my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.
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.
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’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.
Despite 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.