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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Well, Blow Me Down ...


Popeye's Here In Person!

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 and expanded 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 Cartoons that 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.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mikeymort said...

When I was ten years old (in 1965) Billy Costello was a feaatured act on the ocean liner S.S. United States. I don't remember much about his performance, but I seen to remember that in addition to singing, he whistled a song or two.

2:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Wow --- a Billy Costello sighting from the 60's --- Thanks for that, Mikeymort!

2:43 PM  

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