Bluto is a character created in 1932 by Elzie Crisler Segar as a one-time villain, named "Bluto the Terrible," in his Thimble Theatre comic strip (subsequently renamed Popeye). He made his first comic appearance on September 12 of that year. Fleischer Studios adapted him the following year (1933) to be the recurring villain in their theatrical Popeye animated cartoons derived from the Segar strip.
Bluto is a towering brute with a full beard and a well-muscled physique. In many cartoons Olive is initially smitten by his brawn and aggressively masculine looks. Bluto typically utilizes his superior size to win temporary advantage over Popeye, although he is capable of crafty tactical planning as well. He is fond of flexing his massive muscles to make Popeye look puny by comparison. He bullies, ridicules, and deceives Popeye throughout most cartoons and is usually able to overpower the smaller sailor, readily beating him in the various kinds of competitions they are known to engage in. However, there are some episodes where Popeye, even before Spinach, is at least Bluto's rival in the strength department; others (most notoriously How Green Is My Spinach) depict him as entirely helpless in the face of Bluto's onslaughts.
From the beginning Bluto has attracted a sizable cult following whose adherents view him as a dedicated bodybuilder who steadfastly eschews the use of spinach to secure an advantage in his contests with Popeye. They see Popeye as an unwitting dolt who is consumed by jealousy of his physical and mental superior and who must resort to a cheat substance in order to achieve his tainted victory in every outing. The ambiguity of who was actually the 'better man' was particularly marked in certain cartoons of the Famous Studios era (1944-1957).
In more recent Popeye cartoons, such as the computer-animated movie produced by Mainframe Entertainment, Bluto and Popeye are good friends with Bluto being somewhat afraid of Popeye, although Bluto getting mind-controlled puts a wedge between them once again.
The Bluto/Brutus issueAfter the theatrical Popeye cartoon series went out of production in 1957, Bluto was replaced by Brutus because it was wrongly believed that Paramount Pictures, distributors of the Fleischer Studios (later Famous Studios) cartoons, owned the rights to the name "Bluto." King Features actually owned the name all along as Bluto had been initially created for the comic strip. However, due to faulty research, they failed to realize this, and used the name Brutus to avoid copyright issues. Brutus appears in the 1960-1962 Popeye television cartoons (with a more obese than muscular physique), but Bluto returns in the Hanna-Barbera Popeye series of 1978 and the 1980 Popeye movie, as well as Hanna-Barbera's 1987 Popeye and Son series. Brutus was used by Nintendo for their arcade game based on the property. Another subtle difference between the character of Brutus and Bluto is that, while Bluto was portrayed as a fellow sailor who also sought to win the heart of Olive Oyl, Brutus was portrayed as a generic villain, or bank robber, who showed no romantic interest in Olive. Instead, he usually took her hostage, leaving Popeye to rescue her. Prior to the change to Brutus, the bearded strongman was known as "The Big Guy that Hates Popeye," "Mean Man," and "Sonny Boy" in the comic strip and comic books. The name "Brutus" was first used on Popeye-related products in 1960 and in print in 1962. Although it may be argued that they are one and the same, Ocean Comics has published one of the Popeye Special comic books where Bluto and Brutus were twin brothers; Bobby London, who drew the "Popeye" daily strip for six years, wrote and illustrated "The Return of Bluto" story where the 1932 version of Bluto returns and discovers a number of fat, bearded bullies have taken his place, calling themselves "Brutus" (each one being a different version of Popeye's rival). On December 28, 2008 and April 5, 2009, the Popeye comic strip added Bluto in the capacity of twin brother of Brutus.
Bluto was voiced by a number of actors, including William Pennell, Gus Wickie, Pinto Colvig, Tedd Pierce, Dave Barry and Jackson Beck. Beck also supplied the voice for Brutus in the early 1960s. In the 1980 live-action movie, he is portrayed by Paul L. Smith. In The All-New Popeye Hour and Popeye and Son, he is voiced by Allan Melvin, and in Popeye's Voyage by Garry Chalk.
In the animated cartoons, Popeye's foe is almost always Bluto, functioning in some capacity—fellow sailor, street tough, theater hypnotist, Arab sheik, competetive swimmer, etc. However, in theFamous era shorts, there have also been "original" one-time characters with Bluto-like personalities and mannerisms such as the blond, cleanshaven lifeguard in Beach Peach (Jackson Beck vocalized this character using the same voice, and some fans maintain that he was just Bluto with his hair bleached) or the boxing champion in Punch and Judo that reappears as the scofflaw in Cops Is Tops (he had a shaved head and altogether different voice).
Bluto appeared in the Robot Chicken episode "The Sack," voiced by Dave Coulier. In a segment that parodies the Popeye cartoons in the style of the film It's a Wonderful Life, Popeye and Bluto have opened up a bank together in what the world would look like without Wimpy. The Bluto/Brutus name debate has also become a topic of interest on The Rick Emerson radio program.
- Popeye | The Home of Popeye the Sailor Man website
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia Popeye page
- Bluto at the Internet Movie Database