With last Saturday being the 108th birthday of the Sailor Man’s most well-known voice, here’s a celebratory look at an LP featuring his voice on almost every groove.
POPEYE’S FAVORITE STORIES
RCA Camden Records CAL-1046 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Mono) CAS-1046 (Rechanneled Stereo)
Released in 1960. Producer: Arthur Pine. Writer: Richard Kleiner. Music: Bill Simon. Running Time: 42 minutes.
Voices: Jack Mercer (Popeye, Brutus, Wimpy, Waiter, Indian). Mae Questel (Olive Oyl, Swee’ Pea).
Song: “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” by Sammy Lerner.
Stories: “Baby Sitter Popeye,” “Popeye, The Cowboy,” “Popeye and the Man from Space,” “Popeye, the Skin Diver,” “Popeye Goes to the Jungle,” “Popeye Flies a Rocket.”
Hearing the actual speaking voices of some of our favorites cartoon voice actors can be as startling as seeing what they look like. You almost expect to hear a crowd coming out of their mouths, but they are mere mortals with astonishing talents. Some have voices that favor the timbre of certain characters a tad here and there, some sound more like their famous voices then others.
In the case of Jack Mercer, being the longtime voice of Popeye sets a fan up to expect something a little more boisterous than the quiet, pleasant fellow you hear on this record. True, he is being directed here as a children’s narrator, thus delivering the words in an ever-so-slightly over-pronounced way. Also, he rarely served as narrator, despite the fact that by this time he had already played hundreds of characters in hundreds of films!
But having the “real Jack” on this disc is a cool factor to historians and fans. Any album with Mercer and Questel is a treasure. If there were any real criticism to make, it would be to have just a little more Mae, perhaps at the center of a Popeye-Brutus rivalry story.
It’s “Brutus,” not “Bluto.” That’s part of the 220-cartoon TV blitz of 1960, when King Features hired several animation companies to produce five-minute limited animation shorts specifically for the small screen. To some of us–for better or worse–these were the ones we grew up on—the ones where the pen writes “the end.”
Sloppy research made King Features believe that “Bluto’s” name or likeness was owned by Paramount, so they made the character obese and changed his name to “Brutus.” The error was discovered and he reverted back to his rightful identity in the 1978 Hanna-Barbera TV version.
The album is written by Richard Kleiner, who could also be the author of the long-running “Ask Dick Kleiner” show business column (probably also syndicated by King Features). The liner notes, if he wrote them, have the jaunty tone of a breezy showbiz column. Yet the notes reveal nothing about what qualifies Popeye writer Kleiner to write Popeye stories other than having three kids who love to watch Popeye on TV. (The columnist Dick Kleiner also had three children.)
Whoever wrote the liner notes didn’t do very good research, if any. Mercer and Questel were not the first Popeye and Olive voices, as it states. The stories are original, as claimed—or at least, as original as Popeye stories can be. But how many premises can you do that haven’t been done? But while they are amusing and true to Popeye’s basic style (the Wimpy tale is especially fun: “A hamburger! My favorite fruit!”), they don’t delve very deeply into Popeye lore, even as much as the TV cartoons did.
Peter Pan produced an album at the same time as this one on their Diplomat and Rocking Horse labels that used six actual cartoon stories from the King Features series. It’s interesting how there was an overlap—each LP even has a scuba diving story. But that album is performed by Harry F. Welch, who also plays Olive and Swee’ Pea.
The RCA album has Jack Mercer and Mae Questel. So there you go.
TV’s Most Popular Cartoon Star
Peter Pan Orchestra and Chorus
Peter Pan Records #545 (7” 78 RPM / 45 RPM)
Released in 1958. Producer: Martin Kasen.
No credits are issued for the writers or performers, but what makes this record interesting is that it’s NOT the familiar Sammy Lerner “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” song. One might imagine a number of kids being disappointed at learning this once they got it home and played it.
However, it’s a mighty catchy ditty and appealing in its own way. The original cover (above left; reissue sleeve at right) makes no claim to be the specific Lerner song, so it’s not as deceptive as some children’s (and low-budget copycat) records could be during this era.
This theme was used for Peter Pan’s Diplomat/Rocking Horse Popeye story album with Harry F. Welch. You can hear both sides of the 78 RPM disc here:
Peter Pan record: