Animation History
September 13, 2021 posted by Fred Grandinetti

Popeye’s 65th TV Anniversary

The success of Toon In With Me has its origins in a certain one-eyed sailor.

It was sixty five years ago this month the Paramount Pictures Popeye theatrical cartoons made their national television debut in 1956.

First notice in the NY Daily News Nov 14th, 1955

There were adult hosts for children’s fare prior to the release of Popeye’s film library. However it was the overwhelming success of the spinach-eater’s celluloid adventures which kicked the adult hosted format into high gear!

Virtually every city, which acquired the 234 cartoons, used an adult host with a imaginative set. Popeye films were hosted by Captains’, Admirals’ Sailors’, Cowboys’, Cowgirls’ and a wide variety of Uncles! Live audiences were often a part of each program and they had boundless enthusiasm.

Associated Artists Productions (later United Artists) earned plenty of “$pinach” from the success the Fleischer/Famous Studios theatricals had on the small screen. King Features Syndicate, who own the rights to the characters, also profited licensing Popeye and his crew for literally hundreds of products.

While many stations preferred to broadcast color cartoons, the black and white Popeye films aired on television well into the mid 1980s.

Clipping from July 21st 1956

The original theatrical black & whites were replaced by those ghastly colorized versions in syndication and on The Cartoon Network. However, The Cartoon Network frequently aired the original versions on a show called Late Nite Black and White. The network later produced the critically acclaimed anthology series, The Popeye Show. This thirty minute series aired, for the first time on television, the theatricals with their original openings and closings. They had been long replaced by the Associated Artists Productions logo when initially placed into syndication. Episodes of that series are now sought after by collectors.

Due to audience demand the theatrical cartoons would eventually be released on DVD.

Happy sixty-fifth anniversary Popeye! Your adventures have entertained generations of adults and children on movie screens since 1933, and on TV ever since. You’re “strong to the finich”… and that “finich” is nowhere in sight.


As a tribute: below, a gallery of vintage TV section print advertising from Popeye’s debut years on local TV back in the 1950s.

September 10th 1956

September 10th, 1956. Top drawing by Bud Sagendorf. Bottom by Bill Zaboly.

September 20th, 1956

October 6th, 1956. Boston Mass. WBZ-TV aired the theatrical cartoons from 1956 to 1974.

October 8th, 1956

Jun 15, 1958

46 Comments

  • The ad about the live Popeye show intrigued me enough to do some quick Google searches. Harry Foster Welch has been the subject of a brief, general Cartoon Research article before (at https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/who-is-harry-welch-and-was-he-ever-the-voice-of-popeye/ if you’re curious) and an Animation Spin (at https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/popeye-records-with-the-mysterious-harry-f-welch/ or just click/tap on my username for this comment), although sadly most of the video links in the latter no longer work. I couldn’t find any video of him actually performing his live Popeye show, though, which is what I was really hoping for.

    As for Glen Isle Center, I’ve found a shopping center by that name in Springfield, Missouri, and it seems to have once been the location of a Crank’s (“The DRUG CENTER of the OZARK EMPIRE”), so I think we can assume that’s the location mentioned in the ad. Amusingly, there’s now a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen just down the street from Glen Isle Center.

  • By the time I started watching Popeye cartoons in the ‘70s, the live-action host format had been abandoned, which was fine with me. It allowed three cartoons to be shown in a half-hour time slot: two Technicolor and one black-and-white in the middle. The black-and-white ones were my favourites; in fact as far as I was concerned, the older the cartoon, the better I liked it!

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know who hosted the first televised Popeye cartoon show in Detroit, and what channel it was on? 1956 is a little before my time.

    • POPEYE AND PALS debuted in 1958, I believe, hosted by Capt. Jolly, played by Detroit broadcasting legend Toby David….he did the weeknight show on CKLW, CH9, from Windsor Ontario while the puppeteer from the show hosted the weekend editions as Poopdeck Paul….they were still on the air when I arrived in Detroit in late 62/early 63 and lasted into 1964 or so….by that time, Popeye was a big part of my life and still is to this day….

      • Thanks for that info, Rick. I’m glad that those shows were cancelled before it occurred to my brother and his friends that “Poopdeck Paul” might be a funny nickname for me!

  • Are you sure that it’s 1956 and not ’57 when they came to TV? Because the a.a.p. title has 1957 copyright notice in the lower left corner of the screen.

    OR maybe just the black and white cartoons came in ’56, and the color ones in ’57. Because that’s the year when the pre 1948 WB cartoons came to TV as well.

    -Chris

  • I was there in real time when the aap package was unleashed to local TV (Omaha). First Warner, then soon after, Popeye. Without that constant exposure – and the enthusiastic reception throughout the years – I wonder if today we’d be enjoying the experience of Golden Age cartoons. After all, the original intent was nothing more to accompany a feature film; you’d see the toon exactly once.

    Anyway… I suppose there was more than one over time, but I remember the first grizzled “Sea Captain” (though not his name). His stage set was a tiny bridge of what seemed to be a tugboat. At the time it didn’t dawn on me to ditch the captain and try to squeeze one more cartoon into a half hour. But no biggie – they were on EVERY DAY!

    I was immediately wired to Popeye. Strange little guy. Illiterate with his own odd vocabulary. Wants to do the right thing. Magical spinach powers. Incredibly bad taste in women. There is nothing else like him, anywhere.

    My official mission statement is that I prefer Warner cartoons to all others. But when that avalanche of classic cartoons hit home video in 2007, unquestionably the one series I have enjoyed the most was the Fleischer Popeye collection.

  • Ray Heatherton (aka the “Merry Mailman”) was a bit before my time, but I remember “Captain” Jack McCarthy hosting the Popeye cartoons on WPIX. I didn’t know that prolific voice actor Allen Swift was a host.

  • I remember vividly the debut of Popeye on TV followed by the King Features Popeye films which. to myself, just were not Popeye.

    • I thought the TV ones by Paramount themselves were fine despite the slashed budget that they were also using for their theatrical shorts of numerous short-lived characters and one-shots at the time. At least those TV shorts had less formulaic storylines than the last theatrical shorts.

  • I’m no where near old enough to have seen any of the Popeye cartoons on any local kids shows. I grew up watching them on Boomerang, so I did unfortunately see the redrawn versions of the Fleischer Popeye’s when I was little. I couldn’t tell you which Popeye cartoon I saw first, though I do have memories of seeing “The Football Toucher Downer,” “Problem Pappy,” and “Onion Pacific,” as a little kid.

    Popeye is the cartoon series I have the most nostalgia for. Seeing that spinning star opening on the Famous Popeye cartoons can be very nostalgic. Seriously popping in Popeye 1940’s Vol. 1 for the first time was amazing.

    The funny thing is for as much as I watched the Popeye cartoons as a kid I never ate spinach lol.

  • I think as far as the 1957 date is concerned, that it when COLOR PRINTS started being available for TV. I’ve seen some old B & W TV prints of the color Famous Studios cartoons that had the older a.a.p. title cards on them. (The same title cards that you see on the Fleischer cartoons.) There was no skip in the music, either, although the first few seconds of the music appeared to be missing. I’m guessing that when color prints were struck, the film elements used to make the TV prints had been edited using the B & W title cards, and there wasn’t the time and money to properly re-edit them; thus those sloppy color prints with the skip in the music and a the generic end title music.

  • I have very fond memories watching The Officer Don show.
    They were great times for me.

  • I originally watched the theatricals on The Uncle Gus Show in New Hampshire. Had to crank a contraption at the top of my television set to get the station in clear. Uncle Gus used to introduce the Popeye cartoon by cranking the sailor’s jack-in-the box. I also viewed them, along with the TV-cartoons, on Rex Trailer’s Boomtown. I was on Boomtown, as a cub scout, and were all instructed to watch a game which was being played. I had my backed turned watching “Popeye and the Pirates” on a small B&W TV-set. Fond memories.

    • By the time I moved to New Hampshire in the early 70s, Uncle Gus was running Dick Tracy Show cartoons, so I missed out on his Popeye era. However, I grew up in Indianapolis watching Popeye & Janie (a pretty, redheaded female host). Her hour long daily show featured 3 Popeyes, 2 Yogi or Huck shorts and an Alvin & The Chipmunks musical skit.

      • Janie’s show was still on when I lived in Bloomington in the ‘80s. She was showing Tom and Jerry cartoons then.

  • Nice job, Fred!

    However, for those who don’t know, I wouldn’t exactly call the “colorized” versions of the Fleischer POPEYE cartoons as “colorized” – meaning that they were colored digitally by a computer. Oh, no – far from it! Through the machinations of the late Fred Ladd, black-and-white 16mm prints of Fleischer POPEYE cartoons were shipped off to an animation studio in South Korea, where the cartoons were completely re-done: Speeded up soundtracks – the works – including having the original images crudely rotoscoped – redrawn, re-painted in color paints on animation cels and re-filmed. Because they were so quickly re-produced, several spelling errors occurred. Not every image from each frame – or say, two frames – of film was redrawn – and several movements were skipped altogether – including any live action or 3-D “setback” images from the original films. With all respect to the talents of the late Fred Ladd, these cartoons were an abomination!

    In the early ’90s, you could not rent or borrow any black-and-white prints of Fleischer POPEYE cartoons for theatrical retrospectives or show in your own home – unless you were a film collector and had access to 16mm black-and-white prints. I had to work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s staff to get expensive permission to show CAN YOU TAKE IT! for our 1993 Chicago POPEYE theatrical retrospective. Other prints came from collectors! Turner Entertainment, Co. had no black-and-white prints in their library available for us to rent for the show! One station in Chicago – Channel 32 (WFLD-TV) had run black-and-white POPEYE cartoons almost up to the early ’90s – clearly noting that each vintage cartoon was “A Black and White Telecast” – maybe thinking that viewers might think they were having trouble receiving the transmission of the broadcast?

    I only remember one host – the great Bill Jackson from CARTOON TOWN (aka B.J. AND DIRTY DRAGON) – running the early ’60s KFS cartoons along with the other things he ran in-between his puppet skits and other great stuff. The older POPEYE cartoons – from my memory – were run with no hosts at all – roughly thee cartoons per half-hour time slot.

  • Here in San Jose in the 60s we watched Mayor Art on San Francisco’s KRON. He wore a turn-of-the-century suit and his set was a mock city hall with a city council of kids in Halloween top hats. To summon up a Popeye cartoon they’d all yell “Blooie! Blooie!”. The good mayor also showed Fleischer Supermans and Q.T. Hush. After he went off the air — perhaps earlier — Popeyes were showing in unhosted blocks, as were the other Famous/Paramounts, Looney Tunes, non-Tom&Jerry MGMs, and King Features shorts.

    Hosted or not, it felt like local toons all ran in the after-school hours, and closed for the night by five.

    In my preteen innocence I thought Associated Artists Productions somehow represented the artists who worked on the cartoons. I still have some 8mm silent toons bearing the AAP brand. The NTA logo, which looked old fashioned even then, raised hopes of Betty Boop or Hoppity Goes to Town. Trans Lux meant Hercules or Felix the Cat, and later Speed Racer.

    • I also watched Mayor Art for the cartoons; I was 13 when he started in 1959. Before that I got my daily cartoon fix from his KRON predecessor Fireman Frank (played by hip radio DJ George Lemont) and on KPIX-5 both Captain Fortune (Peter Abenheim) and Deputy Dave (dunno his name). I forget which had the Popeyes, but your memory makes it sound likely that KRON also had them earlier. I want to believe my hazy impression that I imprinted on the B/W Fleischers first and that the Famous theatricals showed up later, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Captain Fortune was apparently where I got hooked on Crusader Rabbit. I went back to catching local cartoon shows every day when I got my first Betamax in 1977.

      • When I was a child in the late ’60s, the aap Popeye cartoons were broadcast on San Francisco’s KBHK-Channel 44. Mayor Art (Finley)’s program on KRON at that point in time was featuring the post 1950 Warners cartoons, The Alvin Show toons including Clyde Crashcup, Terrytoons (Sidney, Hashimoto-san, etc.), and the Hal Seeger Koko the Clown episodes. The King Features Popeyes aired on Oakland’s KTVU. The aap Popeye cartoons continued on KBHK into the ’70s.

    • Another Bay Area kid here. I watched Popeye on KBHK 44 from about 1978-82, with no host, but comedy bits from the great DJ Dr. Don Rose. It was typically two Famous cartoons, with a Fleisher in between

      • From 1969 through 1972, I lived in San Mateo and watched Popeye on KBHK-TV channel 44. The cartoons played on the Captain San Francisco Show hosted by the legendary Mike Cleary as Sergent Sacto.

        • There was also a Sgt. Sacto on Detroit’s WKBD-TV Channel 50 at this time, clearly modelled on Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, pointy ears and all. But I don’t believe he ever hosted Popeye cartoons.

  • Captain Allen Swift on WPIX was my man!

    • I was tuned into Captain Jack McCarthy, myself.

  • I got into quite an argument with voice actor Jackson Beck when I interviewed him nearly 30 years ago over AAP. He couldn’t believe that Paramount would willingly sell-off their cartoon library for TV. A film collector recently told me that he believed that film studios did not outright sell companies like AAP their film libraries, but only LEASED them out for a certain amount of time. It makes you wonder as Warners owns all their cartoons again, and Paramount owns the BETTY BOOPS, GULLIVER and HOPPITY through acquiring NTA through the Republic Pictures library. It’s interesting to figure out just who owns what nowadays!

  • In Connecticut, Popeye Theatre was hosted by a character “Captain C. Whiskers” in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. When the actor left, the show was hosted by “Admiral Jack”. The programs aired on WNHC-TV.

  • I remember when Popeye was first aired in Denver on KBTV (now KUSA) They did have a host…Sheriff Scotty. Guessing that Denver brings to mind the wild west. And can’t recall who played Sheriff Scotty but he was popular.

  • As a kid in the mid ’80s, the only Popeye cartoons available in the Detroit area were the KFS ones, although WKBD-50 did (accidentally?) run a bunch of B&W Fleischer Popeyes during their Bugs Bunny and Friends show for a few weeks in the summer of ’88.

    • I have recordings of WXON’s Popeye show and WKBD’s 1988 Bugs Bunny show!

  • Tom Hatten revived his KTLA show in the mid-1970s; up to that point, L.A. area kids probably knew Popeye via the mediocre KFS cartoons from the early 1960s.

  • Miami personality Chuck Zink built a lucrative career from hosting “Popeye Playhouse” as Skipper Chuck with Scrubby, Uncle Don on the keyboard organ, comical sidekick Scrubby, Annie Orphanick, puppets Sunshine Crow, Al Alligator and Limbo Lion and visits from Ho-Ho the TV Magic Clown.

    When the Popeye cartoon contracts ended (and Zink’s local stardom rose as pitchman and shopping center live performer), the title was changed to The Skipper Chuck Show. Zink became disgusted when the show was pressured to stop doing live commercials on the show and much more prestigious children’s shows began to diminish local kid’s programs like his. “They rave about Sesame Street,” he told TV Guide. “But they don’t realize that it is extremely well funded. Give me all that finding and I’ll show you what kind of show I could do.” (This is from memory.)

    There are tribute pages to Skipper Chuck on Facebook, as I imagine there are many others to local TV hosts, but I would be extremely remiss if I did not mention our colleague Tim Hollis’ landmark book on the subject, “‘Hi There, Boys and Girls!’ America s Local Children s TV Programs”

    https://smile.amazon.com/There-Girls-America%C2%92s-Children%C2%92s-Programs/dp/1578063965/ref=sr_1_7?dchild=1&keywords=tim+hollis&qid=1631641539&s=books&sr=1-7

    You can also find my Animation Spins about Harry Welch and Allen Swift here:

    https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/popeye-records-with-the-mysterious-harry-f-welch/

    https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/popeye-records-with-captain-allen-swift/

  • And that is why the countless “us” who were weened on THESE films growing up turned VOMITOUS when those abominations came out in 1960! Oy….and Uggh!!

  • In Indianapolis they started filtering out the black and whites pretty soon after general color in 1965. First they started mixing in the horrendous KFS Popeyes. I wouldn’t see the black and whites again for many years.

  • I blush to admit, though I was delighted to see the Paramount logo finally restored to the cartoons (I’d never have guessed how 1939-1943 looked), I found myself rather missing the AAP openings and the awkward cuts to the actual credits (once safely past the “A Famous Studios Production”) and the “Olive Oyl for President” end music for each of the color cartoons. Interesting how much cleaner the AAP card was for Popeye than for the pre-1948 Warner Bros. cartoons. And I still like the groovy ’60s music of the NTA logo back when it started “Hoppity [not “Mr. Bug”] Goes to Town.”

    Will people give the King Features cartoons a break? Okay, most of them aren’t very good, and miss the point of Popeye. But you try matching theatrical quality (which admittedly declined over the years) with a third the budget in a quarter the time. Besides, at least they used the Thimble Theater characters egregiously overlooked by Fleischer/Famous.

    • *sigh* Some people just don’t respect good things. Don’t these people know that these were made by Gene Dietch’s studio?
      I mean, they’re not bad, they’re just….different.
      So people, respect Gene Dietch’s work. You might think it sucks, but what the heck, it’s better than most cartoons nowadays.

  • Well, I’m surprised Fred Grandinetti himself has not jumped into the fray here to defend the 1960s KFS POPEYE cartoons!

    A plus for those cartoons is that the voice work is as good as it was during the Famous Studios regime, and the fact that good use was made of Segar’s original “Sea Hag” character is a plus. Other than that, though – they weren’t so hot!

  • Here is the history of the creation of the Popeye TV-cartoons.
    https://www.skwigly.co.uk/when-popeye-was-king-of-television-cartoons/

  • I believe you can thank the Supreme Court case against Paramount Pictures for why AAP had the TV rights to Popeye

    • And Disney gets away scott-free!

      • Wait, Disney?!

  • Memories of being a kid in Pittsburgh watching Captain Jim’s Popeye Club on WIIC Channel 11. Captain Jim’s set was the ship Nancy B and he called us his shipmates.

  • I most definitely saw my first Popeye cartoons thanks to Mr. Cartoon, played by weather man Jule Huffman, on WSAZ in Huntington, WV. He had a sidekick named Beeper who was an actor wearing a repurposed (prototype?) Fleagle suit from The Banana Splits. As a kid, it was a rite of passage to attend a taping of Mr. Cartoon with your Scout troupe or church group. The show ran in one form or another for around 35 years, until 1995. Good memories.

  • The televised Popeye cartoons enraptured me from a very young age. The color and black & white cartoons were presented alongside each other, and back before I learned to look at copyright dates, I assumed the b&w ones were made later because they were so much better. I was mystified at why the studio would have switched from color to b&w just as they hit their stride!

    • Actually, the studios changed. The Fliescher brothers left by 1942, so Paramount started their own animation unit with new personnel. The older B&W ones have a special crudeness to them, which helped Popeye overshadow Mickey Mouse by 1935.

  • Well, I came from a time…late 70’s into the 80’s where Popeye was seen on channel 5, then called WNEW-TV (now WNYW Fox 5), but it was mainly the Famous Studios color cartoons, some with AAP plastering, others not, and the KFS ones. I heard of the kiddie show hosts of WPIX but they were before my time. PIX was known mostly for Tom and Jerry and the other MGM cartoons, including the infamously compressed CinemaScope ones, also Mighty Mouse and Pink Panther. As for 5, they aired Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker in addition to the 80’s toy gear stuff (He-Man and She-Ra, PIX had Transformers, GI Joe and MASK).

    When Fox 5 started Good Day New York in 1988, the AM cartoons were sent packing but the PM block stayed around till sometime in the 90’s. Channel 9, as WOR-TV never really aired cartoons that much, but that changed when it became WWOR-TV and they got Popeye (syndicated pack including DREADFUL coloring of the B&W ‘toons, even going so far as time compression), Tom and Jerry and the WB ‘toons, mainly for the last NYC foray into kids TV, Steampipe Alley, hosted by comic Mario Cantone.

    I appreciate MeTV’s effort to return to those glory days of kids shows and the Saturday Morning cartoons block they include, with the cartoons mostly digitally restored and set for the HDTV era. And even more than that, instead of being on a subchannel, like in markets such as Boston (WCVB 5.2), Providence (WJAR 10.2), MeTV is on a stand-alone station in NYC, WJLP (virtual channel 33 VHF digital channel 3), which is available on my cable system on channel 33 here in SW CT.

  • Woah.Now THAT’S a success story.
    As for the quote-on-quote “ghastly” colorized prints from 1987, those are actually…..pretty good. Compared to the shoddy redrawn colorized Looney Tunes done in Korea 20 years earlier, these have a much better quality than the Looney Tune colorizations. Although both of them were done with pretty much the same overall process, I guess the people who did these Popeye colorizations knew what they were doing. (And honestly, I kinda wish they would be aired on MeTV, since Boomerang stopped airing those colorized prints.)
    Yes, there were still some noticeable errors (for example, in the colorized “Me Musical Nephews”, in the one scene where Popeye’s nephews are praying, Popeye’s uniform is colored the same way that most of the other Fleischer Popeyes were. It’s very noticable.)
    Ironically, they even colored the A.A.P. title cards, even though the company name had been defunct for over 25 years…

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