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.

commons.wikimedia.org
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



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Boop-Oop-a-Doop

 by Connie Cortright

For the last couple weeks, this blog has been researching a couple cartoon characters in the 1930s, but the one with the most sex appeal was without question Betty Boop. She was created by Max Fleischer in the late 1920s, originally drawn as a human-looking French poodle for a cartoon full of animal characters. She appeared  in "Dizzy Dishes" as an unnamed girlfriend of Bimbo the Dog. I don't think she looked much like a dog at all.

Bimbo the Dog wasn't a big hit in that cartoon, but his newly introduced girlfriend was. Shortly after her debut, Fleischer turned her into a human character by changing the long dangling earlobes into gold earrings. In her next cartoon she was given the name Betty Boop and became an instant star.

Popular among adults ( I wonder why), Betty Boop was known for her risque actions in her cartoons. Dressed in typical "flapper" fashions, Betty wore strapless dresses with a short skirt, high heels, and a garter on her leg. This was a first for cartoonists since any previously drawn females were drawn with the same features as their male counterparts, but dressed in a skirt, example Minnie Mouse. Somehow, it's not hard to see why Betty Boop appealed to adults (men?) much more than Minnie Mouse.

With the new-found success of this cartoon character, the animators made Betty even more sexualized in the films shown during 1932 and 1933. In "Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle" she was seen dancing the hula with nothing but a lei, strategically placed to cover her breasts, and a grass skirt. I wonder who the biggest fans of that cartoon were.

By July 1, 1934, the federal government stepped in and issued the National Legion of Decency to cover all movies shown in theaters. These standards applied to Betty Boop also, even though she was a cartoon character. The animators were required to make her more mature looking and dress in longer skirts and blouses that had sleeves. She could no longer give the audience her sexy winks and wiggle her hips. She was given a boyfriend named Freddie to tame her down. With the addition of these more grown up films, Betty Boop lost her appeal. By 1939 she was no longer seen in any new features. I'm not surprised.

It is thought that Betty Boop was drawn as a caricature of a popular stage star named Helen Kane who used the same 'baby" technique of singing that was often seen during the Jazz Age. Helen Kane was known as the "Boop-Oop-a-Doop Girl" of the late 1920s. After Betty Boop became known for her famous saying "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" in 1932, Helen Kane sued Max Fleischer for infringement. The court decided that Helen Kane wasn't the first to use "baby" technique of singing, so she lost her lawsuit.

Betty Boop's character was voiced by several women over the years, but the most famous woman to do her voice was Mae Questel, who voiced Betty Boop from 1931-1938. The interesting thing is that Mae Questel also did the voice of Betty Boop in her cameo appearance on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in 1988. I was astonished to find out a woman could do that same high-pitched voice after so many years.

If you've never seen a Betty Boop cartoon you should check it out You Tube Betty Boop cartoon

Information taken from Wikepedia and Boop-Oop-A-Doop-the-Story-of-Betty-Boop



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Who Drew Oswald Rabbit??

by Connie Cortright

To continue our exploration of cartoon characters from the 20s to 30s... This week we meet one that I never heard of before. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was the forerunner to Mickey Mouse. He was developed and animated by Walt Disney before Disney left Universal Studios in 1928.

In fact, the reason Walt Disney started his own company and created Mickey Mouse was because Oswald Rabbit was so successful in 1927. Disney, riding high on the success of "Trolley Troubles" starring Oswald the Rabbit, baulked when Universal Studios suggested giving him a 20% cut in his salary. He figured that the studio couldn't get along without him so he refused to renew his contract at the lower rate. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks left Universal and formed their own  company. They redid the cartooning of Oswald and created Mickey Mouse.

When Disney was originally creating Oswald, he decided to draw a rabbit because the competition of characters were cats (Felix the Cat and Krazy Kat). When one compares Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in his early drawings and Mickey Mouse, it's easy to conclude that they were drawn by the same artist. Mickey's ears are round, but the shoes and pants are almost alike. The eyes are drawn in a very similar style also. Walt Disney's hand can be seen in both drawings.
Universal Studios hired Walter Lantz to cartoon Oswald the Rabbit after Disney formed his own company. Lantz changed Oswald appearance through the 30s several times. He no longer wore white gloves or shoes and his clothes changed also.

By 1948 Oswald had become a "father" to two adopted orphan rabbits Floyd and Lloyd. He looked completely different when he appeared in comic books trying to raise his two sons. During these years he was illustrated by Walter Lantz, who was also the artist for Woody Woodpecker. 

I don't remember the cartoon character of Oswald the Rabbit as I was growing up. Maybe that's because his artists kept changing his appearance so often.  

If any of you have any Oswald the Rabbit stories to share with me, I'd love to hear your remembrances of him. Somehow, I don't think he can hold a candle to Mickey Mouse, though.

Information taken from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - Wikipedia