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 after 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 Popeye's nemesis. He is often portrayed as having a devious attraction towards Olive Oyl, and usually attempts to make her his conquest. However, with the help of his trusty spinach, Popeye inevitably defeats him and rescues Olive from his clutches almost every time.
Bluto is a large brute with a thick beard, a broad frame, and a colossal ego. In several cartoons Olive is initially smitten with the big brute and will often have Popeye fight for her hand or cast Popeye aside and go off with the hulking neanderthal, until Bluto arrogantly oversteps his boundaries and aggressively forces himself on her. This sets the stage for Popeye's spinach ingestion, the heroic salvation of her virtue, and the defeat of his villainous rival.
Bluto typically utilizes his superior size to win a temporary advantage over Popeye, although he may result to trickery or devious planning to get the better of Popeye. He bullies, deceives, and ridicules Popeye, addressing him by several insults usually related to his slim physique or shorter size. He is often shown to be initially able to overpower his smaller adversary, or best him in the various kinds of competitions they engage in, until Popeye eats his spinach and turns the tables on him.
In some rare instances within the cartoons, Popeye and Bluto are actually portrayed as friends or Navy buddies whose friendship only ends up broken due to their rivalry over Olive Oyl. In more recent Popeye cartoons and media, such as the computer-animated movie produced by Mainframe Entertainment, Bluto and Popeye are portrayed as good friends with Bluto being somewhat afraid of Popeye, although in the film, Bluto getting mind-controlled by the Sea Hag puts a wedge between them once again.
Bluto most common design, as originally depicted in his first appearance in Thimble Theatre, is that of a large, somewhat portly but muscular man with very large arms yet notably shorter legs whose most notable trait is his crooked but clean grin which can be seen from under his shaggy beard. His attire usually consists of a black shirt with yellow or brown pants accompanied by a sailor's cap similar to the one Popeye wears, but dark blue instead of white or light blue. Fleischer Studios stated that their incarnation of Bluto was based on the character named Red Flack (played by Tyrone Power Sr.) in the 1930 epic western film The Big Trail. He was burly, mean, and strong as an ox--and only marginally more intelligent.
Following the takeover of the Popeye animated franchise by Paramount Studios in 1942, the Bluto character received a noticeable revamp. Beginning with the cartoon The Anvil Chorus Girl (1944), his voice portrayal went from the gruff, terse, quasi-Germanic sneer to the hep, blue-collar, outer-borough slang perfected by Jackson Beck. A new dynamic was introduced: his more handsome appearance made him a threat to Popeye by being attractive to women (Olive Oyl in particular). In his book Stronger Than Spinach: The Secret Appeal of the Famous Studios Popeye Cartoons, Steve R. Bierly notes that Bluto's visibly increased size and strength made him look so powerful in appearance that Popeye's accomplishment of defeating him became all the more remarkable.
However, the design introduced during the Famous Studios era would not be as commonly used as his original design. When the character was reintroduced into animation in The All-New Popeye Hour, his appearance and voice were made to recall that of the original Thimble Theatre/Fleischer Studios incarnation while still sporting a slightly broader upper body like his Famous incarnation, without making him look too fit. Regardless, his original design continues to be used more commonly in merchandise and depictions of the character.
The Bluto/Brutus issue
After the theatrical Popeye cartoon series went out of production in 1957, Bluto was replaced by Brutus as it was erroneously assumed that Paramount Pictures--distributors of the Fleischer Studios (later Famous Studios) cartoons--owned the rights to the name "Bluto." In fact, King Features had proprietary rights to the name all along, as Bluto had been initially created for the Segar comic strip. However, due to incomplete research this fact was overlooked and the name "Brutus" was substituted in order to avoid potential copyright issues.
Brutus appeared in the 1960-1962 Popeye television cartoons, but Bluto returned 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.
While there are enough similarities that led to the reveal in the comics that Bluto and Brutus are in fact siblings, the latter is not as similar to his immediate predecessor as it might appear. Bluto, at least in his Famous incarnation, is drawn with a chest more prominent as his midsection. Brutus, on the other hand, resembles the early comics Bluto with a paunchy waistline and a relatively undeveloped upper body. Bluto often has a handsome countenance, whereas Brutus is drawn with an almost goofy look. Bluto has the tattoo of a battleship on his chest (with interactive capabilities), while Brutus' similar tattoo is located on his upper arm. Bluto possesses an almost diabolical craftiness in his dealings with Popeye, while Brutus' interactions can often be characterized as inept. Another subtle difference between the two 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, malefactor, or finagler who showed little romantic interest in Olive. Instead, he would mostly take her hostage in a rough manner, opening the way for Popeye to rescue her.
Prior to the change to Brutus, the bearded villain 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, competitive swimmer, etc., with his most notable roles having been Sindbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and Hercules. However, in the Famous era shorts, there have also been "original" one-time characters with Bluto-like personalities and mannerisms such as the blond, clean-shaven lifeguard in Beach Peach (Jackson Beck vocalized this character using the same voice) 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's gallery can be viewed here
- Popeye | The Home of Popeye the Sailor Man website
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia Popeye page
- Bluto at the Internet Movie Database