NEEDLE DROP NOTES
July 19, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Popeye 1936 – Of Fists and Folios

During the 1935-36 season, Popeye had become a multi-media sensation. The #1 consumer of spinach had now been in comics and cartoons for several years. But by this time, there was a radio series as well, starring Broadway actor Floyd Buckley as the sailor man, with Olive LaMoy as Olive Oyl.

The radio cast would carry the sailor into another medium, already minimally explored by original Popeye voice Billy Costello for another label, when Buckley would be featured on a series of medleys for Bluebird Records, featuring number from yet another medium – a songbook, themed from songs featured in Popeye cartoons as well as some originals never used in film, entitled the “Popeye Song Folio”, probably published in late 1936.

Brotherly Love (3/6/36) – Olive is leading a mass rally, encouraging brotherly love. Popeye, even without his spinach, is showing off his contributions to the campaign, by helping various people with feats of strength – assisting two movers to hoist a heavy safe to an upper story office, etc. Popeye encounters a “friendly” get-together between the Gas House Boys and the Boiler Makers Social Club – which has developed into a free for all street brawl. The boys will not observe Popeye’s message of charity and fair play – nor show any sign of respect for Olive and her troops, socking her the same as everybody else. It’s up to Popeye to teach these guys some manners – in a language that only spinach can communicate. A memorable title tune by Bob Rothberg and Sammy Timberg, is sung by Olive, then repeated by Popeye in a sprightly march tempo. Popeye would carry the tune into other films to follow, occasionally repeating his shuffling march step in the process. The tune was included in the Floyd Buckley medleys on Bluebird.


I-Ski-Love-Ski-You-Ski (4/3/36) – Popeye’s first epic on the ski slopes. Popeye and Bluto both show up at Olive’s cabin, wanting to take her mountain climbing. By a process of “Eenie Meeny Miney Moe”, she chooses to go with Popeye, with expected reaction from Bluto. At one point, Bluto is hanging on to a cliff by his fingertips, and Olive is trying to dislodge him by stomping on his digits, with those shoes of a size definitely not found in the average shoe store. Popeye and Bluto wind up in their usual battle – augmented by sliding down slopes on improvised skis. This would be possibly the first cartoon to get extensive laughs from crevasses and gorges interfering with the characters’ downhill run. An original song. “Won’t You Come and Climb the Mountain With Me?”, by Bob Rothberg and Sammy Timberg, is the featured tune, first sung by Popeye, then carried by Gus Wickie’s booming voice as Bluto. It again was covered in the Buckley Medleys on Bluebird.


Bridge Ahoy (5/1/36) – Bluto is operating a ferry in his own inimitable manner. Popeye tries to drive his flivver aboard, and Bluto crushes it to let a large truck board behind him. Wimpy, distracted by hamburgers at a lunch counter, almost misses the ship. “The fare is two bucks”, bellows Bluto, and when Wimpy gives him the “gladly pay you Tuesday” bit, Bluto tosses him overboard (leaving Wimpy to yell the fancy three-syllable word “Assistance” rather than the simple one-syllable word “Help”). Popeye rescues Wimpy using the rear gate of the ship as a telephone extender, then vows to put a stop to Bluto’s ill-treatment of his passengers by building a bridge and letting people across for nothing. A comedy of construction ensues, with Olive (calling out tennis scores such as “30-love”) tossing hamburgers to Wimpy, who in turn tosses hot rivets to Popeye. Bluto returns to engage in his usual destructive tactics, finally destroying the entire superstructure. But Popeye employs two cans of spinach – one to settle the score with Bluto, the other to bend a girder and instill within it an electro-magnetic current, to attract all the bridge’s components together and complete construction with one simple leap across the bay. The bridge is filled with passengers as fast as it is assembled, and Popeye and company join the happy commuters for the iris out. An original song, “Let’s Build a Bridge Today” is heard over the credits, written by Bob Rothberg and Sammy Timberg. It was also included in Buckley’s Bluebird medleys.


What – No Spinach? (6/7/36) – Wimpy is a lowly employee at Bluto’s beanery, who makes up for his low pay with a lot of larceny in pilfering free samples of the food supply whenever the opportunity arises – mostly hamburgers, of course. Bluto catches Wimpy in the act, and locks the hamburger supply in a safe with a telephone-style combination lock. He then gets down to his usual dirty business in serving Popeye, giving him food which he mumbles is too old for his own tastes, but “good enough for that guy.” Wimpy displays the menu in neon on his vest front. Popeye, however, decides not to pay when Wimpy absconds with part of the roast duck he ordered, and the expected brawl begins. Wimpy suggests that Bluto hit Popeye with the safe – thus capitalizing on its door getting caved in, to raid the hamburger supply, and emerge with an overstuffed belly by the time Popeye has bested his foe again. “Hamburger Mine”, another original by Rothberg and Timberg, is talk-sung by Wimpy for a change, Buckley sand the song as if the burger was to Popeye’s tastes in the Bluebird medleys. It also reappeared on a Cricket Records LP, probably timed to coincide with release of the Popeye cartoons to television in the 1950’s, titled “The Popeye Song Folio”, after the book.


I Wanna Be a Life Guard (6/26/36) – Popeye and Bluto compete for position of a life guard at a public swimming pool. Each has visions of saving beautiful women – for themselves. Most of the action of this film takes place under the water’s surface, with one of the more memorable gags occurring after Popeye consumes his spinach, allowing him to contort into a figure with arms and legs protruding in curving and menacing fashion, while Popeye mutters, “Look out for me. I’m an octopus.” An original title song, by Bob Rothberg and Sammy Timberg, again appears on records in both the Floyd Buckley Bluebird medleys and on the Cricket Folio LP (below).


Let’s Get Movin’ (7/24/36) = Olive is moving from her fifth-floor apartment to a new undisclosed location, and is awaiting the arrival of the moving man (Bluto). Popeye comes along wanting to help, which Bluto doesn’t want to have any part of. The usual battle of one-upsmanship occurs, as Popeye gets things outside faster and more efficiently, until Olive’s worldly belongings are all scattered around the yard below, giving the boys the landscape for a battlefield. Popeye consumes some of the green stuff, and Bluto winds up in some of Olive’s corsetry. While the lyric of Olive’s introductory song suggests the title “I’m Moving Today”, the official title ultimately entered in the Popeye Song Folio reads “Moving Man”, written again by Bob Rothberg ad Sammy Timberg. It would again appear on the Buckley Bluebird medleys, but was bypassed by the Cricket LP.


Never Kick a Woman (8/30/36) – Popeye and Olive are looking into the picture window of a gymnasium, where a female instructor demonstrates boxing moves on a Bobo clown. Popeye drags Olive in reluctantly, to learn the art of self-defense (which she could use against Bluto, although it’s never brought up). Olive is not a quick study, getting bopped repeatedly by the punching bag. The instructress comes on to Popeye in her best Mae West manner, displaying all the curves that the Hays Office will allow. Meanwhile, Olive is being infected by the green-eyed monster. The instructress puts Olive in her place by delivering quite a beating, but bedraggled Olive gets hold of Popeye’s spinach can, and we’re in for a catfight. Under the influence of the green leafy stuff, Olive becomes the equivalent of Wonder Woman without her bracelets, leaving the instructress worse for wear, and even giving Popeye a black eye, while singing his song about self-defense for the iris out (with coda of tooting Popeye’s pipe.). Songs: an original, not used in the folio, called “Learn the Art of Self Defense”, with lyrics consistent with Popeye’s world view “You can win your arguments, if you…”). Also included is a return of “Frankie and Johnny” as de facto theme for anyone seductive.


Little Swee’Pea (9/25/36) – Popeye is walking to Olive’s house to the repeated tune of Brotherly Love, complete with his special skip-walk step at the beginning of every music bar. He picks flowers (from Olive’s own garden) to give her, and invites her to the zoo. Olive can’t go, but slips him Swee’pea instead to mind, with warning not to let the baby get scared. Swee’pea is a lot more mobile that everyone thinks, and escapes his carriage to mimic Popeye’s every move and walking step, then heads into the zoo. Swee’pea is fascinated by all the largest and wildest animals, giving Popeye plenty to do to keep up with him and try to keep him out of danger. Swee’pea is imperiled by elephants, crocodiles, hippopotamus, and leopard – the latter of which Swee’pea rides like a steed to race through the zoo. When Popeye finally gets the little one out of harm’s way with his spinach and back home to Olive’s, he attempts to satisfy the kid’s love for animals with a toy climbing monkey. This is the only thing that scares Swee’pea silly, and he wails, causing Olive to deliver a thrashing to Popeye for disobeying her warning. Songs: “Brotherly Love”, “Song of the Volga Boatmen”, “Emmett’s Lullaby”, and “Tiger Rag (Hold That Tiger).”

Next Time: Screen Songs 1936-38.

7 Comments

  • That’s not Olive Lamoy in the photo of the Popeye radio show cast, but the actress who replaced her (whom I can’t identify). Olive Lamoy was a petite 25-year-old blonde in 1936, much prettier than the rather matronly woman mugging next to Floyd Buckley.

    Olive Pamela Lamoy (1911-1971) was a native of Hartford, Connecticut. By the age of twenty she had been in the chorus of several off-Broadway productions and played ingenue roles for stock theatre companies in Worcester, Mass., and Youngstown, Ohio. Although she had appeared on radio as early as 1922, the Popeye radio show was her only acting role for a nationwide audience; the similarity between her name and Olive Oyl’s may have helped in securing that role. In 1936 she married Bradford Ellsworth Parker of the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Co. in Hartford, and she seems to have retired from acting at that point. Olive’s second husband, Rossiter McCoy, had previously been her own mother’s second husband!

    Some years ago a friend was staying with me for a few weeks, and one day we went out to lunch and had the best hamburgers either of us had ever tasted. On the way home I burst into Wimpy’s hamburger song from “What — No Spinach?” and my friend couldn’t believe his ears. “Did you just make that up?” “Of course not. Wimpy sings it in an old Popeye cartoon.” When we got home I popped in the DVD and showed him the cartoon, and we spent the whole afternoon watching Popeye cartoons and laughing our heads off. We had hamburgers for dinner that evening, too, and by that time we were both singing the song. It will always have a special place in my heart — or should I say, “beneath my vest” — as a reminder of that wonderful day. “I adore you, hamburger mine!”

  • That may not even be Buckley in the picture of the Popeye radio cast. If my history serves, the original radio voice of Popeye was Detmar Poppen.

    • It’s definitely Buckley. Detmar Poppen was clean-shaven, balding, and quite a large man.

  • I wonder how Wheatena goes with spinach. I don’t think I’d want to be too far from a bathroom afterward.

    This really is Popeye at his peak. And Olive and Wimpy and Bluto, for that matter.

  • If you don’t mind me backtracking a bit, one of the Popeye titles that you skipped over was “You Gotta Be a Football Hero”, with its title song by Al Sherman, Buddy Fields and Al Lewis that was a hit record for Ben Bernie and his orchestra in 1933 and remains a staple of college marching band repertoire nearly a century later. But it’s another song from that cartoon that I’m curious about.

    Twice, while Popeye is lying injured on the football field, Wimpy runs out with his water bucket, helps himself to a drink from the ladle, and then runs back without having done anything to help Popeye. As he does this, a screechy little tune plays in the extreme high register of the piccolo clarinet. This comes from an actual song; I heard a recording of it some time ago, and I immediately recognised it from the cartoon. (The melody also would later serve as a leitmotif for Betty Boop’s annoying friend Irving in “The Impractical Joker”.) But can I remember the song now, or where I heard it? No! So I’ll be very grateful to anyone who can help me solve the mystery of the “Water Boy’s Theme”.

  • So, is it Floyd Buckley and NOT Detmar Poppen who did the voice for the POPEYE cartoon, BE KIND TO AMINALS?

    • Buckley voiced Popeye in “Be Kind to ‘Aminals’”. In the radio show, Poppen’s Popeye had more of the raspy quality that we usually associate with the character.

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