April 11, 2023 posted by James Parten

Famous Studios Popeye 1945-48

The most notable change in the Popeyes produced during the period covered by this article was the replacement of musical director Sammy Timberg by Winston Sharples, who had a habit of dipping into the Famous Music reliquary. This might be thought to suggest that Sharples had experience in his early years in accompanying silent film in theaters – but biographies on the man appear to indicate such was not the case. Sharples had been instead a band leader, very popular among the collegiate set in the Ivy League. He had also been a relief pianist for Vincent Lopez (he may possibly be visible on screen in a Paramount musical short, “Beyond the Blue Horizon”, from 1930). He transferred straight from his early years at Van Buren studios directly to Fleischer, and worked under the wing of Timberg until the latter’s retirement in 1945.

Mess Production (8/20/45) – A Technicolor mash-up of ideas from A Dream Walking and Lost and Foundry. Set in a steel mill where Popeye, Bluto, and new employee Olive all work, this may be the only time the gang made the concession to the “Rosie the Riveter” syndrome, as Olive (more attractive than usual due to a handy portable make-up kit) manages to get herself welded into a section of metal piping, resulting in some competitive rescue efforts. A blow intended for Popeye hits Olive instead, sending her into a dazed sleepwalking mode, intent on delivering a reward kiss to Popeye in ignorance of the dangers of the massive assembly line before her. Popeye endures what must be a painful ordeal in having molten steel poured all over him, but spinach as usual provides the cure-all, for the downfall of Bluto. Popeye receives his kiss, bringing Olive out of her trance – but the kiss’s effect puts Popeye in trance himself. Popeye runs the same gamut of perils as Olive did, but with different results – wrecking each piece of machinery that attacks him, as if they were made of balsa wood. Song: “My Ideal”, from the feature Playboy of Paris (1930), written by Leo Robim. Newell Chase, and Richard Whiting. It was recorded by the singer who introduced it. Maurice Chevalier, for Victor. Isham Jones got it for Brunswick, George Olsen for Victor, and Sam Lanin for Harmony, Velvet Tone and Clarion (some pressings by the pseudonym “Albert Mason”). It was revived in 1943 by Billy Butterfield and his orchestra, with a vocal by one of the composers’ daughter, Margaret Whiting, on Capitol. It made the top 20 on the Billboard sales charts.

Klondike Casanova (5/31/46) – We pay a visit to a “Klondike bar” where Popeye serves as waiter and piano player, while Olive performs on stage as chantuse, doubling as dishwasher. Olive performs a daring strip-tease (although she has another full dress on behind the curtain when the outer one is removed) . In comes Dangerous Dan McBluto (voiced with a Quebec French accent by Jackson Beck). Immediately, Bluto begins showering his “tender” affections on Olive, with his teeth pivoting to reveal a message written on their back side, indicating what he wants Olive to do: “Start sizzling, sister!” The almost inevitable chase occurs, with Popeye getting an icicle down the back of his pants, then shaking his moneymaker to release the ice as a pile of ice cubes from his pantleg. A dogsled race leads to McBluto’s fur farm, where we get a musical commercial by three female bears. Popeye gets his green leaft stuff, knocking the bears out of their furs and into their bear skins. The bears turn their wrath on Bluto, and in the end, he is harnessed to Popeye’s dog sled, with a little guy from the bar along for the ride, providing a pin in Bluto’s posterior as an added incentive for more speed.

Songs include “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”, delivered in a definitive version by Mae Questel in Olive’s delightful off-key manner – complete with ultra-long held notes as Popeye stops everything to wait on customers. “Louise”, a song intimately associated with Maurice Chevalier from Innocents of Paris is sung by Beck. A vocal version by Chevalier, and a dance version by Ben Pollack and his Park Central Orchestra, appeared on Victor (the latter including in its personnel Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman). Paul Whiteman provided a dance version on the colorful “potato-head” signature label for Columbia, with Bing Crosby on vocal. Just for good measure, a second Columbia single gave us a purely vocal version by the full contingent of Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys, again with Bing and some custom lyrics. Related Whiteman cats would also perform it under Frankie Trumbauer’s direction on Okeh. Layton and Johnstone performed it for Columbia in England. Paul Weston would perform the number on V-Disc in the 1940’s. Chevalier would also remake the number in high fidelity for various labels, including RCA. The final jingle for the singing bears uses the melody of “Pepsi Cola hits the spot’ – a tune once used as the basis for a commercial recording entitled “Swingin’ the Jingle”, by Johnny Fosdick and his orchestra on the Nocturne label in the early 40’s. I believe the vocalist is Anita Boyer.

Rocket To Mars (8/9/46) – Popeye’s first delve into science fiction. He and Olive inspect an experimental rocket on display in a museum, which Popeye explains runs on “jet revulsion”. The rocket takes off, Olive being left behind when she snags and winds around a flagpole. Popeye lands on Mars, meeting a Martian commander who looks like Bluto with a red nose, and speaks as if voiced in an echo chamber. “Let me out”, demands Popeye. “Let you out? I’ll light you out”, says the Martian, appearing to disintegrate Popeye with a ray gun. Popeye, however, turns out to be only invisible, and eats the green stuff to return to normal visibility. A battle royal takes place with the Martian invasion force, converting their weapons into harmless amusement park rides, and the Martian chief into target for tonight in a carnival booth where the other Martians throw baseballs at him. Songs: “A Tisket, a Tasket”, heard during the carnival battle. A vintage nursery rhyme, it had come to prominence in the hands of Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald in a definitive swing recording on Decca. It became remembered for a wrap-up routine where the band members keep asking if the basket was any color except yellow, with Ella repeatedly responding “No No No No”. This response routine would be lifted by Friz Freleng in the MGM cartoon “The Bookworm”, with the title character frustrating the Raven with inquiries like “Was it ultramarine blue?”

The Island Fling (12/27/46) – Popeye and Olive wash up on the island home of Robinson Crusoe (Bluto) and his faithful Man Friday (voiced by Jackson Beck as Eddie Anderson). Friday’s cap has a rolling display indicating what function he is performing at the moment (chauffeur, cook, stooge, etc.) Crusoe gets the hots for Olive. Popeye objects, and the usual fight ensues, as Popeye escapes a gator attack, among other perils. Eventually Popeye and Olive leave the island, Olive expressing her preference to Coney Island over this phoney island It turns out they have a tagalong – Friday, accompanied by members of his family – Saturday, Sunday Monday, and Always! Songs: “Poor Robinson Crusoe”, a 1937 song, recorded in the day by Ozzie Nelson on Bluebird (below) and for World Transcriptions, and by Ambrose in London for English Decca. Also, “Sunday, Monday, or Always”, a hit from Bing Crosby’s 1943 feature “Dixie”. Recorded by Crosby for Decca, and by Frank Sinatra (vocal with vocal accompaniment, due to the strike by the AF of M) for Columbia.

Olive Oyl For President (1/30/48) – Popeye and Olive are in the gallery of a political convention, where they are hearing a pompous politician bloviating the usual gobbledy-gook. Olive thinks the country, if not the world, would be better off if she was president. Popeye scoffs at first, but eventually catches on to Olive’s platform. Something of a Techicolor update of “Betty Boop for President”. Little Audrey, not yet launched in her own series, makes a surprise cameo in the Popeye universe, licking an ice cream cone large enough to be carted in a wheelbarrow, costing only a penny. Song: “When I’m the President”, the same number used in the Betty Boop original with new updated lyrics. I believe the song was originated for Eddie Cantor’s mock radio campaign for president in 1932. Listen for yourself:

Wigwam Whoopee (6/4/48) – Popeye plays the role of John Smith, of sorts, landing on a clucking Plymouth Rock, and meeting Princess Olive as his Pocahontas. The chief wants to break up the budding romance, by having Popeye hold a “ceremony pole” = a maypole, the ropes from which the chief uses to bind Popeye to a stake, then pouring a ring of gasoline around him to make things hot. Olive engages in some log rolling over a chasm thanks to the chief, but Popeye escapes the maypole and uses its lines to fish Olive from her predicament. The chief and his braves attach, but Popeye transforms them into a dozen Indian head pennies and the chief into an Indian head nickel, which falls into a slot in the ground, causing a cash register “No sale” to sprout from the grass. Popeye becomes new chief, but a small brave who was the chef’s tomahawk caddy still tries to scalp him – only to have his tomahawk shattered upon impact with Popeye’s single strand of hair. Song: How did Famous somehow gain the rights to Warner Brothers’ “By a Waterfall”, a featured number from Busby Berkeley’s “Footlight Parade “ (1933)?. It was introduced by Dick Powell, and recorded by him for Brunswick. Chick Bullock also performed it vocally for Perfect and Oriole. For dancing, there was Adrian Rollini for Melotone, Perfect, et al., Rudy Vallee on Bluebird, Meyer Davis on royal blue Columbia, and Leo Reisman for Victor.

Pre-Hysterical Man (2/22/48) – Popeye and Olive are exploring Yellowstone, on the highest peak of the park. Popeye tries to take Olive’s picture, telling her to go back just a little bit further, not realizing there is a sheer drop-off behind her. Olive falls into what appears to be a lost valley or canton, where she encounters a cave man. Popeye retraces her fall and follows, with the usual fight over Olive’s affections ensuing. Popeye even battles a dinosaur, which a powerful sock reduces to skeletal bones, adding a museum sign listing the creature as “Now Extinct”. Song: “To Each His Own”, a 1946 hit, of which 4 versions made the Billboard charts. Top seller was Eddy Howard on Majestic (below). The Ink Spots ranked next of Decca. Tony Martin came in third on Mercury. A distant fourth was held by The Modernaires with Paula Kelly on Columbia. Trudy Erwin produced a non-charting version on 4-Star. And a band version went to Freddy Martin on Victor.

Snow Place Like Home (9/3/48) – Popeye and Olive are lounging on the beach at Miami, when they hear a weather report on the radio, indicating there will be a “small blow”. The “blow” carries everyone, including the radio station they are listening to, up to the frozen North. Even the singer on the broadcast continues his number through a fit of shudders and sneezes. Popeye and Olive, still dressed in skimpy beach gear, trek to a trading post in search of warm fur. Powerful Pierre presides over the establishment, and while he offers Olive the latest in furs (straight off the bear), traps Popeye in a special ensemble consisting of a bear trap. He then ties a rope on, and fires a harpoon gun, launching Popeye into the belly of a whale. A spinach-powered punch converts the whale Into a display of small fresh fish ready for market. (A confusing feat, considering a whale is a mammal, not a fish.) Pierre loses his own fur coat to the bear he had previously sheared for Olive, and is left turning blue in his BVD’s. Song: “June in January” (sung by the radio singer), introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1934 musical, Here Is My Heart (clip below). Recorded by Bing in his early crooner style for Decca. Richard Himber performed it on Victor. Others included Little Jack Little on royal blue Columbia, Ted Fio Rito for Brunswick, and Buddy Clark on Melotone, Perfect, et al. In Britain, it appeared by Teddy Joyce on HMV, Roy Fox on Decca, and Harry Roy on Parlophone.

Next Time: A grab-bag.


  • “How did Famous somehow gain the rights to Warner Brothers’ ‘By a Waterfall’?” Simple.They paid a performance fee. Same as a radio station or anyone else that wants to use it. Same as Paramount did for Croome-Johnson’s Pepsi jingle in the other cartoon.

  • “Nickel nickel nickel nickel trickle trickle trickle trickle….” That’s really hard to sing. My wife just told me to stop trying.

    “Pre-Hysterical Man” seems as though it may have been based on an idea left over from the Stone Age series. But at least it’s better than “Pre-Hysterical Hare”.

    • I used to hear that jingle a lot from my dad’s collection of radio show cassettes.

  • When did Winston joined Fleischer? Was it shortly after Van Buren closed?

  • Although Winston Sharples’ scores (often the best element of Famous cartoons) were more prominent than Sammy Timberg’s, a much more obvious change at this time was the transformation of the characters. As Steven Bierly noted in his book “Stronger Than Spinach,” the more attractive (and less funny) Olive and Bluto seemed to belong together while Popeye was becoming increasingly nerdy; by the time Jack Mercer returned from the service to resume his vocal duties, Popeye’s taming was complete. But that was happening to all aggressive cartoon characters whose volatile antics were likely seen with less favor by war-weary audiences; besides, UPA was right around the corner ready to put screwball animation out of style almost for good.

  • “Pepsi-Cola Hits The Spot,” in turn, was a rearrangement of an old British folk tune, “D’ye Ken John Peel.” Public domain, dont’cha know…

  • It should be mentioned that “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” from “Klondike Cassinova” was later recorded by Barry Manilow in the late 1970s. I remember hearing it played often on Top 40 radio at the time.

  • These 1940’s Famous Popeye’s are very well animated and pretty enjoyable, but you can see the plots repeating themselves over and over. Popeye and Olive are out somewhere, run into a Bluto (or Bluto surrogate), Olive dumps Popeye for Bluto, Bluto attempts to assault Olive, and Popeye has to come to the rescue. 5 of the cartoons listed above have some variation of that plot line.

  • Question: are there any plans for WB to release additional Famous color theatrical entries on DVD/Blu-Ray?

    • I responded about this in Monday’s Comments section. Here’s what I wrote there, yesterday:

      The original plan (five years ago) was to restore all the Paramount Popeye shorts – through the 1950s. A few things got in the way – including the pandemic, the company being bought and sold, and massive layoffs impacting every division. Meanwhile, physical media sales have plummeted. Budgets for home entertainment products have been slashed. With limited funds for cartoon restoration, the decision to pivot from Popeye to Tex Avery was carefully considered. And now that same deliberate thought has gone into the current “Collector’s Choice” direction. It’s our hope to restore the cartoon library – every piece of it.

      Many fans don’t understand. You may think “Warner Bros. is a multi-billion dollar company and can easily afford to restore the whole thing with a snap of the fingers”. It doesn’t work that way. A company – no matter how big – has to turn a profit on everything they do. Considering the costs of film restoration – cartoon restoration in particular – versus the sales figures… There are those in our fan community who understand that we are very lucky to be getting new restorations – even corrected restorations – at all, at this time. I thank all of you who continue to support our efforts.

      So – to answer your question: there are NO plans at this time to restore and release the 1950s Popeye. But its on our list of things we want to do…

  • I’m sure that some of you know that former Fleischer Studios animator Gordon Sheehan directed and helped animate several PEPSI AND PETE TV cartoons around 1947 for Sound Masters Studio in New York City. Gordon told me that Jack Mercer and Mae Questel did some voices for the cartoons as a favor – for free! I know some of the cartoons have been restored – I hope all of them will be in the near future. Many of Gordon’s own 16mm prints were duped by an unscrupulous animation student of his – several decades ago!

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