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.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.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.