Animation History
July 14, 2023 posted by Fred Grandinetti

Popeye’s 90th Anniversary

Popeye and his crew have been featured in approximately 500 animated short subjects since 1933. They have aired all over the world. To celebrate Popeye’s 90th Anniversary as an animated superstar we thought we’d try something unique: we thought we’d devote this column today to a collection of newspaper and magazine ads that trace his animation screen history – in movies and on TV. It’s not everything, but a nice little collection of clippings which chronicle Popeyes success in theaters and television.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) June 22, 1933

Theatre ads Popeye 1930s

Color Specials, 30’s ads

Theater Ads – 1940s

The Dothan Eagle (Dothan, Alabama) Aug 12, 1956

The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) September 8, 1960

October 3, 1963 from Forth-Worth Star-Telegram

The Terre Haute Tribune (Terre Haute, Indiana) October 7, 1972

The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) February 14, 1979

The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) September 12, 1981

The Pensacola News (Pensacola, FL) September 13, 1978

The Greenwood Commonwealth (Greenwood, Mississippi) September 27, 1987

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) July 9, 1993

The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) Oct 27, 2001


  • That’s a good historical overview of Popeye through his promos in the press. It’s also a bit sad, underscoring as it does the character’s long, slow decline after an initial decade or so of sensational entertainment.

    So what does the future hold for Popeye the sailor? Will MeTV succeed in fostering new generations of fans by showcasing what made him great in the first place? Will he become the property of Disney/Marvel like everything else? Or will he wind up a fictional hero like Horatio Hornblower and Bulldog Drummond, of artifactual interest to only a handful of scholars but otherwise forgotten?

    And what about the monuments to Popeye erected by the spinach farmers of Texas and Arkansas? Will future civilisations regard them as evidence that the earth was visited in the twentieth century by a race of prognathous aliens with hypertrophied forearms? Will Popeye take the place of Jesus in a thousand years? Religious wars, barbaric laws, bloodshed worldwide over what’s left of his myth? Hey, it’s no more farfetched than half the videos my brother-in-law watches on YouTube.

    Anyway, happy anniversary, Popeye. To you I raise my can of spinach — or I would, if I didn’t insist on eating the fresh stuff.

    • Sigh! I remember when Cartoon Network used to play the Popeye cartoons, but then as with every other classic, over time they stopped playing them. I even had a few VHS tapes as well growing up. If I recall correctly, Sony was going to bring Popeye back to the public consciousness with a CGI animated feature by Genndy Tartakovsky, but that project got cancelled, unfortunately. With the current state of Hollywood, I think it’s best they don’t try anything with Popeye as they would most likely drag the character through the mud like they’ve been doing with other franchises, so as long as MeTv is still airing the Popeye cartoons, I think that should suffice for fostering a new generation of fans as well as websites like Cartoon Research delving into the history.

  • Nice to see the clipping for WIIC in Pittsburgh. Cap’n Jim introduced Popeye to all the kids in the late 1950’s. And I’m still watching Popeye in 2023.

  • When I was a young ‘un, cartoons and Three Stooges programs ended by 4:00 PM, so these late afternoon/early evening schedules are fascinating to me–Nothing like getting the kiddos keyed-up right before bedtime.

  • That 1956 clipping jumped out at me: Paramount selling its Popeye toons (outright?) for $2.5 million to a firm expecting to collect $10 million in rentals in three years. Paramount also sold off much of its live action vault — including the cream of the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, etc. — to Universal. Were they that hard up for cash, or just blind to the long-range value?

    Also: What were the financial terms with King Features? Popeye was already a huge hit when the cartoons started, so it’s probable merchandise and licensing were spoken for (and the stuff I remember from my late-boomer childhood was clearly modeled on the strip). But there were recordings and at least one Big Little Book based explicitly on the Fleischer cartoons, implying some kind of agreement.

    Finally: Did King Features get any kind of ongoing money as cartoons were re-released? And did they get anything from the TV sale?

    • In a 1960 TV Guide article it was written KFS started the 1960-62 TV Popeyes because they were getting no money from the theatricals airing on television. Paramount and KFS sold them to A.A.P. Both companies did quite well from the sale. KFS did make a lot of $pinach in terms of licensing based on the theatrical film’s TV success. It’s only natural KFS would try to stretch that success by making more films and in color. Tthe post-Fleischer cartoons they were very popular. Even The All New Popeye Hour was one of CBS highest rated Saturday morning series. The TV cartoons get a lot of ‘hits’ on You Tube.

  • Popeye’s cameo in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” never happened because the Marvin Acme funeral scene in which he was meant to appear was cut from the film. However, about ten years earlier, an animated Popeye appeared in a live-action commercial for Dr. Pepper. (I think there was also one with Fred Flintstone.) As a Popeye fan, I enjoyed those commercials, even though they didn’t tempt me to buy the product; I could never stomach that foul, prune-flavoured hell-brew. Even if I could, I doubt that it would go well with spinach.

    • There’s no prunes in Dr Pepper. Why that urban legend persists I have no idea.

      • When I lived in Dallas I used to walk along the railroad tracks behind the Dr. Pepper plant to get to a friend’s place, and I saw railroad cars full of crates of prunes waiting to be unloaded.

  • I always wonder if Paramount ever wanted to make a live-action Popeye movie in the 40s or 50s. Some sort of a seafarer action comedy (in line with The Crimson Pirate) with, say, Kirk Douglas. If so, who would be the other characters? Raymond Burr as Bluto?
    Of course when Paramount eventually started doing it in the late 70s as an off-beat Jules Feiffer/Harry Nilsson musical, things were certainly different.

    • Apparently the 1980 movie got made because Paramount had lost the bidding for the film version of a Annie, and they realized they still held the theatrical rights to Popeye even though they had stopped making his cartoons over two decades before and sold them off, so they decided to do a Popeye musical. Hollywood can be so weird sometimes.

    • Why Paramount didn’t insist on a Popeye animated feature from the Fleischers (and later a Superman one) is beyond me. It wouldn’t have had to be a musical, or even be in color, just fast-moving and funny.

    • There was almost a live action Popeye movie, it was going to be a segment in ‘The
      Funny Pages’ a proposed anthology film set for a 1934 release, per a campaign book. Victor McLaglen, Charlie Ruggles and Zasu Pitts were announced as the cast (to play Popeye, Wimpy and Olive Oyl respectively) From what I’ve read elsewhere it got pretty far along in pre production until the failure of the ‘33 Alice in Wonderland caused it to be shelved for good

      • I have to say, that sounds like the best possible casting for a live-action Popeye at that point in film history.

        • The other tentative segments for ‘The Funny Papers’ were W.C. Fields, Robert Coogan and Jackie Searl in the Katzenjammer Kids; Wynne Gibson, Charles ‘Buddy Rogers, Skeets Gallagher and Baby LeRoy in Blondie; Jack Oakie and Grace Bradley in Boob McNutt; Richard Arlen and Carole Lombard in Moon Mullins and Louise Fazenda and Roscoe Karns in Bringing Up Father

  • And may those horrendously colorized versions from the 1980s (evidently trying to avoid black, Popeye’s blouse, Bluto’s shirt, and Olive’s skirt are painted the same dull blue) never be seen again.

  • On YouTube is a 1973 telecast of “To Tell The Truth” with Jack Mercer among a team of challengers. Two things tipped him off, to me at least. His voice, and he explained what an in-betweener does. Bill Cullen cast a vote for him, the only panelist who did.

  • Popeye is the reigning champion of the action cartoon.

  • If you’re a real Popite, you’ll honor his 90th anniversary in animation by doing a “Brotherly Love” walk down the street.

    • I’d love to, but my neck won’t bend back that far.

  • Nice job, Fred!

    It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since our 60th Anniversary tribute to the theatrical POPEYE cartoons that Bill Naras and I produced in Chicago at the old Gateway Theater in 1993! Our guests included Fleischer animators Gordon Sheehan and Myron Waldman, Hanna Barbera animator Jon McClenahan, Mrs. Virginia Mercer, Fleischer film historian Mike Dobbs and other guests. Mike and Debbie Brooks of the Official Popeye Fanclub also attended. We invited you, Fred – you may remember – but you weren’t able to make it.

    To help promoting the so-called “colorized” POPEYE cartoons on TV, Ted Turner had junked all his 16mm film rental prints of Fleischer POPEYE cartoons by then and we weren’t able to get any 35mm or 16mm prints from Turner. We ended up using prints from a film collector friend of mine – who had some beautiful prints from a 16mm compilation called THE POPEYE FOLLIES that came out back in the ’70s and I contacted Prof. Donald Crafton who was head of the film department at University of Wisconsin-Madison then to get a print of Myron Waldman’s CAN YOU TAKE IT (1934). Had I known him a little better, I’m sure Myron would have been happier if I got ahold of a print of POPEYE MEETS RIP VAN WINKLE or PROBLEM PAPPY instead! We got the “okay” from Turner (and probably KFS) to run the cartoons theatrically – they got their “cut” from the “box office” – you can be sure of that!

    It was a good show – if a bit long – but I was a knot of jangled nerves and sweat by the time the show was over. Still – all in all – I’m glad we produced the theatrical show! Oh, yeah, a young animator and cartoon by the name of Steve Stanchfield came along with a friend to film the show for posterity. He and I have been talking about putting a DVD or Blu-Ray of the show with as many re-mastered cartoons we can legally show!

  • By Williams’ MICKEY MOUSE CLUB? A local host? That’s a new twist.

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