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Friday, January 10, 2014

When Kid Vid Overlapped With School

Color Popeyes Sully Weekday Viewing Ponds

Another of Jerry Merritt's Channel 8
Gigs: Dialing For Dollars
Does it matter less what local television of the 60's was like as more folks from the era die out or lose interest? I watched color Popeye Shape Ahoy (1945) for no reason other than to confirm what cankers these were on daily tube schedule (discounting classic B/W's, of course). There was a morning serve on Channel 8 called Limbo's Cartoon Circus. It ran gamut from waking up for school to getting there and homeroom bell, that is 7:00 to 8:30 AM (eventually shaved to an 8:00 start time). Limbo was alter ego of weatherman/movie host/jack of all japery Jerry Merritt, who donned the clown nose each morning to go into dance sans customary studio audience of boy/girl scouts and birthday celebrants. One occasion found him trilling Send In The Clowns to earnest effect between Laurel/Hardy and the Three Stooges. Popeye was animated hiccup amongst stuff I was impatient for, the comedies invariably starting just as ride to school drove up and honked.

Shape Ahoy was released in 1945, several seasons after Max and Dave Fleischer got walking papers, being a decided stinker beside even weakest of theirs. Popeye and Bluto retire to an island where no "wimmen" are allowed, three years' isolation having brought them very close, with no plan to re-enter a disruptive mainstream. Would I have noted such odd arrangement on first exposure to Shape Ahoy, or did post-Apocalypse Popeyes go immediately down this boy's memory chute? The pair had mended fences before, but never to such degree. I wondered if even Olive's castaway arrival could disrupt Popeye and Bluto's shared commitment. She/it does, of course, rivalry reignited via food stuffed down Olive, for which reward is a kiss. Was all this to somehow simulate sex that cartoonists were forbidden to depict? Or maybe me reading too much into an essentially lame reel. Frames captured here are from 16mm faded to peculiar hue, which might be preferred way to watch Shape Ahoy. It's also on You Tube with much better color.


Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

Total agreement!

The b7w Fleischer Popeyes from the 30's were solid gold...but the 4o's Paramount colors Popeyes were domestic sitcom drags.

Far worse than those, of course, were the King Feature Popeye atrocities made for TV in the early 60's, where Bluto's name was changed to Brutus and everyone involved in the making forgot how to animate, how to entertain, and how to do comedy.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I feel your pain, John. In Boston one of the kids' shows had been faithfully running 1930s Fleischer Popeyes, and one day in 1964 the friendly host proudly and repeatedly announced, "NEW CARTOONS! Next week we'll be showing new cartoons!"

From the special emphasis he gave to this news, I wondered what we'd be seeing from now on, but if they were as good as the Popeyes that would be fine with me.

Imagine my disappointment when the new cartoons turned out to be Hanna-Barbera's made-for-TV, color, limited-animation epics with Wally Gator, Touche Turtle and Dum Dum, and Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har. No more black-and-white Fleischers. At seven years old I'd just been victimized and I knew it.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Whoa, way harsh, John! You obviously are among the fans who have no use for any of the Famous Studios Popeyes. I not only have a much higher tolerance for the post-Fleischer entries, but would actually point out SHAPE AHOY in particular has many attributes in its favor; a slightly unusual plot line, some good gags that are not telegraphed ahead of time and a wonderfully 'globby' Jim Tyer fist fight finale (no other animator's work in classic toons stands out like Tyer's!) Of couse the Queasy Color frame grabs suggest a less than perfect viewing experience.

This is also one of the cartoons die hard fans use to prop up Mae Questel's claim of filling in as Popeye while Jack Mercer was in the service. Is that Mae doing Popeye? IMBd apparently buys the story. But if you listen to the little sailor in SHAPE AHOY, then his voice in ROCKET TO MARS and ISLAND FLING, two films generally credited to radio guy Harry Welch, you might doubt that credit... at least a little.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Have to agree with Dave K -- I just watched Shape Ahoy and quite enjoyed it. I recall liking the color Popeyes more as a kid as well, though NOT the King Features. (And for what it's worth, I couldn't stand the Hanna-Barbera stuff Scott M. mentions even as a child.)

Shape Ahoy seemed to me to almost be Paramount's animated riff on 1941's Road to Zanzibar, with Popeye and Bluto standing in for Bing and Bob, living in happy tropical squalor amidst dirty dishes and cigar ashes, having (temporarily) booted Dottie off the premises.

5:45 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson remembers cartoon programming in the Bay area:

Here in the Bay Area we had some local kid hosts. Some had peanut galleries, sidekicks and comedy bits; some were essentially DJs with costumes. Mayor Art was the local purveyor of Popeye with the occasional Superman cartoon. His set was a "City Hall", with a "City Council" of kids wearing top hats like his.

The early Famous Studios stuff didn't seem that bad, although there was a clear falloff in quality over time. Warning signs of a clunker included 50's suburban backdrops, nephews (in varying numbers for some reason), a buff and almost-handsome Bluto (see the one where Popeye shaves him), and Olive watered down into conventional cute. The B&Ws with the slamming ship doors remained the gold standard.

The most frustrating were the ones that incorporated clips from the Fleischer two-reelers into a framing story (the only times Famous put Popeye back in his pre-war sailor outfit). You KNEW there were longer and better versions of those epics, and there was no way for a kid to see them.

The King Features Popeyes had their own unhosted half hour on another channel. Trying to remember if the other King Features shorts appeared there or on Captain Satellite's show. Cranked out by the same studios who did the Popeyes, they starred Snuffy Smith (with Barney Google), Beetle Bailey (then a comparatively hot new strip), and Krazy Kat (totally unknown to kids and forgotten by most of their parents). Always wondered if King planned to roll out more of their properties in that form.

Some years later there was a flurry of half-hour specials starring Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, Cathy and others, inspired by the success of the Peanuts specials. If you poke around, you can find fairly cheap DVDs that throw together various King Features TV shorts and specials, usually along with "Defenders of the Universe," a series that tossed Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and I think the Phantom into a blender.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Old Bob said...

One day in the fall of 1960, The host of WBBM Chicago's "U.S.S. Popeye" show (I think) announced brand new Popeye cartoons were coming! But when I watched the first of the new KFS Popeye's, my 9 y.o. jaw dropped. Yeah, I felt jerked over, too. The earlier Popeyes went away in favor of the KFS dreck. I soon abandoned the "U.S.S. Popeye" ship in search of better sailing elsewhere.

8:07 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer looks back on good/bad cartoons and a kiddie show host from his youth:

I liked cartoons growing up, I liked the Popeyes, and I was sophisticated enough to appreciate that the black and white ones with the credits displayed in the cabin of a rolling sailing ship were the best. The King Features cartoons were among the earliest of my disappointments and to be avoided as I tried to avoid my mother's stuffed cabbage. The Popeyes were brought to us by Sally Starr, a failed country and western singer who landed in Philadelphia and became a big time kiddie show host. The filmed intros to her show had her riding a horse in Fairmount Park on apparently a cold winter's day--no leaves on the trees and "our gal Sal" bundled up and obviously not enjoying the experience--seguing to the live set with her in a cowgirl costume. She didn't sing and really didn't do anything much except be warm and ingratiating, sort of like a cooler version of one of my aunts. She also offered the Three Stooges, which my mother didn't care for--none of the mothers in the neighborhood did, especially with the eye-gouging stuff--no mother then wanted a child to lose an eye--but the Popeyes were all right with her. I was not so sophisticated, though, as to distinguish the Fleischers from the Famous Studio ones in terms of quality, though as I say, I had enough on the ball to notice that the ones from King Features were putrid. I also stayed away from Huckleberry Hound, Deputy Dawg, and the other Hanna-Barbara shows. If I wanted character voices and nothing much to look at, I could have turned on the radio. Black-and-white or color didn't make much difference at the time, as the Mercers didn't get their Magnavox color console set until 1967, long after I had drifted away from Sally Starr to the macabre clowning of the horror film jockeys.


7:08 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I love the early days of television where a few guys would have 18 jobs at the station... read the news about the riots in Watts or Watergate and a half hour later be dressed as an astronaut hosting a cartoon show. In Wichita one of the noon newscasts was split into two parts-- Elmer Childress would do the weather and then, honest to God, he and his family would sing gospel songs in the second 15 minutes. (Imagine Cronkite doing that!) I suspect there was a lot of hard drinking and pawing after innocent young gals hired to host Romper Room back in those Mad Men days, too, though maybe not by Elmer Childress...

7:14 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Funny how that I hadn't seen "Shape Ahoy" in almost 50 years -- yet watching it on YouTube, I remembered more of it than anything I was learning at school at the time. While I preferred the early B&W Popeyes, I always liked "Shape Ahoy" for putting Popeye and Bluto in a different situation than their usual adventures. And seeing those real hands covering their mouths always gave me a jolt. Nice to see a remastered version, too, with great color at last.

And I, too, was disappointed, when WPRO-TV in Providence, RI, dropped the classic Popeyes in favor of those terrible 1960s monstrosisites.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The gentlemen who have posted remind me that, in at least one case, technology enabled viewers to see black-and-white cartoons long after other stations had given them up. I refer to an ABC-TV affiliate with a noticeably low budget (commercials were often done live, and the weatherman was also the grumpy, cigar-chomping kiddie-show host). This station was slow to buy color cameras and equipment, so it kept running old faithful black-and-whites into the 1970s. It was probably the only place north of Greenbriar where you could see the old Hollywood Television Service prints of Republic westerns every weekday morning.

3:44 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Our Channel 12 in Winston-Salem was running Hollywood Television Service prints of Republic westerns on Sunday mornings well into the seventies.

4:15 PM  

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