What's a mightier draw than your cartoon fave in
person? It had been done with Mickey Mouse,guys in rat suits, that is, but
here came Popeye The (White Hot) Sailor Man with claim to legitimacy myriad
mice lacked, his altar-ego the voice heard on snowballingly popular cartoons
out of Fleischer's shop. Popeye would soon outflank Mickey for Number One,
Spring '34 being opportune season to put dubber Billy Costello in gob getup for
six-minute turns as Popeye The Talking (and Singing) Man. Costello was a hand at vaudeville and
eccentric voicing. Trades said he was a better Ukulele Ike than Cliff Edwards
himself. What got hands to clapping was Billy's rendition of
wide-sung-in-schoolyards, I'm Popeye The Sailor Man, a tune he introduced in Paramount's debut for the
character. The Costello act had promise enough to open at Broadway's Roxy
Theatre in April, 1934, where Billy sang along with Popeye in newly-released
Man On The Flying Trapeze, his tandem with the cartoon like an onstage
recording session. There was a June stand at the massive Chicago Theatre where
Costello backed that year's Wampas Baby Stars andexpanded his voice range to a
deeper-than-deep bass for comic effect. So how came the crash for Billy?
Sources say he "misbehaved" at Fleischer's and was shown the gate. In-house
Jack Mercer took his place and frankly made a better Popeye than Costello.
Michael Barrier says in Hollywood Cartoonsthat King Of The Mardi Gras
(released 9/35) was the first short to use the sailor's newly installed voice.
Billy had meanwhile wangled a West Virginia
tour for his Popeye act starting 7/10/35, one day stands in Clarksburg,
Huntington, Bluefield, and so on. If OK, act will
continue through the hill country, said Variety. A stoop from the Roxy to be
sure, but Costello might have been lucky that Paramount didn't cease-and-desist him, the Fleischer firing likely having taken place by then. As to
Costello aftermath, there was continued performing. He cut records and
apparently did Popeye on some oversea stages. Billy Costello died in 1971.