Popeye from an opening still from one of his  shorts, with his characteristic  and single good eye.
Popeye from an opening still from one of his cartoon shorts, with his characteristic corncob pipe and single good eye.

Popeye the Sailor is a cartoon figure and comic strip character created by Elzie Crisler Segar in 1929 and syndicated by the Hearst newspaper's King Features Syndicate. Popeye is a merchant sailor with a gravelly voice who smokes a corn-cob pipe and mutters to himself under his breath; he has pronounced, muscular forearms. When in trouble, he eats spinach, which gives him superhuman strength, often to save his sweetheart Olive Oyl from his nemesis Bluto/Brutus, or to defend himself against some fearsome foe.

Although Popeye is short, odd-looking, uneducated, inarticulate, belligerent, and has one eye and no teeth, many consider him a precursor to the superheroes which 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 America views itself as a nation: possessing uncompromising moral standards, and only resorting to force when threatened, or when he "can't stands no more" bad behavior on the part of an antagonist. This theory is directly reinforced in certain cartoons, when Popeye defeats his foe while an American patriotic song such as "The Stars and Stripes Forever" plays on the soundtrack.

Such has been Popeye's cultural impact that the medical profession sometimes refer to the biceps bulge symptomatic of a tendon rupture as the "Popeye muscle" [1] (http://www.aafp.org/afp/980215ap/fongemie.html) [2] (http://www.guideline.gov/summary/summary.aspx?view_id=1&doc_id=3694) (notice however that Popeye has pronounced brachioradialis muscles of his forearms , rather than biceps).


The comic strip

Popeye first appeared on January 17, 1929 as a minor character in Segar's newspaper cartoon strip Thimble Theatre, which had been running for years with protagonists Olive Oyl, her brother Castor Oyl, and boyfriend Ham Gravy. The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger and larger part in the strip; then the strip was renamed after him.

Segar's strip was quite different from the cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex, with many characters that never appeared in the cartoons (King Blozo for example). Spinach usage was rare and Bluto only made one appearance. The original newspaper strips were collected in multiple volumes by Fantagraphics.

Another regular character in the strip was J. Wellington Wimpy, a moocher and hamburger lover. The character's name was later borrowed for the Wimpy restaurant chain, which was one of the first overseas fast food restaurants featuring hamburgers, which they call Wimpy Burgers. [3] (http://www.wimpyburgers.co.uk/)

The strip is also responsible for popularising although not inventing the word 'goon' (meaning a thug or lackey).

Popeye and other characters from the strip appeared in many Tijuana Bibles, unauthorized of course.

After Segar's death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip, the most notable being Bud Sagendorf beginning in 1958.

The sailor in the media

Theatrical cartoons

Fleischer Studios

Thimble Theatre was adapted into an animated cartoon series originally produced for Paramount Pictures by Fleischer Studios, run by brothers Max Fleischer (producer) and Dave Fleischer (director) in 1933. Popeye made his film debut in Popeye the Sailor, a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon (Betty only makes a brief appearance in the short). It was for this short that Sammy Kerner'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.

As one astute 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".

The character of Popeye was originally voiced by William Costello (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. Olive Oyl was voiced by Mae Questel, who also voiced Betty Boop. Bluto was voiced by a number of actors, including Gus Wickie, William Pennell, and Pinto Colvig. Other characters from the strip would appear briefly in the shorts, including Poopdeck Pappy, Eugene the Jeep, George W. Geezil, and the Goons.

Thanks to the series, Popeye became even more of a sensation. During the mid-1930s, theater owner polls proved the Popeye series more popular than the Mickey Mouse series. The series was noted for its urbane feel (the Fleischers operated out of New York City), its manageable variations on its simple theme (Popeye loses Olive to bully Bluto and must eat his spinach and defeat him), and the characters' "under-the-breath" mutterings (which began as ad-libs by Mercer, who muttered so that his additions would not alter the timing of the completed animation). The voices for pre-1940 Fleischer cartoons were recorded after the animation was completed, so the actors, and Mercer in particular, would improvise lines that were not on the storyboards or prepared for the lip-sync.

Fleischer Studios produced 108 Popeye cartoons; 105 of them were produced in black and white. The remaining three were two-reel (double-length) Technicolor specials billed as "Popeye Color Features": Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. A number of these cartoons have entered the public domain, their copyright having expired. These can be downloaded from the Prelinger Archive.

The Fleischers moved their studio to Miami, Florida in 1938 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 refused to move to Florida, and Margie Hines, the wife of Jack Mercer, voiced Olive Oyl through the end of 1943.

In 1941, with World War II becoming more and more of an issue in America, Popeye was (re-)enlisted into the U.S. Navy, as depicted in the 1941 short The Mighty Navy. His costume was changed from the black shirt and red neckerchief to an official white Navy suit, and Popeye cotinued to wear the Navy suit in animated cartoons until the 1960s. Popeye periodically wore his original costume when he was 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 early 1942, when Max and Dave were both forced to resign from the company. Paramount purchased the studio and renamed it Famous Studios. Appointing Seymour Knietel and Isadore Sparber as its heads, production was continued on the shorts. The early Famous-era shorts were often World War II propaganda, 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, and, 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 voiced Bluto in the color Famous shorts, which began to adhere even closer to the standard Popeye formula.

Famous/Paramount continued production on the Popeye series until 1957, with Spooky Swabs being the final of the 125 Famous shorts in the series.

Paramount sold the Popeye film backlog to Associated Artists Productions (AAP) at this time. AAP was bought out by United Artists (UA), which later merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), and then 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 Korea in 1988, where artists retraced them into color. The process made the shorts more marketable in the modern television era, but disallowed the viewers from seeing the original Fleischer pen-and-ink work, as well as the three-dimensional backgrounds created by Fleischer's "Tabletop" process. Turner merged with Time Warner in 1997, and Warner Bros. (through its Turner subsidiary) therefore controls the rights to the Popeye shorts to this day.

For many decades, viewers could only see a majority of the classic Popeye cartoons with the altered opening and closing credits (AAP had, for the most part, replaced the original Paramount logos with their own, and thus destroying the impact of their original theatrical presentation). But in 2001, the Cartoon Network (under the supervision of animation archivist Jerry Beck) created a new incarnation of "The Popeye Show" which aired, for the first time since their original theatrical releases, the Fleischer and Famous Studios shorts in their original unaltered form (replete with their original front and end Paramount credits). Gone were any scenes bearing the mark of the television syndicator (Associated Artists Productions) with the original footage restored to each film seen on the 45 episode series. One hundred and thirty five "Popeye" cartoons were restored and the program aired, without interruption until March of 2004.

It is these restored shorts that are now making their way into revival film houses for occasional festival screenings.

The Fleischer and Famous Studios films, thus far, have not had an official DVD or video release. United Artists (under the former MGM/UA management) had planned a video release in 1983 but were informed by King Features Syndicate that they and only they had the legal right to release Popeye cartoons on video. United Artists did not challenge King Features' claim, and a release never happened. While King Features owns the rights to the Popeye characters, they have never owned any part of the Fleischer/Famous cartoons. King licensed the rights to Paramount Pictures to use the images of Popeye and his crew in the theatrical cartoons, but did not retain ownership of the films. This is why King Features produced the 220 Popeye TV-cartoons in 1960-61, so they could have a successful Popeye cartoon series all their own.

Today, Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment owns the cartoons and have been talking to King Features regarding a possible release. In the meantime, some Popeye cartoons from the Paramount era that are now in the public domain have made their way into several unofficial VHS and DVD cartoon compilations. Among these cartoons are a handful of the Fleischer black and whites, several early-1950s Famous shorts, and all three Popeye Color Specials.

Television cartoons

In 1960, King Features Syndicate commisioned 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 Studios, Rembrandt Studios, 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' time, with the first set of them premiering in the fall of 1961.

For these cartoons, Bluto's name was changed to "Brutus", as it was believed at the time that Paramount owned the rights to the name "Bluto". [4] (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mpopeye.html)

The 1960s cartoons are the only Popeye cartoons thus far to have been given an official video release, and 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 was re-named Bluto), while complying with the prevailing content restrictions on violence. The All-New Popeye Hour ran on CBS until 1981, when it was cut to a half-hour and called The Popeye and Olive Show. It was removed from the CBS lineup in 1983. 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" in 1979.

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 spinach. Maurice LaMarche performed Popeye's voice; Jack Mercer had died in 1984. The show lasted for one season on CBS.

Other media

Popeye and most of the major supporting cast members were also was featured in a thrice-weekly 15-minute radio program named "Popeye the Sailor". It was sponsored by Wheetena, a whole wheat grain breakfast cereal, which would routinely replace the spinach references. The show was broadcast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:15 - 7:30 pm on WABC. The show ran from August 31, 1936 to February 26, 1937, 78 episodes in all.

Director Robert Altman used the character in Popeye, a 1980 live-action musical feature film starring Robin Williams (as Popeye) and Shelley Duvall (as Olive Oyl), with songs penned by Harry Nilsson. It was mainly influenced by the cartoons, but drew on some of the style of the original strips. Many of the characters from the original Segar strip appeared in the film, which was a co-production of Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions.

Nintendo created a Popeye video game based on the characters in 1982. The game was originally released as an arcade game and was fairly popular. The game was later ported to the Commodore 64 home computer as well as various home game consoles (Intellivision, NES, Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Odyssey2). The goal was to avoid Bluto and the Sea Hag while collecting hearts, musical notes, or letters (depending on the level). Punching a spinach can 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.

In 2004, Lions Gate Films 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 voice 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. Its style was influenced by the 1930s Fleischer cartoons, and featured Swee'Pea, Wimpy, Bluto, Olive Oyl, Poopdeck Pappy, and The Sea Hag as its characters.


The reference to spinach comes from the publication of a study which, because of a misprint, attributed to spinach ten times its actual iron content. Nevertheless, the popularity of the character helped boost sales of the 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.

The 1954 Popeye cartoon Greek Mirthology depicts the fictional origin of spinach consumption in Popeye's family. Popeye's Roman ancestor, Hercules, originally sniffed garlic to gain his supernatural powers. When the evil Brutus removes the scent of the garlic using chloroform (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.

The people of  erected this statue of Popeye in honor of creator Segar.
The people of Chester, IL erected this statue of Popeye in honor of creator Segar.

It has also been claimed that the "spinach" Popeye used was a reference to marijuana. Spinach was a slang term for marijuana at the time of Popeye's creation, and it was believed by some during that time period that marijuana could give users superhuman strength.

Currently Popeye Fresh Foods markets bagged fresh spinach with Popeye characters on the package, and Allens Canning markets Popeye-branded canned spinach.

Marketing and tie-ins

Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits, a U.S. 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 chain would later license 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 was the difficulty of effectively marketing their food with a sailor character.

In 1995, the strip was one of 20 included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative US 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.


  • "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam." -- Popeye the Sailor
  • "Well blow me down!" -- Popeye
  • "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!" -- Popeye
  • "I'm one tough gazookus which hates all palookas wot ain't on the up and square. I biffs 'em and buffs 'em an' always outroughs 'em an' none of 'em gets nowhere. If anyone dasses to risk me fisk, it's "boff" and its "wham", un'erstand. So, keep good behavior, that's your one lifesaver with Popeye the Sailor Man."
  • "Popeye, Popeye!" --Olive Oyl
  • "Did you kill any Japs?" --Dufus, Popeye's Nephew

Characters in Popeye comics/cartoons

Thimble Theatre characters

  • Olive Oyl
  • Castor Oyl (Olive Oyl's brother)
  • Cole Oyl (Olive Oyl's father)
  • Nana Oyl (Olive Oyl's mother) - A play on the slang term "Banana Oil"
  • Ham Gravy (Olive Oyl's original boyfriend)
  • Popeye the Sailor
  • The Sea Hag
  • Bernard (Sea Hag's Vulture)
  • 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 and Olive's "adopted" baby son)
  • King Blozo
  • Toar
  • Goons, Specifically Alice the Goon
  • Poopdeck Pappy (Popeye's 99-year old long lost father, also a sailor)
  • Eugene the Jeep
  • Oscar
  • Brutus (named after the classical Brutus; an adaptation of the animated Bluto character)
  • Dufus
  • Granny
  • Bernice
  • O. G. Watasnozzle

Popeye cartoon characters

  • Bluto
  • Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, Peepeye (Popeye's identical nephews)
  • Shorty (Popeye's shipmate during the World War II period)


Grandinetti, Fred M. Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History. 2nd ed. McFarland, 2004. ISBN 078641605X


External Links

he:פופאי המלח nl:Popeye ja:ポパイ pl:Popeye pt:Popeye


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