole lot of weights. Even juggles them with his legs, which is quite the feat. There isn’t a fight after this, not really; we just go to Brutus tied up and trapped on the paddle wheel. This supports the idea they just ran out of time for the premise.

It’s all done with the general, steady competence you’d expect from Paramount. It had much of the feel of one of the theatrical shorts. It’s certainly in the vein of Tops in the Big Top, where Popeye and Olive Oyl are circus acrobats. In that one Bluto’s the ringmaster, and has only jealousy of Popeye’s relationship with Olive Oyl to motivate him. Here he’s motivated by a desire for celebrity. So it’s the unusual cartoon where Brutus isn’t interested in Olive Oyl. Just in being on stage.

Me Week: Posts About Doing Stuff


I need another low-impact, low-effort week so I’m going to do another round of posting to some of my older stuff and hoping new readers exist and will give them a try. Also, there’s comic strip stuff on my mathematics blog that maybe you’ll like too.

So. Here’s a piece that was called What You Missed At Karaoke Night until I realized there was a Sparks song that made a better reference. By Sparks I mean the long-running Ron and Russell Mael band. If you haven’t heard Sparks, you should give them a try. This thing started as a Statistics Saturday post and kept growing because it was easier to keep going until it was 700+ words rather than to edit it down.

What You Missed At Open Mike Night follows a similar path, and it’s one I like. A lot of little modest jokes that add up to a satisfying piece.

That feels a little thin overall so let me also put in one of my slightly deeper social-critique pieces. Personality: Can Something Be Done About This? is one of those observational bits that I think is good, but is maybe two rewrites away from being great. Maybe I’ll do that sometime when I need another low-impact week.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose seven points today on rumors that there was some kind of debenture in need of examination or maybe coming due or something and that’s left everyone in a good mood of feeling all financial and whatnot.

269

The Big Novelty Act


I ran across this bit in Anthony Slide’s The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville:

Of the genuine freak acts, one of the most revolting, but popular, was Willard, the Man Who Grows, billed as “the star attraction of the Wintergarten, Berlin”. Clarence E Willard was featured in vaudeville during 1913 and 1914, and could add 7 1/2 inches to his height of 5 feet, 9-3/4 inches. He could extend his arms to anywhere from 8 to 15 inches, and could make one leg 4 inches longer than the other. As “Wynn” noted in Variety (October 17, 1914), “Willard is one of that strange species of novelty that one must see to appreciate.”

I really kind of have to agree: I’m not entirely clear how “becoming seven and a half inches taller” could be an act, exactly, yet I’d be interested in seeing it, so apparently that is an act. And that fact means I can’t fairly make a joke about how, like, yeah, in 1913 the only other public entertainment options were watching baseball from before they bothered mowing the lawns inside the ballparks and catching the latest Balkan War. But I also don’t see what extending an arm eight to fifteen inches could do to be revolting. The best I can get is creepily unsettling. Maybe I’m not thinking about it hard enough.