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Popeye

Related subjects Cartoons

Popeye (Thimble Theatre)

The cover of [[Popeye #50]] (Oct.-Dec. 1959), featuring Popeye with his characteristic corncob pipe and single good eye, and his girlfriend Olive Oyl. Art by Bud Sagendorf, who wrote and drew the strip from 1959 to 1994.
Author(s) E.C. Segar (creator, 1929 – 1937, 1938)
Doc Winner (1937, 1938)
Tom Sims & Bela Zamboly (1938 - 1955)
Ralph Stein & Bela Zamboly (1955 – 1959)
Bud Sagendorf (1959 – 1994)
Bobby London (1986 – 1992)
Hy Eisman (1994 – present)
Website http://www.popeye.com/
Current status / schedule New strips on Sundays, reprints Monday through Saturday
Launch date 1929- 12-19
End Date 1992- 07-30 (date of last daily strip, Sunday strips continue)
Syndicate(s) King Features Syndicate
Genre(s) Humor, adventure

Popeye the Sailor is a fictional hero famous for appearing in comic strips and animated films as well as numerous TV shows. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar, and first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929.

Although Segar's Thimble Theatre strip, first published on December 19, 1919, was in its tenth year when Popeye made his debut, 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 (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. In at least one Fleischer cartoon, Bluto refers to Popeye as a "one-eyed runt." 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 had both eyes, with one of them merely being squinty, or "squinky" as he put it.

Popeye's strange, comic, 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 towards 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 theme 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 gained his strength and invulnerability in 1929 by rubbing the head of the rare Whiffle Hen. He later said he was strong because he ate spinach. From early 1932 onward in the comic strip and especially the cartoons Popeye was depicted as eating spinach to become stronger. The animated shorts depicted Popeye as ridiculously strong, but liable to be pummeled by the much larger Bluto. When fed up with this treatment—or when exhausted for whatever reason—he would eat spinach, which would instantly restore and amplify his strength to an even greater level. (At normal strength, Popeye appears capable of lifting or pressing approximately 4,000 lb (1,800 kg); when invigorated 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 his look-alike nephews Peepeye, Pupeye, Pipeye, and Poopeye.

Thimble Theatre and Popeye comic strips

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 hamburger-loving moocher 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.

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 discernable. 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 . 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 20 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 look-alike 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's theme song, "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man", composed for the first Popeye cartoon, 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. As Betty Boop would gradually decline in quality as a result of the Hays Code being enforced in 1934, Popeye would become the studio's star character by 1936.

The character of Popeye was originally voiced by William "Billy" Costello, also known as "Red Pepper Sam." When Costello's behaviour became a problem, he was replaced by former In-betweener 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. Gus Wickie voiced Bluto during the series' first five years of production until his death in 1938, his last work as the "Chief" in Big Chief Ugh-A-Mug-Ugh.

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 theatre owners proved Popeye more popular than Mickey Mouse. 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.

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. 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 Colour 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).

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. Several voice actors, among them Pinto Colvig (better known as the voice of Disney's Goofy), succeeded Gus Wickie as the voice of Bluto between 1938 and 1943.

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, which Popeye continued to wear 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

In May 1941, Paramount Pictures assumed ownership of Fleischer Studios, which had borrowed heavily from Paramount in order to move to Florida and expand into features ( Gulliver's Travels and Mister Bug Goes to Town). By the end of the year, Dave Fleischer, who was no longer on speaking terms with his brother, had moved to California to head Columbia's Screen Gems animation studio. Paramount fired the Fleischers and began re-organizing the studio, which they renamed Famous Studios.

Appointing Sam Buchwald, Seymour Kneitel, Isadore Sparber, and Dan Gordon as Famous' heads, production continued on the Popeye 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 Honour the Mare. Paramount had begun moving the studio back to New York earlier that year, and Mae Questel re-assumed voice duties for Olive Oyl. Jack Mercer was drafted into the Navy during World War II, and scripts were stockpiled for Mercer to record whenever he was on leave. When Mercer was unavailable, Questel stood in as the voice of Popeye in addition to her role as Olive Oyl. New voice cast member Jackson Beck began voicing Bluto when the series went to colour: 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 catalog to Associated Artists Productions (AAP). AAP was bought out by United Artists in 1958 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 colour. 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, and slowed down the pace of the drawings, 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. 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 . The restored Popeye Show versions of the shorts are sometimes seen at revival film houses for occasional festival screenings.

Home video

MGM/UA Home Video 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, 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 1930s 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 Colour 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. 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 . 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 Warner's 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 colour specials Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor and Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Restoration timelines caused Warners to re-imagine the Popeye DVD sets as a series of two-disc sets. A second volume of Popeye cartoons from Warner Home Video, Popeye the Sailor: 1938-1940, Volume 2 is scheduled for release on June 17, 2008. It will include the final colour Popeye special Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. Warner is also planning to release on June 17 a single DVD featuring eight colour made for TV Popeye cartoons made for the 1978 series The All-New Popeye Hour produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions (whose library is largely owned by WB). This collection is titled Popeye & Friends, Volume One.

Original television cartoons

In 1960, King Features Syndicate commissioned a new series of Popeye cartoons, but this time for television syndication. Al Brodax served as executive producer of the cartoons for King Features. Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Jackson 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. 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. (Mae Questel actually auditioned for Hanna-Barbera to recreate Olive Oyl, but was rejected in favour of Schreffler.) 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 aired 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.

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.

Cultural origins and impact

One historian believes Popeye was inspired from Frank "Rocky" Fiegel , 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, , many consider Popeye a precursor to the superheroes who would eventually come to dominate the world of comic books. 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 behaviour from an antagonist. 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." . Note, however, that under normal (non-spinach-influenced) conditions, 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.

Spinach

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 by featuring Popeye in their cartoons.

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 name " 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.

Deficient English in Popeye

In the 1980s, Popeye was banned in Singapore from local TV stations because the cartoon series promoted wrong or distorted usage of English grammar.

Although educators in Singapore saw nothing wrong with the series, the improper use of English used by Popeye in his dialogue would encourage young children to imitate its language. Among the kind of fractured English that Singaporean educators pointed out from Popeye was the use of "me" instead of "my" to describe his ownership of an object. Popeye also tends to mutter under his breath more or less continuously, for instance while walking along the street, observing the various places of business, merchants, and passersby.

Events and honours

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.

In honour 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.

Reprints

  • 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 colour.
  • 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 20 – November 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!" covers 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)

Filmography

Theatrical cartoons

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

  • List of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoons (Fleischer Studios)
  • List of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoons (Famous Studios)

Television cartoons

  • Popeye the Sailor (1960 – 1962; produced by Jack Kinney Productions, Rembrandt Films, Larry Harmon Pictures, TV Ads, and Paramount Cartoon Studios for King Features Syndicate)
  • The All-New Popeye Hour (1978 – 1981, CBS; produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions)
  • The Popeye and Olive Show (1981 – 1983), CBS; produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions)
  • Popeye and Son (1987 – 1988, CBS; produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions)

Television specials and feature-length films

  • The Popeye Valentine's Day Special - Sweethearts at Sea (1979, produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions)
  • Popeye (1980 live-action film, produced by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures, directed by Robert Altman)
  • Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy (2004 telefilm, produced by Mainframe Entertainment for Lions Gate Entertainment and King Features)
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