When I was of prime cartoon watching age in the mid-1950s to early 1960s, there were a lot of cartoon programs on Saturday morning — Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jekyll, Droopy, Tom and Jerry, etc.
Through the week, especially during the school year, there was Lunchtime Theater on Channel 4. Channel 4 always led the local markets in kid’s programing. For much of the time I was going to grade school, Lunchtime Theater was a noon time favorite. The show was designed to catch the kids coming home from grade school for their lunch hour break from noon-1 p.m. During that time most kids went home for lunch — pre-busing. It took my sister Janet and me about 6 minutes to walk home from school. Lunchtime Theater would broadcast about five to six cartoons during the hour, and a lot of commercials too — usually kid related stuff Mattel toys, Post cereals, Popsicles, Keds shoes, Jiffy Pop popcorn. Channel Four knew their market. Anyway, I had time to watch the show, eat my grilled cheese sandwich (boy could my mom grill a mean grilled cheese sandwich!), and perform my bathroom functions. I’d leave at five minutes until one and get back to school just in time.
So what did we watch on Lunchtime Theater? Well some of the Our Gang/Little Rascals comedies, Felix the Cat cartoons, Clutch Cargo, Terry-Toons, plus cartoons like Farmer Alfalfa. There was a live action series of shorts called Chatter’s World. This program was out of Chicago. Chatter was a chimp who had human thoughts and was always getting into mischief. Remember the theme song “Chatter doesn’t know that he’s a pest, Chatter‘s only trying to do his best, Chatter’s got the whole place in a mess, Hey Chatter, what’s the matter with you?” There were 154 episodes of Chatter made from 1958 to 1961.
But it was Popeye the Sailor, the star of the Thimble Theater cartoon strips in the comics that were draw by Elzie Crizler Segar. Popeye started out as a secondary character in the strip but quickly became the star with Olive Oyl, Wimpy, Sweet Pea, and Pluto or Brutus as he was sometimes called. King Features Syndicate started animating the cartoons for Paramount Pictures in 1931 with Max Fleischer as the producer. William Costello was the voice of Popeye until 1935 when he asked for more money and was fired. Jack Mercer of Worthington, Indiana took over the voice of Popeye for most of the rest of the series. The last of the movie cartoons were made in 1957. United Artists acquired the rights and produced a series of cartoons made directly for TV until 1970.
All I knew was that when things got tough Popeye pulled out a can of spinach, consumed it (sometimes can and all) and then became Superman. Actually Popeye started by sniffing garlic, but in 1932 the spinach industry went to Fleischer and convinced him to change Popeye’s super food to spinach. Oh, the term “wimp’ comes from Wimpy who would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
When I was in grade school my noon hour was spent watching Popeye on Lunchtime Theater and downing one of my mom’s wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches‚ not spinach!
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