All Photographs and Copy are Coryright MEL BIRNKRANT
Some of the imagery is Copyright The Walt Disney Company
THE MEL BIRNKRANT COLLECTION
A Guided Tour of
This little group of photographs have appeared and disappeared, on and off, throughout the years, sort of like the Jeep, himself, who can become invisible, at will. I rediscovered them, quite by accident, tucked between the pages of a book, a couple of weeks ago. But the thought did not occur to me, until today, to include them here. They represent the first toy I ever restored. The year must have been 1949. I was about 12, at the time, and found this doll among the stuff that my father used to hide.
Beginning when I was four, at Christmas time, heíd buy box lots of toys from "Good Will". It wasnít because we were poor; itís just that a bargain was something he adored. I used to say, my father's name, should have been ďI Can Get It For You Wholesale SamĒ. The more presentable items would appear, under the Christmas tree. Those that were in a state of ill repair, or incomplete, heíd hide. Like me, he couldnít stand to throw anything away.
Months after Christmas, Iíd find the stuff I didnít get. This Jeep, above, was one of those that didnít make the cut. But, I found him, and, although, I had no idea who he was, I liked him, ... a lot. I guess, things havenít changed much! So, I repainted him with my airbrush, a precocious thing for a kid my age, or a kid of any age, to have, back then. And, later on, I posed him on the staircase, and took these photographs. There were more of them; only these four have survived. The doll, itself, happened to be one of those things, dear to me, my mother enjoyed throwing away.
I guess this episode accounts for why I love the Jeep. Thank you Dr. Dell. Is our 45 minutes up, yet? Ten minutes left? Then Iíll continue:
Seriously, in terms of pure geometry, the Jeep is right up there with Mickey. Like Mickey Mouse, he is made up of simple basic shapes that put together right, as in this case, convey the message that he is a living entity. What kind of animal is he? Beats me! The distant cousin of a puppy? A predecessor to E.T? Supposedly, he had mystical powers that enabled him to tell fortunes, answer questions, and predict the future. If his tail stood erect, the answer was, always, yes! Thatís why they called him "The Lucky Jeep" .
Here is the only Jeep showcase in Mouse Heaven, Popeye in his rowboat, awash in a sea of Jeeps. On the back wall, is the Segar Sunday page that introduced him. His image brilliantly fills the page! What a spectacular introduction! The objects in this showcase pretty much represent most of all the known Jeep variations, with the exception of a large doll by Dean, which was offered to me, first, at a price that was obscene.
After I turned it down, the dealer, the late Richard Wright, asked the next potential buyer half that price, an amount that I would have gladly paid, in a heartbeat. That illustrates one of the shortcomings of being me. If dealers show you the great stuff first, there is a price to pay. If you turn it down, the next guy often gets a break.
The wood and composition dolls, throughout the case, are, once again, the work of Joseph Kallus. There are two velvet dolls by Dean. The spots on these happen to be four leaf clovers. This was a British touch. The Jeep was purported to bring good luck. There is a cardboard ďAnswer JeepĒ, and another interesting doll, of origin, unknown. And, by the rudder of the rowboat, is a rubber Jeep, who, like all the toys that were made of rubber, is destined to be here, only, temporarily. The rowboat, by the way, is one of the more desirable Popeye toys. The action is very realistic, and the motor is a serious piece of machinery. One winding will power it across a lake.
Now, out to the hall! In this lower corner case, are the two tall tin games, the Popeye Menu bagatelle and the Bubble Target, and there is an equally tall felt Popeye doll, and a smaller, but interesting, doll of Wimpy. Here too, is the boxed Jaymar set that constructed the Popeye family, made up of wooden beads. This set also included the Jeep.
I have one more Jeep, and it is, possibly, the most unusual. It is just a plaster carnival prize, but it is an excellent image of the Jeep, the best in plaster that Iíve seen. Most of the others are grotesque. Iíve never seen one half as nice as this. It sits on my desk, along with a little group of special things, basking in the warm friendly light of this folk art Popeye lamp, which is something I love, every bit as much, as I dislike the pot metal ones. I keep them hidden away, and have placed the nicer of their two different shades on this wooden lamp that was homemade. This shade is stunning, by the way. The panorama that travels around it was actually created for it by Segar, himself. Here too, is another of those plaster Wimpys, eating hamburgers.
Thatís all the Jeep stuff I can think of for today. This, pretty much, gets Popeye and friends out of the way. Moving right along, our next destination is Charlie Chaplin.