Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


From 1933, here's Popeye's theatrical cartoon debut, the first of 280 cartoons Popeye adventures filmed from 1933 to 1957.  Popeye began as a character in E. C. Segar's already popular Thimble Theatre comic strip and soon took over the strip.  According to Wikipedia, by the 1930s there was "hardly a newspaper reader in the Depression-era that did not know his name."  But animated cartoon characters, led by Mickey Mouse, proved to be very successful, King Features signed an agreement with Fleischer Studios to produce animated adventures of Popeye and the other Thimble Theatre characters.

In this first cartoon of the series, Popeye has just got shore leave.  Waiting for him is Olive Oyl.  A number of other sailors try to pick up Olive -- including Bluto -- but she only has eyes for Popeye.  Popeye and Olive head to a carnival, followed by Bluto, who tries to impress Olive by winning games of skill and strength.  He, however, is always outshone by Popeye.  Finally, he kidnaps Olive and, since she won't marry him, ties her to the railroad tracks.  Popeye (and a can of spinach) comes to the rescue.

This first cartoon introduces the Popeye the Sailor Man song, as well as the "Sailor's Hornpipe" theme song.

Popeye is voiced by Billy Costello, who reportedly became too big for his britches after the success of the first cartoons, and was replaced the more popular Jack Mercer.  Olive Oyl (and Betty Boop) is voiced by Bonnie Poe, later to be replaced by Mae Questal and her Zasu Pitts imitation.  Bluto is voiced by William Pennell.

Several things set this cartoon apart.  First, it also features Fleischer's popular Betty Boop.  Betty is a carnival dancer and Popeye goes on stage to join her.  Betty is also topless and dark-skinned -- a parody of Josephine Baker -- so I imagine this cartoon was seldom shown on Saturday morning children's TV.

Speaking of dark-skinned, one of the carnival games Popeye and Bluto play is African Dodger, in which the goal is to hit a Negro with a ball.  A disgustingly popular carnival game from America's past, this led in some cases to brain damage and blindness, and occasionally death.  One of many blots on our cultural past.  At the end of this clip, there is a brief description of this horrifying game.

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