ANIMATION ANECDOTES
June 10, 2017 posted by Jim Korkis

Popeye On Television: 1970-1990

It is much more difficult to revive a classic animated character than studios imagine, despite the many examples to show them the error of their ways.

Frames from “The Man Who Hated Laughter” (1972)

King Features whipped out over 200 short, color, limited animation Popeye cartoons in 1960-61 from five different animation studios to try to capture some money from the popularity of the classic Popeye cartoons running on television. Those cash grab efforts, although actually utilizing some elements from Segar’s comic strip, failed to capture the interest of audiences.

It wasn’t until a decade later that any new Popeye cartoons would appear. In 1972, Popeye was the lead character in an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie presentation entitled Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter. This Saturday morning show was the showcase for hour-long specials, some of which spun off into series.

This particular adventure was co-directed by well known commercial animator Jack Zander and Hal Seeger (Milton the Monster). Popeye had to save some of the top King Features Syndicate stars like Blondie and Beetle Bailey from the evil designs of Professor Morbid Grimsby, who wished to stop the spread of laughter. Helping Popeye with his task were KFS adventure heroes like the Phantom and Flash Gordon. Popeye proved better than his material in this hodge podge of a story where for the most part he was lost amidst a host of other characters scrambling for a quick cameo appearance.

Jack Mercer, the long time voice of Popeye, once again did the voice of the sailor as well as for Wimpy. This particular outing did not jump start a Saturday morning cartoon series for any of the characters. However, by the mid-1970s, more than a thousand different products bore Popeye’s likeness and the comic strip was syndicated to more than 250 newspapers around the world.

In 1978, King Features decided to increase Popeye’s visibility by licensing the animation rights to Hanna-Barbera for a new Saturday morning TV series. The initial announcement also stated that H-B would produce an hour long Popeye primetime Christmas special in 1978 for CBS but that project never developed.

The All New Popeye Hour debuted on CBS in September 1978. The series was divided into three main segments: The Adventures of Popeye which featured new stories of Popeye and his friends; Dinky Dog about the misadventures of the world’s largest dog and no connection to the Popeye universe and Popeye’s Treasure Hunt with Popeye and Bluto as competitors in the search for treasure like the Dalmonica Diamond. During the 1979 season, this last segment was often replaced by Popeye’s Sports Parade with Popeye in various sports competitions.

Jack Mercer

During the show, and in keeping with the new educational tone of most cartoons of the time, there were also thirty-second segments known as Popeye’s Health and Safety Tips that ranged from not taking drugs to the dangers of overeating.

“My voice work for the new cartoons is more or less a sideline now,” stated Mercer before the new shows aired. “My main job is writing the scripts and doing the story boards for the shows. The difficulty is cutting down on the violence. Popeye never did hurt anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. But the silly part of it is, the old violent shows are still being seen on TV all over the country and nobody objects.

“I’ve recorded the opening song for the new shows. And instead of using the old beat whistle to punctuate I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. Toot toot. I do the whistle myself.”

Mercer was the only “old” voice recruited for the new cartoons. Marilyn Schreffler was now the new voice of Olive Oyl after Mae Questel auditioned and was rejected. Allan Melvin did the voice of Bluto.

Apparently the controversy and confusion between Bluto and Brutus was now long forgotten and never mentioned again. Daws Butler was asked to do a W.C. Fields imitation voice for Wimpy. This was the last time Mercer would voice the Popeye character since he died in December 1984.

Within the limitations of Saturday morning restrictions, Hanna-Barbera tried to recapture the spirit of the earlier classic cartoons. While he retained his white sailor cap, Popeye was re-outfitted in his original dark blue top. The stories were fairly straight-forward attempts to pit Popeye and Bluto against each other for the affections of Olive. There were some parodies of popular film themes resulting in episodes like Close Encounters of the Third Spinach and Spinach Fever.

In fact, Spinach Fever (a take-off on the disco movie Saturday Night Fever) along with three other episodes from the show formed the basis for the first primetime Popeye special, The Popeye Show (also known as Popeye Catches Disco Fever) which ran on CBS in September 1978.

The first all-new Popeye primetime special was The Popeye Valentine Special: Sweethearts At Sea which premiered on CBS February 14, 1979. Olive goes on a cruise to find “Mr. Right”. While Bluto tries to win her affections, the Sea Hag tries to get Popeye to marry her. After several comedic disasters, Bluto ends up with the Sea Hag and Olive finally decides that Popeye is Mr. Right after all.

In 1980, H-B redesigned the Saturday morning show, cutting it back to a half hour and re-titling it The Popeye and Olive Comedy Show. Besides the adventures of Popeye segments, there were two new elements: Private Olive Oyl (inspired by the live action movie Private Benjamin) which had Olive and Alice the Goon as clumsy Army privates constantly frustrating their diminutive Sgt. Blast (voiced by Jo Anne Worley) and Prehistoric Popeye with the Popeye family of characters as cave people. The series ended by 1983.

In September 1987, a new half hour Saturday morning series debuted, Popeye and Son. Popeye, wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt and without his pipe, was now a supporting player to his nine year old son.

Apparently, Popeye had married Olive and they had a blonde-haired son named Junior who hated spinach. Bluto had married a woman named Lizzie and produced a bully of a son named Tank. Olive was a modern woman more worried about her aerobics than the half-hearted disasters that threatened her family. Maurice Le Marche did the voice of Popeye.

It would be quite some time before Popeye would appear again on television and some of these efforts are often forgotten by both animation and Popeye fans.

36 Comments

  • First it’s hard to believe that Corrinne Orr was the voice of Olive Oyl in Popeye Meets the Man Who Hared Laughter since I remember her as the original voice of Trixie on Speed Racer Corrinne Orr also did the voices of Blondie Bumstead,Swee’Pea,Loweezy,Maggie,Lois & Dot Flagston, Mama,Hans & Fritz,Little Iodine,Tiger and Dale Arden in the movie that aired on the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie.

    Second on Hanna Barbera ‘s All New Popeye Show the (to my opinion) best episodes were the Private Olive Oyl segments (loosely based on the Goldie Hawn movie Private Benjamin) where both Olive and Alice the Goon joins the Army. It was also the first time that Olive had a solo series without Popeye and Bluto around. And I didn’t like it when Hanna Barbera turn Popeye into a “jealous jerk” towards Bluto (and he was never like that in the Popeye cartoons of the 1930s to the KFS version of the 1960s).

    Last and sadly Popeye and Son literally (again in my opinion) stunked having Popeye as a father (even though he was already a father figure to Swee’Pea and his nephews) but what gets me is how they eliminated both Swee’Pea and the Nephews from the series. Jack Mercer passed away before starring in this abomination and Maurice LeMarche took over as the voice of Popeye. Also Bluto’s “son” was more like a RUFFIAN just like his Daddy Dearest and a rival to Junior like Bluto was to Popeye (but they would have been good friends with each other like Bluto and Popeye was in the 1940s). But what irks me was the wardrobe changes that they gave Popeye,Olive and Bluto by having Bluto wearing a business suit,slicked back hair and wearing glasses, Olive now wearing a sweatsuit and a new hairstyle instead of the traditional clothing that she wore (with the exception of the 1950s) and Popeye’s wardrobe look like something that he ripped off from legendary comedian Bob Hope! Oy!! Guess that’s why reason why Popeye and Son was cancelled after only one season.

    • Oh yeah, Dale Arden. My 1951 Studebaker Commander Starlight is nicknamed Dale after her. Not like those things weren’t somewhat notorious for their Alex Raymond meets Raymond Lowey styling….

      The Saturday Super Star Movie was a bit of a mess with the cartoony and more illustrative styles clashing. Plus the illustrative styles were hurt even more by how rough and cheap the ’70s kiddie ghetto animation was.

  • I love the premise for “THE MAN WHO HATED LAUGHTER”, “We’ve got to solve the disappearance of all our classic comics, or else America won’t have anything to laugh at except our politicians!!” How timely! Hey, I extend that statement as an appeal for why we need our classic cartoons on physical media…we need to have something to laugh at other than the state of the world, which isn’t really very funny at all! I liked most of the voice work in that special, though. It is also interesting that Jack Mercer was relegated to writing scripts, but the dialogue on the “MAN WHO HATED LAUGHTER” special sounded as if it were slightly sped up to fit the pace of the comedy, whereas Popeye’s comedy came from Mercer’s improvised dialogue during some scenes. Ya just can’t beat the Fleischer cartoons, even though they, too, veered off from the original Segar comics. I liked the King Features cartoons a little more than most folks, simply because they did slightly aim to be more like the comic strip, but my real favorite King Features cartoons were the KRAZY KAT shorts. Viva, Max Fleischer!

    • “We’ve got to solve the disappearance of all our classic comics, or else America won’t have anything to laugh at except our politicians!!”

      That’s a nice throwaway parental bonus.

  • Marilyn Schreffler was now the new voice of Olive Oyl after Mae Questel auditioned and was rejected.

    Mercer’s voice was so tied to the character, I assume Hanna-Barbera felt they had to use him. But other than Filmation’s original Saturday morning Superman/Superboy series and a few voice turns by Bob McFadden on Linus the Lionhearted, there seemed to be a lack of desire at mixing and matching East Coast and West Coast voice actors. So as the production of Saturday morning animation on the East Coast died out, so did the Saturday morning voice actor work.

    • I wonder if the limits of ’60s-’70s transportation and technology had a lot to do with the lack of mixing of West and East Coast voice talent?

      Then again it could be something like people being ludicrously cliquish too.

    • Very good point.

  • Mae Questel claimed in some interviews that Hanna-Barbera asked her to return as the voice of Olive Oyl but she turned them down because she was too busy to work the recording sessions into her schedule. Jack Mercer spoke in some interviews about how much more difficult writing cartoon stories for the new Popeye cartoons was than it had been in the old days because there was such a long list of “do’s and don’t’s” writers had to abide by, one of the more amusing ones being that Popeye and Bluto could display no feelings of lust toward Olive.

    Apparently the controversy and confusion between Bluto and Brutus was now long forgotten and never mentioned again.

    At least in the cartoons. The comic strip, to this day, continues to identify the character as Brutus, though one Sunday strip a few years back had Bluto making a guest appearance as Brutus’s twin brother.

    • The Booby London incarnation of Popeye had a super in-jokey story where Bluto showed up with a small army of Brutuses in tow.

    • I remember that in one of the Popeye comic strip in the 1990s both Bluto and Brutus were reviled as twin brothers.

    • It surprised me that King Features would even consider Bobby London, “underground comix” creator of “Dirty Duck,” to do the Popeye comic strip. “Dirty Duck” (the animated feature of that title had nothing to do with London’s comic) was drawn as a sort of “Krazy Kat” parody in a pastiche of George Herriman’s style, and London did another underground strip that nailed the Segar style; but his style on the legit Popeye strip was like a cross between Segar and Cliff Sterrett.
      There was a book collecting the London strips, “Mondo Popeye.” One storyline had Popeye in the “Valley of the Brutuses.”

      KFS would eventually fire London over a storyline that supposedly hinted at abortion commentary (the details elude me at present).

    • rnigma, IDW Publishing put out the complete run of Bobby London’s Popeye newspaper strips in two volumes a few years ago.
      Worth getting if your’e a Popeye or London fan (and, yes, the “abortion” story arc is included).

    • Hmm…Questel said she turned down HB’s offer to do Olive’s voice. Yet, it’s also stated here that HB rejected her. I’m curious to know what really happened.

    • I had read that when Questel auditioned for the HB Popeye series, She was refused the role because HB though she sounded too old.

  • I do recall watching “The Man Who Hated Laughter” on the “Saturday Superstar Movie.” It drew from the pool of King Features comics, many of which had their only animated appearance (for instance, Little Iodine and Quincy). The only non-King character in the show was Steve Canyon, syndicated by what was then Field Enterprises (owned by the Marshall Field family; it was sold to Murdoch’s News Corp., then resold to KFS owner Hearst, becoming North America Syndicate).

  • Popeye hadn’t been done right since 1944.

    Not even close.

    • I thought Genndy was very close with Popeye with his test footage even without the pipe. It’s a shame Sony dropped the project. And yet, they greenlited a very stupid idea of doing a film with Emoji instead which really question the executive choices there……

  • You could have a tag and a series of blogs on The Saturday Super Star Movie. I mean that’s a really quirky tenement in the ’70s animation ghetto. You have a few originals. You have attempted animated extensions of cancelled live action sitcoms like That Girl, Nanny and the Professor, The Mini Munsters, the in-name only Lost in Space, and Tabitha and Adam aged up to early teens from Bewitched. Curios like Love Cast (Love American Style watered down to Archie level malt shop teen romance comedy), that all canine wholly ahistorical take on the Red Barron riffing off Snoopy’s WW1 ace schtick, the all funny animal Robin Hoodnick with apparently Hanna-Barbera trying to beat Disney to the punch by about a year, and that wholly misguided Daffy and Porky Meet the Groovie Ghoulies which I think was blogged here a good while back.

    • Don’t forget The sequel to Mad Monster Party,Gidget in a parody of The Mod Squad,the sequel to Oliver Twist with Oliver and The Artful Dodger as teenagers ,San Francisco Giants star player Willie Mays in a animated adventure, Yogi Bear and his cronies on a flying ark, The Brady Kids minus their parents and Alice the Maid,Lassie with the original Rescue Rangers before Chip and Dale,and the animated version of The Banana Splits surprisingly that The Brady Kids,Lassie’s Rescue Rangers and Yogi’s Ark were the only Cartoons that were on Saturday Superstar Theater that became full fledged animated tv shows.

  • Surprised that how they didn’t get Paul Frees,Howard Morris and Allan Melvin in Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter reprising their roles as Snuffy Smith,Barney Google, Beetle Bailey,Sgt Orville Snorkel and the rest of the troops of Camp Swampy.

  • From what I heard from Scott Shaw! when he was on “Stu’s Show”, NO ONE enjoyed working on “Popeye and Son”. One wonder who in Hanna-Barbara or the network thought this was a good idea.

    I did think the idea worked better with “Goof Troop”, although MSN put the latter (a bit unfairly) in a list of “Worst Cartoons” years ago (and I don’t think they were well-aware of the much inferior former).

    • I’ve see MSN’s Worst Cartoons Ever and there are several that i disagree on the list…

      Transformers,became a bigger franchise in Japan with several series that were exclusively seen on Japanese television and I’ve seen a few of those episode on Mexican television via satellite.

      Silverhawks, which was the second series animated for Rankin Bass by the Pacific Animation Corporation of Japan and had in each episode a educational segment on our Solar System in the epilogue segment of the show

      The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo which was the last series that Vincent Price ever did even though the show was missing Fred and Velma.

      And Jem was literally a diamond in the rough and was one of several animated show that weren’t based on toys.

      Pokémon sadly 4Kids productions literally destroyed the entire series by gross editing, unnecessary censorship and how they literally eradicated Japanese culture by eliminating several sign that were in Japanese and turning Rice Balls (a popular Japanese dish) into Jelly Donuts, Crackers and a Submarine Sandwich. Could of been better if they kept it in its original format.

      Goof Troop did indeed got the shaft by being on that list and there were more totally awful cartoons that should of been on that list like

      Rubik the Amazing Cube
      Turbo Teen
      Popeye and Son
      Yo Yogi!
      A Pup Named Scooby Doo
      Pink Panther and Sons
      Rickety Rocket
      Flintstone Kids
      Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats
      Wolf Rock TV
      DiC’s Dennis the Meance
      COPS
      Filmation’s Ghostbusters
      Alvin and the Chipmunks (Ruby Spears original version before MWS Productions redesigned the characters and made them look better)
      The Glo Friends
      The Potato Head Kids
      Paw Paws
      The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang
      Gilligan’s Planet
      And
      Meatball and Spaghetti.

    • Forget to add to the list Lazer Tag Academy which was truly awful and needed a better plot line.

    • Popeye & Son certainly was a product of typical executive pandering to what they thought was what kids were into during that point in time (I recall Junior had a friend who did that “California speak” dribble).

  • Popeye and Son is really sad.

    As it’s impossible to top the Fleischer Popeye or even animate something close to it, what I really want to see now is a Popeye closer to the Segar comics Popeye, with all those weird characters and more cohesive stories.

  • Lou Silverstone, a veteran of MAD Magazine, was the writer here and did pretty good. The animators were all New York vets from Fleischer and Famous, but conspicuous by his absence is Myron Waldman, a particular favorite of Seeger. Those on the project included Nick Tafuri, Marty Taras, Earl James and Gerry Dvorak.

    • Add to that list the greatest (IMO) Popeye animator, Johnny Gent (John Gentilella). I think Earl James was a Terrytoons animator. I met him in the early 80’s and he was introduced as such, and I was told he worked on Mighty Mouse. George Rufle and Larry Riley also worked for Famous.

  • Suprised that Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter was never released on home video (VCR or DVD) it would be cool if they would release it on video in time for its 45th anniversary of the premiere of Popeye Meets The Who Hated Laughter on ABC’s Saturday Super Star Theater..

  • I remember watching THE ALL NEW POPEYE HOUR waiting for it to become something like the Fleischer cartoons. I was 19 and I guess naïve about just how much Standards and Practices could ruin a show.

    • I remember Peggy Charren’s critique: “All new? Nothing new! Violent, destructive behavior is rewarded constantly.” Apparently the ACT head didn’t really watch it… perhaps the older Popeye cartoons were on her mind.

  • Just a quick correction: Maurice *LaMarche* is the name of Popeye’s 1987 voice actor, not “Le Marche”. 😉

    Regarding this…

    “It would be quite some time before Popeye would appear again on television and some of these efforts are often forgotten by both animation and Popeye fans.”

    I wonder what you’re referring to here. TV commercials or other small projects? There hasn’t been an actual Popeye television series since “Popeye and Son”, and the 2004 Mainframe CGI film was produced direct to home video.

    • The Direct to Video Popeye cartoon was Popeye’s Voyage :The Quest For Pappy which was broadcasted by Fox on December 17 2004 and rebroadcasted on December 2005 by Mainframe (now Rainmaker) Entertainment which came out to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the creation of Popeye the Sailor.

      The cast included Billy West as Popeye and Poopdeck Pappy (and did a fantastic job doing thier voices in the style of Jack Mercer (Popeye) and Carl Meyer (Poopdeck Pappy) from the late 1930s early 1940s Fleischer Bros Popeye cartoons

      Tabitha St Germain as Olive Oyl (in the style of Margie Hines) & Swee’Pea

      And Oscar and Golden Globe winning actress Kathy Bates as the Sea Hag

      They said that after Billy West did the voice of Popeye he had to drink a glass of honey to sooth his aching throat.

      The DVD had three animated Popeye cartoons from KFS from the 1960’s I wish they had included the Popeye cartoons from the Fleischer cartoons and the Famous Studios Popeye cartoons and yes even one of the better Hanna Barbera Popeye cartoons.

      At least both his original version wearing the sailors jersey and the WWII issued sailors suit were better than that tacky hideous Hawaiian shirt that he must of ripped off from the estate of Bob Hope a I love Hawaiian shirts!

  • It always bothered me seeing Popeye, in his original Segar/Fleischer jersey, wearing the WW2 style of his sailor’s cap.

    • At least they were better than that hideous Hawaiian shirt that he wore on Popeye and Son! And I love Hawaiian shirts!

    • HB Wanted to use Popeye’s original hat- it even appeared in pre-production art- but King features demanded the WW2 cap be used. King has always seemed to be picky about what hat Popeye wears for some reason- London even lampooned it in one of his storylines at one point (King did not appreciate London making fun of syndicate practices)

  • Despite the quality the KFS TV cartoons were a big success for television stations, ratings and the Syndicate. They aired on local stations well into the 1990’s (until we didn’t have many local stations anymore).

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