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Last updated 10-24-08. 
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sex, popeyes, and video tape:

THE CURIOUS EFFECTS OF GROWING UP WITH THE PARAMOUNT/FAMOUS STUDIOS' CARTOONS 

(A Five Part Article-Originally published in the
Official Popeye Fanclub News-magazine.
)
 
 

Introduction

When people reflect on old cartoons, strange things can happen.  For instance, I heard a radio talk-show host confess on the air, "Whenever I watched a Popeye cartoon, I used to root for Bluto.  Does that mean I'm weird?  Do I need therapy?" 

I could relate.  As a baby boomer, I grew up with a daily dose of Popeye cartoons.  The Sailor Man was my hero.  I pretended to be Popeye, even attempting in vain to choke down the spinach my grandmother prepared at my request.  Yet, in my playtime adventures, stories, and daydreams, Bluto would sometimes win.  Then he started to win more and more.  What was wrong with me?  I didn't want to see my hero beaten - yet, somehow, maybe I did, too!  I loved Popeye, wanted to be just like him, yet at the same time I often couldn't stand him!!   Was I nuts, or giving into a hidden mean streak, or was there some other explanation? 

 
A friend of mine in college (where late night talk turns easily to such matters) once got red in the face and, stammering as though he was revealing a deep, dark, shameful secret, said, "I know you're going to think this is really strange, but I used to lust after Olive Oyl."  Equally embarrassed, I confessed that I did, too.  (Others have told me the same thing down through the years.)   Even before we were interested in girls, we were interested in Olive.  And when we did get interested in girls, we fantasized about hugging and kissing her.  And despite evidence that might initially suggest that she was a shameless flirt, we just knew her heart was pure.  When we watched a cartoon, we could relate to Bluto, because we wanted to get Olive away from Popeye, too.  Each one of us knew that she really should have been our girlfriend.  Each of us had a secret desire to bump Popeye off and take his place.  Why?  Were we villains deep down in our hearts?   And why were two healthy young males on a campus where the ratio was three girls to every one guy spending time talking and thinking about a cartoon character, anyway? 

I read an article on the INTERNET the other day which complained about today's animated cartoons.  One problem, it said, was that today's cartoons aren't "sexy enough, like the old Popeyes."  Sexy?  Old Popeye cartoons?  Why would anyone think that? Yet maybe that would explain why, even at a young age, I would feel slightly embarrassed if anyone came into the room while I was watching Popeye.  I never got that feeling in connection with Huckleberry Hound or Daffy Duck.  It was the same feeling I got whenever the "mushy parts" came on during the war and cowboy movies: the feeling that I didn't want to admit I was watching, while at some level being proud of the fact that I was; the feeling that I was being exposed to things I wasn't quite ready for yet, but somehow wanted to be; the feeling that my thoughts were heading toward hidden, mysterious, and delightful areas; and the feeling that whatever was happening in me was intensely private and that no one should know about it or intrude. 

And as I matured and got knocked around by life and love, the things happening to me would all seem so strangely familiar somehow.  I met more "Popeyes", Olives", and "Blutos" than I could count.  I would often find my mind wandering back to my favorite cartoons.  Unlike the author of a popular book, I may not have learned everything I needed to know in kindergarten, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I learned it after kindergarten ended for the day, watching the Sailor Man on channels 8 & 3.  Why has Popeye stuck with me all these years while the glitter on some of the other golden programs of my youth has definitely faded?

 The answers to all the above questions and the explanation for all those feelings, desires, and confessions can be found in the fact that many of us baby boomers grew up watching the Famous Studios' Popeye cartoons over and over again on TV.  In the area where I lived, they were on every weekday afternoon and Saturday and Sunday mornings.  And, while the cartoons have much to commend them, repeated viewing of many of them can lead you to feel ambivalent about, if not downright annoyed with, Popeye.  Bluto and Olive, not The Sailor Man, can easily capture your attention, imagination and loyalty.   Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  As you examine your feelings toward Popeye, Olive, and Bluto, and reflect on their actions and consequences, you can learn indispensable lessons about life. 

I don't believe that the creators of the films intended any of this.  After all, they probably never dreamed their work would be viewed as an entire body, nor ever imagined that the films would be rerun endlessly.  The creators just set out to make individual, entertaining, theatrical Popeye cartoons that would appeal to adult  moviegoers.  Nonetheless, with the advent of television and syndication, their work had an unintended, cumulative effect on children.   Certain repetitive themes became ingrained in our subconscious minds.  And after dozens of viewings, we suddenly began to notice that sometimes Popeye acted really strangely.  We also realized that Olive often looked happy as Bluto was about to kiss her.  We began to question plot devices and twists that we had previously taken for granted.  Certain frames we hadn't noticed before jumped out at us.  Our minds tried to harmonize every cartoon with all the others and form some sort of canonical "true history" of Popeye The Sailor Man.  And so, the films over time began to make some of us feel anti-Popeye,  pro- Bluto, "Hubba, Hubba"-Olive and "I better take notes because I'm learning something important here!"   Let's examine each of these feelings in turn.

PART ONE: Popeye - Hero Or Zero?

 

Popeye does some incredibly heroic deeds in the Paramount/Famous Studios' cartoons.  He saves the Earth from alien invasion, not once, but twice  (Rocket To Mars, Popeye The Ace Of Space)!  He single-handedly cleans up an old west town (Tar With A Star).  He watches out for the safety of infant Swee'pea, risking his life to do so (Baby Wants Spinach, Thrill Of Fair, Child Sockology).  The Sailor Man does his part against our nation's enemies in World War II (You're A Sap, Mr. Jap, Scrap The Japs, Spinach For Britain).  Popeye uses his superhuman strength to help the populace of ancient Greece (Greek Mirthology).  He buys orphans a brand new television set (Punch And Judo". 

And yet for all of that, in other films, Popeye is simply not that dynamic a protagonist, nor even, at times, a very sympathetic character!!

Although Popeye professes to love Olive, in some cartoons, he has strange ways of showing it.   Popeye has a tendency to throw Olive to the (human) wolves.  The Island Fling has Popeye running off to pursue his hobbies of big game and treasure hunting, while leaving Olive alone all day with an obviously girl-hungry Robinson Crusoe.  What did he think they'd be doing all day while he was gone, playing tiddledywinks?  Or did he bother to think at all?   In Pre-Hysterical Man, it takes Popeye an awfully long time to notice that Olive has fallen off the cliff into the hidden valley and is in the clutches of the cave man.  After Popeye beats the wild animals in Safari So Good, he takes time to congratulate himself and celebrate, even though Olive is locked in the tree house with the lascivious jungle man and has been screaming for help.   At the beginning of The Royal Four-Flusher, Popeye apologizes to the Count about getting upset over the Count's  passionate kissing of Olive.  If it were me, I wouldn't have cared that the cad was "nobility".  I would have decked him! 

But I suppose someone's got to woo Olive.  And that someone obviously can't be Popeye!  In The Fistic Mystic, Olive puckers up to give Popeye a kiss, but he would rather plant one on the Statue Of Liberty instead!!  Maybe this went over big in the W.W.II era,  but viewed later, it makes Popeye look like a nerd who doesn't know what to do with a real, live girl.  In A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing, Olive lets Popeye know she's feeling romantic and what is his response?  He makes a joke and then hurries off without a word or a backward glance to have a soak in a bathtub!!!    In Lumberjack And Jill,  Popeye is more interested in food than in girls.   A square, old-fashioned Popeye, spoils Olive's hip party in Jitterbug Jive.  Then he has to down spinach in order to be as cool as Olive and Bluto.  Using only his own strength and normal personality, he can't be compatible with her at all.  When Popeye and Olive go on a Vacation With Play, all Popeye wants to do is nap all day and he's perfectly content to let Olive go off by herself even though she's asking him to join her in sports.   When she decides to spend the day with Bluto, we can't feel too upset for Popeye.  After all, he had his chance.  (And don't tell me he was just too tired from carrying the car.  We see Popeye perform superhuman feats of strength all the time without having to head for a hammock afterward.  And in the rest of the cartoon, he seems to have energy aplenty.  At the end, during a scene meant to convey the feeling that, Bluto being vanquished, the vacation is continuing, Popeye still wants to lay around and do nothing!!!  It seems he really doesn't want to spend any quality time with Olive unless another guy expresses interest in her first!!)  When Olive dreams of their wedding in Bride And Gloom, she envisions Popeye having to eat spinach in order to get through his vows and knowing the Famous Studios' Popeye, she's probably right!!  Parlez- Vous Woo demonstrates that Popeye needs to eat spinach even just to be able to turn Olive on.  Without it, he leaves her cold.  And at the end of both Nearly Weds and Bride And Gloom, although Olive has broken off their engagement to be married,  Popeye enjoys a good hearty laugh.  When a girl returned my diamond, I can assure you that laughing was the farthest thing from my mind.

Popeye also shows little regard for Olive's physical safety.  When Olive is encased in a block of ice in Snow Place Like Home,  Popeye makes a wisecrack about her situation.   A Balmy Swami finds Popeye endangering Olive's life when he interferes with a hypnosis trick.  In Alpine For You,  Popeye refuses to get Olive a guide for dangerous mountain terrain.  Private Eye Popeye leaves Olive tied up while he chases a suspect around the world. 

Popeye also seems to care little for her emotional and mental well-being.  In A Balmy Swami, he doesn't seem to care that Olive is totally bored.  He's more interested in the performing seals than in her.  In Gym Jam,  Popeye ignores Olive when another "woman" shows up.   In Car-azy drivers, Popeye mocks Olive as a woman driver.  In Olive Oyl For President and Cops Is Tops, he laughs at her big dreams,  acting as though he thinks that Olive, being a woman, is totally incompetent to do important jobs.  Maybe back in the 40s and 50s these attitudes were common, but viewed later, they make Popeye look like a male chauvinist of the worst kind.

 Does this guy want a relationship with Olive or not?  At least Bluto always knows exactly what he wants!!  Does Popeye even know how to have a relationship?   Isn't the hero of a movie supposed to be the best guy for the girl, the one "made for her"?  Yet the Famous Studios' Popeye is pretty incompatible with the Famous Studios' Olive.   There are legitimate reasons why Olive always jilts him.

And speaking of Olive jilting him, how many times does it have to happen before he gets the message that she doesn't really like him, she's just using him to get out of uncomfortable situations?  Even if Popeye and Olive wind up together at the end of one cartoon, at the start of the next one, she'll jilt him again.  Here's just a sample of the times she's done it: Pitchin' Woo At The Zoo, Tops In The Big Top; Klondike Casanova; Abusement Park; I'll Be Skiing You; The Royal Four-Flusher; All's Fair At The Fair; Symphony In Spinach; A Balmy Swami, Quick On The Vigor; Alpine For You.  How can you respect and root for a guy who's such a glutton for punishment?

And he receives plenty of it, sometimes because he's too stupid to see the obvious - not a very heroic trait.  For example, even though Mr. Crusoe is practically drooling over Olive in The Island Fling, Popeye can't see that his host is trying to get him out of the way in order to put the moves on her.  Ditto in Snow Place Like Home.  I would think that if someone smashed my face into a counter in order to lean over top of me to ogle my girlfriend in her bikini, fed me to a bear, punched me into next week and left me outside in the arctic cold, I might suspect he couldn't be trusted.  I certainly wouldn't climb into any "sleigh" he showed me.  I'd say, "You first, Pierre."  In Mister And Mistletoe, Popeye not only believes that Bluto is Santa Claus, but he seems to be oblivious to (or easily distracted from) the fact that Bluto's making a big play for Olive (and succeeding).  Again, if someone threw me into the cellar and went running to kiss my girl under the mistletoe, then stuffed me into a bag and used super strength to heave it and me as far away as possible so he could start spending time cuddling with my girlfriend on the couch, then electrocuted me with a toy train to get me out of the way so he could put his arms around my girl, I think I'd be a little suspicious when he handed me a "Christmas candle" that looked exactly like a stick of dynamite!!!

Popeye plays the part of the patsy and fall guy in many of his pictures.  In The Royal Four-Flusher, even after the Count's first trick gets him effectively out of the way and the second almost kills him, Popeye falls for two more!!  Popeye is a sucker for the "free sample" gag in All's Fair At The Fair, even though it's the oldest trick in the book.  In Symphony In Spinach, Popeye can't figure out how bad things continue to happen even though Bluto is in the room and Bluto has already crashed a piano lid down on top of the sailor.  Popeye can't tell that Bluto is disguised as a woman  in Gym Jam.  He even throws away his spinach at Bluto's request in Friend Or Phony!  He trusts a Bluto handling sharp objects to give him a shave and haircut in "Shaving Mugs"!  In Fright To The Finish, Popeye believes Bluto is giving up on a date with Olive and going away quietly.  (How many years has he known this guy?)  Cooking With Gags finds Popeye the brunt of Bluto's April Fool jokes.  Bluto goads Popeye into breaking his promise to Olive repeatedly in Beaus Will Be Beaus.  And in Out To Punch and Nearly Weds, Popeye falls for rather obvious tricks designed to incapacitate and humiliate him.  Every time I watch Out To Punch, I want to yell, "Hey, Popeye, look down!  The reason you can't run is that your feet are still encased in cement."  Sheesh!  This is our idol?  Can you imagine Bugs Bunny falling for any of these gags?  He'd be pulling the pranks, not falling victim to them. 

And if Popeye is so smart, why does he wait until the end of every cartoon to down his spinach?  Popeye Battle Strategy Number One: " I'll let myself get bruised, humiliated, and placed into a deathtrap, and wait until my girl's lips are less than a millimeter away from the playboy's before I'll do anything about it."  Or why does he rush into life-threatening situations without first opening a can?  Isn't this like a policeman chasing a suspect into a dark alley without drawing his gun, or a scuba diver forgetting to wear his tanks?

It's bad enough that Popeye is such a sap, but in some cartoons, he's actually cast as a villain of sorts.  When he's in a picture with his nephews or an animal, he plays the kind of role usually assigned to Sylvester The Cat, Tom of "Tom And Jerry" fame, Yosemite Sam, or Elmer Fudd.  He's cast as the one who spoils the fun of little children or the one who tries to kill, or harass, or starve, or relocate cute animals and insects.  When he loses, we applaud.  See: Me Musical Nephews, Woodpeckin', Her Honor The Mare, Spinach Vs. Hamburgers, The Fly's Last Flight, Riot In Rhythm, Tots Of Fun, Shuteye Popeye, Popeye's Mirthday, and Gopher Spinach

In the cartoons centering around a love triangle, Popeye is often another sort of villain, or, more accurately, a spoiler.  Many Famous Studio cartoons depict locales, situations, and couples which are straight out of America's collective romantic fantasies.  Consider: the ringmaster and the female acrobat (Tops In The Big Top);  the fur trapper and the cabaret singer (Klondike Casanova); the rodeo star and the cowgirl (Rodeo Romeo); the electrifying magician and the pretty volunteer from the audience (The Fistic Mystic, A Balmy Swami); two castaways alone on a tropical island (The Island Fling); the sailor on shore leave and the girl at the amusement park (Abusement Park); the ski instructor and the student (I'll Be Skiing You);  the pirate and his willing captive (Popeye And The Pirates);  the wealthy playboy nobleman and the comely commoner (The Royal Four-Flusher);  the jungle man and the girl lost on safari (Safari So Good);  the strongman and the carnival-goer (All's Fair At The Fair, Quick On The Vigor);  the caveman taking a mate (Pre-Hysterical Man); Hercules and the Greek lass (Popeye meets Hercules);  the sheik acquiring a desert beauty for his harem (A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing);  the arctic french fur trader warming up the girl he saved from freezing to death (Snow Place Like Home); the Sheriff Of Nottingham and the wench who owes back taxes (Robin Hood-Winked);  the virtuoso and the swooning music lover (Symphony In Spinach);  the lumberjack and the new cook (Lumberjack And Jill);  the outlaw and the saloon singer (Tar With a Star);  the libidinous lifeguard and the beach bunny (Beach Peach);  the coolest guy in town and his hip chick (Jitterbug Jive); the resort's athletic director getting real physical with the attractive vacationer (Vacation With Play);  the guide and the mountain climber (Alpine For You);  the bullfighter and the senorita (Toreadorable); a handsome Santa paying a Christmas Eve visit to a merry miss (Mister And Mistletoe); the dashing, sophisticated television star romancing  his biggest fan (Parlez-Vous Woo).  In many of these cartoons, the music, the dialogue, the looks the characters give each other and their tones of voice, the settings, the double entendres, the number of times we've seen similar situations in the movies, TV, or books, (or even acted out similar situations with our spouses -  c'mon, admit it!!), and the fact that the entire plot revolves around a man and woman wooing, teasing, winning, and, even seducing each other, makes us naturally expect, long for, and root for the couple to get together.  The only problem is that the couple in question are Bluto (or another guy) and Olive - NOT Popeye and Olive!!!  Popeye's role in these cartoons seems to be only as the one who prevents the romance from occurring, the one who squelches love.  Popeye reminds one of the annoying little brother who keeps barging in on sis and her date as they try to have a goodnight kiss on the couch.  You want to give him a quarter so he'll go away!!  Little brother does help build up the sexual tension in the cartoons, but it never gets resolved, because at the end of the picture, the girl goes off into the sunset, arm and arm, not with her virile lover, but with little brother!!!

In the cartoons it sometimes seems that Fate, or some higher power, wants Bluto and Olive together.  Popeye is spoiling the plans of the gods, what was truly meant to be.  (Of course I know the writers contrive these situations, but the characters in the stories don't know that and as you watch fiction, you are supposed to believe it's "really" happening.)  How else do you explain that as Olive is fantasizing about pirates -  poof - a ship magically appears (Popeye And The Pirates)?  Or that as she's longing to be ravished by a sheik, one is close by who hears her wishes and is extremely willing to comply?  Or the freak storm that blows a bikini-clad Olive from the tropics into the arctic back yard of Pierre (Snow Place Like Home)?    In The Island Fling and Pre-Hysterical Man, sympathy is intentionally built up at the beginning of the cartoons for Mr. Crusoe and the caveman who desperately need a woman or they'll go insane.  Suddenly, Olive appears through unusual circumstances, almost as an answer to their prayers.  In Klondike Casanova, the god Cupid actually makes an appearance to infuse Bluto and Olive with passion for each other.  And in Mister And Mistletoe and Parlez-Vous Woo Bluto "just happens" to be outside Olive's window when she makes the comments that reveal to him the key to her heart.  Finally, the Title Card for The Royal Four-Flusher depicts Bluto as the king, Olive as the queen, and Popeye as the jack on the cards in a poker hand.  Is this sending a message about what the true natural order of things is really supposed to be?  And in that cartoon, the eligible millionaire "just happens" to be riding in the park at the exact moment Olive is in an attention-getting pose and engaged in an activity which makes it extremely easy for the smooth operator to move in and give her a long, hard, passionate kiss.  It's kismet!! 

As (supposedly) the leading man, Popeye is not even the character who saves Olive's life in some of the cartoons.  Bluto fishes Olive out of the water in Abusement Park.  The Pre-Hysterical Man saves Olive from being devoured by a hungry dinosaur.  "Tarzan" Bluto saves her from an alligator in Safari So Good.  In Snow Place Like Home, hot-blooded Pierre's giving Olive the steamy once over melts the block of ice around her, thus saving her from freezing to death.  A Balmy Swami saves Olive from plunging many stories to her death at a construction site, after Popeye had earlier unthinkingly steered her towards danger. (Watch the cartoon carefully again.  It's all Popeye's fault!!  No wonder the audience cheers when Bluto pins him with the daggers!!)   In Beach Peach, after Popeye and Olive's inflatable mount starts leaking air and Olive, who can't swim, falls into the water, Popeye doesn't even let go of his toy to drop off and save her.  It's the lifeguard who rescues her from drowning. 

At this point, you might be saying, "Yes, but Popeye is still the good guy because he's a better person than Bluto."  But in the Paramount/Famous Studio cartoons, is he really?  Doesn't he share the some of the same characteristics that make the other guy in the cartoon "evil"?

"Well, Bluto (or the other guy) can't ever take ‘No' for an answer."  But neither can Popeye.  After Olive has pretty clearly given him the brush-off and is enjoying the company of (and/or getting affectionate with) her new beau, Popeye keeps trying to rudely horn in where he's not wanted.  See: She-Sick Sailors; The Fistic Mystic; Popeye And The Pirates; Pre-Hysterical Man; A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing; Beach Peach; Jitterbug Jive; Vacation With Play; Parlez-Vous Woo

"But the other guy is always trying to steal Popeye's girl."  First of all, it's debatable whether Olive is really "Popeye's girl". She always seems pretty much up for grabs to me.   She usually treats Popeye as though he's just a friend she has no real romantic interest in, or as though he is merely one potential lover out of many, or as though he actually is her little brother.  She certainly doesn't act like she considers him her steady beau.  (See section #2. )  Secondly, Popeye himself makes plays for another guy's girl in Wigwam Whoopee and Silly Hillbilly.  If it's okay for Popeye to do this, why is it wrong for Bluto?

"The other guy cheats, lies, deceives, and plays dirty tricks to get his way."  But so does Popeye!!  See: Puppet Love; Shape Ahoy; For Better Or Nurse; Popeye And The Pirates; Taxi Turvey; Fright To The Finish; Cookin' With Gags; Penny Antics; Beaus Will Be Beaus; Cops Is Tops; I Don't Scare; Nearly Weds; The Crystal Brawl; Spree Lunch.  It seems that The Truth and Fair Play are not always Popeye's weapons of choice.  Maybe all really is fair in love and war.  If so, then how can we blame Bluto?  Or maybe playing dirty tricks on one another is just a "guy thing" and Popeye and Bluto go out for beers and pizza at the end of each cartoon for some male bonding.

"But Bluto (or the other guy) always resorts to violence and practically murders Popeye."  Oh, and what happens at the end of almost every cartoon?  Does Popeye settle for getting Bluto to desist or for restraining him?  Does he turn him over to the law?  No, he usually demolishes him, sometimes placing him (and leaving him!!)  in life-threatening or torturous situations.  Some examples : Popeye repeatedly tickles the immobile count's foot, adding to his humiliation, as Popeye and Olive laugh at him in The Royal Four-Flusher;   Popeye imbeds the sheik into the pyramid wall in A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing; he uses Bluto as a sled dog in Klondike Casanova and allows him to be jabbed in the rear with a long, sharp pin; in Symphony In Spinach, Popeye uses Bluto for a drum set; Lumberjack And Jill ends with Bluto being chased over hill and dale by a giant buzz saw; Quick On The Vigor ends with Popeye repeatedly using a dazed, trapped Bluto's head to ring a bell; in Vacation With Play, Bluto winds up going round and round on a mill's water wheel; Popeye leaves Bluto trapped in a flooded lighthouse with a hungry shark in Swimmer Take All; in Mister And Mistletoe, the cartoon symbols for Bluto's pain and unconsciousness decorate Popeye and Olive's Christmas tree; at the end of The Crystal Brawl, Popeye leaves Bluto roasting over a fire pit.  And as Beaus Will Be Beaus points out, Popeye's first resort in a challenge is not his brains, but his fists. 

 I realize that in cartoon universes this all conforms to the accepted way of handling problems - you beat up, drop anvils on, blow up, and find as many ways as possible to do bodily harm to the other guy.  And after all, in cartoons one can fall off the Empire State Building in one scene and be walking around as if nothing happened in the next.  No one is ever permanently hurt.  So, it's not as if Popeye is really killing Bluto.  But, conversely, then, what does it matter what Bluto doers to try to get rid of Popeye?

"Yes", you might say, "but Bluto uses violence for evil, Popeye for good.  Popeye merely administers poetic justice!"  True, but sometimes Bluto, or the other guy, seems to be in the right, administering frontier justice to Popeye.  Consider that in The Fistic Mystic, Popeye And The Pirates, Pre-Hysterical Man and A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing, Olive has verbally and/or by consenting actions accepted a proposal to be the mate of another man.  It's Popeye who's doing wrong by horning in.  In Vacation With Play and Parlez-Vous Woo, Olive wants to spend her time with Bluto as her date.  Popeye keeps trying to disrupt things.  In Jitterbug Jive, a stubborn Popeye refuses to change even when he sees his ideas are not appreciated and acts instead as a boorish, childish, attention-hungry, party-pooper.  Wouldn't you want a guy like that thrown out of your party?   That's just what Bluto tries to do! 

When you take the body of Paramount/Famous cartoons as a whole, you're left with a Popeye who is a "good guy" simply because the creators tell us he is.  They don't consistently and convincingly show us he is.  We only root for Popeye because we're supposed to, not because the creators give us good reasons to do so. 

In fact, unlike the Fleischer cartoons, in which a colorful, quirky, unique Popeye is usually the most interesting and heroic character in every film, the Paramount/Famous Studios present a Popeye who, in comparison to his antagonists, is rather bland, boring, and dull.  It's the other guy who has the interesting, exotic occupation.  It's the other guy who passionately pursues Olive, going all out to win her.  It's the other guy that plans the romantic rendezvous, who gives the extravagant gifts, who makes with the sweet talk and flattery, who makes Olive feel special.  It's the other guy who, in short, moves the story forward.  The plot centers around what he, not Popeye, is doing.  Popeye just reacts.  And I should mention that the other guy can always vanquish Popeye using only his own strength and quick wits.  He doesn't need spinach.  Yet, at the end of every cartoon, Olive ends up with the uninspiring Popeye, who will probably go back to taking her for granted.  And this is supposed to be our happy ending!!!

To make matters even worse for our sailor, the other guy is usually (in cartoon universe terms) much better looking than Popeye.  As the years went on, it seemed that Popeye's enemies were drawn more and more attractively, culminating in the very handsome Bluto of Shaving Mugs, Mister And Mistletoe, and Parlez-Vous Woo.  He could be a movie star in our universe!!  Popeye, unfortunately, always remained funny looking. 

Sure, Popeye has to be the underdog in order for the cartoons to have any suspense, and to create audience identification (I don't know about you, but I'm not a rich count or a hunky lifeguard), but did they have to make him such an unsympathetic underdog?  In the cartoons, we feel sorry for Bluto and Olive- NOT POPEYE!!! 


 

PART TWO: Sympathy For A Devil?
 

It's true that Bluto is a reprehensible bully ( see Barking Dogs Don't Fight, Lunch with a Punch, Baby Wants A Battle, A Job for a Gob, and Out To Punch among other cartoons) who needs to learn some self-control before he's brought up on charges of assault and/or sexual harassment.  Yet sometimes his (or another guy's) defeat can be painful for us to watch.  Why?

Consider that the males in the Famous Studios' cartoons often believe they are getting certain signals from Olive Oyl as she flirts with them, cuddles, and kisses.  We share their confusion when, later in a tender moment, she suddenly starts yelling, "Help Popeye!"  In some cartoons, it seems as though there is absolutely no reason for her to reject Bluto other than that the creators woke up, realized the cartoon was about to end, and so said, "Oh, yeah, she's supposed to wind up with Popeye."  Early in a cartoon, Olive often acts like she can't stand Popeye and is even overjoyed when Bluto (or the other guy) repeatedly disposes of him so the two of them can be alone. Then she inexplicably starts taking Popeye's side near the end of the cartoon, beating on Bluto saying, "You fiend!  What are you doing to my Popeye?"  To make matters worse for poor Bluto (or another guy), in the Famous Studios' cartoon universe, Olive is the most sexy, beautiful, desirable woman in the world (see section #3).  No wonder Bluto's mean all the time.  He's got to be unspeakably frustrated!!  The poor guy must have to run for the cold showers after every cartoon has ended!!  So Bluto (or another guy) gets (in his view) teased, led on, used, and then ultimately dumped.   Most of us know, or can imagine, how that feels.  Our hearts can go out to the big, hapless lug.  (To answer the question of whether or not Olive is doing this intentionally, and to get her perspective, see section #3.)

As we examine some of the cartoons, ask yourself the question, "If I was Bluto (or another guy) and Olive said and did these things, wouldn't I naturally assume she was mine and wanted to make time with me?"  I'm not trying to excuse all that Bluto says and does, by any means, but putting yourself in his shoes makes you see things a little differently.  Here, then,  are some blatant examples of Olive rejecting Popeye and leading Bluto (or another guy) on (believe me, there are plenty more): 

Tops In The Big Top - Olive blames Popeye for everything that happens.  She lets Bluto take her in his arms as he announces that he will save the show.  When he reveals his muscles, Olive puts her head on his chest and gasps, "Bluto, you're such a handsome monstrosity!"  Then she approves as Bluto throws Popeye to a horrible fate.  Yet moments later, she screams while Bluto kisses her.  Granted his method for doing so is extreme, but the impression is given that she's objecting to the fact of the kissing, not only to the way it's being done.  How come?

Klondike Casanova - Olive and Bluto share a soda in a scene that's very sexy, provocative, and romantic, for a cartoon.  Cupid appears and bops them over the head to cement their love, and hearts appear in Olive's eyes when she gazes longingly at Bluto.  But when he wants "a little hug and squeeze", she suddenly objects!

The Fistic Mystic - Olive leaves Popeye to swoon over the magician's performance.  He uses a magical pipe to start her quivering.  He draws her to him and she literally wraps herself all around his body.  Not that the magician needs the help of a pipe.  Olive lets him magically dress her in a harem girl outfit.  He tells Olive to stick with him and he'll give her riches and love.  Olive's response is, "Well, when do we start?"   He lustily replies, "RIGHT NOW", and gives her one of the most passionate kisses in Popeye screen history.  Olive turns into melted butter and, sure enough even says, "I'm just butter in his hands!!  Hubba, Hubba, Hubba, Hubba, Hubba, (gasp)!!"  Then she laughs when he turns Popeye into a donkey.

The Island Fling - Olive doesn't seem to notice or care that Popeye's not around for long stretches in the picture, but lets herself be happily courted by Mr. Crusoe.  She's happy when Mr. Crusoe kisses her hand, arm, and shoulder on the beach and invites her to a candlelight dinner.  There, she lets him start to kiss her while holding her head in his hands.  When he dispatches an interrupting Popeye at the dinner, she must approve because immediately she flirts with him on the couch.  After another interruption which neither lover seems to appreciate and after Popeye has once again been done away with, Crusoe pronounces the two of them "alone at last".  Olive gives him a flirty, coy, "come hither" look and gladly lets him hold her VERY close in his arms and once again start to kiss her.  And even when Popeye interrupts and shows them the treasure, Olive puts her hand on Mr. Crusoe's shoulder and then wraps her arm around his.  It's as though Ms. Oyl knows that Popeye is supposed to be the hero in the cartoon, but she's reluctant to give up the chance to neck with Mr. Crusoe.

Popeye And The Pirates - Olive tries to attract the pirates' attention because she wants to be captured!  She thoroughly enjoys the pirate's amorous advances, letting him kiss her repeatedly.  She even seemingly accepts the pirate's proposal to be his mate!!  She's dazzled by his treasures.  Olive doesn't object when Popeye is made to walk the plank.  She melts in Pierre's arms immediately afterward in a short scene before a disguised Popeye reappears. 

The Royal Four-Flusher - The count gives Olive such a passionate kiss that it lifts her right off the ground.  She then lets him continuously kiss her hand and arm.  She chastises Popeye when he starts to pick a fight with him.  She's clearly impressed with the count's looks, riches, and sophisticated bearing.  She curtseys before him, almost as if to offer herself to him.  She enjoys lunch with him after he's gotten rid of Popeye the first time.   When Popeye appears on the scene again, she walks off, totally charmed, with Bluto, not giving Popeye a second glance or a second thought.  She laughs heartily as Bluto humiliates Popeye during their duel.  And then, after Popeye is dispatched, she mounts the horse with Bluto and accepts his invitation to join him in his penthouse in the clouds.  Once there, she goes into ecstasy over the mink coat he's giving her.  At this point the writers must have said, "Oops!  We better have Bluto blow it and fast because he's got her right in the palm of his hand!"  Indeed, one gets the impression that if Bluto could have just waited until an hour or two later, Olive would have willingly given him all the kisses he could handle!!!

Safari So Good - When Olive meets jungle Bluto, she lets out a wolf whistle and gasps, "So big and strong!  And I adore that sarong!"  She feels Bluto's muscles and says, "Mmmmmm.  Hubba!  Hubba!"  After he dispatches Popeye, she proceeds to take  photos of him.  Yet she's soon rooting for Popeye when the sailor fights the jungle man.  Huh?  Did I miss something?

All's Fair At The Fair - As Popeye is going on and on about the superb development of a steer, Olive is busy checking out another body - Bluto's.  Her reaction, "Hubba!  Hubba!  Woooo!  What a physical phenomenon!  Mmmmm, that's my meat!"  She then leaves Popeye in order to catch Bluto's eye.  She happily walks off away from Popeye arm in arm with Bluto.  Later, Bluto hears her tell Popeye off and sees her so mad at the sailor that eggs fry on her head.  Bluto helps her win a diamond ring and she grabs his arm and says, "Come on, Handsome", snuggling against him.  But, of course, when he takes her up in his hot air balloon for "a little privacy" and a kiss, she yells for Popeye. 

Pre-Hysterical Man - After the caveman clubs her, claiming her as his mate, Olive springs up from the ground forming giant hearts with her arms and legs.  She then leans against him and says, "Isn't he wonderful?"  She surrenders herself to be dragged back to his cave for you-know-what.  She ignores Popeye and doesn't mind when she and her "mate" walk right over top of him. 

Popeye Meets Hercules- A swooning, love-struck Olive's heart flies out to Hercules.  It comes to life and gives Hercules a "come up and see me sometime" wink.  A delighted Olive then lets Hercules bop Popeye out of the way and start to woo her, kissing her hand repeatedly. 

A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing - Olive expresses her desire to have a real live sheik kiss her "all to pieces" and make her "feel so weak."  The handsome sheik who overhears quickly puts up a kissing booth where Olive promptly spends what looks like her life savings.  After he kisses her, she leaps in the air, turned on and giddy, saying, "Look at me, I'm a lovebird!  I'm a lovebird!"   She then rides off across the burning desert with the sheik, accepting his proposal to be his mate, without so much as a thought of Popeye.  She says happily that it's "just like in the movies". She's awed by the sheik's palatial tent.  She puts on a harem girl/belly dancer costume.  She then says in a low, sexy, Mae West Voice, "I feel so Cleopatric." The sheik moves in for the kill, kissing her arm passionately and giving her goose bumps all over.  Popeye hurries into the tent when he hears Olive gasp in an enraptured voice, "OOOHHH, SHEIKY!!!"  He finds her the willing captive of the sheik's arms, getting ready for a kiss on the lips. 

Snow Place Like Home - Olive loves Pierre's fiery gaze when he gives her the once over.  She doesn't seem to notice or mind that Popeye goes missing for portions of the cartoon.  She dreamily primps herself in anticipation of a date with Pierre.  She giggles when he uses bubble gum to flirt with her and when he maneuvers her into his arms, she doesn't resist as he goes to kiss her. 

Symphony In Spinach - Olive repeatedly lets Bluto charm her, gladly surrendering to his advances each and every time.  In fact, Bluto and Olive are all over each other in this cartoon.  She swoons over his music, his manner, his looks, and the skillful way he uses the musical instruments to draw her close and get her in the mood.  The cartoon contains a sexy scene in which Bluto turns Olive on and positions her for a kiss by ticking her with a violin bow.  The impression is given that the maestro is not only playing music, he's playing Olive!!  Olive utterly and angrily rejects Popeye and approves when Bluto gets rid of him for good.  She seems delighted that they are alone at last.  Then occurs a scene that is tied with one in Vacation With Play as the most inexplicable reversal in Popeye cartoon history.  (Runners Up: A Balmy Swami, Parlez-Vous Woo).  To get its full impact, try to approach the cartoon fresh for the first time.  Stop your tape just as Bluto starts playing the piano and Olive looks happy.  Given all you've seen and the internal logic of this story, is there any reason fathomable why Bluto and Olive won't start kissing like there's no tomorrow when you start the tape up again?  NO!!  But as Bluto continues to do the same kinds of things she's been eating up all cartoon long, Olive suddenly pulls away, slaps him for being fresh, and yells for help from Popeye.

Lumberjack And Jill - Olive cuddles and walks off arm-in-arm with Bluto when she first meets him.  She then lets him put the moves on her in the kitchen, even happily submitting as lays her down for a kiss.  She swoons during his crooning as they take a romantic boat ride down the river.  Yet, when he goes to kiss her later, she has a concerned look on her face.

A Balmy Swami - A thoroughly bored Olive on a date with Popeye comes to life, cheers, jumps up in the air, whistles, and wolf whistles when Bluto appears on stage.  She says, "Love that man!!"  She gleefully accepts his gift of flowers which he offers as the start of "a budding romance".  She laughs, swoons, and compliments Bluto when he humiliates Popeye.  She's a willing subject for his hypnotism.  Yet, at the end of the picture, when Bluto saves her life she suddenly screams, "Unhandle Me!!!" 

Beach Peach - Olive enthusiastically compliments the life guard with, "What a unique physique!" She snuggles with him under the beach umbrella,  giggling coyly and gushing, "Oooo, Mr. Lifeguard," as he puts the moves on her.  She doesn't object when he blasts Popeye halfway across the beach.  Instead, she and the lifeguard just return to their cuddling.  She also doesn't complain when the lifeguard throws Popeye into the refuse container.  After the lifeguard saves her, she comes on to him big time and calls him her "great big hunk of hero."  She doesn't even give a thought as to what's become of Popeye after the inflatable mount incident.  She's just enjoying being with her lifeguard, giving him a flirty, "I'm yours" laugh as she watches him dive. 

Jitterbug Jive - Olive hates every idea Popeye comes up with for her party.  She thinks he's too old fashioned.  She can't stand his clunky attempts to dance with her.  She leaves Popeye tied up in taffy in order to run to the door to greet Bluto.  She "slips Bluto some skin".  She and Bluto really relate and speak the same hip language.  She acts as if she thinks Bluto is the coolest guy in the world.  Bluto's piano playing causes her to breathlessly swoon, "Huhhh, your technique leaves me weak!"  She doesn't budge as he slowly works his way down the keyboard toward her for a kiss.    She approves of Bluto snapping Popeye into a wall and turning him into a literal square.  She's a co-conspirator when Bluto sends a blindfolded Popeye out to play in the traffic!!  Bluto and Olive move as one across the floor and when they dance their jivey, flirty, jitterbug, they seem made for each other.

Quick On The Vigor - Olive maintains, "I just love strongmen."  And when she sees Bluto, she says, "Ba-ruh-ther!! What a mess of muscle!"  Bluto says, "You won me heart, Babe."  Olive replies, "Ooohhh!  Likewise I'm sure!!"  She freshens her makeup for a date with him and the two stroll off arm-in-arm, leaving Popeye behind locked in a safe.  Then she promptly dumps Bluto just because he asks for a kiss at the top of the Ferris Wheel!?!?

Vacation With Play - Olive wants to "live!" and experience all the resort has to offer.  To that end, she leaves the lethargic Popeye and purposely tries to get the attention of Bluto, the athletic director.  She succeeds admirably and the two are soon all over each other for the remainder of most of the cartoon.  Bluto keeps using sports equipment and "lessons" to get Olive right where he wants her.  And she loves it, purring, "Oh, Mr. Instructor!  You're so strong and muscular!"  Whenever Popeye tries to cut in, she gets really angry at him and strides away with Bluto.  She watches as Bluto finally gets rid of Popeye for good at the tennis court and the two of them stroll past the unconscious sailor on their way to the canoe.  During the canoe ride, Olive acts like a girl at a rock concert and goes into a total swoon over Bluto's serenading, sinking deeper into the pillow she's laying on with a look of pure rapturous contentment on her face.  To appreciate the inexplicable reversal and understand Bluto's frustration, approach this cartoon afresh and stop your tape right after the cabin door slams shut.  Which do you think should logically happen next, "Help, Popeye", or "Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I've found you"?

Cookin' With Gas - Olive takes Bluto's side against Popeye throughout the cartoon.  She laughs uproariously when Bluto plays his cruel, dangerous pranks on the sailor.  She lets Bluto call her, "Lovergirl," and goes off with him on a boat ride for two.  Olive doesn't really lead Bluto on in this cartoon.  In fact, had Popeye not pulled his trick, one gets the distinct impression that Olive and Bluto would be necking as they drifted along with the current.  I include this example to silence those who say Bluto's the villain because he goes after Popeye's girl.  Here, she sure seems like Bluto's girl to me!!!

Beaus Will Be Beaus - Despite Olive's pretense of neutrality, she clearly favors Bluto in the Popeye vs. Bluto rivalry.  She certainly doesn't seem to mind the fact that Popeye's been left behind when they get to the beach parking lot, but happily lets Bluto help her out of the car.  Later, the two desert Popeye again, leaving him behind at the lockers, as they stroll away arm-in-arm.  Once on the beach, they feel romantic and snuggle together before Popeye interrupts.  She lets Bluto lead her away from "that ruffian, Popeye."  Bluto gives her swimming lessons, suspending her in the water by placing his arms around her.  Olive looks real pleased.  After Bluto gets Popeye out of the picture, he proposes, "How about a shore dinner, Gorgeous?"  She accepts and the two change for their date.  She emerges from the locker with a happy expression on her face -  at least at first.  Only Popeye tricking Bluto into eating the spinach and uncontrollably beating The Sailor Man up makes her change her mind.  She didn't really lead Bluto on in this cartoon.  Instead, she was perfectly willing to spend the evening alone with him, knowing he had romance in mind.  Popeye's girl?  I think NOT!!

Mister And Mistletoe - Olive doesn't care that Popeye goes missing for periods of time in the cartoon.  She's totally excited by her visitor.  She lets Bluto/Santa woo her on the couch.  Later, when the two are decorating the tree together (with Santa's arm around her of course), Santa says, "Ah, My Dear, tis a pity that Christmas comes but once a year."  Olive responds with a coy, seductive laugh and says in one of the sexiest voices she's ever used, "Drop by anytime at all, Santa."  And then she has a look on her face which says he doesn't have to wonder what present she's about to give him for Christmas!!  Yet, when he's revealed as a fake, she's all upset.  Wouldn't a more realistic response have been, "Bluto, Honey, make sure you save that Santa suit"?

Parlez-Vous Woo - Bluto shows that he can play the sophisticated European lover to perfection - looking, acting, and sounding exactly like the  television star that turns Olive on like a light switch.  Olive won't leave the house with Popeye because of the remote possibility that she's won a date with Bluto/The International.  She gets more dolled up than she's ever been in any cartoon, just for The International.  When the doorbell rings, she gleefully stampedes over Popeye, flattening him into the carpet, in order to hurry and answer it.  When she sees The International she swoons, her breath is taken away, her hair goes up and down, her eyes rotate, her jaw drops and her mouth stays open in rapture.  When he kisses her hand, he sends a tremor through her body up to her head, where her eyes become big hearts, her hair stands straight up on end, and her heartbeat gets loud and throbbing.  When Popeye kisses her, she turns into an ice cube.  She's thrilled every time The International gets rid of Popeye.  She even tells Popeye that he's got a lot of nerve trying to cut in on The International.  She's in heaven dancing close with Bluto.  Popeye's dancing annoys her.  Bluto has her wrapped around his little finger, leading her to the couch for a kiss and to the door for a moonlight stroll.  When Bluto proposes that he and Popeye fight a duel for the hand of Olive (a duel BLUTO WINS, by the way!!!), she thinks it's so romantic.  Yet, when his true identity is revealed, Olive says in anger, "He's a fake!  It's Bluto!"  But if Bluto can be that charming, attractive, and imaginative, why not choose him for the new boyfriend? Wouldn't a more realistic response be for Olive to pat the couch and coyly ask, "Bluto, could you pretend to be The International again?"

Nearly Weds - Olive ACCEPTS A MARRIAGE PROPOSAL FROM BLUTO!!!   She isn't leading him on.  She really will marry him.  In fact, the cartoon ends with her chasing him.  I included this example to put an end to the myth that she doesn't like Bluto.  She wants to marry him!!!  (By the way, she accepts dates with Bluto in I Don't Scare, Fright To The Finish and The Crystal Brawl.)

Yet, even after all of this, we don't really hate Olive.  In fact, we can't even stay mad at her.  Why?


 
 

PART THREE: Once In Love With Olive, Always In Love With Olive

 

Although some have characterized the Famous Studios' Olive as a fickle, man-crazy flirt, (and there's certainly some merit to that view) there's another way of looking at Miss Oyl as well.  The impression my friends and I got from watching the cartoons over and over is that she's meant to be seen as the eternally desirable, all-American sweetheart. 
Like Betty Boop and Lola Bunny, Olive does flirt, act sexy, and tease men, yet she also manages to maintain an air of girl-next-door, heart-of-gold innocence.  Partly it's because she seems to love life so much, throwing herself into it with gleeful singing, contented sighing, joyous outbursts, and giggling abandon - whether she's climbing the Alps in a far-off land, or feeding squirrels in the local city park, or bathing her dog at home.  And, as to be expected with such a person, her daydreams are in wide-screen technicolor.  See She-Sick Sailors, Shape Ahoy, Rodeo Romeo, Popeye And The Pirates, The Royal Four-Flusher, Olive Oyl for President, Pre-Hysterical Man, A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing, Symphony In Spinach, Barking Dogs Don't Fight, Beach Peach, Jitterbug Jive, Vacation With Play, Alpine for You, Popeye's Mirthday, Toreadorable, and Parlez-Vous Woo for examples of the Olive I'm talking about.  Therefore, her coming on to Bluto or another guy just seems like an attempt to find a mate as vital as she is, instead of the dull as dishwater Popeye.  In her mind, she's just pursuing her dreams, not purposely trying to walk all over Popeye.  When she swoons and whistles over a guy, it just seems like the natural way she reacts toward anything that pleases her, not as a conscious attempt to hurt Popeye or lead anybody on.  When she allows herself to get swept up in the romance and adventure of her setting, giving in to the fantasy, she's just staying in character, not suddenly becoming a vixen.  When she melts over a guy's gifts to her, she's just being Olive, not trying to give the guy a sign that they will be sharing breakfast together tomorrow morning. 

This is another reason we love Olive.  Like Betty Boop, even though Olive enjoys flirting, being courted, attracting guys like flies, smooching, hearing romantic sweet nothings in her ear, snuggling, telling guys how great she thinks they are, and being wined and dined, she still won't let just any guy take her Boop - Oop -A - Doop away.  She seems to be saving herself for "that special one", who isn't Popeye, by the way!  In the cartoons, Olive is like many moral young women who are playing the field trying to find "Mr. Right".  (Watching the cartoons again and again, Popeye starts to come across as the guy who sees commitment when none has been pledged.)  And like many healthy, normal, young women. Olive definitely wants to enjoy romance, while still drawing the line somewhere.  And, let's face it, there's a big difference between letting a guy nuzzle and serenade you, and letting him lock you in his cabin (Vacation With Play)!!!  You may be totally infatuated with a count, feeling like a queen when you're with him, but you still might not be ready for him to slip a straitjacket around you (The Royal Four-Flusher)!!!!  You may even be enjoying some kissing and wooing, but suddenly need it to stop, lest you go too far too fast (This may be an explanation for the reversals in cartoons like Symphony In Spinach.  Suddenly Olive is totally alone with Bluto and he's not the kind of person who is going to quit before he feels finished.  So she believes its better not to let him get started again).  From Olive's perspective, there are good reasons why she yells for help. Although obviously experienced in affairs of the heart, Olive is not a tramp.  Every time she and a guy flirt, it seems like it's the first time it's ever happened to her.  In her mind, this could be the prelude to a life-long love affair, not a cheap one night stand.  You always feel that Bluto, or another guy (like the guy with the hots for Betty Boop) is about to take advantage of a sweet, young thing, not a bimbo.  It's what makes the cartoons work.  If Olive wasn't a prize catch, or was just getting what she deserved, or "was asking for it", there would be no suspense or danger, no feeling that all was about to be lost.  We wouldn't care what happened to her.

Olive is a totally feminine character.  Not in a "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar" way, but in a "Marilyn Monroe is my role model" way, or in the way of the self-described "chicks" of today, or, to a lesser extent, in the Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy The Vampire Slayer") way of being an individual but also caring about your appearance and what the opposite sex thinks of you.  And Olive's  femininity is exaggerated as everything in the cartoon universe is.  (For a great look inside Olive's mind, watch Olive Oyl For President where she sings her equivalent of the classic Broadway tune, "I Enjoy Being A Girl".)  Therefore Olive thinks it is her mission in life to be as alluring as possible.  She was put on earth to attract the attention of males and she loves it.  When she stops traffic, she's fulfilled her manifest destiny.  Someday, one of those males may be "Mr. Right."  Is this the one?  "I don't know, but I'm sure going to enjoy myself as I find out", Olive would say.  Like Cindy Lauper, Olive knows that "Girls Just Want To Have Fun".  She looks for the romance in any and all situations.  After all, there's not much in life that's more fun and makes you feel better about yourself and more alive than romance.  She's also learned that the bat of an eyelash, or the glimpse of a leg, or a demure giggle can open doors that otherwise would be closed.  She is a total responder.  When guys come on to her or give her presents, she reacts with the pure, heart-felt enthusiasm of the moment.  She would run off to the multiplex to see any and all love stories, because she would like the way they manipulate her emotions.  And you can picture her getting on the phone with her friends or meeting them at the mall and talking for hours after every cartoon.  "That lifeguard was a real hunk, but he suddenly turned into an octopus when he got me alone in his boat!!  I don't know.  Do you think I should give him a second chance or not?"  Because Olive thoroughly enjoys the process of being wooed and turned on, and isn't even thinking about rushing the end result, she will continue to be shocked when "that nice Pierre suddenly turned into The Big, Bad, Wolf."  All of this just means that Olive is an exaggerated  cartoon woman (and even much like some women in our own universe).  It does not make her evil or "loose".  It means that she is naive, not that she is contemptible. 

Olive is extremely effective at her mission and will, in all probability, go through a lifetime of bringing out the animal in men, because, in the Famous Studios' cartoon universe, Olive is a definite "10".  If you find that hard to believe, think of the classic "Twilight Zone" episode set on a world that had different standards of beauty than our own.  There, Donna Douglas (the original Elly May Clampett), was considered to be hideously ugly and pig-faced aliens were the norm.  In order to fully enjoy the Paramount/Famous Studios' Cartoons, you have to accept their basic premise: every male in the world wants Olive Oyl.  She makes their eyes widen (The Royal Four-Flusher), pop out of their heads ( Pitchin' Woo At The Zoo, "Shape Ahoy, House Tricks, I'll Be Skiing You, A Balmy Swami, Beach Peach, Vacation With Play), turn into hearts (Quick On The Vigor), catch fire (Snow Place Like Home), become ringing fire alarm bells (Toreadorable), turn into slot machines coming up double peaches (Pre-Hysterical Man), and transform into binoculars to enable them to get a better look (Popeye And The Pirates) when they see her.  The sight of her even heals the blind (Popeye And The Pirates)!  When men get a load of her, their jaws drop and their mouths hang open in rapturous amazement (Shape Ahoy, House Tricks, The Fistic Mystic, Popeye And The Pirates, Pre-Hysterical Man, Snow Place Like Home, Lumberjack And Jill, Beach Peach, Quick On The Vigor, Vacation With Play).  She makes men's bodies stiffen and point toward her (Pre-Hysterical Man, Snow Place Like Home, Gym Jam, Beach Peach), as well as making their mustaches straighten or twirl around (Popeye And The Pirates, A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing, Snow Place Like Home), their necks elongate (Pitchin' Woo At The Zoo, The Royal Four-Flusher, Snow Place Like Home, Gym Jam), their cigarette holders point straight up (The Royal Four-Flusher), and their hats stretch and their turbans spring up (House Tricks, A Balmy Swami) - all in rather blatant, visual double entendres.  If any man is quickly surveying a scene and passes over Olive, his gaze zooms right back, riveting in on her (The Island Fling, Vacation With Play, Toreadorable, Cops Is Tops).  She not only figuratively knocks men's socks off, she literally knocks their hats off (Pitchin' Woo At The Zoo, All's Fair At The Fair, Vacation With Play).  Men droolingly give her the once over (The Island Fling,  Tops In The Big Top, Klondike Casanova, The Fistic Mystic, Beach Peach - in the latter two examples, the men's eyes trace hour glass figures and beautiful legs).  She draws wolf whistles and hungry howls (Anvil Chorus Girl, Mess Production, I'll Be Skiing You, Tar With a Star, Gym Jam, Beach Peach).  Men even literally turn into wolfs around her or have very lupine features on their faces when they make their moves on her (Tops In The Big Top, Robin Hood-Winked, Symphony In Spinach, Vacation With Play, Mister And Mistletoe).  Expressions like, "What a feminine female!"  "Mmmm, Mmmm!"  "Those pins (slang for legs) bowl me over!"  "Oh, Boy!"  "This babe is some angel!"  "That she is for me!"   "Hubba, Hubba!" and "What a doll!" are heard around her (Pitchin' Woo At The Zoo, Tops In The Big Top, Klondike Casanova, The Island Fling", Symphony In Spinach, Gym Jam, Beach Peach, Cops Is Tops).  Her kisses can turn a man into a skyrocket writing, "WOW," across the sky (Shape Ahoy).  She causes a telegraphic message, "Wotta Women," to be broadcast out of a man's head (Safari So Good).  She causes men to act like animals, beat their chests, go into crazy dances, and hug themselves (Shape Ahoy, Safari So Good, Lumberjack And Jill).  Men have fantasies about her (Wigwam Whoopee, A Balmy Swami, Gym Jam).  She makes a guy crash his car when she strikes a seductive pose by the roadside, showing off her legs (Cops Is Tops).  She even turns on inanimate objects (Shape Ahoy, Mess Production, Farmer And The Belle)!!!!  A rivalry for her affection can break up a friendship or a partnership (We're On Our Way To Rio, "Shape Ahoy, Abusement Park, Lumberjack And Jill, Farmer And The Belle, A Job for A Gob, A Haul In One).  For the males in the Famous Studios' universe, Olive is one hot tamale.

But we don't even have to take the males' word for it.  We can see it for ourselves.  The Famous Studios' creators made a conscious decision to make Olive more attractive than she had been in the Fleischer cartoons (which had to be the easiest task in the world!!!).  After all, Olive has to be appealing or the plots don't make sense.  Her personality gradually went from grating to ingratiating.  They changed her hairstyle, clothing, and shoes, at times even putting her in fancy designer evening wear (see Olive Oyl For President, Symphony In Spinach, and Parlez-Vous Woo).   Olive's voice changed as well.  As time went on it became less irritating, whiny, and clucky and became more appealing, innocent, full of life, and yes, even seductive and sexy on occasion.  Olive's facial features over time went from those of a  pinched old maid  to those of a cute young woman.  And her body changed as well.  The gangly Olive was disappearing.  In a Famous Studios' cartoon, one would often have shots of a normal looking Olive combined with scenes, quick cuts, and even frames of a knock-out Olive (subliminal seduction trying to convince us that Olive was a prize, or just different artists working on the same picture?).  During moments in some films, she is drawn with a bust (carefully watch Mess Production, and Popeye And The Pirates,  for examples)!  And in Quick On The Vigor, Olive's got legs!  Watch for quick glimpses of her well-turned ankles as she flies through the air in the plane.  She even has a figure in some scenes.  For example, in Tops At The Big Top, whether it's just the costume or not, she has an hourglass shape when she's up on the tightrope and in other shots.   When Olive's applying her makeup in Snow Place Like Home, she is most definitely a girl and her fur coat accentuates her curvy derriere.  Her shapely backside also reappears in some scenes of  Symphony In Spinach and A Balmy Swami.  In Jitterbug Jive, she shows off her curves as she says to Popeye, "Let's do something jivey!"  During the song in Olive Oyl For President, Olive saunters across the set in a form-fitting evening gown.  The gawky Olive who couldn't ever seem to control her limbs was also on the way out.  The new Olive was confident in her ability to get a man, striking coy or provocative poses and using feminine mannerisms to get guys hot and bothered (See for example: the make-up scene in Mess Production; the scene in the sheik's tent in A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing; the end of the Bluto/Olive dance sequence as Popeye carries over the tub in Jitterbug Jive;  the pool scene in Vacation With Play;  the "Olive as Claudette Colbert" scene in Cops Is Tops).   When people today complain about Popeye cartoons and say they could never understand what anybody ever saw in Olive Oyl, they are thinking of the Fleischer's Olive, or the made-for-TV Olives, or the comic strip Olive, or Shelley Duvall's Olive.  They aren't thinking of the cartoon cutie who appeared in all or at least certain parts of   Popeye Meets Hercules, Robin Hood-Winked, Symphony In Spinach, A Balmy Swami, Jitterbug Jive, Vacation With Play, Ancient Fistory, Private Eye Popeye, Mister And Mistletoe, A Haul In One, The Crystal Brawl, and other pictures.  The Famous Studios' revamp of Olive culminated in the drop-dead gorgeous, hour-glass figured starlet in Parlez-Vous Woo, who looks like a cross between the Olive we know, Veronica Lodge, and a young Mary Tyler Moore.  If Paramount/Famous Studios had continuously made theatrical shorts up until the present day and Olive's evolution had stayed on course, by now she'd probably look like a cross between the familiar Olive Oyl and Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, or Catherine Zeta-Jones!!!!

You can imagine the effect this had on boys watching Popeye cartoons over and over and over again.  Add to this what I call "the lure of the commercial" on young minds.  If kids repeatedly see actors in exciting, appealing, fun ads on TV raving over a product, doing all they can to obtain it, and acting as if this is the toy, or hamburger, or snack, or whatever that's going to at last bring them unbridled joy and ultimate fulfillment, it won't be long before the kids will have to have the product, too.  Substitute "Bluto and the other guys" for "actors", "cartoon adventures" for "ads", and "Olive Oyl" for  "a product" and "it' and "the product", and substitute "girlfriend" for "toy, or hamburger or snack or whatever" in the above sentence and you have explained the appeal of Olive Oyl.  Everyday, we watched strong, vital men acting as though Olive was the center of their universe and desperately needing just one little kiss from her to validate their existence.  So it was only natural that we would become conditioned to desire her, too. After all, if Robinson Crusoe, Tarzan, Hercules, The Sheriff Of Nottingham, a pirate captain, a cave man, an Indian chief, a rich sheik, a playboy count, a lifeguard, a cowboy, a knight, weight-lifting pro-wrestler types, a bank robber, Bluto, and our hero Popeye, among others, got turned on by her, what chance did we average boys have to resist her?  And what boy wouldn't want to be included in such a distinguished company of Olive lovers?? 

Just as kids dream about the stuff they see in commercials all the time, so we dreamed of Olive.  Kids will start to watch certain shows, not because they care about the programs, but only to catch a glimpse of their beloved holy grail in the commercials.  So we started to watch The Popeye Show (or whatever it was called in your neck of the woods), not to see the sailor man, but to spend time with our Olive.  We would feel cheated if the cartoons shown on a given day were all Fleischers or featured adventures with the nephews.  Yes, they were still Popeye cartoons, but where was the Olive we longed for?  We even grew to resent Popeye, because he had what we wanted and didn't treat her all that well.  We knew we could do better.

All this was pretty harmless.  Young boys experiencing special awakenings want a safe girlfriend they can worship from afar.  That's why the posters of recording artists and TV and movie stars go up on the walls.  Boys are too scared to talk to a real girl!!  Olive was the perfect non-existent girlfriend who could make us feel like men without forcing us to do anything about it.

I don't believe the creators purposely set out to make a generation of boys get steamed up over Olive Oyl or be exposed to thoughts, plots, scenes, and images they might not be ready for.  Remember, as I said earlier, the cartoons were meant to be shown in movie theaters to adults for limited runs.  No one ever dreamed they'd be endlessly beamed into the living rooms of children.  When Popeye cartoons were later made for television, specifically as kiddie fare, by some of the same creators, a lot of the elements I've been talking about in this article vanished.

In many ways that's a shame.  I wish Popeye cartoons were being made along the lines of the old Paramount/Famous Studios' shorts for adults in theaters today.  Because....


 

PART FOUR: Paramount Famous Studios' Popeye Cartoons Teach Essential Lessons In Life And Love
 
 

Unlike the later Hanna-Barbera Popeyes, the Paramount/Famous Studios' cartoons taught lessons without having to hit you over the head with them or sacrificing entertainment value and excitement.  And unlike the politically correct lessons in the Hanna-Barbera's, these had nothing to do with sharing your toys, eating a balanced diet, appreciating ethnic diversity, or recycling.  No, these were much more important and necessary for day-to-day living, prosperity, and even survival.

 
Growing up with the Paramount Popeye, I learned:

 - No matter how strong, talented, or gifted you believe you are, you will always need help and strength from outside sources in order to get through life.  Even mighty, confident Bluto could have used spinach because once Popeye ate it, it was all over for the big ox.  Popeye can do some pretty amazing things without his spinach (for example: wrestling and skinning a polar bear in Snow Place Like Home; standing up to Hercules in Popeye Meets Hercules; making eighteen holes-in-one on the golf course in Vacation With Play; lifting "Tarzan" and two elephants in Safari So Good), yet he stills needs to down the green stuff in order to have complete triumph over his adversaries.  He gets placed in situations where all his powers count for naught and where he must rely on spinach to save the day.  In your life, you'll find yourself in those kinds of situations.  Hopefully, you won't be wrapped up as a mummy and buried inside the Sphinx (A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing), knocked off a skyscraper (The Royal Four-Flusher), or have your head encased in cement (Jitterbug Jive).  However, you may get laid off from your job, or go through a messy break up, find yourself in over your head in a relationship, suffer with a chronic illness, face an uncertain future, or be forced to make hard decisions, watch a loved one die, or be buried under piles of bills.  You'll definitely need your "spinach".  My "spinach" is: my relationship with family, friends, and God; studying the Bible; reading books; listening to music; watching and meditating on thought-provoking movies and television shows.  And I'm not ashamed to admit I need it.  Like Popeye, I'll proudly and gladly "down my spinach" in full view of the crowds (Rodeo Romeo, Toreadorable).  And I'm trying to learn not to wait until the last minute to "eat my spinach".  Why wait until Bluto has buried you in Boot Hill and is chasing Olive around the saloon to start looking for your spinach (Tar With A Star)?  Why not cultivate your relationships with others and work on expanding your mind, heart, and soul now so you'll be strong when the crises come?  Why not act in life instead of always reacting?

- I can't send the world mixed signals.  I don't want people to say of me as I say of Popeye, "Yeah, he's a hero...sort of...I guess.  But he is a jerk at times.  And looking at him, I often can't tell whether he really loves his wife, family, and God or not."  Granted each human being is a curious mixture of hero and villain, I want to make sure I'm more of the former than the latter.  And I don't want to be an Olive Oyl, hanging out with the Lord, but becoming easily distracted when something, someone, or some idea in the world seems momentarily more attractive. 

- The media can have its way with me if I'm not careful.  Exposure to certain films and themes over an extended period led me to root for Bluto and fall for Olive, after all!!  I need to be aware of how what I watch, read, and listen to now may be effecting me.  And I can't fool myself into thinking that it isn't.

- The cartoon ain't over ‘til it's over.  Pierre may have clamped a giant bear trap shut around you, rocketed you into the mouth of a hungry whale, and is about to have his way with your girlfriend (Snow Place Like Home) - BUT - things can still turn around.  A prayer may be answered.  An insight might suddenly come to you.  Others may intervene for you.  Circumstances may change.  Someone new may enter your life.  You might acquire more training and new skills.  DON'T GIVE UP!!  Even after you've been utterly humiliated (The Royal Four-Flusher, Tops In The Big Top, A Balmy Swami, Parlez-Vous Woo, etc.), chances are you'll get plenty of opportunities to prove yourself again.  (Even Michael Jordan was cut from his junior high basketball team!!)  You can shake off guilt and shame, not by winning a smile from Olive (though it helps), but by accepting that there are such things as forgiveness and starting over again with a clean slate.  If while you're reading this, you're feeling as if Pierre is making you walk the plank while taking Olive as his queen (Popeye And The Pirates), remember that your picture isn't over yet.

- There are attractive, appealing people out there in the world of both sexes who will only wind up using you if you let them.  Bluto and Olive are users, whether they realize they are or want to be or not.  They say, "I'm here to help you," "I'm your pal," "I could stay with you forever," and even "I love you," but they don't mean them.  Not everyone who says these things to me will mean them either.  Some will have evil intentions, some just are weak-willed or have fickle, wandering hearts.  Some may be cowardly or just not have the maturity, endurance, and commitment a long-term relationship calls for.  Some won't understand the difference between lust and love.  Sure Bluto (or the other guy) desperately wants to smooch with Olive Oyl, but when: she's in danger, he bails out on her (All's Fair At The Fair); she rebuffs his advances, he threatens and endangers her (A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing, Abusement Park, Beach Peach); someone "prettier" comes along, he throws her aside (Popeye And The Pirates).  Olive is attracted to Bluto (or the other guy) because of his muscles, charm, looks, wealth, skills and abilities.  Yet, when she finds out what's beneath the surface, she's horrified.  Be careful who you give your heart to.  You may regret it someday. 

- Judging other people isn't easy.  As I've shown in this paper, when looked at from certain angles, all the characters in Popeye cartoons, even Bluto, can garner our understanding and sympathy.  When you must judge, do so cautiously, trying to put yourself in the other's shoes.  Leave the ultimate judgment up to God.

- Not to advertise what you can't deliver.  Olive portrays herself as a flirty, party girl who's ready for some serious necking (see Klondike Casanova, for instance).  Yet, when the guy tries to take her up on it, she screams.  She doesn't really want to be the femme fatale after all.  Bluto (or the other guy) tries to come across as the strongest, or coolest guy in the world only to have little Popeye show him up in the end.  Don't try to pretend to be something you're not.  Don't try to impress the world, be yourself.  Walk in the way of humility, then the only way to go is up.  If you start "at the top", the only way to go is down.

- Don't waste your life trying to win over people who aren't interested in you.  Is there any more pathetic character than Popeye when he goes running back to Olive's aid yet again after she's completely tossed him over in favor of another guy?  I wish that at least once Popeye would say, "Save yourself!  I've still got Betty Boop's phone number from when we worked together in our Fleischer days.  Think I'll give her a call."  The Bible assures me that God is not mocked.  Popeye may say, "I am what I am", but The One who said it first is no Popeye and will not keep forgiving and rescuing fickle people of two minds forever. 

- Love takes time, effort, knowledge , and understanding.  Popeye often loses Olive because he pays no attention to, or even mocks,  her moods, hopes, needs, and dreams (see section #1).  You can't ignore or make fun of someone and then say, "How's about me and you goin' steady?"   And Bluto (or the other guy) loses Olive because he doesn't understand women and tries to rush things along.  When Bluto tries to cut to the chase, he gets into trouble (see Abusement Park and Quick On the Vigor, for examples).  When he woos, teases, tickles, flatters, hugs, strokes, spends time with, and creatively seduces Olive, he wins her over.  When he treats Olive as a special person, as a treasure, he's got her.  When she's just a sex object - "Hi, Babe, I'm turned on.  How's about a kiss?" - she rejects him (see Gym Jam, for example).  Olive herself has to give up on the notion of "love at first sight".  She can't walk away with a guy she's just met and then wonder why he's only interested in her body.  He doesn't know her well enough to be interested in anything else!!  Olive needs to understand men.  She gets herself into jams because she doesn't realize that Bluto, Pierre, the lifeguard, or whoever, aren't thinking like a woman.  Men are different!!!  While she can enjoy a romantic candle-lit dinner simply for it's own sake, most men will see it as a prelude to sex.  Even men with strong moral beliefs about sex will be fighting to control the urge all night.  Olive's not going to help matters if she drapes herself around the man, gasping, "When I'm with you, I feel soooo weak." 

- Passion, properly understood, fueled by committed love, in its rightful place, is to be embraced, not feared.  Olive truly loves life and throws herself into it.  So should I.  The Bible tells me, "This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it."  And Bluto and Olive revel in romantic passion.  So should I.  If I can be permitted to paraphrase the message of another Bible passage, the "Song Of Solomon", using the language of the Paramount/Famous Studios' cartoons, it is this: There's a time for you and your spouse to go completely crazy over and with each other.  Let your face turn into a wolf's.  Kiss the other all to pieces.  Let yourself melt like butter.  Gasp with pleasure at the end and say, as Olive herself would, "How utterly utterly!"


 

PART FIVE:  In Appreciation: Additional Reasons Why Paramount/Famous Studios' Popeye Cartoons Are My Favorite Popeyes

 
- They were the favorites of my youth.  When I was young, the Fleischer cartoons (while I enjoyed them and they certainly helped cement in my mind the fact that Popeye was a hero) were a little too bizarre to completely captivate a boy living in an upstate New York, small town, farming community, taking place as they did in a REALLY ALTERNATE universe of strange looking (and acting) characters and urban ghettos.  It was later that I came to see their genius.  The made-for-TV-syndication cartoons, while having some good story lines (Barbecue For Two, Butler Up, and Where There's A Will among them), were at times poorly animated and edited, so that, as a body, they didn't supplant the Famous Studios' cartoons in my heart.  And forget the politically correct Hanna-Barbera Popeyes with their dowdy, weird-looking Olive who had a voice like fingers on a chalkboard, their limited animation, and their rules against non-violence (Popeye and Bluto couldn't throw punches!!!!  Why not make a western without horses, or a war movie where nobody's allowed to shoot, or a musical without a score and absolutely no dancing, or a Star Trek without any space ships while you're at it!!!!).  So, the Famous Studios' Popeye was and is still my Popeye.  Seeing the cartoons is like visiting old friends.  The nostalgia quotient is high!!

- Since Paramount/Famous Studios made Olive and Bluto desirable,  the cartoons made more sense, built up more empathy for the characters, and increased the suspense.  Why should Popeye care about losing the Fleischer Olive Oyl?  Why would she ever in a million years even consider dating the Fleischer Bluto?  How come he wants her?  Are these three people that hard up?  Why should we even care?  However, in the Paramount cartoons, Popeye's about to lose a real prize to a smooth charmer.  Popeye, wake up!  Every male around you is after your girl, including many that outclass you!!!  If you don't treat her right, somebody else sure will!!  She's really in danger of giving her heart (and the rest of her) to the "wrong guy". Olive had better think about what she's doing and the way she comes across and watch it.  Her sex appeal and flirty ways can easily take her places she doesn't want to go.   She's playing with fire and about to get burned.  And because we want Popeye to triumph, but at some level, at the same time, are rooting for Bluto to win, the endings of the cartoons keep our rapt attention.  Even when we've seen the films a million times (not much of an exaggeration for some of us), we still feel some anxiety when Popeye is in the final trap and Bluto is moving in on Olive.  There's still a feeling that things might turn out differently this time and that we're not so sure whether that would be good or bad.  Ah, delicious agony!!! 

- The cartoons portray a Popeye who is (even with all his flaws) recognizably Popeye and they contain the elements that make a Popeye cartoon a Popeye cartoon.  He still overcomes impossible, seemingly insurmountable odds and escapes from the inescapable.  He's fearless and confident.  He helps people who are weak.  He and Bluto both perform feats of super strength.  He "morphs" into various weapons, tools, objects, etc. when he eats his spinach.  He shows us that the little guy can win.  He completes his tasks in clever ways.  The cartoons are also still full of enjoyable puns, one-liners, slapstick, spoofs, humorous situations, etc. that went right over my head when I was young and watching "the deadly serious adventures" of Popeye. 

- Winston Sharples' scores have stayed with me all my life.  At times, I find myself replaying them in my mind when something exciting is happening to me, or when I'm feeling romantic, or even just lazing around the house.  It's part of the soundtrack of my life.  And a Popeye cartoon just doesn't seem like a Popeye cartoon without that music playing in the background. 

- I enjoy romance now more than I ever did.  The fantasy situations in the Popeye cartoons sometime put me in the mood to arrange a rendezvous with my wife.

- The cartoons provided me a relatively harmless initiation to the adult world.  There's a big difference between a Popeye cartoon and a Playboy magazine.  They stirred some of my first thoughts that girls were different and special and should be treated as such.  They made me start to wonder what it would be like to kiss and hug and have someone to call my own.  They made me understand that a man and a woman could give each other great joy and pleasure and that this was something to look forward to.  Thanks, Popeye!


  
 

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This page was created using Corel Word Perfect Suite 8 and Netscape Navigator Composer. All characters and images are legal properties of their respective companies and are used here without permission for entertainment, review, and informational purposes only. All other material is copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 by Steve R. Bierly.