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.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.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.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;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.
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.
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.
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 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!