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Category:    Home > Essays > Animation > Comedy > History > POPEYE'S 85TH FILM ANNIVERSARY!


[Photo credit: Broadcasting Magazine, 1965]

On July 14, 1933, Popeye the Sailor hopped on a platform to dance the hula with Betty Boop. His appearance in Betty's cartoon launched his own long running animated short subject series for theatrical and eventually television distribution. On July 14, 2018, the spinach-eating strong man celebrates his eighty-fifth anniversary as a star of motion pictures and television.

Popeye first appeared in E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre comic strip on January 17th, 1929. He was only intended for one story but the newspaper reading public demanded Segar return him to the cast. Fleischer Studios was the first animation studio to produce animated films featuring Popeye, Olive Oyl, J. Wellington Wimpy, Swee'pea, Eugene the Jeep, Bluto and Poopdeck Pappy.

Fleischer Studios black and white Popeye cartoons were highly imaginative with unpredictable plots. In 1936, the studio's Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, produced in Technicolor, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Famous Studios (owned by Fleischer distributor Paramount Pictures) succeeded Fleischer for the sailor's theatrical releases. In September 1956, Popeye's animated antics first appeared on the television screen and created a sensation! The demand for Popeye cartoons was so great new films were put into production by King Features Syndicate who owned the rights to the character.

Variety reported, in their June 10, 1964 edition, "Popeye cartoons now occupy the Ft. Knox of video cartoon land. The gross of all Popeye cartoons to date is estimated at $20,000,000." Variety also stated, "Popeye is now being telecast in about 190 U.S. Stations, in about 170 markets." These figures applied to the theatrical productions, while King Features made for television episodes were sold to 125 stations.

In 1978, CBS launched The All New Popeye Hour for Saturday morning television, produced by Hanna-Barbera. Although this series had to tone down the violence it was an instant hit and aired for three years. It was later cut to a half hour and renamed The Popeye and Olive Comedy Show. This version remained on CBS for two years featuring Popeye as a caveman and Olive Oyl in the army. During the 1987-88 season CBS added Popeye and Son to its Saturday morning line up. The series featured the sailor married to Olive Oyl and having a spinach-hating son referred to as Junior.

Reruns of the earlier theatrical cartoons continued to air on independent television stations until these markets vanished during the 1990s. The Cartoon Network aired Popeye's theatrical cartoons for several years although the black and white films were dreadfully colorized. Beginning in 2001, The Popeye Show, an anthology series, aired on the Cartoon Network. This half-hour program showed restored versions of cartoons from both Fleischer and Famous Studios. By the time the program ceased production in 2003, forty-five episodes were produced restoring one hundred and thirty-five cartoons.

Much of the success of the Popeye cartoons is owed to the talented people who provided the voices of the characters. These include the original voice of Popeye, William Costello and his successor Jack Mercer. Mae Questel, Margie Hines and Marilyn Schreffler voiced Olive Oyl while Gus Wickie, Jackson Beck and Alan Melvin growled effectively as Bluto.

Noted animation historian and author, Jerry Beck, commented about the sailor's enduring popularity, "Popeye cartoons endure because the character has great appeal. He's an everyman who we can relate to, and who knows that, on occasion, it will take a can of spinach to confront the bullies we encounter in life. He's all of us and no matter who you meet or what great adventure you embark on, Popeye is the guy you want on your side."

Today the sailor's animated adventures continue to air on international television, You Tube and Facebook. Popeye's followers on Facebook are in the millions and audiences can keep track of his classic adventures at...




- Fred Grandinetti


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