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Fifty Years With Brutus!

Popeye’s number one fan, Fred Grandinetti, provides Animated Views with an exclusive look at the history of Popeye’s nemesis Brutus. In this article, Fred delves into the character’s relationship with Bluto, and his many incarnations throughout various media. Fred is the author of Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History, and is a lifelong supporter of the famous sailor.


Originally Bluto

In late 1960, the initial batch of Popeye television cartoons, produced by King Features Syndicate, began airing on the small screen. In the new shows, viewers were introduced to characters that made their debut in the sailor’s comic strip. These included Alice The Goon, King Blozo, Toar, and The Sea Hag. One newcomer was a black-bearded fat man who went by the name of Brutus. In the older Popeye cartoons, produced for theatre screens starting in the 1930s, the sailor battled a similar looking man named Bluto. However, when production began on the new cartoons for television, Bluto underwent a name change.

Brutus, from KFS’s Popeye TV series


Bluto was created in 1932 by Elzie Crisler Segar as a one-time character, named Bluto The Terrible in his Thimble Theatre comic strip. Segar’s Bluto was portrayed as a bloodthirsty pirate! This brute gave Popeye his first taste of real competition in a slugfest that went on for days. When the Fleischer Studios needed a recurring villain in the Popeye theatrical films, they chose Bluto. In the Fleischer cartoons, he wore a short-sleeved black shirt and a captain’s hat. In the majority of the later theatrical films produced by Famous Studios, Bluto wore a white sailor’s uniform.

Enter Brutus

Let us jump ahead now to September of 1956 when the 234 Popeye theatricals, produced by the Fleischer and Famous Studios, began airing on television. The cartoons were a huge success and Bluto, along with the rest of the cast, began appearing on an assortment of new merchandise. King Features Syndicate, though owning the rights to the Popeye cast, did not receive any money directly from the successful syndication of the theatrical films. Seeking to participate more fully in Popeye’s television success, King Features hired Al Brodax to be the executive producer of a new series of Popeye cartoons, which they would own and therefore reap the profits. Paramount Pictures, who financed the old theatrical films, incorrectly believed that they owned the rights to the name Bluto. Paramount thought the bully was a creation of the Fleischer studio, forgetting his roots in Segar’s comic strip, owned by King Features Syndicate.

The brute’s voice was performed by Jackson Beck, who
also did Bluto in the Famous theatricals


To avoid any legal problems, Brodax renamed the sailor’s enemy Brutus. He was clearly named after Julius Cesar’s assassin and wore a short-sleeved blue shirt with an enormous stomach. A bearded brute appeared in one of two pilot cartoons for the King Features TV series, Barbecue For Two (Jack Kinney, 1960). However, the name Brutus is believed to have been heard first in Muskels Shmuskels (Larry Harmon, 1960). The bully also had the distinction of being animated by several different studios for the same series. The names on the credits included Gerald Ray, Jack Kinney, Gene Deitch, Larry Harmon and Paramount Cartoon Studios.

Yes, he even stooped to being a car salesman


Bluto was often portrayed as having a romantic interest towards the sailor’s girl, Olive Oyl. Brutus, on the other hand, was used as a bank robber, kidnapper, dogcatcher, whale hunter, painter, Mr. America contestant, detective, and other assorted professions to bother Popeye and his friends. By 1960 it was Brutus who was appearing on new products along with the sailor man’s friends and foes. In 1972 it was also Brutus who appeared in the Popeye-centric The Man Who Hated Laughter, which aired as a segment of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie and starred a number of King Features characters.

A Problem In The Comic Books

Despite his presence in the theatrical cartoons, Bluto did not appear in the Popeye comic book series. Bud Sagendorf, who produced the comic books, wanted to include the character because of his popularity in the cartoons’ re-airings on television in the 1950s. Although Sagendorf could use the bully’s familiar look he could not call him Bluto due to the conflict with Paramount.


The first appearance of a familiar looking
bearded brute from Popeye #40 (1957)


In Dell Comics’ Popeye # 40 (1957) The Sea Hag summons “the big guy that hates Popeye” and a brute looking a lot like Bluto appears. In the stories that followed, descriptive names were used until Sagendorf settled on Sonny Boy, the offspring of The Sea Hag. Popeye’s nemesis was called “Mean Man” on two toys during this time period: Linemar’s Popeye And The Mean Man Mechanical Fighters and Mechanical Mean Man.


Brutus takes a flying leap from Popeye #64. The
first issue to use the name Brutus (1962)


The name Brutus was not used in the comic book series until Dell Comics Popeye #64 (1962). Sagendorf illustrated the television version of Brutus in this issue’s opening story. Strangely, the unnamed bearded bully appeared in another tale in this comic book. With Brutus’ presence in Gold Key’s giant sized Popeye #67 (1963) the name change became permanent. Sagendorf altered Brutus’s look in later issues and finally established him wearing a long sleeved undershirt under a short-sleeved shirt, a captain’s hat, dark circles around his eyes and a hairy but trimmed beard.


Brutus’ finalized comic book design is shown
here on the cover of Popeye #86.
Above comic book images courtesy of Donald Pitchford


George Wildman began drawing the Popeye comic book series for Charlton Comics in 1969 and fluctuated between Sagendorf’s design and the version seen on the television cartoons. Eventually Wildman had The Sea Hag refer to Brutus as her son. In 1988, Ocean Comics depicted Bluto and Brutus as twin brothers in the second of three Popeye stories the company published.


Popeye is clearly fighting the Famous Studios version
of Bluto though he is billed as The Mean Man.

The Brute In The Newspaper Strip

During the mid to late 1950’s, when Ralph Stein was writing the daily Thimble Theatre strip and Bill Zaboly was providing the art, Bluto returned. Bud Sagendorf took over the comic strip in 1958 and Popeye began battling a succession of bearded bullies who went nameless. When the bully wore a sailor’s hat it led the audience to speculate he was Bluto. It is believed Sagendorf first used the name Brutus in a Sunday strip dated September 30, 1962, and for the daily edition January 29, 1963. In the daily strip, Wimpy initially called him The Sea Hag’s “boy” but later Olive used the name Brutus in the same story.


Popeye and Swee’Pea encounter a bearded man wearing a
sailor’s hat in this comic strip dated December 4th, 1960


In 1991 Bobby London was producing the Popeye strip and scripted The Return Of Bluto storyline. Segar’s Bluto returned seeking revenge upon Popeye and encountered a town full of bearded impostors calling themselves Brutus! London used virtually every version of Popeye’s foe from print and animation including two designs of Brutus from Europe! Hy Eisman, who currently produces the Popeye Sunday page, established Brutus as the twin brother of Bluto in two Sunday strips. The first was December 28, 2008 and the second April 5, 2009. It was the latter strip where they appeared together.

Whatever his relationships, and although usually ending up on the losing end of Popeye’s fist, Brutus has provided a great deal of enjoyment for audiences. Happy fiftieth birthday!


With our spinach-guzzling thanks to Fred Grandinetti!


 


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