My world was pretty uncomplicated in the Winter of 1957. Wearing a pair of flannel Popeye pajamas sewn by my Mom, I would sluggishly crawl out of bed at 7 every morning. Sleep still crusted around my eyelids, it was yet another dreaded school day.
But before getting dressed, eating my Wheat Honies, brushing my teeth, and heading off to the stress-wracked world of spelling bees, arithmetic drills, and cursive upper case letters, I made my daily journey from the cold, bare-floored bedroom to the living room couch which was strategically situated next to the natural gas stove — the only warm place in the house that early in the day.
In my little world, the Philco console was already tuned in to KSWO Channel 7 in Lawton, Oklahoma, where for 15 minutes a day, a boy of seven could forget all life's troubles and cares by escaping with back-to-back adventures of the greatest cartoon character who ever lived.
The welcome refrain of Sammy Lerner's theme music and the swaying boat with the sliding cargo doors revealed the cartoon hero's titles: I Yam What I Yam. I Eats My Spinach. A Clean Shaven Man. Ghosks is the Bunk. Strong to the Finich. I Likes Babies and Infinks. Proteck the Weakerest. And over a hundred more produced by Max Fleischer, directed by Dave Fleischer, and made in arrangement with Segar and King Features Syndicate.
That was my introduction to Popeye the Sailor Man. Who knew that those black and white animation masterpieces were the product of the Fleischer Studios beginning in 1933 and first released theatrically. Who cared that E.C. Segar after ten years of laboriously writing and drawing Thimble Theatre, in 1929 created a walk-on character named Popeye who would soon upstage everyone in the comic strip and become a universally known icon to over three generations of kids. All I knew and cared about was when I grew up, I wanted to be like Popeye. Kindly strong sailor. Skilled fighter. Murderer of spoken English. Successful spinach marketeer. And all around nice guy.
How Popeye endured his world made my troubles and cares seem trivial. Constantly stabbed in the back by the biggest, most untrustworthy, meanest human being who ever walked — Bluto. Cursed by love for the skinniest, homeliest, most fickle female in the country — Olive Oyl.
And the closest thing he could call a friend was the slovenly, sell-you-out-in-a-minute moocher — J. Wellington Wimpy. No wonder poor Popeye could be heard muttering asides under his breath all the time.
But through it all, Popeye remained upstanding, loyal and brave. His endurance gave his audience hope. He always turned the other cheek until that was all he can stands and he can't stands no more. He was a role model embodying right from wrong. He clearly defined life in black and white. And so was my world in front of the Philco every weekday morning in the Winter of 1957.
- Bruce S., Mrs. Rude's 2nd Grade Class, Granite Oklahoma, 12/1/57
Popeye's first color cartoon was promoted to the trade in the November 21, 1936 issue of BOXOFFICE: The Pulse of the Motion Picture Industry
BLUTO: "I've got you now, Popeye, me lad. . .in 18 minutes of three dimensional fightin', I'm gonna put you on the ropes and take Olive Oyl for my own."
POPEYE: "Listen, Sindbad, you punkeroo, Max Fleischer has me in fightin' trim, and me and Wimpy is gonna knock the colors right out of you in me finest and longest pitcher to date . . . Paramount's three color feature SINDBAD the SAILOR."
Learn more about the Fleischer Studios:
Read The Fleischer Story in the Golden Age of Animation by Leslie Cabarga, Nostalgia Press, 1976. Leslie is a heck of a nice guy and The Fleischer Story is still the definitive reference work on the studio's fine work. The book is readily available and you can order it at Leslie's Web site: http://www.lesliecabarga.com
Also watch the videotape history of the Fleischer cartoons which was produced in the mid 90s by Mark Lamberti of Southwestern Con fame, art direction by Leslie Cabarga and written/narrated by Leonard Maltin of Film Fan Monthly fame. It's still around at some video rental stores.
Digital Images/Text Copyright 2009 by Bruce C. Shults / Popeye and All Other Characters are Properties of and Copyright King Features Syndicate and the Hearst Corp - World Rights Reserved