Animation History
August 11, 2022 posted by Fred Grandinetti

Bluto’s 90th Birthday!

One of the world’s most recognizable brutes celebrates his 90th birthday in 2022. The year was 1932 when Bluto made his menacing debut in E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre comic strip.

An early appearance of Bluto in the Thimble Theatre comic strip from June 27, 1932

He was a hulking, bearded muscleman who said to Popeye upon their initial meeting, “Mister Popeye I will see you and kill you tomorrow at daybreak.” Hardly the girl-stealing bully many think of him. He had no romantic desire for Olive Oyl and was intent of beating the daylights out of Popeye. A fierce battle between Popeye and Bluto went on for several days in the comic strip. The sailor was able to defeat Bluto, not by eating his spinach, but by giving him his twister punch. Defeated and humiliated Bluto left and never returned to the comic strip under Segar’s tenure.

In 1933 Max Fleischer plucked Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto from the newspaper page and put them in one of his Betty Boop cartoons. The film, Popeye the Sailor, was a huge success and the sailor’s own series shortly followed. Bluto was portrayed as rotund, comical, bearded brute who had designs on Olive Oyl. He usually beat up Popeye until the sailor pulled out his reliable can of spinach. Bluto wore a captain’s hat, a short-sleeved black shirt and had squinty eyes. Blow the Man Down became his signature tune which was heard whenever he first appeared on screen.

Some of his memorable moments during the Fleischer era were:

Let’s You and Him Fight (1934)-Popeye’s first prize fight with Bluto who actually has the upper hand until Olive feeds the sailor his spinach.

Axe Me Another (1934)-Bluto is the Great Pierre, a champion Lumberjack, who hates spinach which eggs Popeye on to challenge him.

Bluto, dressed as a woman, tries to charm Popeye in Vim, Vigor and Vitaliky (Fleischer, 1936).

Beware of Barnacle Bill (1935)-A delightful musical cartoon where Olive plans on marrying Barnacle Bill until Popeye shows him up.

Vim, Vigor and Vitaliky (1935)-Bluto does the cross- dressing bit when he invades Olive Oyl’s all girl physical fitness class.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)-A color classic where Bluto is Sindbad the Sailor a most remarkable extra ordinary fellow.

Hospitaliky (1937)-In order to be near Nurse Olive Popeye feeds Bluto his spinach. When the brute sees the can his eyes bug-out and he mutters, “get away”. Popeye pours the vegetable down his throat and says, “You’re going to eat the spinach this time.” (see embed below).

The Twisker Pitcher (1937)-A cartoon where Bluto consumes Popeye’s spinach to beat him at baseball. Bluto substitutes weeds for the spinach which frustrates Popeye when nothing happens after he eats it.

Fleischer Studios’ Popeye cartoons often had unexpected moments. Bluto pulls a can of spinach from his own pocket to revive Popeye in Fightin’ Pals (1940)

Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves (1937)-Popeye’s second color featurette where he battles Ali Baba and his gang of thieves.

Learn Polikeness (1938)-Bluto is hilarious as a slob who poses as a gentleman in order to woo Olive Oyl.

Fightin’ Pals (1940)-Popeye and Bluto are pals in this cartoon. When Bluto is seemingly lost in the jungle the sailor searches for him. Bluto pulls a can of spinach out of his own shirt pocket to revive Popeye.

Kickin’ the Conga Round (1942)-Bluto, who is now wearing a sailor’s uniform, tries to derail Popeye’s date with a lovely Senorita. The typical spinach fueled battle ensues but it’s the M.P.s who put a stop to the fight! Both sailors are sent to the brig.

When Famous Studios took over production of the cartoons in 1942 Bluto eventually looked more streamlined especially in the later color films. His memorable antics in this series include;

Popeye and Bluto in
Famous Studios’ “W’ere On Our Way To Rio”

Seein’ Red, White N’ Blue (1943)-You won’t see this cartoon on television any longer due to racial stereotypes but it is a pun filled delight. Popeye and Bluto both eat spinach to stop Japanese soldiers and also take out Hitler and Hirohito!

Too Weak to Work (1943)-Bluto pretends to be sick and lands in the hospital. Popeye discovers he’s faking and dons a nurse’s wardrobe to get even with him. A spinach fueled Bluto performs energetic ship painting by the film’s conclusion.

We’re on Our Way to Rio (1944)-Popeye and Bluto are traveling to Rio and meet an Olive Oyl looking Samba dancer. Bluto claims Popeye is a champion Samba dancer and he naturally ends up embarrassed until the spinach can is pulled out.

She Sick Sailors (1944)-Bluto pretends to be Superman and Olive Oyl falls in love with him. The brute actually guns down Popeye but the sailor is saved by a bullet riddled can of spinach.

Symphony in Spinach (1948)-Olive Oyl is looking for members for her band. Popeye and Bluto compete, musically, to get the job.

How Green Is My Spinach (1950)-Bluto finally wises up and destroys the nation’s spinach crop leaving Popeye helpless.

Swimmer Take All (1952)- Bluto uses dirty tricks to win a swimming race against Popeye.

Child Sockology (1953)-As with Swimmer Take All this cartoon features an exciting musical score by Winston Sharples highlighting Popeye and Bluto’s attempts to rescue baby Swee’pea.

Taxi-Turvy (1954)-If for nothing else the highlight is seeing Bluto pull Popeye’s spinach can off of his pipe and saying, “Oh no! You ain’t eatin’ no spinach in this picture!”

A Job for A Gob (1955)-When Bluto loses out a job to Popeye, he literally goes loco and tries to burn a farm down and create a stampede. What happened to just wanting a kiss from Olive Oyl!

Nearlyweds (1957)-Bluto asks Olive Oyl to marry him but a disguised Popeye tells him what married life will actually be like and the brute heads for the hills.

By 1947 Bluto was so popular he received his own billing

In 1957 writer Ralph Stein brought Bluto back into the comic strip

In 1957, when Thimble Theatre was being written by Ralph Stein and illustrated by Bill Zaboly, Bluto returned to the comic strip as a Pirate. He was also seen on products including a Colorforms set, a Color and Re-Color book and a toy automobile figure by Marx.

When the Popeye theatrical films appeared on television, they were wildly successful. King Features Syndicate, who owned the rights to the characters, decided to produce a new series of color cartoons for the small screen. Of course, they wanted to use Bluto but Paramount Pictures, who produced both the Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons, thought Bluto was a creation of their studio. King Features Syndicate simply renamed the character, Brutus, in 1960.

This toy was produced when the name Bluto could no longer be used.

It took a while for the name Brutus to reach the printed page. In the interim Bluto was called The Mean Man, The Big Guy That Hates Popeye, Swab and more commonly, Sonny Boy. Sonny Boy was the son of the wicked Sea Hag.

The name, Bluto, did pop up on occasion including two Give-A-Show Projector slides manufactured by Kenner Toys. They were One Track Mind and Popeye Booms Back.

Actor Paul Smith played an angry Bluto in the Popeye motion picture from 1980.

In 1978 Hanna-Barbera, for the CBS network, produced The All-New Popeye Hour which was an immediate hit on Saturday mornings. The characters all reflected their comic strip designs. Bluto menaced Popeye once more but he couldn’t hurt anyone physically due to network restrictions. The bearded brute became a master of dirty tricks in this series. He was also featured in the 30 second safety tips usually doing the wrong thing. During this series an historical event occurred during the cartoon, Close Encounters of the Third Spinach. Popeye’s foe was Darth Bluto and the cartoon was a take-off on Star Wars. Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye, flubbed a line and called the villain, Darth Brutus. The first and only time both names for the brute were used in one of the sailor’s animated adventures.

Paul L. Smith portrayed Bluto for the Popeye motion picture produced in 1980. Despite being labeled a flop for years the film did make money and a sequel was under consideration.

For the 1987-88 season Hanna-Barbera produced Popeye and Son which had the one-eyed sailor wed to Olive Oyl with a spinach-hating son called, Junior. Bluto, looking more like Brutus as drawn by Bud Sagendorf in the comic strip, was married to Lizzie. They had a bully of a son named, Tank. This updated version of the Popeye mythos only lasted one season. In 2004, a CGI designed Bluto appeared in the special, Popeye’s Voyage, The Quest for Pappy. This friendlier Bluto was featured in yet another retelling of Popeye’s search for his long-lost father.

A married Bluto from the CBS series, Popeye and Son (1987-1988).

A beardless younger Bluto was seen in a series of shorts geared to children in the series, Popeye’s Island Adventures from 2018.

In 1991 cartoonist Bobby London, who was writing the daily comic strip, revived the version of Bluto who menaced Popeye in 1932. In The Return of Bluto, the bully returns to eliminate all of his bearded copycats calling themselves, Brutus.

Veteran cartoonist, Hy Eisman, made Bluto the twin brother of Brutus in his Sunday strip. This idea made its a debut in a one-shot Popeye book published by Ocean Comics for the story, Double Trouble Down Under in 1988. Today, Randy Milholland draws a new Thimble Theatre Sunday page and has continued to have Bluto the brother of Brutus. No longer do they both share the same character design with Bluto looking as he appeared in the Fleischer cartoons.

Bluto’s voice has been provided by several individuals with memorable recordings by Gus Wickie, Dave Barry, Jackson Beck and Allan Melvin.

Happy Birthday Bluto and perhaps one day you’ll start a steady diet of spinach yourself!


  • This was an excellent and fun read. Thank you!

  • Another cartoon worth mentioning is “The Spinach Overture”, in which Bluto and Popeye engage in a series of musical contests set to Franz von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant” Overture. For about twenty seconds, Bluto delivers by far the greatest ever performance of a violinist in animation history.

    In his DVD commentary, Daniel Goldmark posited that the live-action reference for Bluto’s performance must have been violinist David Rubinoff, concertmaster of the Paramount Theatre orchestra and a regular on Eddie Cantor’s radio show, who contributed music to several Betty Boop cartoons of this period. It’s a good guess, but a comparison of the cartoon with Rubinoff’s filmed performances does not bear this out. Rubinoff, a graduate of the Warsaw Conservatory, was an example of the Russian school of violin technique founded by Auer and exemplified by Heifetz: feet planted firmly on the ground, high shoulders, firm bow grip, a stony profile turned to the audience with the violin held parallel to the floor, and so on. Bluto, on the other hand, is constantly shifting his weight from one foot to the other, swaying his massive bulk in time to the music. He holds his violin down at an angle, with the scroll pointing to the floor in front of him. Most telling of all, he has a very light bow grip with not only the pinky raised, but also the ring finger, which no self-respecting violin teacher of the Russian school would have tolerated for a second. “Keep that finger down! You look like an Englishman drinking tea!”

    Obviously the animation of Bluto’s solo was based on the violinist who recorded it; the music matches the animation too closely for it to be otherwise, with tiny little details of fingering and bowing all fastidiously rendered. We may never know the violinist’s identity, since so many records were discarded by Paramount when they took over the studio from Max Fleischer. But whoever he was, he was clearly a proponent of either the French or (more likely) Viennese school of violin technique, and not David Rubinoff.

    The second greatest animated violinist in cartoon history: Bluto again, in “Symphony in Spinach”, playing a virtuoso variation on “I’m in the Mood for Love”. The bit where he plays tremolo in the lower half of the bow, while tickling Olive under her chin, is really quite difficult. Bluto may have been a brute and a bully, but boy, could he ever fiddle!

  • Yes, thank you, this was interesting. I’ve always thought one of the funniest Popeyes ever was “A Clean-Shaven Man,” with Popeye and Bluto taking turns barbering each other in order to impress Olive.

  • You can’t have Popeye without Bluto. You can’t.

    Brutus? That’s just some guy who bears a passing resemblance to Bluto.

    Mean Man, huh? How many discussions went into that re-naming? And Bluto’s plastic surgery did not go well. But who am I to argue with Linemar, who are apparently “Best By Far”?

    What a great character, especially in the Fleischer shorts. Indomitable spirit, supreme confidence, even when he knows the inevitable. His mumbles are right up there with Popeye’s.

    Gus Wickie IS Bluto.

    • “Linemar” was the label Marx Toys used for toys they sold that were manufactured in Japan. Marx also sold several Popeye-related toys during the 1930’s that are highly sought by collectors.

  • Is this how the characters are drawn today? Please, wake me up in another 90.

    • it’s your loss.

      Randy Milholland’s POPEYE comic strip (currently running on Sundays, only) is chock-full of references to -deep- Popeye ‘lore’ … from nearly every era of the strip, and its various animated incarnations … while also adding some fun new characters, like the Sea Hag’s plucky ‘intern’/assistant. I find it delightful, myself.

      • Maybe, but references alone can’t help poor art…

  • Fred:
    Why dontcha remind me of these things! Other than griping about that, you did an excellent job here – showcasing the old bearded bully – probably Popeye’s greatest adversary.

    As the old “radio” voice of Bluto for the Official Popeye Fanclub’s radio shows we used to do, I need to be reminded of these things! Much too busy lately working on our old “co-op” apartment, painting, remodeling, and – GASP! – decluttering some 50 years worth of collectible books, magazines and toys – many of them (of course) POPEYE related!

    I can’t nit-pick your selections of memorable appearances of Bluto in POPEYE cartoons, Fred! You picked a lot of good ones! I’d add a kind of crazed performance by Bluto in THE PANELESS WINDOW WASHER (1938) when he nearly chokes Olive Oyl, yelling, “NOW do you want me to wash your windows?” and Bluto playing a nasty version of “Sindbad the Sailor” in POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR (1936). I also enjoy I WANNA BE A LIFE GUARD from about the same period as the SINDBAD cartoon. Even though it was something of a “cheater” cartoon, BIG BAD SINDBAD was nicely re-done by Jackson Beck, as well!

    I’d say that Gus Wicke and Jackson Beck did the best voices of “Bluto” in the POPEYE cartoons – by far. Pinto Colvig’s version was too “Goofy” – pun intended! Dave Barry – as you note – did an excellent job of voicing “Bluto” in a few cartoons like WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO RIO (1943). I’m not sure why he wasn’t able to do more, but as you know, not long after that cartoon was released, Jaxkson Beck auditioned to do the voice – and the rest was history!

  • Happy Birthday Bluto!

  • Wow! How could I forget A CLEAN SHAVEN MAN? That’s one of the best POPEYE cartoons with a superb performance by Bluto! Gus Wicke had a terrific singing voice for “Bluto,” didn’t he? At a POPEYE convention, Steve Stanchfield once ran A CLEAN SHAVEN MAN and the remake, SHAVING MUGS. The Fliesicher version looked like a nice, cute SHIRLEY TEMPLE musical compared to the ferocious and violent gags in the later Famous Studio’ version! Yikes!

  • Great stuff.

    The Fleischer Bluto was built like a barrel. In the Famous cartoons Bluto evolved into a muscleman with huge shoulders and small waist. When shaved he was almost handsome, like Brom Bones in Disney’s “Headless Horseman”. In the 60s toons Brutus was a fat slob, but strong as ever. Olive Oyl was also gradually transformed to look younger and cuter of face while maintaining the same spindly figure.

    Navy whites became Popeye’s and usually Bluto’s default wardrobe, even after they were presumably civilians. It might have expedited cell painting compared to their old multi-colored costumes, but did they save significant time and/or money?

  • Enjoyed your Sixties’ Popeye book–Even bought it in hardcover.

  • You left out “Shape Ahoy” (1945). Popeye (voiced by Mae Questel) and Bluto jump in the sea after a skinny-dipping Olive and come up with each other, narrowly avoiding a rather suspicious kiss, making chuckling excuses about “I thought I caught me a great big fish.” Uh-huh! Even in their epic battle in the initial comic, Popeye thanks Bluto for the scrap.

    In his book “Stronger Than Spinach,” Steve Bierly makes the good point that the redesigned, more attractive Olive and Bluto of the Famous Studios cartoons seems to belong together, making an increasingly nerdy Popeye the odd man out.

    The “exciting” music in “Child Sockology,” was indeed strong enough to be reused (as was the music in “Swimmer Take All,” “Ancient Fistery,” “Big Bad Sindbad,” “Patriotic Popeye,” and “Hits and Missiles”) in numerous King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons and Joseph Oriolo’s Felix the Cat.

  • Hans: One of the big regrets of my life is that when I talked to Dave Tendlar about 30 years ago, I did not ask him about the drastic change in not only Bluto and Olive, but in Popeye himself. Tendlar was not in the best of health at the time, so I had to be patient with his responses to my questions, but – because he was there – he might have remembered how the major changes came to be – roughly about the time Paramount took over the Fleischer Studio.

    Up until then – as you know – Popeye was heroic and tough (even without the use of spinach) and Bluto was just a “passing fancy” to Olive. In the Famous POPEYE cartoons, Popeye is depicted more as a jerk – a “wet blanket” character that tries to interfere with any kind of a romance between Olive and Bluto. Of course, this changes when Popeye finally eats some spinach, but in most cases in the earlier Fliescher cartoons, Popeye only needs the spinach like a vitamin pill and he’s no weakling without it. You can see glimmers of the changes to come in cartoons like THE SPINACH OVERTURE – but, generally, the Fleischer writers and artists tried to stay with E.C. Segar’s original conception of the characters.

    Of course, by the time Famous Studios was created, E.C. Segar was long dead and somebody at King Features Syndicate allowed for the changes in the characters – sadly.

    As for the Winston Sharples music, I believe he owned much of his music library by the ’60s and allowed it to be “farmed out” to Joe Oriolo’s FELIX THE CAT cartoons. No surprise that Sharples would re-use or re-work earlier music scores for later POPEYE cartoons. Just about everybody did that – including Carl Stalling – and with the tremendous workload of cartoons to score every year, who can blame them? For live-action films, composers like Max Steiner re-used bits of previous scores of his own music – tiny bits of KING KONG music can be heard in THE BIG SLEEP. Bits of Hans J. Salter’s score for THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN can be found in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!

  • I must say Bluto has quite the history! Also, Hy Eisman making Bluto and Brutus brothers and that Randy Milholland continues to write them as such kind of works thanks to the meta nature behind it.

  • I think I’m correct in stating that members of the Official Popeye Fanclub – co-founder Mike Brooks, for starters – came up with the idea of Bluto and Brutus being brothers. Ocean Comics and then Hy Eisman picked up on the idea and it was apparently okayed by King Features Syndicate. Good thing, because people were confused – since the ’60s TV POPEYE cartoons – between BLUTO and BRUTUS! Having them feuding brothers kind of makes sense out the mistaken notion that the Fleischer’s created “Bluto” – as we know, it was conceived by E.C. Segar himself in 1932. He then okayed it with the Fleischer’s to make “Bluto” the main adversary in the cartoons. Why the Fleischer regime also didn’t make use of “The Sea Hag” is a great mystery to me!

    • Think one of the DVD commentaries stated that the contract put a price on using additional characters from the strip, so they simply avoided importing any more beyond a few one-shots.

      Also, the Fleischer’s visual style was evolving away from Segar’s. A character like Shorty wouldn’t fit in the comic strip, nor would Castor Oyl look right in one of the animated shorts.

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