Thursday, November 22, 2007

The History of Popeye

Popeye the Sailor is a comic strip character, later featured in popular animated cartoons. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar,[1] and first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929.

Segar's first Thimble Theatre strip was published on December 19, 1919. Shortly after Popeye's introduction the sailor quickly became the main focus of the strip and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features' most popular strips during the 1930s. Thimble Theatre was carried on after Segar's death in 1938 by several writers and artists, including Segar's assistant Bud Sagendorf. The strip, now titled Popeye, continues to appear in first-run installments in Sunday papers, written and drawn by Hy Eisman.

In 1933, Max and Dave Fleischer's Fleischer Studios adapted the Thimble Theatre characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. These cartoons proved to be among the most popular of the 1930s, and the Fleischers - and later Paramount's own Famous Studios - continued production through 1957.

Since then, Popeye has appeared in comic books, television cartoons, a 1980 live-action film (Popeye, directed by Robert Altman), arcade and video games, and hundreds of advertisements and peripheral products.

Fictional character biography

In most appearances to date (except during the World War II era), Popeye is a middle-aged independent sailor (or "sailor man," as he puts it) with a unique way of speaking, muscular forearms with two (sometimes one) anchor tattoos, thinning red hair, and an ever-present corncob pipe (which he toots like a steamship's whistle at times). Despite some mistaken characterizations over the years, Popeye is generally depicted as having only one blue eye, his left. It has never been revealed specifically how Popeye lost his right eye, though he claims it was in "the mos' arful battle" of his life. (Later versions of the character would have both eyes, with one of them merely being squinty, or "squinky" as he put it).

Popeye's strange, comedic, and often supernatural adventures take him all over the world, and place him in conflict with enemies such as the Sea Hag and Bluto. His main base of operations is the fictional town of Sweet Haven. Popeye's father is the degenerate Poopdeck Pappy, who does not share his son's moral righteousness and is represented as having abandoned Popeye in some sources. Popeye's sweetheart (and in some sources, wife) for over 77 years has been Olive Oyl, although the two characters often bickered, especially at the beginning of Popeye's appearances. Popeye is the adoptive father of Swee'Pea, an infant foundling left on his doorstep. (Sweet Pea is a term of affection used by Popeye; in the cartoon We Aim to Please, he addressed Olive Oyl as "Sweet Pea" at one point.)

In addition to a gravelly voice and a casual attitude toward grammar, Popeye is known for having an apparent speech impediment (a common character-distinguishing device in early cartoons), which either comes naturally or is caused by the ever-present pipe in his mouth. Among other things, he has problems enunciating a trailing "t". Thus, "fist" becomes "fisk" (as sung in his song, which makes it conveniently rhyme with "risk") and "infant" becomes "infink". This speech impediment even found its way into some of the titles of the cartoons.

Popeye is depicted as having superhuman strength, though the nature of his strength changes depending on which medium he is represented in. Originally, the comic-strip Popeye revealed that he had gained his strength by rubbing the head of the rare Whiffle Hen. He later said he was strong because he ate spinach. The animated shorts attributed Popeye's strength to what condition he was in. Even in his most normal everyday condition he was ridiculously strong, but if he became worn out or beaten, he would eat spinach which would restore and amplify his strength to an even greater level (at normal strength Popeye appears capable of lifting or pressing approximately 4000 lbs; when amplified by spinach he can lift or press about 36 tons). Other differences in Popeye's story and characterization show up depending upon which medium he is presented in. While Swee'Pea is definitively the adopted child of Popeye in the comic strips, he is often depicted as being related to Olive Oyl in cartoons. The cartoons also occasionally feature family members of Popeye that have never appeared in the strip, notably Peepeye, Pupeye, Pipeye, and Poopeye, his look-alike nephews.

Thimble Theatre and Popeye comic strips

Popeye's first appearance in Thimble Theatre, January 17, 1929.

Popeye's first appearance in Thimble Theatre, January 17, 1929.

Thimble Theatre was created by King Features Syndicate comic writer/artist E.C. Segar, and was his third published strip. The strip first appeared in the New York Journal, a newspaper operated by King Features owner William Randolph Hearst, on December 19, 1919 before later expanding into more papers. In its early years, the strip featured characters acting out various stories and scenarios in theatrical style (hence the strip's name).

Thimble Theatre's first main characters/actors were the thin Olive Oyl and her boyfriend, Harold Hamgravy. After the strip moved away from its initial focus, it settled into a comedy-adventure style featuring Olive, Ham Gravy, and Olive's enterprising brother Castor Oyl. Olive's parents, Cole and Nana Oyl, also made frequent appearances.

Popeye first appeared in the strip on January 17, 1929 as a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell. Castor intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye was shot many times by a stooge of Fadewell's but survived by rubbing Bernice's head.

The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was expanded into many more newspapers as a result. Though initial strips presented Olive Oyl as being less than impressed with Popeye, she eventually left Ham Gravy to become Popeye's girlfriend. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards the sailor. Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures.

In 1933, Popeye received a foundling baby in the mail, whom he adopted and named "Swee'Pea". Other regular characters in the strip were J. Wellington Wimpy, a moocher and a hamburger lover who would "gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" (he was also soft-spoken and cowardly, hence his name); George W. Geezil, a local cobbler who spoke in a heavily affected accent and habitually attempted to murder or wish death upon Wimpy; and Eugene the Jeep, a yellow, vaguely dog-like animal from Africa with magical powers. In addition, the strip featured the Sea Hag (a terrible pirate, as well as the last witch on earth), and Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag's henchman and continued as Swee'pea's baby sitter.

Segar's strip was quite different from the cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex, with many characters who never appeared in the cartoons (King Blozo, for example). Spinach-usage was rare and Bluto made only one appearance. Segar would sign some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, due to his last name being a homonym of "cigar" (pronounced SEE-gar).

Thimble Theatre soon became one of King Features' most popular strips during the 1930s and (following an eventual name change to Popeye in the 1970s) remains one of the longest running strips in syndication today. The strip carried on after Segar's death in 1938, at which point he was replaced by a series of artists. In the 1950s, a spinoff strip was established, called Popeye the Sailorman. Acknowledging Popeye's growing popularity, the Thimble Theatre strip was re-named Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye during the 1960s and 1970s, and was eventually retitled, simply, Popeye, the name under which the strip continues to run. In 2005, Popeye was invited to Blondie and Dagwood's 75th anniversary party.

Artists after Segar

After Segar's death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip. Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel-boat captain, continued writing Thimble Theatre strips and established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off. Doc Winner and Bela Zaboly, successively, handled the artwork during Sims's run. Eventually, Ralph Stein took over the writing, and wrote the comic strip until the series was taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1958.

Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. Sagendorf, who had been Segar's assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar's classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. Sagendorf continued to use many obscure characters from the Segar years, especially O.G. Wotasnozzle and King Blozo. Sagendorf's new characters, such as the Thung, also had a very Segar-like quality. What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it would sometimes take an entire week of Sagendorf's daily strips for the plot to be advanced even a small amount.

From 1986 to 1992, the daily strip was written and drawn by Bobby London, who after some controversy was fired from the strip for a story that could be taken to satirize abortion [3]. London's strips put Popeye and his friends in updated situations, but kept the spirit of Segar's original. One classic storyline, titled "The Return of Bluto", showed the sailor battling every version of the bearded bully from the comic strip, comic books and animated films. The Sunday edition of the comic strip is currently drawn by Hy Eisman, who took over in 1994. The daily strip began featuring reruns of Sagendorf's strips after London was fired, and continues to do so today.

Theatrical cartoons

In November 1932, King Features signed an agreement with Fleischer Studios, run by producer Max Fleischer and his brother, director Dave Fleischer, to have Popeye and the other Thimble Theatre characters begin appearing in a series of animated cartoons. The first cartoon in the series would be released in 1933, and Popeye cartoons, released by Paramount Pictures, would remain a staple of Paramount's release schedule for over twenty years.

The plot lines in the animated cartoons tended to be simpler than those presented in the comic strips, and the characters slightly different. A villain, usually Bluto, made a move on Popeye's "sweetie", Olive Oyl. The bad guy then clobbered Popeye until Popeye ate spinach, giving him superhuman strength. Thus empowered, the sailor made short work of the villain.

The animated Popeye shorts were the first stories to suggest that Popeye's enormous strength came from a love of spinach; in the Thimble Theatre strips, Popeye was depicted as disliking the vegetable (a theme later picked up in the Robert Altman Popeye film). The 1954 Popeye cartoon Greek Mirthology depicts the fictional origin of spinach consumption in Popeye's family. Popeye's Greek ancestor, Hercules, originally sniffed garlic to gain his supernatural powers. When the evil Brutus removes the scent of the garlic using chlorophyll (an obvious incongruity), Hercules ends up getting punched into a spinach field, and, upon eating the leafy green substance, finds it empowers him many times more than garlic.

Many of the Thimble Theatre characters, including Wimpy, Poopdeck Pappy, and Eugene the Jeep, eventually made appearances in the Paramount cartoons, though appearances by Olive Oyl's extended family and Ham Gravy were notably absent. Popeye was also given more family exclusive to the shorts, specifically his lookalike nephews, Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, and Peepeye.

Fleischer Studios

Popeye in Fleischer's Little Swee' Pea (1936).

Popeye in Fleischer's Little Swee' Pea (1936).

Popeye made his film debut in Popeye the Sailor, a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon (Betty only makes a brief appearance, repeating her hula dance from Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle). It was for this short that Sammy Lerner's famous "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" song was written. I Yam What I Yam became the first entry in the regular Popeye the Sailor series.

Songwriter Sammy Lerner composed a theme song, "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man", for the first Popeye cartoon, which became forever associated with the sailor. As one cartoon historian has observed, the song itself was inspired by the first two lines of the "Pirate King" song in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, The Pirates of Penzance: "For I am a Pirate King! (Hoorah for the Pirate King!)" The tune behind those two lines is identical to the "Popeye" song except for the high note on the first "King".

For the first few cartoons, the opening-credits music consisted of an instrumental of "The Sailor's Hornpipe", followed by a vocal variation on "Strike Up the Band (Here Comes a Sailor)" substituting the words "for Popeye the Sailor" in the latter phrase. It was sung by a deep-voiced singer who sounds like the voice of the Bluto character. In the original cartoon, "Strike Up the Band for Popeye the Sailor" was sung twice in the opening credits, first by the deep-voiced singer and then by the voice of Betty Boop. Most of the cartoons after that opened with a bar from "The Sailor's Hornpipe" followed by an instrumental of a few lines from "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man". The typical opening credits showed a freeze-frame of a sailing ship on a stormy sea, with the cabin doors opening and closing several times to reveal the credits for that particular cartoon. As Betty Boop would fade from the movie screen as a result of the Hays Code being enforced in 1934, Popeye would also become the studio's star character as well.

The character of Popeye was originally voiced by William "Billy" Costello, also known as "Red Pepper Sam". When Costello's behavior became a problem, he was replaced by former in-between animator Jack Mercer, beginning with King of the Mardi Gras in 1935. Both actors performed Popeye's gravelly voice in a similar style. Olive Oyl was voiced by a number of actresses, the most notable of which was Mae Questel, who also voiced Betty Boop. Questel eventually took over the part completely until 1938. William Pennell voiced Bluto during the series' first two years of production, with Gus Wickie assuming the role in 1935 and after Wickie's death, Pinto Colvig assumed the role of Bluto.

Popeye and Olive Oyl in A Date to Skate (1938).

Popeye and Olive Oyl in A Date to Skate (1938).

Thanks to the film series, Popeye became even more of a sensation than he had in comic strips. During the mid-1930s, polls taken by theater owners proved Popeye more popular than Mickey Mouse. [4]In 1935, as Popeye was able to surpass Mickey Mouse in popularity, Paramount added to Popeye's popularity by sponsoring the "Popeye Club" as part of their Saturday matinée program, in competition of Mickey Mouse Clubs too. Popeye cartoons, including a sing-a-long special entitled Let's Sing With Popeye, were a regular part of the weekly meetings. For a 10-cent membership fee, club members were given a Popeye kazoo, a membership card, the chance to become elected as the Club's "Popeye" or "Olive Oyl" and opportunities to win other valuable gifts. Despite Popeye's popularity, Disney was able to put Mickey back on top by giving him more audience appeal through partially redesigning him and colorizing him[5].

The Popeye series, like other cartoons produced by the Fleischers, was noted for its urban feel (the Fleischers operated out of New York City), its manageable variations on a simple theme (Popeye loses Olive to bully Bluto and must eat his spinach and defeat him), and the characters' "under-the-breath" mutterings. The voices for Fleischer cartoons produced during the early and mid-1930s were recorded after the animation was completed. The actors, Mercer in particular, would therefore improvise lines that were not on the storyboards or prepared for the lip-sync. Even after the Fleischers began pre-recording dialog for lip-sync in the late-1930s, Mercer and the other voice actors would record ad-libbed lines while watching a finished copy of the cartoon.[2]

Fleischer Studios produced 108 Popeye cartoons, 105 of them in black and white. The remaining three were two-reel (double-length) Technicolor adaptations of stories from the Arabian Nights billed as "Popeye Color Features": Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936), Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937), and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939). In 1938, as Fleischer Studios reopened after a five month strike, Popeye would officially surpass Mickey as the most popular animated character [6].

The Fleischers moved their studio to Miami, Florida in September 1938 in order to weaken union control and take advantage of tax breaks. The Popeye series continued production, although a marked change was seen in the Florida-produced shorts: they were brighter and less detailed in their artwork, with attempts to bring the character animation closer to a Disney style. Mae Questel, having just started a family, refused to move to Florida, and Margie Hines, the wife of Jack Mercer, voiced Olive Oyl through the end of 1943. Gus Wickie died in 1938, and several other actors, among them Pinto Colvig (better known as the voice of Disney's Goofy), succeeded Wickie as the voice of Bluto between 1938 and 1943 until Jackson Beck settled in as the voice of Bluto. Despite the success Popeye gave Fleischer Studios, Disney was once again able to remain on top as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became nationally distributed and became the most successful feature film up to 1938 as well. As a result, Fleischer Studios decided to make features films too, and landed in huge debt after their films, "Gulliver's Travels" and "Mr. Bug Goes to Town", failed to make profits in movie theaters.

In 1941, with World War II becoming more of a source of concern in America, Popeye was enlisted into the U.S. Navy, as depicted in the 1941 short The Mighty Navy. His costume was changed from the black shirt and white neckerchief to an official white Navy suit, and Popeye continued to wear the Navy suit in animated cartoons until the 1960s. Popeye periodically appeared in his original costume when at home on shore leave, as in the 1942 entry Pip-Eye, Pup-Eye, Poop-Eye, An' Peep-Eye, which introduced his four identical nephews.

Famous Studios

Fleischer Studios was dissolved in April 1942 when Max and Dave were both forced to resign from the company. Paramount purchased the studio and renamed it Famous Studios. Appointing Seymour Kneitel and Isadore Sparber as its heads, production was continued on the shorts. The early Famous-era shorts were often World War II themed, featuring Popeye fighting Nazis and Japanese soldiers.

In late 1943, the Popeye series was moved to all-Technicolor production, beginning with Her Honor the Mare. Paramount moved the studio back to New York at this time, and Mae Questel re-assumed voice duties for Olive Oyl. Jack Mercer was drafted into the Navy during World War II. When he was unavailable to record his dialogue, Mae Questel stood in as the voice of Popeye, in addition to her role as Olive Oyl. Jackson Beck began voicing Bluto when the series went to color: he, Mercer, and Questel would continue to voice their respective characters into the 1960s. Over time, the Technicolor Famous shorts began to adhere even closer to the standard Popeye formula, and softened, rounder character designs - including an Olive Oyl design which gave the character high heels and an updated hairstyle - were evident by 1948.

Theatrical Popeye cartoons on television

Famous/Paramount continued producing the Popeye series until 1957, with Spooky Swabs being the last of the 125 Famous shorts in the series. Paramount then sold the Popeye film back catalog to Associated Artists Productions (AAP). AAP was bought out by United Artists and later merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was itself purchased by Turner Entertainment in 1986. Turner sold off the production end of MGM/UA in 1988, but retained the film catalog, giving it the rights to the theatrical Popeye library.

The black-and-white Popeye shorts were shipped to South Korea in 1985, where artists retraced them into color. The process made the shorts more marketable in the modern television era, but prevented the viewers from seeing the original Fleischer pen-and-ink work, as well as the three-dimensional backgrounds created by Fleischer's "Stereoptical" process. These colorized shorts began airing on Superstation WTBS in 1986 during their Tom & Jerry and Friends 90 minute weekday morning and hour long weekday afternoon shows. The retraced shorts were syndicated in 1987 on a barter basis, and remained available until the early 1990s. Turner merged with Time Warner in 1996, and Warner Bros. (through its Turner subsidiary) therefore currently controls the rights to the Popeye shorts.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in a scene from Famous Studios' Floor Flusher (1953).

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in a scene from Famous Studios' Floor Flusher (1953).

For many decades, viewers could only see a majority of the classic Popeye cartoons with altered opening and closing credits. AAP had, for the most part, replaced the original Paramount logos with their own, destroying the impact of their original theatrical presentation. In 2001, the Cartoon Network, under the supervision of animation historian Jerry Beck, created a new incarnation of The Popeye Show. The show aired the Fleischer and Famous Studios Popeye shorts in versions approximating their original theatrical releases by editing copies of the original opening and closing credits (taken or recreated from various sources) onto the beginnings and ends of each cartoon, or in some cases, in their complete, uncut original theatrical versions direct from such prints that originally contained the front-and-end Paramount credits.

The series, which aired 135 Popeye shorts over forty-five episodes, also featured segments offering trivia about the characters, voice actors, and animators. The program aired without interruption until March 2004. The Popeye Show continued to air on Cartoon Network's spin-off network Boomerang until July 1st. 2007. The restored Popeye Show versions of the shorts are sometimes seen at revival film houses for occasional festival screenings.

Home video

United Artists (under the former MGM/UA management) had planned a VHS and Beta release of the Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons in 1983. However, UA was informed by King Features Syndicate that only King Features had the legal right to release Popeye cartoons on video. United Artists did not challenge King Features' claim, and the release was canceled. While King Features owns the rights to the Popeye characters, and licensed the characters to appear in the Fleischer/Famous cartoons, King Features does not have any ownership in the films themselves.

A clause in the original contract between Paramount Pictures and King Features stated that after ten years, the prints and negatives of the Popeye cartoons were to be destroyed, [3] a clause the syndicate had for all of its licensed properties. The clause was never enforced for Popeye.

While most of the Paramount Popeye catalog remained unavailable on video, a handful of Popeye cartoons from the 1930's through the 1950s had fallen into public domain and were made available on numerous low budget VHS tapes and later DVDs. Among these cartoons are a handful of the Fleischer black and whites, several 1950s Famous shorts, and all three Popeye Color Specials. When Turner Entertainment acquired the cartoons in 1986, a long and laborious legal struggle with King Features kept the majority of the original Popeye shorts from official video releases for more than twenty years. King Features instead opted to release a DVD boxed set of the 1960s made-for-television Popeye cartoons, which it retained the rights to, in 2004.

In 2006, Warner Bros., which acquired the rights to the Popeye shorts following the Time Warner-Turner merger in 1996, reached an agreement with King Features Syndicate and its parent company Hearst Corporation. Warner Home Video announced it would release all of the Popeye cartoons produced for theatrical release between 1933 and 1957 on DVD, restored and uncut. The studio also plans to release DVD sets of the Popeye cartoons made for television in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the rights to which are controlled by Hearst Entertainment. [4]. This is similar in most respects to the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets also released by Warner, except the Popeye shorts will be released in chronological order.

The first of Warners' Popeye DVD sets, covering the cartoons released from 1933 until early 1938, was released on July 31, 2007. Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938, Volume 1, a four-disc collector’s edition DVD, contains the first 60 Fleischer Popeye cartoons, including the color specials Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor and Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. A second volume of Popeye cartoons from Warner Home Video, covering the cartoons from the rest of 1938 to the final black and white Popeye cartoon (released in 1943) is scheduled for release in June 2008. It will include the final color Popeye special Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp.[7]

Original television cartoons

In 1960, King Features Syndicate commissioned a new series of Popeye cartoons, but this time for television syndication. Mercer, Questel, and Beck returned for this series, which was produced by a number of companies, including Jack Kinney Productions, Rembrandt Films, Larry Harmon Productions and Paramount Cartoon Studios (formerly Famous Studios). The artwork was streamlined and simplified for the television budgets, and 220 cartoons were produced in only two years, with the first set of them premiering in the autumn of 1960, and the last of them debuting during the 1961-1962 television season. Since King Features had exclusive rights to these Popeye cartoons, about half of them were released on DVD as a 75th anniversary Popeye boxed set in 2004.

For these cartoons, Bluto's name was changed to "Brutus," as King Features believed at the time that Paramount owned the rights to the name "Bluto." Many of the cartoons made by Paramount used plots and storylines taken directly from the comic strip sequences-as well as characters like King Blozo and the Sea Hag.[5] The 1960s cartoons have been issued on both VHS and DVD.

On September 9, 1978, The All-New Popeye Hour debuted on the CBS Saturday morning lineup. It was an hour-long animated series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, which tried its best to retain the style of the original comic strip (Popeye returned to his original costume and Brutus to his original name of Bluto), while complying with the prevailing content restrictions on violence. In addition to providing many of the cartoon scripts, Jack Mercer continued to voice Popeye, while Marilyn Schreffler and Allan Melvin became the new voices of Olive Oyl and Bluto, respectively. The All-New Popeye Hour ran on CBS until September 1981, when it was cut to a half-hour and retitled The Popeye and Olive Show. It was removed from the CBS lineup in September 1983, the year before Jack Mercer's death. These cartoons have also been released on VHS and DVD. During the time these cartoons were in production, CBS aired The Popeye Valentine's Day Special - Sweethearts at Sea on February 14 (St. Valentine's Day, of course!), 1979. In the UK, the BBC broadcasted a half-hour version of The All-New Popeye Show, from the early-1980s to 2004.

Popeye briefly returned to CBS in 1987 for Popeye and Son, another Hanna-Barbera series which featured Popeye and Olive as a married couple with a son named Popeye Jr., who hates but respects spinach. Maurice LaMarche performed Popeye's voice; Jack Mercer had died in 1984. The show lasted for one season.

Popeye as he appeared in Drawn Together

Popeye as he appeared in Drawn Together

In 2004, Lions Gate Entertainment produced a computer-animated television special, Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy, which was made to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Popeye. Billy West performed the voice of Popeye; after the first day of recording, his throat was so sore he had to return to his hotel room and drink honey. The uncut version was released on DVD on November 9, 2004; and was aired in a re-edited version on FOX on December 17, 2004 and again on December 30, 2005. Its style was influenced by the 1930s Fleischer cartoons, and featured Swee' Pea, Wimpy, Bluto (who is Popeye's friend in this version), Olive Oyl, Poopdeck Pappy, and The Sea Hag as its characters. On November 6, 2007, Lionsgate Entertainment will re-release Popeye’s Voyage on DVD with redesigned cover art.

Popeye has made brief parody appearances in modern animated productions, including The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), and the TV shows Drawn Together, Robot Chicken, South Park, The Simpsons,(in the episode "Jaws Wired Shut" for instance) and Family Guy. Popeye imitations are a frequent element of comedian Dave Coulier's routines, and were performed often during his co-starring role on the ABC sitcom Full House.

Other media

The enormous success of Popeye as a comic-strip and animate character has led to appearances in many other forms.

Comic books

There have been a number of Popeye comic books, from Dell, King Comics, Gold Key Comics, Charlton Comics and others. In the Dell comics, Popeye became something like a freelance police assistant, fighting the mafia and Bluto's criminal activities. The new villains included the Ming dwarves, who were identical. A variety of artists have created Popeye comic book stories since then. For example, George Wildman drew Popeye stories for Charlton Comics from 1969 until the late 1970s.

In 1999, to celebrate Popeye's 70th anniversary, a one-shot comic book written by Peter David was released by Ocean Comics. Entitled The Wedding of Popeye and Olive Oyl, the comic book brought together a large portion of the casts of both the comic strip and the animated shorts, and Popeye and Olive Oyl were finally wed after decades of courtship. This marriage has not been reflected in all media since the comic was published, however.


Popeye and most of the major supporting cast members were also featured in a thrice-weekly 15-minute radio program named Popeye the Sailor. The Popeye radio program was broadcast over three different networks by two sponsors from 1935 to 1938. The show was broadcast Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights at 7:15pm. September 10, 1935 through March 28, 1936 on the NBC Red Network (87 episodes), initially sponsored by Wheatena, a whole-wheat breakfast cereal, which would routinely replace the spinach references. Announcer Kelvin Beech would sing, to composer Sammy Lerner's "Popeye" theme, "Wheatena is his diet / He asks you to try it / With Popeye the sailor man". Wheatena reportedly paid King Features Syndicate $1,200 per week.

The show was then broadcast Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:15 – 7:30 p.m. on WABC, and ran from August 31, 1936 to February 26, 1937 (78 episodes). Once again, reference to spinach was conspicuously absent. Now Popeye would sing, "Wheatena's me diet / I ax ya to try it / I'm Popeye the Sailor Man".[6][7]

The third series was sponsored by the maker of "Popsicle" three nights a week for 15 minutes at 6:15pm on CBS from May 2, 1938 through July 29, 1938. Out of the three series, only 20 of the 204 episodes are still known to exist.


Main article: Popeye (film)

Director Robert Altman used the character in Popeye, a 1980 live-action musical feature film starring Robin Williams as Popeye, Paul Smith as Bluto and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, with songs penned by Harry Nilsson. The script was by Jules Feiffer, a big fan of the original strips. Many of the characters created by Segar appeared in the film, a co-production of Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions. The film was Williams's first. The village the film was filmed in was built in northern Malta in the village 'Mellieha'. It is still an advertised attraction today, having been opened to the public.

Video and pinball games

The Nintendo arcade game Donkey Kong was originally to feature Popeye as the hero, Bluto as the villain and Olive Oyl as the damsel in distress. But due to licensing disagreements with King Features, this idea was scrapped. When Donkey Kong went on to have great success, King Features agreed to license the characters to Nintendo.

Nintendo created a widescreen Game & Watch called Popeye in 1981. The game featured Popeye on a boat, and the aim was to catch bottles, pineapples and spinach cans thrown by Olive Oyl while trying to avoid Bluto's boat. If Bluto hit Popeye on the head with his mallet or Popeye failed to catch an object three times, the game would end. This game was followed by a Popeye video game based on the characters in 1982. The game was originally released as an arcade game and was fairly popular. It was later ported to the Commodore 64 home computer as well as various home game consoles (Intellivision, Atari 2600, ColecoVision, NES, and Odyssey2). The goal was to avoid Bluto and the Sea Hag while collecting hearts, musical notes, or the letters in the word "help" (depending on the level). Punching a can of spinach gave Popeye a brief chance to strike back at Bluto. Other characters such as Wimpy and Swee' Pea appeared in the game but did not affect gameplay. The game is playable on the MAME game emulator computer program for PC. A board game based on the video game was released by Parker Brothers. A table top game Game & Watch style game was also released by Nintendo in 1983, which featured Popeye trying to rescue Olive while engaging in fisticuffs with Bluto.

In 1994, Technos Japan released Popeye: Volume of the Malicious Witch Seahag (Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Shihaggu no Maki) for the Japanese Super Famicom. A side scrolling adventure game that was mixed with a board game, the game never saw US release, but a ROM of the game can be found at various emulation sites. It featured many characters from the Thimble Theatre series as well. In the game, Popeye had to recover magical hearts scattered across the level to restore his frozen friends as part of a spell cast upon them by the Sea Hag in order to get revenge on Popeye.

Midway (under the Bally label) released Popeye Saves the Earth, a SuperPin pinball game, in 1994.

In 2005, a Game Boy Advance video game by Namco called Popeye: Rush for Spinach was released.

In June 2007, the video game The Darkness featured televisions that played full-length films and television shows (since their copyright has expired). Several full episodes of Popeye are featured in the game.

In Fall 2007, Namco Networks released the original Nintendo Popeye arcade game for mobile phones with new features including enhanced graphics and new levels.[8] [citation needed]

Marketing, tie-ins, and endorsements

Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits, a fast food restaurant chain, is not named after Popeye the sailor, but rather after the character "Popeye" Doyle from the 1971 film The French Connection, who was in turn named after real police detective Eddie Egan, who was called "Pop eye" because of his keen observational skills. The restaurant chain would later obtain a license for the cartoon characters for use as a promotional tool, causing some confusion as to the source of the name. Recently, Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits has omitted the use of "Popeye the Sailor" in promotions; one reason given by CEO Ken Keymer was that "nobody in their right mind equates fried chicken with a speech-impeded sailor."

In 1990, Popeye appeared in an advertisement warning of the harmful effects of coastal pollution. Bluto is laughing as he carelessly dumps garbage over the side of his boat, to which Olive reacts in horror as seagulls and other sea creatures are caught in six-pack ring holders. Popeye punches out Bluto and cleans up his garbage, however, when some more plastic garbage sails by Popeye's boat, he says unsurprisingly "I can't do it all meself, you know!" and the message is that everyone must make an effort to clean up garbage in the ocean.

In 1991, a special series of short Popeye comic books were included in specially marked boxes of Instant Quaker Oatmeal. The plots were similar to those of the films: Popeye loses either Olive Oyl or Swee' Pea to a musclebound antagonist, eats something invigorating, and proceeds to save the day. In this case, however, the invigorating elixir was not his usual spinach, but, rather, one of four flavors of Quaker Oatmeal. (A different flavor was showcased with each mini comic.) The catch phrase, "Can the spinach! I wants me instant Quaker Oatmeal!" apparently failed to catch on with the general public, and the promotional campaign remains little-known.

In 1995, the Popeye comic strip was one of 20 included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative U.S. postage stamps.

From early on, Popeye was heavily merchandised. Everything from soap to razor blades to spinach was available with Popeye's likeness on it. Most of these items are rare and sought-after by collectors, but some merchandise is still being produced; for example Mezco Toys makes classic-style Popeye figures in two sizes, and KellyToys produces plush stuffed Popeye characters.

In 2001, Popeye (along with Bluto, Olive, and twin Wimpys) appeared in a television commercial for Minute Maid Orange Juice. The commercial, produced by Leo Burrnett Co, showed Popeye and Bluto as friends (and neglecting Olive Oyl) due to their having had Minute Maid Orange Juice that morning. The ad agencies intention was to show that even the famous enemies would be in a good mood after their juice but some, including Robert Knight of the Culture and Family Institute, felt the commercial's intent was to portray the pair in a homosexual romantic relationship -- an allegation that Minute Maid denies. Knight was interviewed by Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central's The Daily Show over this issue.

In 2006, King Features produced a radio spot and an industrial for the United States Power Squadron featuring Robyn Gryphe as Olive and Allen Enlow as Popeye.

Popeye also produced "candy cigarettes", which were small sugar sticks with red dye at the end to simulate a flame. They were sold in a small box, similar to a cigarette pack. The company still produces the item - but has since changed the name to "Popeye Candy Sticks" and has ceased putting the red dye at the end.

The original newspaper strips were collected and published in multiple volumes by Fantagraphics. Wimpy's name was borrowed for the Wimpy restaurant chain, one of the first international fast food restaurants featuring hamburgers, which they call "Wimpy Burgers." [8]

In October 2007, to coincide with the launch of the Popeye mobile game, Namco Networks and Sprint launched a Popeye the Sailorman sweepstakes offering the authorized edition four-disc Popeye the Sailorman: 1933-1938 Vol. 1 DVD set as grand prize.[9]


In the short story "The Previous Adventures of Popeye the Sailor," writer Jim Ruland imagines Popeye's life before he met Olive Oyl. The story was first published in the The Black Warrior Review in 2004.

Cultural origins and impact

One historian believes Popeye was inspired from Frank "Rocky" Fiegel [9], a man who was handy with his fists during Segar's youth in Chester, Illinois. Fiegel was born on January 27, 1868. He lived as a bachelor his entire life and never got married. It was said that later Segar sent checks to Fiegel in the 1930s. Fiegel died on March 24, 1947 at the age of 79.

Culturally, [10], many consider Popeye a precursor to the superheroes who would eventually come to dominate the world of comic books.[citation needed] Some observers of popular culture point out that the fundamental character of Popeye, paralleling that of another 1930s icon, Superman, is very close to the traditional view of how the U.S. sees itself as a nation: possessing uncompromising moral standards and resorting to force when threatened, or when he "can't stands no more" bad behavior from an antagonist.[citation needed] This theory is directly reinforced in certain cartoons, when Popeye defeats his foe while a US patriotic song; usually either "Stars and Stripes Forever", "Yankee Doodle", or "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean" plays on the soundtrack. One of Popeye's catchphrases is "I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam," which may be seen as an expression of individualism.

Such has been Popeye's cultural impact that the medical profession sometimes refers to the biceps bulge symptomatic of a tendon rupture as the "Popeye muscle." [10] [11]. Note however that Popeye has pronounced muscles of the forearm, not of the biceps.

At the end of his song "Kansas City Star", Roger Miller's character of a local TV kids show announcer says, "Stay tuned, we'll have a Popeye cartoon in just a minute."

The 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? featured many classic cartoon characters, and the absence of Popeye (due to rights issues) was noted by some critics.

Most prominently, Popeye has been associated with the vegetable spinach, and is credited by many with popularizing the vegetable among children.


Early references to spinach in the Fleischer cartoons and subsequently in further stories of Popeye are attributed to the publication of a study which, because of a misprint, attributed to spinach ten times its actual iron content. The error was discovered in the 1930s but not widely publicized until T.J. Hamblin wrote about it in the British Medical Journal in 1981.

The popularity of the Popeye helped boost sales of the leafy vegetable and the spinach-growing community of Crystal City, Texas erected a statue of the character in gratitude. There is another Popeye statue in Segar's hometown, Chester, Illinois, and a third in Alma, Arkansas, which claims to be "The Spinach Capital of the World", and is home to Allen Canning which markets Popeye-branded canned spinach. There is yet another statue of Popeye at Universal Orlando Resort in the Islands of Adventure theme park, which has Popeye-themed rides.

In addition to Allen Canning's Popeye spinach, Popeye Fresh Foods markets bagged, fresh spinach with Popeye characters on the package.

In 2006, when spinach contaminated with E. coli was accidentally sold to the public, many editorial cartoonists lampooned the affair with Popeye featured in their cartoons.[11]

Word coinages

The strip is also responsible for popularizing, although not inventing, the word 'goon' (meaning a thug or lackey); goons in Popeye's world were large humanoids with indistinctly drawn faces that were particularly known for being used as muscle and slave labor by Popeye's nemesis the Sea Hag. One particular goon, the aforementioned female named Alice, was an occasional recurring character in the animated shorts, but was usually a fairly nice character.

It is believed by some that the word "Jeep" was also coined in the strip, though some debate a connection between the comic strip character Eugene the Jeep and the automobiles that share its name.

Popeye and "bad English"

Singapore once banned "Popeye" from local TV stations during the 1980s because the cartoon series promoted wrong or distorted usage of English grammar.[citation needed]

Although educators in Singapore saw nothing wrong with the story, it feared that the "bad English" used by Popeye in his dialog would encourage kids to imitate its uses. Among the kind of bad English that Singaporean educators pointed out from Popeye was the use of "me" instead of "my" to describe his ownership over certain things, like "I'm strong to the finich, cause I eats 'me' spinach". Popeye also tended to inject "-k-" and "-sk-" sounds into words quite randomly, as in, "Me skthinks I'll sktake me a look at this attrakshkun. That's some beautifskul woman in that windskow." Popeye also tended to mutter under his breath more or less continuously, for example while walking along the street, observing the various places of business, merchants, and passersby.

Singapore was under a strict program to promote the use of English as a second language in its elementary and high schools in its aim for "first world" proficiency of its citizens right after graduation from college. English has since become the first language in Singapore.

Events and honors

The Popeye Picnic is held every year in Chester, Illinois on the weekend after Labor Day. Popeye fans attend from across the globe, including a visit by a film crew from South Korea in 2004. The one-eyed sailor's hometown pulls out all of the stops to entertain devotees of all ages. [12]

In honor of Popeye’s 75th anniversary, the Empire State Building illuminated its world-famous tower lights green the weekend of January 16–18, 2004 as a tribute to the icon’s enormous love of spinach. This special lighting marked the only time the Empire State Building ever celebrated the anniversary/birthday of a comic strip character. [13]


  • Popeye the Sailor, Nostalgia Press, 1971, reprints three daily stories from 1936.
  • Thimble Theatre, Hyperion Press, 1977, ISBN 0-88355-663-4, reprints daily from September 10, 1928 missing 11 dailies which are included in the Fantagraphics reprints.
  • Popeye, the First Fifty Years by Bud Sagendorf, Workman Publishing, 1979 ISBN 0-89480-066-3, the only Popeye reprint in full color.
  • The Complete E. C. Segar Popeye, Fantagraphics, 1980s, reprints all Segar Sundays featuring Popeye in 4 volumes, all Segar dailies featuring Popeye in 7 volumes, missing 4 dailies which are included in the Hyperion reprint, November 20November 22, 1928 August 22, 1929.
  • Popeye. The 60th Anniversary Collection, Hawk Books Limited, 1989, ISBN 0-948248-86-6 featuring reprints a selection of strips and stories from the first newspaper strip in 1929 onwards, along with articles on Popeye in comics, books, collectables, etc.
  • E. C. Segar's Popeye, Fantagraphic Books, 2000s, reprints all Segar Sundays and dailies featuring Popeye in 6 volumes. Vol. 1 "I Yam What I Yam," covered 1928-1930. Vol. 2 "Well Blow Me Down!" will cover 1930-32.

Thimble Theatre/Popeye characters

Popeye and his identical quadruplet nephews (Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, Peepeye), in a scene from Famous Studios' Me Musical Nephews (1942).

Popeye and his identical quadruplet nephews (Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, Peepeye), in a scene from Famous Studios' Me Musical Nephews (1942).

Characters originating in the comic strips

  • Olive Oyl
  • Castor Oyl (Olive Oyl's brother)
  • Cole Oyl (Olive Oyl's father)
  • Nana Oyl (Olive Oyl's mother)
  • Ham Gravy (full name Harold Hamgravy, Olive Oyl's original boyfriend)
  • Popeye the Sailor
  • The Sea Hag
  • The Sea Hag's vultures, specifically Bernard
  • J. Wellington Wimpy
  • George W. Geezil (the local cobbler who hates Wimpy)
  • Rough House (a cook who runs a local restaurant, The Rough House)
  • Swee'Pea (Popeye's adopted baby son in the comics, Olive's cousin in the cartoons)
  • King Blozo
  • Toar
  • Bluto/Brutus
  • Goons, specifically Alice the Goon
  • Poopdeck Pappy (Popeye's 99-year-old long-lost father; also a sailor)
  • Eugene the Jeep
  • Bill Barnacle (a fellow sailor)
  • Oscar
  • Dufus (the son of a family friend)
  • Granny (Popeye's grandmother and Poopdeck's mother)
  • Bernice (The "Whiffle Bird" in 1960s King Features TV shorts)
  • O. G. Watasnozzle

Characters originating in the cartoons

  • Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, Peepeye (Popeye's identical nephews)
  • Shorty (Popeye's shipmate in three World War II era Famous studios shorts)
  • Diesel Oyl (Olive's identical niece, a conceited brat who appears in three of the 1960s King Features shorts)
  • Popeye, Jr. (son of Popeye and Olive Oyl, exclusive of the series Popeye and Son)


Theatrical cartoons

234 Popeye the Sailor cartoons were produced for theatrical release by Paramount Pictures between 1933 and 1957.

Television cartoons

Television specials and feature-length films


  1. ^ Segar, Elzie (Crisler) - Encyclopædia Britannica Article
  2. ^ Culhane, Shamus (1986). Talking Animals and Other People. New York: St. Martin's Press. Pages 218-219.
  3. ^ Entry on lost Barney Google cartoons
  4. ^ (June 6, 2006). "Warner Home Video Opens a Can of Spinach as It Prepares to Distribute Popeye" [Press release]. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ 1930s Popeye the Sailor Wheatena audio clip
  7. ^ Old-Time Radio Commercials: Selling Stuff During the Golden Age of Radio: "Comic Strip Character Changes Diet for Radio Show", by Danny Goodwin
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Popeye: The First Fifty Years. New York: Workman Publishing. Pages 44-45.
  11. ^ [2]


  • Grandinetti, Fred M. Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History. 2nd ed. McFarland, 2004. ISBN 0-7864-1605-X
  • King Features Syndicate,

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