Hamburgers are delicious. No one knows this better than Wimpy. The iconic comic strip character has been brought to life many times over several decades, but perhaps no one has quite captured him like actor Paul Dooley, who played the hungry schemer in director Robert Altman’s legendary motion picture Popeye. The Paramount movie is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new Blu-ray release, and to usher in this perfect stocking stuffer this Holiday season, we caught up with Dooley to discuss is time spent on set.
Just seeing Paul Dooley show up on screen in Popeye for the first time is sure to get any mouth watering for a delicious all-beef patty covered in melted cheese. We discussed the character’s burger-loving ways with the actor. Though, it wasn’t always food heaven on set, with Paul having to figure out a unique way not to over stuff himself. Dooley brings interesting insight into the making of this family classic, which also stars Robin Williams in the lead role, and Shelley Duvall in the role of Olive Oyl.
Popeye arrives on Blu-ray for the first time ever in celebration of its 40th Anniversary later this month. Released in 1980, it arrived as a huge blockbuster that didn’t quite live up to expectations at the box office. Over the course of several decades, it has become a beloved classic in its own right, bringing the iconic anvil-armed sailor of the seven seas to life like never before.
Has your love of hamburgers ever wavered over the course of the past 40 years?
Paul Dooley: I’ll tell you an interesting story about hamburgers and Wimpy. Ah, the meat. The meat served in our hamburgers on the set of Popeye wasn’t very good meat, that had been imported from Germany. And I knew that if I ate too many hamburgers, or even took too many bites, take after take, I might get sick of them. All right. So, because I’m a bit of a magician anyway, I could do magic. I went to the prop people, and they made me a fake latex rubber hamburger, which looked like a it had lettuce, tomato, sesame seeds and meat. It was just made of latex. And I had them hiding. So it looked like there was one bite missing at the beginning of any given take. I would have it up to my mouth. Take it out on action, Be chewing it with my tongue. I mean, pretending, but never ever eating any of the hamburgers. One would never have finished. And that’s how I got on eating all that awful hamburger.
Every time I see just an image of you from Popeye, I instantly need a hamburger. It’s like Pavlovian response.
Paul Dooley: I learned when I was in the commercial business, doing a lot of those things. If you have to eat something like cereal in the commercial, and you’re supposed to be really eating it heartily, because you love it, you can’t do that. Take after take, so they often well say cut. And then you’ll have a spit bucket to get rid of the food. So you don’t get sick on eating the same thing over and over. Yeah, commercials. That’s how to do that wimpy thing.
That’s funny. Now, after all of this time, can you point us in the direction of the best hamburger you’ve ever had?
Paul Dooley: Recently, I’ve been loving the impossible burger, which it tastes exactly like a hamburger. There was one on my corner. I send out for it once in a while. But I had…normally out here, the best hamburger in L. A. For me, it’s a place called In and Out. Oh, yeah. They talk about doing something fresh with their hamburger. It has a great reputation in this city. It’s called in and out. You can drive in, or you could go there and sit down.
I just found out today that there was a Wimpy’s restaurant chain.
Paul Dooley: I think I know there’s one in London, but it may not be around anymore, but there was a Wimpy is in London. I’m not surprised that there would be any, in any town, that they would just call their hamburger place Wimpy’s. You know? It makes sense.
I watched the Harry Nilsson documentary and man, his stories from Popeye are just wild. What was it actually like being there, on this set that they built for Sweethaven? Seeing it for the first time, and kind of living in that atmosphere? I mean, that has to be a pretty incredible experience.
Paul Dooley: It Was. It was almost life changing for the actors. First of all, it was so brilliantly created and designed by Wolf Kroeger, who should have won an Oscar for it. He created it out of nothing, from scratch, with nothing there. An entire town that looked like a real place that really existed. They used new lumber, but then it was painted gray and distressed to make it look 100 years old. And when they left Malta, it would cost more to tear it down than to give it to the country, and they turned it into Popeye Island, which is now a tourist attraction. Now, instead of all these great buildings that are very evocative and old, old looking, they probably added a lot of bright colors. But it’s a successful tourist attraction. I never felt I was in Malta making the movie. I felt I lived in Sweethaven. We all did. We fell in love with that Set because it was more than a set. There were no fake fronts, like in a Western town. Altman told his designer, “I want to be able to go down behind the houses, go down the alleys. I want Popeye to have four walls, windows, doors, chimneys…” And there’s about 15 buildings there, including a really big restaurant set. And it was like being in another world. It seemed like you were in Sweethaven. We even had a national anthem. Nilsson wrote it, and it begins with a few chords that sound like our national anthem. ‘Oh, say can you see?’ But it’s Sweethaven. Well, I remember the whole thing as not being in Malta, but as being in Sweethaven, that’s where we lived and that’s where we worked. That was it.
It’s got to be one of the most immersive experiences for an actor?
Paul Dooley: Robert Evans was famous for this. One of the reasons Bob Evans chose Robert Altman to be director…It’s because of things…Like, he did a thing called McCabe and Mrs Miller. Bob found a little narrow valley with a creek in it, and he built several buildings there and created the place. When you watch the movie, you felt that place had been there forever, not like a movie set that looked like a really grungy place. It looked like a place that had been there a long, long, long time. So he could bring these places to life with a series of eccentric characters. It didn’t seem like a movie with actors. It seemed like real people, especially McCabe and Mrs Miller. But he did it with Popeye to, all these people who were clowns and jugglers and acrobats, and all these people from the Italian circus. And we had Fellini’s cameraman Giuseppe Rotunno.
It looks like a Fellini movie. One of the interesting things that a lot of people may not know…I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t found this special edition soundtrack. But you have your own song, which is now a bonus track on the newer edition of the Popeye soundtrack that came out a year or two ago.
Paul Dooley: I did make one song, but I don’t have a copy of it because I not sure how to find that.
There was a special release for Record Store Day. It was a version of the soundtrack that has Harry Nilsson singing most of the songs. And your track is a bonus track on there.
Paul Dooley: How would I find it?
You can go to Amazon. They have your track available to download right from the site as a single.
Paul Dooley: I would love to hear it. I remember some of the lyrics, but I never got a copy. That particular song, it was supposed to be in the movie and it got cut out. I don’t really know the history of that. I sang it. We recorded it and it was cut out. But a lot of things, of course, in the editing, you lose things. But I was a little disappointed. I thought it was going to be tribute to hamburgers. I mean, what would be more perfect to have that? Instead Nelson did it a little differently because, when he was a conman, after all, he sold the baby for a bag of hamburgers.
But who wouldn’t do that? Come on.
Paul Dooley: He’s a kind of a conman, but I thought it would be a tribute to hamburgers. And I was in my mind, thinking…’I would eat them on a plate. I would eat them on a date, I would eat them over here, and eat them there.’ I would like it. And the thing…I mean, it seems to me it was a natural song to give us sort of a tribute to the burgers. You know, almost like that Dr. Seuss thing about Green Eggs and Ham. ‘I would do it on a plane or a train…’ Just go on and on. I thought would be a festival of eating hamburgers. But instead, it was about about conning things. I remember the first few lines. [singing] ‘Oh, if I could, if you could hear what was in my mind, wouldn’t you say you’re a friend of mine? And wouldn’t you allow yourself to say, Well, then…’ It was something like that, but I’d love to hear the song now. Also maybe because he did the tribute to food going, [singing] ‘Food, food, food, everything is food.’ That’s why he didn’t pay that much attention to the hamburgers.
Well, you can download the song for a dollar and twenty-nine cents. Look up Harry Nilsson and Popeye on Amazon and you’ll find it. I know you were a stand up comedian before you did Popeye. Did you know Robin Williams coming into this movie, or did you guys get to know each other on set?
Paul Dooley: I did much of my stand-up before he became a comic. I was older than him. I was on The Tonight Show in 1959, before Johnny Carson. For about three years. I was a stand-up. But it was a very unusual act. I was not a comedian who told unrelated jokes, and then went onto a new topic every two minutes. I would do things that lasted four minutes or five minutes. They were long things like Bob Newhart did later. I would do a one man sort of show playing many characters. So my act is really about six or eight of those routines that were not jokes per se by themselves. They were part of a sketch, a one man sketch, a one man play. I played all the characters. I did a comedy Western, from the point of view with the Indians. I did a lot of beatnik poetry and, great Czechoslovakian fairy tales, but poorly translated. It was a very special kind of thing, and I did well in New York and big cities. But I died out of town because I’m doing Shakespeare in Dallas. I would go into a booking in Dallas for four weeks and I’d be out of there in two weeks. Then I went into Boston for two weeks, came home in one week because it just wasn’t right for the room. As they say.
Was it like Brother Theodore? Did you know him? Because it sounds similar to what he was doing around the same time?
Paul Dooley: I knew who he was. He was a lot darker than I was, but I knew who Theodore was. He was around the same time I was breaking in.
Yeah, that’s an interesting period of comedy. I’ve been looking into some of that stuff just because, it wasn’t stuff that played to a room, but it’s a deep, interesting, different kind of comedy.
Paul Dooley: It was. It was odd times, it was. There was kind of a revolution that happened. A small revolution when Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman and Jonathan Winters came along. Yeah, Lenny Bruce, even Lenny Bruce. I had an unusual job, a wonderful job. I only got five bucks a night to show people to their seats at a famous nightclub called the Village Vanguard. And for free, I could see Lenny Bruce or soul professor Irwin Corey. I saw Mike Nichols, Michael Elaine make their debut in New York, and I was just seeing them for free because I was in the room. That’s just a guy who showed you where to sit. And I also saw Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, all those people for free. That’s a really great job, paying very little, but I would have paid them to go. I’m kind of a sponge of comedy. I memorized Lenny Bruce, which is all drag, you know? Yeah, Michael Elaine’s material…Because that’s the way my head works. That’s crazy. I was at a place, I used to try material out that only had five minutes, at a place called the Duplex, down in Greenwich Village. And no one to bill with me. Sometimes there would be George Segal, playing the banjo. He became a movie star later, a 16 year old Streisand, Woody Allen. There was really, really a lot of people who became very famous later, like Joan Rivers. They were all just breaking in where we’re all young and trying material out in a place where we didn’t get paid. So I met a lot of those people in those days. Gary Marshall came in. He was a comedy writer. Was just trying to be a stand up to
So he actually got up and did stand -up mhm. Gary Marshall actually did stand up. I didn’t know that.
Paul Dooley: Well, I saw him a few nights. I don’t know. He was probably trying out stuff he had written. He was primarily a writer, but, you know, he’s a funny guy. Yeah, I remember one joke. He said, ‘I got a new phone called the Princess Phone.’ That was the name of it. It first came out in pastel colors, and that was a big deal for a few years, and he said, ‘It’s a nice phone. But if you don’t pay the bill, a guy on a horse with the lance comes to collect the money.’ Yeah, I remember he told that one.
Popeye is such a special movie. I love Wimpy. I love that whole movie. Every time, it just transports you somewhere else.
Paul Dooley: Yeah, it’s quite amazing. It didn’t make enough money. It made its money back. But it’s not thought of as a hit in Hollywood. But it really has its legacy.
Popeye arrives on Blu-ray for the first time ever December 1, 2020 from Paramount Home Entertainment. Starring the incomparable Robin Williams in his first big-screen role and Shelley Duvall as his devoted sweetie, Olive Oyl, the delightful musical celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, having debuted in theaters on December 12, 1980. The new Blu-ray includes access to a Digital copy of the film, along with nearly 30 minutes of all-new bonus content featuring excerpts from one of Robin Williams’ final interviews, a vintage interview with director Robert Altman, as well as a newly conducted interview with Stephen Altman.
- The full list of bonus features is below:
- · Return to Sweethaven: A Look Back with Robin and the Altmans
- · The Popeye Company Players
- · Popeye’s Premiere
- · The Sailor Man Medleys
- · Theatrical Trailer
Legendary producer Robert Evans and screenwriter Jules Feiffer worked for nearly three years to get Popeye into production. The film combined the talents of Robert Altman, composer and lyricist Harry Nilsson, numerous filmmaking artisans, and an outstanding cast of actors, mimes, athletes and street performers to bring the world of the beloved character to life. The result is an uplifting and visually delightful film that celebrates the magic of what Altman called “a genuine American hero.”
Buy Popeye on Blu-ray today!