January 9, 2017 posted by James Parten

Popeye in “It’s The Natual Thing To Do” (1939)

Way back when. . .

Tom Hatten

Tom Hatten

I used to come home from school, turn on the television, and watch various cartoons that were being run on local stations.

One program I followed was the “Pier 5 Club”, which was hosted by a young artist named Tom Hatten. He had the “Popeye”packages–first the A.A.P. package of Max Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons. In due course, these were augmented by the King Features cartoons which were made for producer Al Brodax by divers hands.

There were some cartoons that I recognized by name–not bad for a seven- or eight-year old kid with lousy eyesight. And one of them was It’s The Natual Thing To Do (1939, as it turns out).

As a kid of tender years, I had no idea that the cartoon was inspired by a song from a Bing Crosby movie.

Double of Nothing was a box-office hit–one of many Crosby pictures put out by Paramount Pictures. And, as was typical in a Crosby flick, it was brim-full of songs, most of which would be introduced by Bing himself. And later research shows that most of them wee hits, and widely covered by all the record labels of the day.

Bing introduced several tuneful ditties in this one, including “(You Know-It-All) Smarty”, “The Moon Got In My Eyes” and “It’s The Natural Thing To Do”. Here’s an excerpt from that film:

Relations between Max Fleischer and Paramount Pictures were still good, and Max was quite willing to plug a Famous Music copyright two years after its popularity had come and gone.

Its The NaturalMax had moved his operations, lock stock and barrels of ink, to Miami by the time this cartoon was planned and made. It’s a vehicle for the menage-a-trois of Popeye (Jack Mercer), Olive Oyl (Margie Hines) and Bluto (Pinto Colvig).

Again, to encsapsulate: Popeye and Bluto are engaged in their usual fisticuffs out in the backyard of Olive’s house. Olive gets a telegram (whose delivery boy gets paid by a piece of flying timber from the woodpile) from the Popeye Fan Club, asking to cut out the “rough stuff” once in a while, and saying that “it’s the natural thing to do”.

Popeye and Bluto return, dressed up in formal attire, and try to be gentlemen–but it’s difficult, as they try to figure out how to hold a lap full of doughnuts and pastries, and an unspecified beverage–coffee or tea, more than likely.

An attempt at conversation descends into platitudinous rubbish, and it’s pretty obvious that none of the folks concerned have it in them to be genteel. You just KNOW it isn’t going to last. . .
. . . and it doesn’t.

A laughing jag leads to playful slaps, which lead to socks, and not the kind one wears on one’s feet. By the end of the cartoon, all three are involved in a knock-down, drag-out fight, and tell the audience in no uncertain terms, as they divide the song’s (and cartoon’s title) between them.

There’s a lot to like about this cartoon. The sight of Popeye and Bluto trying to be “gentlemen” is one to behold, as they try the Alphonse-and-Gaston routine. Their attempts at balancing cups of steaming hot liquid (and Popeye finds out just how hot it is!), crullers, doughnuts and eclairs (yummy!) are handled with professional good timing.

Even Olive realizes how unnatural the whole shootin’ match is, when she tears up he etiquette book, happily resigning herself to the fracas that is yet to come. When it comes, she joins in the fun.

Of course, Popeye does get his spinach, becomes strong to the finish–but he, Bluto and Olve are having too much fun fighting to care about what they are doing to her bungalow.

All in all, one of the original Popeye shorts of the day–and one that I was happy to see back when I was seven or eight.

After all–in those days, running vintage black and white theatrical cartoons on children’s television was “the natural thing to do”!


  • Do you know if Les Elton’s “Monkeydoodle”, Len Lye’s “The Peanut Vendor” and Boyd La Vero’s Marty Monk cartoons used needle drops?

  • Many local stations didn’t convert to color till the mid-late ’60s, of course.

  • For many decades I have remembered fondly Jack Mercer’s delivery of the line, “Conversing breaks up the monopoly of not talking.”

  • One of the more unusual Popeye cartoons where Popey and Bluto wasn’t fighting for Olive’s affection and Olive didn’t mind.

    Some of my favorite scenes were when Popeye and Bluto were brawling and Olive was in the kitchen washing dishes and avoiding the flying objects that were thrown (with the exception of the Messenger Boy who got clocked by one of the flying objects).

    And how Olive acted like a cheerleader when both Popeye and Bluto started brawling again and literally swept Olive out of her shoes when she became part of the fray.

    Note during one scene where Popeye,Bluto and Olive were totally bored, the instrument version of “Two Sleepy People” was played in the background

    And I wonder if that was the first appearance of Alice the Goon as the server riding the bicycle with the baked goods for their coffee (or was it tea) time?

    Loved Tom Hadden , he also hosted a later version of Popeye and Friends on KTLA TV5 in the mid to late 1970’s as well as the matinee series “Family Film Festival ” (with a portion of Little River Band’s song Reminiscing played as the theme song for “FFF”).

  • Popeye: “They say language is used more for talkin’ than any other, don’t you think?”

    Olive: “Yes, I don’t think.”

  • Tom Johnson’s first cartoon as head animator on the Popeye series, and he would end up doing more Popeyes than anyone else during the Famous Studio years. Johnson from the outset toned down the gruffer edges of Bluto and made him less a source of menace and more a source of comedy, so the idea of Popeye and Bluto trying and failing to act against type fit the type of more straight comedy-oriented cartoon he preferred.

  • Never a fan of Pinto’s Bluto voice.

  • My favorite Popeye affectation from another cartoon: “A rose, by any other name, would smell just as much!”

  • There’s also the Bob Hope tune Two Sleepy People from the close-up of the clock at the 4:12 mark.

  • One of my favorite Popeye cartoons and a great tune. I have a version of this tune by the great singer Mildred Bailey.

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