Way back when. . .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.
Max 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”!