A biography of Popeye

All about Popeye

popeye pop culture

popeye the sailor man

It might not be as popular today as it was 20 or so years ago but many adults, male or female, can attest that they grew up watching many Popeye cartoon shows in their youth. The year 2012 marks the diamond jubilee anniversary of the lovable cartoon and what better way to commemorate than to review the history and impact that Popeye had on our society.

Of course, Popeye is not the only character in that famed cartoon. Who can forget the other lovable Popeye characters that we enjoy watching day in and day out. We have already touched on the quirky Popeye who seems to eat nothing but spinach but who could forget the lanky but thoughtful Olive Oyl? Moreover, you can’t mention these two characters without thinking about the little darling, Sweet Pea! Let’s not forget that a protagonist always need a good antagonist so what good is a Popeye cartoon without good ‘ol Bluto in it?

Let us not forget the endearing support of other minor Popeye characters like J Wellington Wimpy who we know loves hamburgers dearly. There is also Popeye’s dad, Poopdeck Pappy, who also shares Popeye’s love for spinach. Castor Oyl is another notable character as Popeye’s boss and Olive Oyl’s brother.



Furthermore, you can’t talk about the Popeye cartoon without singing the song! This song was composed by Sammy Lerner in 1933 for Fleischer Studios and has since been associated with the character. It was said to be inspired by a couple of lines from the song, Oh, Better Far to Live and Die, which was sung by the Pirate King and the chorus from the operatta, The Pirates of Penzance. If you also remember, you’ll notice that the song is often introduced by a sailor’s hornpipe.

For the sake of those who need a jog of their memory, the song goes like this.

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.
I’m strong to the finish
Cause I eat me spinach.
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Unlike its contemporaries, little is known about the developers of the Popeye characters and comics. We all know that Jim Davis made Garfield and Peyo created the Smurfs but do you know who developed the Popeye cartoon?

Popeye was actually developed by Elzie Crisler Segar for a comic strip in the print syndicate, King Features. Popeye first appeared on the strip, Thimble Theatre, on January 17, 1929 that was eventually later changed to Popeye. The strip rapidly became popular among the readers and continued even after Elzie Crisler Segar’s death in 1938.

popeye climate change

popeye fighting climate change

Moreover, Fleischer Studios adapted the Popeye characters into a series of theatrical shorts in 1933 for Paramount Pictures. These shorts became extremely popular and Paramount’s Famous Studios continued the production of these theatrical shorts of the Popeye cartoon well into the late 1950s. The cartoons are now considered the property of Turner Entertainment, which is a subsidiary of Time Warner.

Upon Elzie Crisler Segar’s death, several writers and artists that include Elzie Crisler Segar’s assistant, Bud Sagendorf, continued the Popeye cartoon. Currently, Hy Eisman writes and draws the Popeye strips that continue to appear in the Sunday edition however; reprints of the original Elzie Crisler Segar’s creations are shown daily.

If you are a fan of the cartoon, you might be interested to know that in the local town of Chester, Illinois where Elzie Crisler Segar was born and raised, people believed that the character Popeye was based on a local man named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel. He was born on January 27, 1868 and lived as a bachelor until his death on March 24, 1947. Local townsmen believed that Frank “Rocky” Fiegel is the inspiration for Popeye because he is extremely skillful with his fists. It was also noted later that Elzie Crisler Segar used to send Frank “Rocky” Fiegel checks regularly until his death in 1938.

Furthermore, scholars also believe that the character, Popeye, is a clear depiction of the United States as a country as the shared characteristics are eerily comparable.

Do you notice how the two entities would resort to force when pushed up against a wall especially when there is a perceived threat? Moreover, did you notice how the two entities also posses a rigid moral standard? Nevertheless, did you notice how there would always be some patriotic song, like Stars and Stripes Forever or Yankee Doodle, being played while Popeye battles his arch-nemesis, Bluto, or some other foes?


popeye the cartoon

Yes, Popeye might not be as popular as he was back then but he has definitely made his mark in our mainstream culture. For example, many would consider Popeye to be the original superhero that inspired the plethora of superhero comic books like Superman, Spiderman and Green Lantern. The age-old battle of good and evil and the weak versus the strong is definitely something that persisted until today.

He also made a name for himself in the medical profession. Do you notice how abnormally large his biceps get after finishing his can of spinach? Well, colloquially termed by medical practitioners, the Popeye muscle refers to the bulge in the biceps that is symptomatic of a ruptured tendon.

Popeye has also been credited to popularizing the consumption of spinach especially among children. It also went as far as canned spinach being branded as Popeye by the manufacturer. It actually increased the sale of the vegetable during the 1930s by at least 33 percent! Moreover, a 2010 study also show that children consumed more spinach after watching a Popeye cartoon.

Who can forget Popeye’s favorite catch phrase? Do you still remember how it goes? It goes like this, I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam. Some critics viewed it as sparking individuality but I believe it may also be viewed as just being stubborn.

In this diamond jubilee of the Popeye cartoon, it’s a good opportunity for us to remember the various Popeye characters like Popeye, Olive Oyl, Sweet Pea, Bluto and Wimpy that have, in some way, given us laughter, provided us with entertainment and made us finish our vegetables.

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