R.I.P. Tom Hatten, actor and 'Popeye' host who taught kids to draw the cartoon sailor
If you grew up watching Popeye cartoons, Tom Hatten will be a familiar face. The actor got his start presenting Popeye cartoons on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles as Skipper Tom, a friendly sailor who taught kids how to draw the iconic cartoon character onscreen.
Originally called The Pier 5 Club – like The Mickey Mouse Club, only Skipper Tom's pier was the clubhouse where kids gathered to draw along – the show was later renamed The Popeye Show and even later, it was revived as Popeye and Friends, resulting in a legacy for Skipper Tom that stretches from 1956 to the late 1980s. Today, his signed illustrations and portraits are still passed between fans.
Although Hatten surely makes most TV viewers fond for their childhoods, the actor also took on guest roles on hit shows, including military sitcoms just a skipper's bound from his Popeye presenter character. On Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., he appeared in six episodes, including memorably blowing the whistle during "The Feudin' Pyles," where Gomer jousts gladiator-style. He also appeared in four episodes of Hogan's Heroes, playing lieutenants, a sergeant and an Air Force captain.
During the 1960s through the 1970s, Hatten appeared in sitcoms like The Beverly Hillbillies, action adventure series like Get Smart and serious dramas like Hawaii Five-O. He continued acting through the early 2000s, including a memorable appearance on Wings as Lowell's wise but off-skew mentor. He was also seen in movies, including Spies Like Us, and voicing the farmer in The Secret of NIMH.
Apart from his acting career, what many kids who grew up watching Hatten may not have realized was he was an actual sailor, serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In that way, you could say he literally drew upon his own experience, as he traced the shape of Popeye for kids while dressed in his own Navy whites, again and again.
On March 16, Tom Hatten passed away at the age of 92.