60s Popeye: Bell Hop Popeye and what is with that tiger’s legs by the way


Today’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story is from Cal Howard, though, so it won’t be about skin diving. The animation director is listed as Harvey Toombs.

A quick content warning before getting into this. Olive Oyl’s portrayed in this cartoon as “the Maharani”. Mae Questel affects an accent I must describe as “generically ethnic”. So I’m not comfortable with the layer of Oh That Exotic India that’s built into the cartoon. It never hit the point where my jaw dropped enough to skip this nonsense. I’m not sure I made the right call here. If you don’t want to deal with a 1960 presentation of Olive Oyl as a generically Asian Indian woman, you are really right and we’ll pick things up later.

If you do feel this might be worth your time, then here’s Bell Hop Popeye for you.

I am uncharacteristically annoyed with Christopher Miller’s American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. I don’t see how this great guide to common and usually-vanished comic motifs from the first 70 years of the 20th century doesn’t seem to have anything on point. Miller’s work is impressive and, of course, he has to leave out some stuff. But I’m amazed there’s not an entry I can find about hotels, or about being service people to the cartoonishly wealthy. Or about the nobility-in-the-hotel premise. I’m not saying that’s a huge genre, but this isn’t even the only early-60s cartoon I can think of about oh, that exotic Asian nobility descending on a hotel. Why it should be funny to follow the bellhop dealing with Royalty is obvious, and I won’t argue that.

The cartoon has a curious open. Not that Brutus is the manager and Popeye the mere bellhop. It is weird that Popeye’s sleeping on the job, so soundly that Brutus is rightfully annoyed. Starting Popeye off as bad-at-his-job and not getting good until his spinach power-up has a good heritage. But he’s usually trying.

Olive Oyl, dressed in a 1960 white guy's idea of what an Indian Or Something woman's outfit might be, lounges on a daybed. In front of her a pet tiger wearing a jeweled collar stands, all four legs pointing in different directions, mouth open.
I know you’re wondering how Olive Oyl got that tiger into the hotel without the manager knowing. But since Brutus only learned the Maharani was coming when he read it in the newspaper, minutes ahead of her arrival, we have to suppose he is not a detail-oriented manager.

It takes about two minutes for Olive Oyl as the Maharani to appear. The cartoon takes a stab at being Brutus-and-Popeye being rivals for Olive Oyl’s affection. She orders 65 pounds of raw meat sent up to her sweet. Or maybe her suite. I wondered if Sweet is the name of her tiger, but when she looks for him she calls for “Tootsie”? (This might be an attempt at pronouncing an Indian language’s word that I don’t recognize.) In any event we get a bunch of Brutus running from the tiger. In a weird move, Brutus tosses the steak into a safe, and then runs into the safe himself. I grant I am not at my best when chased by a tiger, but it does seem like he could solve his major problem just by dropping the steak.

Popeye never has a show of strength this cartoon. Hauling Olive Oyl’s trunk up the stairs, I suppose, but that would happen whoever the bellhop was. There’s no spinach either. With that, and the opening showing Popeye asleep on the job, I wonder if the cartoon was a generic story pulled into the Popeye production circle. It would play the same with any trio of characters. Only the tiger’s irreplaceable.

60s Popeye: Tiger Burger, which you can go ahead and join in progress


I came pretty near noping out of another King Features Popeye cartoon this week. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you do. Tiger Burger, another from the Jack Kinney studios, has a story by Cal Howard and animation direction by Harvey Toombs.

It is set in “Darkest Injia”. This is bad. But the use of “Injia”, as though Popeye’s quirky pronunciation were the “correct” thing, cut the bad down a little. The start of the cartoon is all like that. If you want to get to the part of the cartoon that doesn’t need excuses? Start from about 19:30 and proceed from there. My embedded link will be the whole cartoon, though.

So. Yeah. The first two and a half minutes of this are stuff you have to rationalize to keep watching. It bottoms out about 18:08 when we get the sign “You are now entering Puka-Puka, Fastest Growing Slums In Kasha County” which ugh. This is undercut, not swiftly enough, by going to the sign for the Optimists Club. If this cartoon were aimed at adults, this could be a wry comment on the misery of society. And how some people refuse to acknowledge that, a thing both good and bad. The cartoon is not thinking deep enough to get away with that. Not 60 years on, anyway.

The village of Puka-Puka doesn’t look great either. Not crazy about Popeye wondering about the native hospitality, but at least he does address everyone as “sir”. The cop that Popeye talks to is given a British accent and puffs a Churchill-class cigar, icons that are … oh, a bunch to unpack. They do seem to me to be things that would, to a white middle-class American audience of 1960, signify “civilized” and “respectable”, so there’s that. If the cop had been Jackson Beck trying to do Apu I might have dropped this whole series never to touch it again.

Anyway, all this — all this — is to establish that Popeye and Wimpy are hunting Gonga the man-eating tiger. (Yeah, I see the reference.) Gonga’s given a big build-up as “the most vicious, cruel, meanest, low-down, ferocious, good-for-nothing, low-down, fiendish man-eating tiger in all of Injia”. We don’t see a lot of Gonga’s fiendishness. He just yoinks Wimpy off of their turtle. But since Wimpy’s been whining the whole cartoon about wanting to eat hamburgers it’s hard not being on Gonga’s side.

A tiger has one paw wrapped around Wimpy's shoulder, and looks at the camera, with one eye drooping. Wimpy, both eyes open just a tiny bit, is holding up one finger while looking off-camera and apparently whispering.
Look, let them have their time together.

Monomania usually works great for comic characters. And Wimpy is almost the definition of a monomaniacal comic character. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work here. Possibly because there’s so much of him talking hamburgers with nothing else going on. Wimpy can’t interrupt the action with his little thing if his little thing is all the action.

It’s hard to sell me on a Popeye-hunts-an-animal cartoon. While he’s far from consistent, his “always be kind to children and dumb animals” philosophy is a great statement of goals. There’d be some respectability in the plot if he were protecting the village from a menace. I guess that’s the point of the cop’s declaration of Gonga’s wickedness. But Popeye and Wimpy didn’t know about this tiger going in. And we didn’t see Gonga doing anything particularly wicked. So it’s hard to get past the impression Popeye’s being a jerk here.

There’s a couple bits that try to salvage the cartoon. Popeye challenging Gonga to “come out and fights like a man” and Gonga calling back, “come in and fight like a tiger”. Popeye answering how he didn’t come to India to eat hamburgers which, yeah, I wouldn’t. Or the wacky choice to have Popeye and Wimpy riding on a turtle, rather than an elephant. It seems to have been done for the silliness of a howdah on a turtle. And to let the cartoon stop on a joke about how turtles are slow. And if we just stick to that the cartoon is all right. But it’s not much salvage and it comes after a lousy start.

60s Popeye: Jingle Jangle Jungle, which is about the right subject line here


So partway through Jingle Jangle Jungle we hit a scene with Jungle Cannibals. The cartoon was already on thin ice; the premise, sending Popeye to hunt big game, was dubious enough. Why not skip it and leave this forgotten cartoon where it already was?

And then it … didn’t get offensive enough for my tastes. Other people will hear this warning and decide to dump this, and they’re correct. The scene doesn’t make sense except by using the idea of the Savage Jungle Cannibals. But the cannibals never really appear on screen. They’re a cloud of eyeballs instead. I suspect the hidden hand of network censors. Read the accounts of TV and radio show runners and you hear how the censors are humorless scolds who don’t want anything that might be a joke to come through. Then you learn that the censors were sending endless memos saying, stop with the ethnic jokes and maybe find a role for a woman that’s not a shrew.

I do not know how Ed Nofziger came to write this, or what influenced him and director Ken Hultgren. But the results are weird. So, let me step into 1960’s Jingle Jangle Jungle.

Popeye hunting big game is a troublesome start. Yes, he has hunted animals before. But early on Elzie Segar realized Popeye was not someone to beat up animals. The Fleischers tried a couple Popeye-goes-hunting cartoons, and yes, sometimes it worked. But it’s a bad start. Still, Ed Nofziger has written some weird stuff. I have him logged as writer for Hamburger Fishing, a peculiar fairy-tale retelling, and Sweapea Thru The Looking Glass, a peculiar fairy-tale-adjacent story. Both are weird cartoons, which appeals to me.

And this? This is a weird cartoon. The premise is that the core gang is off hunting tigers. And that’s about all. Stuff happens that circles around this. A giant flower makes out with Brutus. A rhinoceros goes charging through, tooting with the same sound as Popeye’s pipe. Popeye calls this a train and almost opens his eyes for this. I get to wondering if this is a repurposed Mister Magoo script. A cobra pops in; Popeye plays something tuneless on his pipe, until an elephant wanders by playing the accordion. And then the Esso Tiger gets all snuggly with Olive Oyl.

At one point Popeye declares he’s seeing things and, yeah, that’s fair. This whole short has a weird dream logic. When the Jungle Cannibals sort-of appear, somehow tie up Popeye and drop him into the stew pot, and then have made a spinach stew of things? The effect, for me, is more bizarre than anything else. It’s almost a tone poem, with a loose theme of hunting, rather than anything else.

Larger-than-human flower reaching out with its leaves to hold Brutus, and kissing him relentlessly.
I don’t think it’s very sporting to share Philip José Farmer’s DeviantArt account either.

There’s some interesting almost genre-awareness here. Brutus crying out “help, Popeye, help” in the same cadence that Olive Oyl has used for ages. (Granted there’s not many ways to read the line, but there are options.) Early on, Popeye answering Brutus’s boast with “That’s what you think” and Brutus taunting “That’s what you think I think!”. It’s a rare-for-the-era line that actually responds to what the other person said, and with personality. Touches like that make me interested in what is otherwise a nearly plotless cartoon.

I really want to make some kind of subtext out about how Olive Oyl and Brutus find themselves threatened by nature being overly affectionate, rather than hostile. It’s a good joke to have Olive Oyl find a tiger who’s a ferociously snuggly kitty boi. Almost as good to have Brutus helpless before a flower’s attention. I doubt it reflects anything more than a respect for the (I assume) censor’s directive to cut back on the violence, especially against animals. If I am right in my assumption, the censor was on to something here. The cartoon would be much less intersting if Olive Oyl were hiding from a snarling tiger. It wouldn’t have a fraction the strangeness, and that would be a terrible loss.

I can’t call this cartoon good exactly. Good-and-weird, though, that fits. And that’s the sort of thing I like often enough.

Statistics Saturday: The Questions Wikipedia’s Detroit Zoo History Raises


Drawn from Wikipedia’s Detroit Zoo page, in the history section, because I wanted to know whether the Detroit Zoo had ever actually been in Detroit rather than in the suburbs of Royal Oak and Huntingdon Woods:

The first Detroit Zoo opened in 1883 on Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, across from the then site of Tiger Stadium.

Wait, they called any ballpark before Yankee Stadium a Stadium? (No: Tigers Stadium was named Navin Field when it opened, in 1911, and before that the Tigers played in Bennett Park.) Wait, Bennett Park goes back to 1883? (No: to 1896). Wait, the Tigers go back to 1883? (No: to 1894.) Wait, did baseball even have the Western League, which is what the American League started as, in 1883? (No, but that’s kind of complicated.)

Sentences Completed: 1
Total Questions Raised: 4

A circus had arrived in town, only to go broke financially.

As opposed to going broke morally?

Sentences Completed: 2
Total Questions Raised: 5

Luther Beecher, a leading Detroit citizen and capitalist, financed the purchase of the circus animals and erected a building for their display called the Detroit Zoological Garden.

By calling him a leading Detroit citizen and capitalist I imagine he just strode around town wearing evening dress and holding sacks full of money while explaining to the working class that he was uplifting them morally by not paying them more money; that can’t be right, can it? (There’s no article about Luther Beecher, so I am going to suppose that anything you say about him can be true, like, “he was raised as an abolitionist, but later in life painted Christmas oranges blue in order to satisfy his belief that they should rhyme”.)

Sentences Completed: 3
Total Questions Raised: 6

The zoo closed the following year and the building converted into a horse auction.[5]

So what the heck does this thing have to do with the actual Detroit Zoo? Also what happened to the animals? Do I want to know? (I’m betting ‘no’.)

Sentences Completed: 4
Total Questions Raised: 9

The Detroit Zoological Society was founded in 1911, but the zoo’s official opening did not occur until August 1, 1928.

Were … they just puttering around town asking people to put up their giraffes for seventeen years then? And people did?

Sentences Completed: 5
Total Questions Raised: 11

At the opening ceremony, acting Mayor John C. Nagel was to speak to the gathered crowd.

I honestly don’t have any questions about this. I’m a little curious why they had an acting Mayor instead of the regular kind, but I know that cities just go through stretches where they have acting Mayors instead sometimes and that’s a normal function of city mayoralties.

Sentences Completed: 6
Total Questions Raised: 11

Arriving late, Nagel parked his car behind the bear dens and as he came rushing around the front, Morris, a polar bear, leaped from his moat and stood directly in front of Nagel.

Why did the zoo put the mayor’s parking spot within leaping range of the polar bears? Also why didn’t they make a moat that was bigger than what a polar bear could leap across?

Sentences Completed: 7
Total Questions Raised: 13

Unaware how precarious his situation was, Nagel stuck out his hand and walked toward the polar bear joking, “He’s the reception committee.”

Did grown-ups not know back then that between the options of rushing towards a polar bear and rushing away from the polar bear, the better option is nearly invariably rushing away from the polar bear? Is this maybe why they didn’t have a regular mayor and were making do on an acting basis? Was the regular mayor before Nagel perhaps lost when he accidentally slathered himself in bacon grease and rolled around in shredded cheese and sour cream until he was a mayor-flavored shell-less burrito and climbed into the mouth of a surprised yet compliant tiger?

Sentences Completed: 8
Total Questions Raised: 16

The keepers rushed the bear and forced him back into the moat, leaving the mayor uninjured.[6]

Wait, the polar bear was named Morris?

Sentences Completed: 9
Total Questions Raised: 17 (though that should’ve been counted against two sentences back).


At this point I cease reading because if I learn anything more about the history of the Detroit Zoo I will have completely obliterated my ability to know anything about the history of the Detroit Zoo.

Oh yeah, as for my original question, about whether the Detroit Zoo had ever been in the actual City of Detroit, as opposed to the suburbs of Royal Oak and Huntington Woods? I have no idea.