P is for Popeye

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for
my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.

PopeyeA deviation from my usual real people subject matter because this week I’m featuring the fictional cartoon character Popeye.

Actually that isn’t strictly true. When Elzie Siegal created Popeye back in 1929, he based him on a one-eyed sailor from his home town of Chester, Illinois, a pipe-smoking roughneck called Frank ‘Rocky’ Fiegal.

Fiegal GravestoneFiegal was rather pleased with the idea and when he died in 1947 he had an image of Popeye on his gravestone and the words ‘Inspiration for Popeye the Sailor Man’

Olive Oyl was also based on one of Siegal’s neighbours and was in fact the main character of the Thimble Theatre cartoon strip he had first started in 1919. Popeye didn’t arrive until ten years later and was no more than an extra whose popularity soon outstripped that of Olive.

Popeye and BlutoPopeye’s nemesis was Bluto, of course. Or was it Brutus? You will see the same character with the similar names and for that you can blame the lawyers. Fleischer Studios sold the syndication rights to Associated Artists Productions in 1959, but when they saw how popular Popeye still was, they tried to cash in by rushing out more cartoons, renaming Bluto as Brutus in the mistaken belief that Paramount had exclusive right to the name. (Read more here)

The great thing about Popeye was that he made spinach popular with a generation of children for its strength giving properties. Believed to be Persian in origin, spinach is packed with goodness and it became the third favourite foodstuff among American children, after turkey and ice-cream, and all thanks to the Popeye effect.

Unfortunately, the idea that spinach is full of iron that can make you muscles instantly bulge was based on a false premise. A misplaced decimal point in a medical journal meant that for decades people believed it contained ten times more iron than it actually did.

Popeye and OliveDespite the on/off affair between Popeye and Olive, real romance blossomed behind the screen. The actor Jack Mercer was the voice of Popeye for forty years and in 1938 he married Margie Hines who provided the voice for Olive.

Popeye is very much a part of world culture and has his own theme park in Malta, based on the set for the 1980 Popeye movie which starred the late Robin Williams.

The famous Popeye the Sailor Man tune was written by the Romanian-born US songwriter, Sammy Lerner. The melody is loosely based on the opening lines of ‘I am a Pirate King’ from Gilbert and Sullivan’s  The Pirates of Penzance and below is the cartoon from 1934 in which the man himself teaches us the words.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

10 comments… Add yours
  • Melody Steenkamp 27th April 2016

    wonderful charachter… i remember lots of laugs about him in my childhood

    Have a nice abc-wednesday-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)

  • Roger Green 27th April 2016

    It WORKED, too. I ate spinach because of Popeye!


  • Janis Dority 27th April 2016

    Many happy Sunday morning hours were spent watching our local Southern California show host Tom Hatten screening Popeye and Olive Oyl cartoons!
    Now that theme song is stuck in my brain for the day!

  • leslie 27th April 2016

    So much fun to look back at the Popeye days! I loved him and tried to introduce him to my children. They did learn the song, though.

    abcw team

  • Freda 27th April 2016

    I have a tattoo of Olivbe Oyl. 🙂

    • Yorkshire Pudding 28th April 2016

      Oh dear, I don’t know how to tell you this, but the tattooist spelt her name incorrectly Freda.

  • Su-sieee! Mac 28th April 2016

    Whenever the Mama thought she needed more iron, she asked for spinach. lol Great post. I learned a lot today about Popeye and Olive Oyl.

  • Yorkshire Pudding 28th April 2016

    Forget Superman, Batman, The Incredible Hulk and Sad Sack: Popeye was my first cartoon hero. I dispute what you had to say about spinach. I eat a can of spinach a day and have forearms that bulge just like Popeye’s. Is there any wonder that I can never find shirts to fit me? The sleeves are far too narrow.

  • Reader Wil 28th April 2016

    Thank you for this fun post. I remember Popeye ond Olive very well. I love spinach but one of my children doesn ‘t in spite of Popeye. Thank you for this entry.
    Wil, ABCW team

  • Lee 29th April 2016

    My brother and I loved Popeye when we were kids. He’d teasingly call me Olive Oyl; and, of course, I always took the bait!! 🙂


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