Thursday, February 2, 2012


Here’s a Valentine that my dad, Seymour, made for my mom. Living with an animator meant we might receive a one of a kind hand-made card like this at special times. Don’t know the year for this card, but it was typical.

This is also a Valentine from my dad celebrating Popeye! Seymour was Head Animator/Director* on 91 of the 230 theatrical Popeye cartoons made between 1933 and 1957, including the very first Popeye (these figures do not include any of the later made for TV Popeyes). The earliest Popeye films were made during his time at Fleischer Studios, they continued through the change-over to Famous Studios, and later to Paramount Cartoon Studios.

Popeye, a character created by Elzie Segar, first appeared in the comic strip Thimble Theatre. Olive Oyl and her boyfriend, Ham Gravy, were the original stars of this strip. Popeye appeared as a minor character in 1929, ten years into the strip’s already very successful run. Popeye quickly became so popular he replaced Olive Oyl as star of the strip. In 1933 Popeye made a ‘test’ appearance in Popeye the Sailor, a film in the Fleischer’s popular Betty Boop series. Popeye was immediately a huge success on film and soon was starring in his own Popeye the Sailor series. He became the most popular animated film character of his day.

A number of notable changes accompanied Popeye’s move to the world of film, some of which can be seen in his very first picture. In the comic strip Popeye derived strength from rubbing the Wiffle Hen, with spinach being used only sparingly. But on film the Fleischers consistently made spinach the source of Popeye’s super strength.  Also, this first picture introduced Popeye’s famous theme song, “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Here’s a typical Popeye film directed by Seymour,  “Little Swee’ Pea,” released in 1936. Note the wonderful 3D effect that’s created through the use of a stereoptical camera process (also known as the ‘set-back') that was developed at Fleischer Studios.

"Little Swee' Pea" 7 on video to enlarge for viewing
*All occurrences of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto are © 2011 King Features Syndicate, Inc. TM Hearst Holdings, Inc.

Anyone on staff could submit a cartoon story idea, and if it was used a staffer could earn a few extra dollars.  Here’s a story idea (below) from Izzy Klein, who in this case was in the story department (many ideas came from animators and other staff).  His story concept is so similar to the story in “Lil Swee’ Pea” that I wonder if it might have inspired this film. One can see just how thin the plot is (this is typical), and how dependent the final story would be on a series of ‘gags.’  You can click on the text to enlarge...

Since anyone could submit story ideas, some are handwritten, some typed… any form was acceptable. They’re really fun—sometime later I’ll post a big group of these ‘story ideas.’

*During the time of Fleischer Studios film credit for direction always went to Dave Fleischer. In reality, Dave acted more as Producer and Production Supervisor. The actual ‘direction’ of each film was handled by the Head Animator… who was the first animator name listed in a film’s credits.
Popeye card and Popeye typed story idea: Collection: Virginia Mahoney


  1. For the record, Seymour Kneitel directed 61 of the 220 TV Popeyes, including the first pilot, "Hits and Missiles" which was the only one to boast full theatrical production values including a full music score by the talented Winston Sharples. (Oddly, it carried no credits other than that of Kneitel.) The animation cut corners in the 60 other cartoons owing to the smaller budgets for TV animation. Thanks for hosting this blog of your dad's work, it truly is a labor of love.

  2. Hi Dave-- thanks so much for adding the additional information on the made for TV Popeyes-- my info on this was very sketchy-- I only recently found your site with all the amazing data-- what a resource! BTW-- I love doing this blog-- it is a labor of love...

  3. Love ALL of these posts you're doing--please keep 'em coming!

    (A 60 year-young Fleischer/Popeye fan.)