Animation History
July 6, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

Who Is Harry Welch – and Was He Ever The Voice of Popeye?

Cartoon Researcher Shaun Clancy sent in these scans (below, click thumbnails to read) from a Popular Science article from March 1941, about a fellow named Harry Welch (aka Harry Foster Welch), a “man of a thousand voices” who was supposedly the voice of Popeye on screen. But was he? Is this him?

Voice actor & voice expert Keith Scott says,

Although the article is filled with nonsense (the voice of the Big Bad Wolf for Disney and other totally untrue and questionable claims), there are some accurate details: he does credit (William) Costello as the original voice, and says he first filled in starting in 1934…that would coincide with when Costello left the picture, and before (Jack) Mercer became the voice we all know; could Welch be the truly awful Popeye voice in BE KIND TO AMINALS released early the following year in February 1935? It can’t be a radio Popeye, as has been speculated, because the first Popeye radio series didn’t air until late in 1935, after Jack had begun doing the film voice.

Might Welch have been one of the “fill-in” Popeye’s when Jack Mercer went to War in the early 1940s? One thing is known to be true: Welch apparently had official permission to perform as Popeye for public events and at amusement in the ’30s & ’40s. Here’s the article – you be the judge.

Welch-1 welch-2 welch-3 welch-4

22 Comments

  • That was a god awful toon,and not just the Popeye voice.I’d forgotten all about this one and I can see why.The only other time I can remember Bluto being that brutal was in PUPPET LOVE.Usually,he’s just annoying Popeye and being nice to Olive.In this toon,Bluto had absolutely no redeeming qualities.And I felt sorry for the poor horse!

    • At least the ending is satisfying to say the least, not so much for Popeye’s unusually low voice.

    • I agree; I can’t stand this cartoon. I don’t like animal cruelty in cartoons, especially if the assailant is enjoying it. That’s the same reason I hate the Betty Boop short BE HUMAN.

      That said, the voice does sound like Popeye’s voice from HOUSE TRICKS.

    • For me the only redeeming quality of that short (what would you expect from Willard Bowsky?) is that delightful piece of music that plays under the first scene of Popeye and Olive feeding the birds. Was it a song from one of Paramount’s feature films?

    • David, the music at the beginning of the film is the song “Take A Lesson From The Lark” from the Paramount Picture Shoot The Works (1934).

      Here’s the whole tune:
      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xb2ltu_todd-rollins-his-orchestra-take-a-l_music#.Udiel5WYV-U

    • PUPPET LOVE creeped me out when Popeye was using the beat-into-semiconsciousness Bluto as a puppet. Bluto’s living-dead face plus a huge knife at screaming Olive’s throat added up to a pretty horrific picture. Popeye playfully turning the tables was more brutal than anything Bluto did.

    • Thank you Jerry. I always enjoy learning the sources of music used in these cartoons, especially these cute little novelty songs. I actually think the version scored for the cartoon is better than the official version. Too bad we have to listen to ‘fake’ Popeye talk over it…

  • Jerry, the idea of Welch as the Big Bad Wolf may very well stem from his stage act. I came across one newspaper clipping on Welch where it mentions he did the voice of Donald Duck–on stage.

  • I have a copy of the LP ‘POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN (Musical Stories from Original TV Scripts)’ -Diplomat/Rocking Horse series that credits Harry F. Welch. Welch’s Popeye voice on the record sounds nothing like the voice on BE KIND TO ANIMALS. A much better match would be ISLAND FLING and possibly ROCKET TO MARS. I see IMDb credits Welch with those two, although, of course, that source is notoriously unreliable as to voice credits. But I do sorta trust my own ears, and having owned 16mm prints of both those titles for years I’m guessing he was indeed a fill-in for Mercer in the early to mid-40′s. By the way, that record seems to be entirely a King Features project… has its own POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN song and everything.

  • Everyone knows the Big Bad Wolf was voiced by Billy Bletcher, who commonly voiced cartoon villians such as Pete and the Pincushion Man.

  • I know Harry Welch voiced Popeye for some Peter Pan records, back in the early sixties. These were adaptations of the made-for-TV cartoons (which, of course, starred Jack Mercer)>

  • The Popeye voice in “Be Kind To Animals” is the worst Popeye voice ever. He sounds like a crabby old man!

  • I couldn’t read all of the copy because the Be Kind To Animals cartoon kept imposing itself on every page, with no discernible way to get rid of it. Anyone else experience this?

    • Yes. It’s very annoying. I’ve had it happen on other sites with embedded videos, too.

  • Dave Kirwan is probably right, if the voice really matches the LP on which Welch gets credit. I haven’t any copies of Welch’s children’s records. Mercer seemed to suggest to Mike Barrier that Floyd Buckley – the second radio Popeye from 1936-38 – was brought back to do some fill-ins (while Jack was stationed in Germany for the final part of his war service). I isolated all eleven of the “replacement” Popeyes in chronological order on tape years ago, and my research pal Hames Ware and I both have pretty highly trained ears…we could detect possibly four or five different actors (one MAY have been Mae Questel sped down, but it’s a reach…one or two could be Harry Welch, another sounded like Buckley, and one was quite good as a fill-in for Mercer…and of course parts of those cartoons DID have actual Mercer dialogue). The ONLY way to solve this mystery is to find documentary evidence in Paramount’s papers, as I found for several West Coast studios…and even there each set of papers was incomplete. Perhaps Fleischer scholar Mark Langer or someone else who’s trawled through Paramount papers could help…it’s most likely to be noted in the payroll records of music department weekly reports, and usually pre-recordings date to a year or more before the cartoons release date. These titles could be even more haphazard reflecting the fact that Paramount recorded Mercer whenever he was on a leave pass before he was finally shipped overseas. Mark Newgarden is sending me a vintage CARTOONIST’S PROFILES magazine piece on Welch (it hasn’t arrived at my mailbox yet) which hints that Mr Welch never did an actual cartoon, so what’s going on?

    As for BE KIND TO AMINALS, two stories have been mentioned about the panic for a new Popeye after Bill Costello was fired…one is that Dave Fleischer heard a gravelly-voiced guy at a newsstand and immediately hired him, and the other is that Lou Fleischer heard Fred Waring’s drummer doing his Popeye-type voice comic bit and hired him, which caused a salary dispute which angered both Waring and Paramount. With so much conflicting information I will never hazard guesses for the early cartoons, especially after Richard Fleischer revealed the brutal truth about his Dad’s studio records and Paramount’s vicious destruction of same. But it’s worth adding that Hames and I believe there might have been a couple of extra fill-in performers after Costello and before Jack Mercer…there are some subtle differences in about four Popeye cartoons before Jack is fully recognizable in KING OF THE MARDI GRAS. But the 1946-47 cartoons remain a mystery that just might still be cleared up if we can ever find documentation.

    • Floyd Buckley recorded at least four sides for the RCA Victor Bluebird label that were released before September 1937. There’s a strong possibility they were issued as a set, as the one 78 I saw some 20 years ago contained Parts 3 and 4.

    • According to the YT video description and using info from Wikipedia [neither being super-reliable], Welch does Popeye in some mid-1940s cartoons [the imitation was decent to my average ears], and the Popeye in “Be Kind to Animals” is Floyd Buckley…and in my opinion, Mae Questel’s Popeye in Shape Ahoy has overtones sounding like Charlie Brown or Linus-voice actors doing a Popeye impression. Very interesting information presented…

  • Popeye’s voiced be damned but this is a great cartoon. Lots of pathos and sympathy for the poor horse, great animation; one could feel its torture, and I have never so much wanted to see Bluto get punched -out.

  • The main reason I hate this (along with BE HUMAN) is that it’s trying so hard to shoot the message and making the villain horrible, that they forgot to make it funny. I like BULLDOZING THE BULL better because I still laughed along with learning a good lesson.

  • Hey I have 1934 newspaper clippings of Popeye. March and April. There I think from Michigan. What are they worth? There’s 50 clippings total. In perfect flat condition.

  • Jack Mercer is the best Popeye voice over.

  • As a child growing up in the 50′s and 60′s my grandfather had a vacation home in Blowing Rock,NC. Harry Welch had a home just up the road and would come over and entertain us grandchildren. He loved kids and loved to entertain.

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