60s Popeye: Popeye the Lifeguard, and the jealousy that inspires

Fleischer Studios did a cartoon in which Popeye and Bluto competed to be a lifeguard. Famous Studios did one in which that blond off-model Bluto was the lifeguard. Now, it’s Jack Kinney’s turn to do a cartoon in which Popeye’s the lifeguard. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer and animation direction to Harvey Toombs. Here’s 1960’s Popeye the Lifeguard.

Jealousy drives a lot of Popeye cartoons. The generic plot has Popeye roused to eat his spinach because Bluto/Brutus is taking away Olive Oyl, often by force after charm’s worked inadequately. Here’s a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl gets to be jealous of Popeye. Popeye, the lifeguard, gets all this attention from more realistically-drawn women. She tries to get his attention back by having an accident. This is a good plan since lifeguards love the part of their job where they have to save people. It’s far better than days where nothing much happens. She then has a legitimate accident, knocking out the nozzle of an inflatable horse with a lot of air capacity. Popeye gives chase, and lassoos the horse, only to send Olive Oyl smashing through a whole boat.

Brutus finally enters. I’d been all ready to make notes about the strangeness of a jealousy-driven cartoon without Brutus. Ah well. They team up as beach buddies, which Olive figures will serve Popeye right. And this does get under Popeye’s skin. So the plan may be petty and all, but it’s successful and targeted well. Brutus and Olive Oyl go in a row boat; she paddles, the way women always do in these cartoons. That’s just everybody making the same joke, right? I don’t know how to be romantic myself, but I’d always assumed the practical thing was the guy would row. If nothing else because he’s usually the stronger so you could get where you were going the faster.

Lifeguard Popeye playing the ukulele. Surrounding him on the beach are several women with slightly too-wide and fixed grins with unblinking eyes.
I admit not really knowing what fun looks like, but do those women look like they’re having it? I feel like they’re hoping Popeye will set that ukulele down for one blessed minute of peace.

But Olive Oyl resists kissing Brutus, so he ties her to a post, as one will. Popeye gets into the action and there’s the fight you’d expect. Mostly expect, anyway: I was surprised Brutus came back after being knocked into the garbage heap that he came back to be knocked into the garbage heap again. I’d expect him to need to be punched only the one time, for these shorter and less violent cartoons. Or that if he needs to be punched again, that the second time is a really big hit that sends Brutus way out of action. To be punched into the same place twice makes me ask why he stopped then.

What strikes me about this is the cartoon seems almost ready to be a Paramount Cartoon Studios production. The setup is quite close to things they’d already done. The building of story beats, too, has the sort of steady pace and linearity I expect from Paramount. I expect a bit more loopiness from a Kinney cartoon. That’s not calling this bad or even disappointing. I’m just surprised it isn’t quirkier.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Cool Pool (extended edition)

Jack Kinney Studios gives us today’s cartoon. Rudy Larriva directs it. And the story is, of course … from Ed Nofziger. I know, I was expecting more Jack Kinney stuff about skin diving. Life is complicated even in 2021. Here’s a taste of more than just 1960 in Popeye’s Cool Pool.

Short cartoons, like short stories, are usually about a single incident. One consequence is short cartoons usually depict a short while. Often under an hour, or something that feels like it. Popeye’s Cool Pool sticks to that single-incident vibe, but at its best moment opens that way out: the cartoon depicts the span of things over a whole year. It’s a pleasant cartoon outside that. But stretching it to a year adds a happy preposterousness to the story. It might also make this the Popeye cartoon that depicts the longest sequence of events. At least unless we get quarrelsome about how the span of a flashback cartoon, or one of those time-travel adventures Professor Wotasnozzle sends Popeye on.

We open on Popeye reading Popeye Mechanics, which we saw last year advising Popeye on how to build a robot. It claims it’s easy to build a pool. He says it’s too hot to build a pool. Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea, and Brutus nag him into building a pool and he gives in. He offends Brutus by taking his own tools back. And, more, by telling Brutus he won’t be invited in, which gives Brutus motivation to steal the pool. Which is a great absurd thing for Brutus to declare, too.

Then on to a year of Popeye digging, by hand. It’s an interesting choice that the scenes of changing seasons aren’t all identical. They’re all built around Olive Oyl asking if the pool is ready and Brutus calling him a slowpoke, and getting a shovel of dirt in the face. But, like, Olive Oyl doesn’t ask if the pool’s ready in every season. This isn’t wrong. It’s only my imagination that expects these beats to be repeated word-for-word. I’m interested in why they chose to do this. Other than that it makes it slightly more realistic that Olive Oyl might not ask about the pool every day.

Brutus slides the fence over to claim half the pool, which is the most realistic way to steal a pool possible. Swee’Pea complains that what’s left is “just a bathtub”. I mention because I spent long enough trying to figure out the line and you should benefit from my work. We finally get enough of a fight that Popeye eats his spinach and slides the pool out from under the fence. I’m curious why this doesn’t bother me. Maybe because it comes after Popeye’s spinach power-up, which usually precedes impossible stunts that can’t be done. But I can remember Fleischer cartoons where Popeye would do subtler but similar unreal things, like sliding a keyhole to somewhere easier to peer through, that didn’t bother me and’s before spinach gets involved. Ultimately it does always depend on whether I’m entertained, but sometimes this Tex Avery stuff fits the Popeye world better.

Sad-looking Brutus wearing his bathing suit and standing in a washtub of water, holding a garden hose on himself and sipping a drink.
The 2020 water-park-going experience.

It’s all a low-key, underplayed cartoon. I like it that way. A bunch of lines are funny more because they reflect an absurdist attitude, like Olive Oyl declaring that Popeye built the pool too close to the fence. It’s a cartoon I could imagine being done in the Fleischer era without needing too much reworking. It’s a good cartoon to start my 2021 watching.

Of course knowing this doesn’t help me at the beach

So here’s my unsettling self-realization of the week. I feel so bad making a fuss about myself that if I were drowning, I would absolutely wait for the lifeguard to happen to look my way, and maybe ask if everything was quite all right, before I’d cry out for help. I wouldn’t want to demand their attention just for my petty issues like “breathing”. This could be a problem if I ever go into any water deeper than our goldfish pond again.

Everything There Is To Say About Pool Safety

I realize it’s late in the swimming season to write this up. I’m sorry. I have a good reason for not writing this up when it might have been more useful: I didn’t. So this is late for where I am in North America, where we’re not looking at much more pool weather. We’re in the season where the pool toys are all explaining “winter” to each other, and get it wrong. You know they think Santa is a deer made of water who sits on the lights and ornaments that go missing from the attic in November?

Worse I know I’m early for the swimming season in the southern hemisphere. I saw pictures where somewhere in Australia was getting snow and kangaroos. You expect in the winter months to get snow, but kangaroos? Who expects that? Australians, but they have problems with their nature. I bet Australian snow has, like, enough venom that one mouthful could knock out every laser-guided exploding wallaby in New South Wales. Maybe I could save this and re-post it in like early May. Or whatever May is in the southern hemisphere. Oh, or I could save this until May in the southern hemisphere, and then turn it upside-down for northern hemisphere readers. Readers on the equator (hi, Singapore!) can read it while laying on their side, unless that should be lying.

The most important aspect of pool safety is inspection. Examine the pool before you get too close. Leave any pool area that looks too much like it’s from The Sims, and never get more than one metropolitan area closer to it.

The second-most important lesson about pool safety applies to pools that are fake natural ponds lined with sand. Do not try to dig a little canal all the way from the pool up the hill and over to the drainage pit from the chemical plant nearby. The lifeguards will not stop asking you questions. Also there’s this chain link fence that’s a hassle.

Worse, the hill rises like fifteen or twenty feet from sea level. There’s no connecting the pool to the drainage pit except by making a series of powered locks. This is fine if you brought canal locks to your day at the pool. I have a hard enough time remembering to bring swim goggles, glasses, and a Star Trek novel I can leave by mistake on a hammock. I don’t even know where to get canal locks. The dollar store in the strip mall nearest the pool? I guess. But I don’t know what shelf. You’d think it would be in pool and swimming supplies, but no. As far as I know. I’m not even sure what they look like. It could be I’ve been staring at them and didn’t even realize it. Well, this is getting off the point of pool safety. Back to that.

If there is a floating raft in the middle of the pool or pond do not try building a suspension bridge to it. The raft is not stable enough to support construction. Trying to drive piles into the foundation of the pool to serve as base will get you annoying questions again. I realize I’m talking a lot about avoiding questions here. But this is safety-related. I know the danger I get into when I’m asked a question I’m not prepared for. These can be questions as perilous as “did you want to eat now or after we’ve gone swimming?” Even if I did answer that we’d get into questions about the scope of the eating to do.

These days we’ve learned that it isn’t dangerous to go swimming right after eating, or vice-versa. It’s still bad form to go eating while swimming, since few swimming strokes accommodate forks or knives or finger foods. It’s quite bad form to eat other swimmers. And you should not eat the entire pool, whether or not you’re swimming, for the obvious reason. Why screw up someone else’s trip to the pool? It’s a jerk thing to do, so don’t do it.

Above all, use common sense. Common sense should be applied to all exposed portions of the skin (yours), at least once every three hours, or one hour if you’ve spent it in the water. Common sense can be found in cream or spray-on form in aisle twelve.

How To Swim In Some Other Way

With all the talk these days about spring starting soon — please disregard this message if spring isn’t due to start soon — it’s a good time to learn some new swimming moves. You’ll want to do this before the swimming pools get to opening. In the fast-paced world of competitive recreational swimming if you wait for the pools to open you’ll be swarmed and overwhelmed by people who think they know what they’re doing. Nothing’s a greater threat to getting anything done than swarms of people who think they know what they’re doing. If anyone ever did know what they were doing they’d reconsider doing it in the first place.

And there’s no sense waiting for the pools to close. Getting your swimming-learning in then just leads to awkward questions and sometimes a court appearance. And not the good kinds of court either (basketball, tennis, or stuffed-doll kangaroo). If you find yourself somewhere after the pools close you could pretend to swim. Get into your shower, say, and make the appropriate motions. This will knock the shampoo over and send half of it down the drain. This will give some much-needed bounce to the hair clot that’s about two months away from causing a critical plumbing malfunction.

Now there aren’t any of these swimming strokes designed for efficiency. We already know the most efficient way to get across a swimming pool. First approach the pool at its narrowest end, making soft cooing noises without any startling motions. Then, having strapped a jet engine to your back, jump in at no less than 80% full thrust. Bring it up to 105% nominal full thrust before you hit the water and with luck you’ll be across without even getting wet, and you just might beat the falling boulder to that pesky roadrunner. No; what we want here is a full swimming experience, which is what these are about.

First: The Ladder Climb. Start from the top of a ladder which leads into the pool or other body of water. You might need to bring a ladder with you, in which case be sure to mark your name on it somewhere, yes, even if your name is “Mark”. Stand securely with both hands on the railing and both feet on a step, and make your way one step at a time down. When your body is mostly in the water you can then shift to hopping down, both legs taking one step. For the final step hop away from the ladder while describing this as one small step for a man or woman as appropriate but nevertheless one giant leap etc. Advanced swimmers might try a more obscure line such as “Whoopie! Man, that may have been one small step for Neil.” Or try working up your own lunar-landing quote, possibly delivering it imitation of some 1930s comedian you know only from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Try Ben Turpin. Nobody will know if you’re doing it wrong.

Second: The Vertical Drop. Place your arms and legs together to descend rapidly to the bottom of the water. With your eyes closed (if you’re anything like me, you have to do this before you even get started) reflect on how nice it is to be there. It’s warm enough. The light leaking through your eyes is diffuse and nonspecific. Children squealing sound like they’re thousands of miles away. Lifeguards blowing whistles sound like alien life forms. The cries of people evacuating the pool are barely audible. The siren warning about sharks in the area is as nothing compared to the weird, not-exactly-grippy surface nosing you around. Remember to not breathe until you’re done with your business down below.

Third: The Twist. Start from a horizontal pose within the water. Select one arm (the wrong one) to move forward as it’s above the water line, the way you would for a crawl or for that other crawl. Meanwhile using the other arm (the right one) move backward, similarly. With your legs kick left and right simultaneously, producing a lurching motion that immediately propels you into the person in the next lane. With your full measure of grace apologize and pledge never to do it again. Then using the second arm (the right one) forward and the wrong arm backward (the other one) try again. This will propel you into the person in the other lane. In case you are swimming where there’s not any lanes bring along some ropes and string them up yourself. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

While these may seem obvious to do, it is worth practicing so that you look up to four percent less silly when you can go swimming again. Put the shampoo bottle on the sink. Sorry, no idea how the shark got into this.

That’s Interesting: How To Tell

Are you interesting? Well, everyone is interesting to themselves, except for one Arthrop P Canticle of Springfield, Massachusetts, who realized that he was so uninteresting — despite what would seem a promising name inherited from a pranking great-uncle — that he couldn’t be bothered to keep reminding himself to breathe. He went on to spend three years under continuous observation at the bottom of Billy Rose’s famous Aquacade without once taking a breath, without anyone paying him any attention. We should probably check if he’s still there. That would be interesting, except, you know Arthrop.

Still, you may gather evidence that you’re not actually interesting to other people, which is the trick. People might stop asking you how you’re doing once they catch on that you tell them, for example, or folks who think of you in passing stretch and go upstairs to bed, even when they’re the ones visiting your home.

But you can be more interesting if you really want to, and are willing to make some effort. For example, you might try taking in a lecture series on “How To Be Interesting”, as offered by many web sites that fully hope to be accredited by other web sites someday. Shop around with these. Take advantage of any free lectures you might be able to cadge. Don’t take courses from that one professor who keeps yawning. He’s just using the course to sell his textbooks, and they’re not even the ones he wrote. He just needs to clean out some stuff from grad school.

The key to being interesting is that you have to be not too surprising. That you have to be surprising at all is obvious because, here, try being interested in this completely unsurprising conversation:

NEIL: How’re you doing?

MICHEAL: Fine, you?

NEIL: Can’t complain.

MICHEAL: I would if I could.

NEIL: Aren’t you spelling your name wrong?

MICHEAL: Does it matter?

NEIL: What does?

See? So uninteresting I couldn’t even get where I meant to go with that, which I think was something about observing the existence of Fridays and/or the nearness of one. I couldn’t even bother fixing the typo and tried to cover for it instead. That second speaker’s name should be ‘NEAL’.

Once you know you have to be surprising the easy mistake to make is trying to be too surprising. This doesn’t make you interesting; it makes you that tedious kind-of-friend who’s got problems that are too much to bother with. Trying again:

NEIL: How’re you doing?

NEAL: Well! I haven’t had a chance of keeping guacamole in the house since the documentarians have been crowded all over because of that abandoned subway they found from that failed Olympic bid, remember from the time I had those burglars who were tunnelling into the convenience store the wrong way, because they’re hungry naturally and we have all those avocados from the farm the land bank put up where the garage that melted used to be when they made that surveying error and that doesn’t begin to count the times robots from the contra-terrene world have popped in to grab precious supplies of mica which apparently I’ve got now. You?

NEIL: [ Has already left. ]

The ideal is to keep having stuff that’s going on that’s a little surprising, but not so surprising as to be tiresome. This is particularly important for you shapeshifters out there. I know you want to show off by popping in on some new form every time someone sees you for the first time, but, bluntly, after about four different shapes they all just blend together and we accuse you of being cheap CGI. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. You should pick on two, maybe three shapes, and do them really well. When you want to put on a new one, chop up the surprise into digestible pieces by telling us, first, that you’re thinking of trying something new, like maybe collecting vinyl records or turning into a goat, and then say you’re working on that goat-record thing, and finally get all ungulate. This way you’re not just yet another friend with complicated problems but a goat we don’t have to find tiresome.