For Boomers, going to the movies was a regular, often weekly, activity. The entertainment at the local movie theater began with the previews of coming attractions, followed by a plea from the concession stand to buy some snacks and drinks, and then the cartoons. Sometimes the theater manager played two, but generally one cartoon. Boomers remember that the cartoons were often more entertaining than the feature film that followed. Audiences, never knowing which cartoon would be playing, roared in approval when the classics came on, and maybe groaned a little when the less than stellar cartoons appeared.
When America went to the movies in the 50’s and 60’s, characters like Popeye the Sailor Man were on hand to entertain and save the day for the likes of Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea and the burger mooching Wimpy. If the spinach industry had a Hall of Fame, Popeye would head the list. Almost every adult Boomer today likes or will tolerate the leafy vegetables solely because of Popeye.
The one-eyed sailor – when the chips were down – regained his strength, usually by sucking an entire can of spinach through his pipe. Then woe be to Brutus, Bluto or other villains. Popeye also starred in comic books and on television, but young and old alike delighted when the cartoon of the day at the movies began with this jingle:
“I’m Popeye the Sailor man.
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.
I eats me spinach and fights to the finish,
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”
Another great cartoon of that era was Roadrunner. The first Roadrunner cartoon appeared in 1949, called “The Fast and the Furry-ious.” The popular cartoons continued through the mid-60’s, but never once did Wile E. Coyote catch the rapid Roadrunner of “beep, beep”, fame.”
In most episodes the not-so-wily coyote orders complex devices from the Acme Corporation designed to detonate at the exact instant the Roadrunner passes by. But we all know how that story ended as the Roadrunner zooms by, with Wile E. Coyote still holding the dynamite, which explodes and leaves the unfortunate coyote in tattered, burning fur or crashing to the ground from the mountaintops.
Mr. Magoo was another crowd pleaser. Officially named Quincy Magoo, the near-sighted character was created in 1949 and was voiced by the immortal Jim Backus, a star of Gilligan’s Island. Magoo, who stubbornly refused to recognize his affliction, found himself in sticky situations in each and every episode, but was somehow able to wiggle out of trouble no worse for the wear. In 2002, TV Guide ranked Mr. Magoo number 29 on its list of the “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time”.
Always greeted with a big cheer from the audience were Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.
“I say, I say, boy, what in the world are you doing?”
cackled the oversize rooster who was under constant attack from a small but persistent chicken hawk, who uttered these famous words: “Are you comin’ wit’ me quietly, or do I hafta slap ya ’round some?”
And who can forget these words: “I tawt I taw a putty tat!”
That would be Tweety Bird, a Looney Tunes character, voiced by Mel Blanc. As with many of the Blanc characters, Tweety had a slight speech impediment. He had a hard time with the letter “s”. Pussy cat became putty tat. Sweetie became tweety and so on. The innocent canary was constantly pursued by Sylvester the Cat, who voiced this famous expression: “Thufferin’ Thucatash!”
Heckle and Jeckle, Tom and Jerry, Mighty Mouse, Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Speedy Gonzales, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Porky Pig and Pepe LePew were among the many cartoon stars who entertained young Boomers back when popcorn was a dime, Cokes were a nickel and a large box of Milk Duds cost ten cents. Yes, cartoons were once featured at the movies, but no more.
Like they used to say, “That’s All Folks!”