Popeye and Bluto in
I Likes Babies and Infinks (1937)
This year, Bluto (sometimes Brutus), Popeye the Sailor's main
foil - at least in the movies - turns 80. As you are (by your own
definition) Popeye's number one fan, could you introduce Bluto the
character to those of us who don't already know him (though there are
Bluto is a muscular brute with a beard and his eyes are usually drawn
squinted. He is recognized by wearing a short sleeved black shirt with a
captain's hat or a white sailor's uniform. In several of the theatrical
cartoons Bluto is seen serving in the Navy. He seeks romance with Popeye's
girlfriend Oilve Oyl. Olive will often allow Bluto to court her until he
asks for a kiss. When Bluto starts to pucker up Olive screams for Popeye's
help. In print Popeye can defeat him without eating spinach, but this is
rarely the case in the animated cartoons.
Bluto was first introduced into the Popeye-comicstrip
in 1932. What can you tell us about the character's first story?
Bluto's first appearance in the comicstrip
was introduced in a daily continuity called The Eighth Sea by
Elzie Crisler Segar. The story is known for Popeye and Bluto fighting each
other for two straight weeks! At this time the comic strip was not known
as Popeye but as either Thimble Theatre or Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye.
Bluto never caught on in the Popeye-comicstrips. Any explanation
for that, and what can you tell us about some of the foes Popeye had to
come up against in the comics?
would not say Bluto did not catch on. He certainly made a very memorable
first impression on the newspaper reading audience. Often times Segar
would use characters in his daily or Sunday strip for several weeks. When
he felt all could be done within a particular storyline people would vanish. If Segar lived longer Bluto may have returned. Popeye was
often battling muscle-bound brutes who felt they could easily beat the
sailor to a pulp due to his size. Two memorable opponents were Alice the
Goon and Toar the caveman. Both originally fought Popeye but Alice later
became Swee'pea's babysitter and Toar one of Popeye's closest friends.
How would you describe
the original Popeye-comics by Elzie Crisler Segar to begin with,
especially in comparison to their movie adaptations?
Segar has been described as the Charles Dickens of the comic strip medium.
It was no doubt difficult to translate this kind of storytelling
style to animated films. In Bluto’s case Segar originally
billed the brute as as, "Lower than bilge scum, meaner than Satan and
strong as an ox! The only man living who might lick POPEYE!" He
definitely lived up to Segar's description being drawn as a huge man!
Bluto stood 2 full heads taller than POPEYE and outweighed him at least 5
times! His desire was to break Popeye's neck and kill his friends. When the
Fleischer Studios used him in the theatrical films, Bluto was still a
hulking brute but with a comical nature and hearty laugh. In the cartoons
he was often seen trying to show up Popeye to win Olive Oyl's affections
or use Popeye as a punching bag. It has often been said, among fans and
critics, even in the weakest Popeye cartoon a trace of Segar’s influence
can be found in the sailor man.
Popeye and Bluto made their big screen debut in the Max Fleischer-produced
Betty Boop-short Popeye the Sailor in 1933. What can you
tell us about that movie, and how do the depictions of Popeye and Brutus
compare to both the comicstrip and later movies of the Fleischer-era?
Bluto and Olive Oyl in
Popeye the Sailor (1933)
cartoon basically introduced the Popeye-Olive-Bluto romance triangle with
Betty dancing the hula mixed in the plot. When Bluto first appears and
makes a play for Olive, she keeps bopping him in the kisser to little
effect. During this cartoon the audience witnessed Popeye's amazing
strength prior to and after eating his spinach. During Bluto's brief
tenure under Segar in the comic strip he did not display any romantic
feelings towards Olive Oyl nor did Popeye eat a can of spinach to defeat
Bluto. Popeye finally unleashed his twister punch on the brute. Believe or
not, Bluto and Popeye were actually friendly rivals in a few of the
theatricals. A few examples of these are Lets Celebrate (Fleischer
Studios, 1938), Fightin Pals (Fleischer Studios,
1940) and Olive Oyl and Water Don't Mix (Fleischer Studios,
1942). The Fleischer Studios Popeye-series was an enormous success and
this is due in part to a variation in storyline and character's
motivations. Once the Fleischer Studios moved from New York to Miami, Bluto
was absent from many cartoons. More plots featured Popeye's father
Poopdeck Pappy or had the sailor encountering William Tell, an annoying
fly, Eugene the Jeep, spinach-hating nephews, and hungry crows.
your opinion, the best/most important Bluto-cartoons?
of the best and most important in my mind was The Twister Pitcher (Fleischer
Studios, 1937), where Popeye and Bluto compete on the baseball
field. In the opening scene Popeye's spinach can falls in front of Bluto.
The brute mutters, "Oh boy he dropped his spinach, what a break for
me!" This established the fact Bluto was aware of the attributes of
eating spinach and took advantage of it. When I first saw this as a kid it
made me yell at the television screen (in the Fleischer cartoons) for
Popeye to hurry up and eat his spinach whenever Bluto was involved. I had
no doubt, if given the opportunity, Fleischer's Bluto would knock it out
of the sailor's hand or consume the vegetable himself.
What -- No
Spinach? (Fleischer Studios, 1936) featured Bluto as the owner of a
restaurant. This film dealt more with his relationship with J. Wellington
Of course Bluto’s first appearance in a color cartoon from the
two-reeler Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (Fleischer
Studios, 1936) is historically important. Bluto, as Sindbad, entertained
the audience by singing at the beginning of the film.
I like the ending to
The Anvil Chorus Girl (Famous Studios, 1944). Popeye and Bluto
compete to be Olive Oyl's assistant in her blacksmith business and the
lady chooses the bearded brute! Bluto is overjoyed until he learns Olive
has left him in charge while she goes off with Popeye.
Sailors (Famous Studios, 1944) is a delightful cartoon where Bluto
shaves off his beard and impersonates Superman! He uses tricks to best
Popeye at every turn and becomes murderous when shooting a machine gun at
the sailor! Fortunately the bullets just shatter Popeye's spinach can.
(Famous Studios, 1957) has Bluto almost marrying
Olive Oyl. This cartoon is unique because Popeye uses his wits rather than
spinach to stop the wedding.
How Green is My Spinach (Famous
Studios, 1950) was fun because Bluto finally wised up and attempted to
destroy the nation’s spinach crop to beat Popeye once and for all.
Fortunately a little boy watching this cartoon in a movie theatre
tossed his can of spinach to the one-eyed sailor.
Bike Bullies (Hanna-Barbera, 1979)
was interesting because Bluto began
the cartoon as a motorcycle bully. By the cartoon’s end he
had reformed and become a patrolman. I recall an episode from Popeye and Son
had Bluto returning a gift he had bought for his wife
knowing Popeye’s son wanted to buy it for his mother. Considering
Bluto’s mean streak in these cartoons I thought this was out of
there any indication what Popeye-creator Elzie Crisler Segar
himself thought about the popularity of Bluto in the cartoons, and why he
never brought him back in his comicstrips?
not too much has been written regarding Segar’s reaction to the animated
films with or without Bluto. Segar did mention it was a strange experience
to see his creations talking and moving on screen. More than likely he
would have recognized the popularity the character was having on the
motion picture audience and would have found a storyline to bring him back.
1942, the Popeye-cartoons
were taken out of the Fleischers' hands (to put it mildly), which
according to many also caused a slump in quality. To what extent did that
affect the character of Bluto?
I am one of the Popeye fans
who did not notice a big slump in storylines until the series entered the
1950's when stories began to focus on the Popeye-Olive-Bluto romance
triangle. This is where Bluto became known strictly as Popeye's rival for
the affection of Olive Oyl and seeing spinach prompted the conclusion of
the film. Bluto’s role in the cartoons was pretty well-defined at this point without much variety.
cancelled the Popeye-series in 1957, producer Al Brodax started to
produce a series of TV cartoons in 1960, but oddly enough, Bluto was
renamed Brutus. What is the explanation for this, and what can you tell us
about the series as such, and Bluto's/Brutus' depiction by Brodax and
for years the rumor had to do with Walt Disney being upset because Pluto
sounded a lot like Bluto! I wrote to actor Jackson Beck, who provided the
voice for Bluto in the Famous Studios theatrical films and Brutus in the
cartoons produced for television by King Features Syndicate,
the change in his name. He wrote back stating Bluto was a late character
in Popeye and possibly owed by Fleischer and Paramount
Pictures. When King Features
decided to produce the television cartoons they
had to change the name.
In fact Bluto was owned by King Features Syndicate,
as he first appeared in the comic strip. King Features
and Al Brodax changed his name to Brutus after Cesar’s assassin. Until
the name Brutus was settled upon, Popeye encountered a lot of Bluto-looking
characters in the newspaper strip and comic books named “Mean Man”,
“The Big Guy That Hates Popeye” and “Sonny Boy”. Sonny
Boy was the most frequent moniker and he was the son of the wicked Sea
Hag! In the television cartoons Brutus was not just a rival
for Olive Oyl’s affections. He was a criminal, dogcatcher,
circus strongman, hotel manager, steamboat captain, gas station owner,
beatnik, skinned diver, gladiator, magician among his assorted
occupations. The name Brutus was first used on television and merchandise
in 1960. Because comic strips and funny books have to be
produced in advance, Brutus did not reach the Popeye comic book pages until
Popeye #64 (1962). Oddly this issue also featured another Bluto-looking
unnamed brute in a different story. The name finally stuck
with Popeye #67 (1963).
In the Sunday page it is believed
Brutus debuted on September 30, 1962. A daily strip featuring
The Sea Hag’s attempt to shoot Popeye into space began with Sonny Boy as
the witch’s helper. However on January 29, 1963 Olive Oyl angrily uses
the name Brutus to the individual previously referred to by Wimpy as
“her boy”. The “her’ being The wicked Sea Hag!?!
Bud Sagendorf, who was Segar’s assistant, had to deal with what
to call these unnamed bearded musclemen.
The All New Popeye Hour
Yet another reincarnation of Bluto (now called
that again) graced the small screen from 1978 to 1982 in Hanna-Barbera's
The All New Popeye Hour (extended to Popeye and Son in
1987). What can you tell us about Bluto in that series?
was now voiced by character actor Allan Melvin (best known as Sam the
Butcher from The Brady Bunch) with production handled by Hanna-Barbera.
Because The All New Popeye Hour was aired on the CBS network the
old violence could no longer be shown. Bluto relied much more
on his wits and dirty tricks to thwart Popeye. The All New
Popeye Hour (later renamed The Popeye and Olive Comedy Show) was a big
success on Saturday mornings and lasted for five years (1978-83).
and Son was an unsuccessful attempt by Hanna-Barbera
& King Features
Entertainment to update the characters. Popeye was married to
Olive and had a spinach-hating son named Junior. Bluto was
also married to a frump named Lizzie. The series (thankfully)
lasted only one season on CBS
this is about Popeye and Bluto, we of course also have to cover Robert
Altman's live action Popeye starring Robin Williams, with Paul
L.Smith as Bluto. Now how good an idea was it to turn the comicstrip into
a live-action movie to begin with, and your opinions on Paul L.Smith's
portrayal of the brute?
First let me put to rest what has
been often said about the film being a flop! It did turn a profit and Paramount
Pictures wanted a sequel. The acting, including Paul L. Smith as
Bluto, was excellent. However many of the original songs were
horrible and the script was a rehashing of Segar’s stories. The
problem with the movie was the story being based on Segar’s original
comic strips from the 1930’s. The movie going public, at this time,
mainly knew Popeye from the cartoons. Had the film been based
upon the more widely known animated version of the characters, its critical
reception might have been improved.
According to my information, the
last (official) on-screen-appearance of Popeye and Bluto was in 2004's
computer-drawn Popeye: The Quest for Paddy. A few words about this
one, and in your opinion, how well do the characters work in a
I did not enjoy this because
the plotline had to do with Popeye searching for his long lost Pappy.
This storyline had been done in the comic strip by Segar and three
more times in animation. An original plot would have been
appreciated. Many fans (and rightly so) were not happy with the
relationship between Popeye and Bluto being more buddy buddy. While
they did fight, their actions were lost in a cloud of smoke. If,
for politically correct reasons, you cannot show the pair brawling, keep
Bluto out of the story. I am not an expert on CGI, but I could see there
was an honest attempt to recapture the look and sound of the Fleischer
After Elzie Crisler Segar
died in 1938, several attempts were made to reintroduce Bluto/Brutus back
onto the Popeye-comicstrips. Want to talk about those attempts for
would like to take this opportunity to clear up a fact which I and other
historians have mistakenly stated. It has long been believed
Ralph Stein’s first scripted daily Thimble Theatre adventure was
published in 1955. I actually stumbled upon his first strip
which was printed on December 6, 1954. Stein wrote adventures where Popeye
traveled around the globe with a British explorer Sir Pomeroy.
Ralph Stein (writer), Bill Zaboly (artist),
April 21 & 22, 1959
1957 Stein had brought back Bluto, and Popeye was often running into him
and his gang of pirates. Bluto was more of a comical brute - but mean-spirited and treasure happy. Towards the end of
Stein’s tenure on the daily strip, Popeye battled Burlo, the beardless
twin brother of Bluto. Bill Zaboly applied the artwork to
Stein’s fantastic tales. When Bud Sagendorf took over the
comic strip, a number of nameless bearded brutes appeared. I
believe it was in 1965 when Brutus became a regular cast member in the
daily strip though he had been appearing
in the Sunday prior to this. Brutus had none of the maniacal
strength of Segar’s Bluto and could be knocked out by a punch from baby
Bobby London, January 28 & 29, 1992
Bobby London took over the daily strip he revived Segar’s version of
Bluto. London produced a hilarious story called The Return
of Bluto where all of the various versions of Bluto/Brutus meet to
decide who is the real Brutus! Bluto, with the Sea Hag’s
help, gets all the Brutuses tossed in jail along with Popeye. Naturally
Bluto’s victory is a short-lived one.
Hy Eisman, April 5, 2009
Hy Eisman is the
current Popeye cartoonist who produces the Sunday Page. I
mentioned to him the character of Bluto had not yet made an appearance in
the Sunday page. He rectified that situation and made Bluto
the twin brother of Brutus. The Sunday dated April 5, 2009
featured Popeye encountering both Bluto and Brutus! The Sea
Hag was thrown in so all three of Popeye’s greatest enemies appeared.
What got you interested in Popeye
to begin with?
My mother recalled when I was three and
getting my tonsils out, her sister Kay bought me an Olive Oyl doll because
she loved the color red. I do remember drawing Popeye around
three years of age. I recognized very early on the different
look the characters had in each cartoon and began to study the
animator’s credits which appeared at the beginning of each film. A
Providence Rhode Island station ran a Popeye and The 3 Stooges show just
before I went to school. This program would air a theatrical
Popeye followed by a King Features television cartoon. Seeing
a Fleischer film followed by a King Features
cartoon was quite the style
shock. I have to admit, even when it came to buying Popeye products, I was
always partial to the white suited sailor man. Since 1983 I
have had numerous articles published on the Popeye family and five books.
In 1992 I began my award-winning cable access series Drawing With
Fred which features… who else but Popeye!
If a Popeye vs Bluto feature film
would be made today, how do you think it should be achieved (as in live
action vs hand-drawn animation vs computer animation), who should direct
it, who should star as (or voice) Bluto, ...?
announced a new Popeye feature is in the works. I really have
mixed feelings about any new Popeye film project. We live in
such a politically correct world where the Fleischer-style beatings the
characters originally took may not possibly be allowed on screen any more. If the
Popeye family needs to be changed in order to
adapt to these censorship restraints, I personally would rather not see
anything new. If Popeye is allowed to flourish as he was
originally created for print and animation, I would love to see old
fashioned cell animation. I would hope, regarding the voices,
it would be actors who actually sound like the characters and not hire
someone because of their celebrity status. Very few
performers have been able to duplicate the vocal success Jack Mercer gave
to Popeye and Mae Questel, Margie Hines and Marilyn Schreffler for Olive
Oyl. Since we are discussing Bluto I have to mention the outstanding voice
work for the bully performed by William Pennell, Gus Wickie, Pinto Colvig
and Jackson Beck. Jack Mercer also gave voice to Bluto and provided the
vocals of Brutus in one of the television cartoons, Sea No
and/or websites for further reading on Popeye and Bluto?
would check out the web page of The Official Popeye Fan Club located at
many of my publications are available on amazon. Episodes of my award
winning cable access series, featuring Popeye, can be viewed on the Videos
on Demand section of The Watertown Community Access channel located at
for the interview!
Thank you for the opporunity to celebrate Bluto's 80th