Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nautical Meets Naughty

by Connie Cortright

Last week we touched on the topic of Betty Boop, but there's an important aspect that wasn't mentioned. In 1933 Betty Boop introduced someone to the world of cartoons and made him famous. Popeye the Sailor Man appeared in a Betty Boop cartoon titled "Popeye the Sailor". (What an interesting title!!) It was sold as a Betty Boop cartoon, but she only had a small part in the feature. Max Fleischer produced both Betty Boop and Popeye and used the popularity of Betty Boop to get his next creation off the ground.

In the film Popeye takes his girlfriend Olive Oyl to the carnival where Betty Boop is on stage dancing a hula - in a grass skirt and lei (covering certain parts). Popeye ends up on stage dancing with Betty Boop while the evil Bluto kidnaps Olive and carries her off, tying her to the railroad tracks. (Sound familiar?) Popeye finally eats his spinach and saves Olive by stopping the train cold. If you'd like to see the feature take a look Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop

Popeye became more popular than Betty Boop in the later 30s after Betty Boop changed her ways with the new federal laws (see last week's blog post). By 1938 Popeye was the most popular cartoon character, passing up Mickey Mouse and others. Besides Olive Oyl, this cartoon also introduced Swee'Pea and Wimpy (I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today).

The most important "character" to this cartoon was Popeye's ever present can of spinach. Whenever he was in trouble, out popped the can of spinach which he opened by squeezing it with his bare hands. Most often the can of spinach was gulped down in one bite - or even inhaled through his pipe to give him the strength to overcome the bad guys and win the day. Popeye's use of spinach boosted sales of the vegetable, and consumption of vegetables in general, among children in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. My brother-in-law (it's reported) carried a small can of spinach around in his pocket all the time - although it was never consumed. I guess we have to assume that he never encountered a bad guy and needed the extra power of spinach, then.

Popeye was so famous that there are cities in our country that still celebrate this cartoon character. Crystal City, Texas has a statue of Popeye in front of city hall because it's a spinach-growing area of the country. Another statue resides in Chester, Illinois, the hometown of the creator of the cartoon. That city celebrates its "son" each year by holding a Popeye Picnic on the weekend of Labor Day. That might be something to check out next Labor Day.

Popeye cartoons were very common in the 1950s on television and many of us grew up on these shows. Popeye's nemesis was known then as Brutus instead of Bluto since the latter name was copyrighted and couldn't be used by King Features Syndicate who commissioned the cartoon series in the 60s. Many a cartoon was spent with Popeye fighting the Sea Hag and other goons which were an invention of the later cartoons.

Besides cartoons, Popeye appeared in comic strips, comic books, and even a radio show in the late 30s. During World War II the writers of the features wrote with WWII themes in mind. Popeye could be seen fighting the Nazis or Japanese soldiers during these years. He surely has adapted over the years to fit the changes in the world around him.

What do you remember most about Popeye cartoons?

Information taken from Popeye

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