Thursday, January 17, 2013

What do Ben Franklin, Al Capone, and Muhammad Ali have in common?

Sometimes, something from childhood stays with us so vividly that, even in adulthood, it makes us sit up and take notce whenever we find a reference to it. With me, one of those things is Popeye the Sailor Man.

No, really. Popeye was one of my favorite cartoon series when I was a child. Not as much of a favorite as Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, but still a favorite. So, when I was looking around for something to write about today, the fact that today is the anniversary of Popeye's first appearance in a comic strip, way back in 1929. Way, way, way before my time, to be sure. Although I knew that the character had been around for a long time, I didn't know it had been that long.

Popeye was created by Elzie Segar and first appeared in a comic strip called "Thimble Theater". He (Popeye) stayed in the pages of the comic strips until 1933, when he began to appear in a series of animated shorts out of Fleischer Studios in New York. Among the other characters first brought to animation by the studio were Betty Boop and Superman.

In fact, Popeye's first appearance in animation was in a Betty Boop cartoon, named simply "Popeye the Sailor Man". Betty Boop has only a cameo in the short, which runs about seven and a half minutes, while the audience is introduced to Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto.

Viewing that first cartoon today it is amazing to see how much our culture has changed since 1933. There is one scene that depends on racist stereotypes for its laughs. There is brutality and bullying. And, in her small role as a dancer in a carnival sideshow, Betty Boop appears to be wearing nothing but a lei. Well, that's not exactly unheard of today, but the rest of it, to modern sensibilities, is kind of out there. In fact, I was planning on sharing that first cartoon here, but because of the racist bits, I'm not going to do that. If you're really curious, you can find it on YouTube.

After the first Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios series of Popeye cartoons, that continued until 1957, a new series of animated Popeye cartoons meant specifically for syndication on television, appeard in 1960. 220 cartoons were made by the end of that series in 1962. Another series of Popeye cartoons, this time in an hour-long format and produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, which also gave us Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo, among many others. This series ran until 1981, when it was cut to a half-hour format until it ran its coures in 1983. It was back again briefly in 1987 and again in 2004, this time as a computer-animated special. IN 2010, a new 3-D computer animated film was announced, with a released date of September 26,2014.

Popeye has appeared in other media, as well. There were several series of Popeye series on three different networks between 1935 and 1938. In 1980, Robert Altman directed a live-action movie with Robin Williams playing Popeye.

So, that first outing Popeye, despite later political incorrectness and all in his animated form, spawned a continuing legacy that is still with us today.

There are some other notable - and far more important - anniversaries today. On this day in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell address ahead of the inaugration of John F. Kennedy as President. As farewell addresses go, his was historically notable as the speech in which he warned of the dangers of allowing the "military-industrial complex" to proliferate. Not as much fun as cartoons, but very, very important. It would have been nice if someone had listened. Here is the clip from that speech in which Eisenhower delivers his warning:

It is also the anniversary of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California. Being a native Californian, this is is an important anniversary to me even though I wasn't in the affected area at the time. I can remember driving around the area some months, even a couple of years afterward, and there was still damage in evidence.

There are birthdays today, as well. Benjamin Franklin was born on this day in 1706. Al Capone was born on January 17, 1899. Mumammad Ali was born on this day in 1942. There are others, including Michelle Obama and Betty White, born in 1964 and 1922 respectively.

And so, if its you're birthday today, Happy Birthday. Since today's post is late, I hope you had a good day.

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