Sammy Lerner represents that one degree of separation between Popeye the Sailor and Marlene Dietrich. A composer and lyricist, Lerner had a career of some 50 years in music and movies, although his best-known songs dated from the 1930s. Born in Romania in 1903, Lerner came to America with his immigrant family and settled in Detroit. He later attended Wayne State University and began writing songs for vaudeville acts in the 1920s. Lerner became a lyricist for the Ziegfeld Follies, and in later years collaborated with such luminaries as Richard Whiting, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Caesar, and Burton Lane. Lerner's output included such works as "Is It True What They Say About Dixie," "Judy," "In the Hush of the Night," and "Oh, Suzanna, Dust Off That Old Pianna." Some of his pieces for vaudeville have turned up in collections of minstrel-style songs such as Blackface in Bondage.
Lerner's best-known songs, however, came from his work in association with films. He moved up from writing special material for various vaudeville acts to authoring scripts and lyrics for shorts at Paramount after the advent of sound, and it was in that capacity that the was given the task of devising a theme song for the animated character Popeye the Sailor. In less than two hours, he delivered "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" -- complete with the line "I'm strong to the finich 'cause I eats me spinach -- to director Dave Fleischer in just two hours. That song went on to permanently identify the character, and the melody was used in association with the character for decades after -- in a vast array of orchestrations and arrangements. Even before that Lerner had carved a place for himself in popular music by writing the English-language lyrics for the song "Falling in Love Again," from The Blue Angel soundtrack, sung by Marlene Dietrich. He wrote songs for Betty Boop, as well, and most of his work on individual Fleischer cartoons was done in tandem with his New York-born contemporary Sammy Timberg.