Believe it or not, songs were being written about Popeye even before the cartoons started coming out in 1933.
Reader’s Digest version: Popeye first appeared in Elzie Segar’s “Thimble Theatre” comic strip in early 1929–and pretty much took it over.
By 1931, the comoser Leon Flatow (a journeyman of Tin Pan Alley), and a lyricist named Kepell had a song ready for the publishing firm of Irving Berlin,Inc.
As far as is known, the only recording of the song was cut on May 8 of the year at the studios of the American Record Company (1776 Broadway), and issued here on several of their “dime-store” labels. This side also cam out in the U.K., on the Filmophone record–a transparent celluloid disc, in one of a number of different colors. This issue was billed as “Al Dollar And His Ten Cents”–a name Filmophone used for American recordings on that label.
Again, we should all know the story by heart. Max Fleischer began the “Popeye” cartoon series in 1933, and almost immediately, the series rivaled the success of Mickey Mouse–so much so that at least one writer trid to put a political spin on the “rivalry” between the Sailor Man and the four-fingered rodent.
Billy Costello did the voice of Popeye for two dozen shorts, then was unceremoniously given his walking-papers.
About the time he left, Costello went over to the American Record Company’s studios, and, accompanied by a small orchestra featuring trombonist (and possible director) Russ Morgan, cut “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” and “Blow the Man Down”. This record sold acceptably well, and there are several uploads of it on YouTube and other such sites.
Of these records, the scarcest is an “Official Popeye Club Record”, cut in London for issue only in South Africa.
Meanwhile, we go back to the story we all should know.
After using Floyd Buckley–the Popeye of the radio seriess going on at the time–for one cartoon (Be Kind To Aminals), Fleischer found somebody in-house who could do Popeye, and do it very well indeed.
When Jack Mercer took over the voice work as Popeye, Max Fleischer lost a good in-betweener who was well on his way to becoming an animator in his own right.
But they gained a good, all-around voice talent, who did a number of voices for Fleischer, Famous, and Paramount Studios cartoons, as well as for cartoons Paramount produced for other people.
He was still hard at it in 1974,when he was the subject of a game of To Tell The Truth. And he was still at it when Hanna-Barbera produced a new batch of Popeye shorts for Saturday morning runs.