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Popeye the Sailor
Thimble Theatre/Popeye character
Popeye the Sailor.png
First appearance Thimble Theatre (1929)
Created by E. C. Segar
Portrayed by Gus Wickie (1933–1939 public appearances) [1]
Harry Foster Welch (1934–1940s public events and amusement parks, Pleasure Island) [2]
Robin Williams (1980 film)
Voiced byEnglish
William Costello (1933–1935)
Detmar Poppen (1935–1936, radio only)
Floyd Buckley (Be Kind To Aminals, 1936–1937 radio appearances, 1937 Bluebird Records records, 1945–1946 cartoons) [3] [2] [4]
Jack Mercer (1935–1945, 1947–1984)
Mae Questel (1945, 1961) [5] [6] [7]
Harry Foster Welch (1946–1947, 1960s Peter Pan Records records) [2] [8]
Candy Candido (I'm Popeye The Sailor Man/The Little White Duck) [9]
Allen Swift (Official TV Popeye Record Album, Popeye's Favorite Sea Shanties, Start commercial) [10] [11]
Tex Brashear (Cocoa Puffs commercials) [12] [13]
Maurice LaMarche (1987–1990)
Jeff Bergman (1989–1996, commercials) [14]
Sonny Melendrez (Dickinson Theatres commercials) [15]
Tim Kitzrow ( Popeye Saves the Earth ) [16]
Wally Wingert (Popeye and the Quest For the Wooly Mammoth, Popeye and the Sunken Treasure) [17] [18]
Scott Innes (Campbell Soup commercial) [19]
Keith Scott (Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges, Pandemonium Cartoon Circus) [20] [21] [22]
Billy West (Minute Maid commercial, Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy , Drawn Together ) [23]
Marc Biagi (Slots from Bally Gaming) [24] [25]
Richard Halpern (Boop-Oop-a-Dooin') [26] [27]
Dave Coulier ( Robot Chicken ) [28]
Seth MacFarlane ( Family Guy , Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy ) [29] [30]
Allen Enlow (United States Power Squadrons radio spots) [31]
Trey Parker ( South Park ) [32]
Kevin Shinick ( Mad ) [33]
Pete Holmes ( The Pete Holmes Show ) [34]
Tom Kenny (2014 animation test, 2016–present) [35]
Matt Hurwitz ( Project Runway All Stars ) [36] [37] [38] [39]
Joe Newton (Popeye's Island Adventures) [40]
Tetsuo Nishihama (Popeye the Sailorman/Olive and Bluto's Race Song) [41] [42]
Hikaru Urano
Shigeo Takamatsu
Kenichi Ogata
Kaneta Kimotsuki
Wataru Takagi
Chosuke Ikariya
Kenji Utsumi
Kōichi Yamadera
In-universe information

Popeye the Sailor is an American cartoon character created by Elzie Crisler Segar. [43] [44] [45] [46] The character first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929, and Popeye became the strip's title in later years. The character has also appeared in theatrical and television animated cartoons. [45]

Segar's Thimble Theatre strip was in its 10th year when Popeye made his debut, but the one-eyed sailor quickly became the main focus of the strip, and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features' most popular properties during the 1930s. After Segar died in 1938, Thimble Theatre was continued by several writers and artists, most notably Segar's assistant Bud Sagendorf. The strip continues to appear in first-run installments in its Sunday edition, written and drawn by Hy Eisman. The daily strips are reprints of old Sagendorf stories. [45]

In 1933, Max Fleischer adapted the Thimble Theatre characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. [47] These cartoons proved to be among the most popular of the 1930s, and Fleischer—and later Paramount's own Famous Studios—continued production through 1957. These cartoon shorts are now owned by Turner Entertainment and distributed by its sister company Warner Bros. [48]

Over the years, Popeye has also appeared in comic books, television cartoons, video games, hundreds of advertisements, [45] peripheral products ranging from spinach to candy cigarettes, and the 1980 live-action film directed by Robert Altman and starring Robin Williams as Popeye.

Charles M. Schulz said, "I think Popeye was a perfect comic strip, consistent in drawing and humor". [49] In 2002, TV Guide ranked Popeye number 20 on its "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time" list. [50]

Fictional character and story

Popeye's story and characterization vary depending on the medium. Originally, Popeye got "luck" from rubbing the head of the Whiffle Hen; by 1932, he was instead getting "strength" from eating spinach. [51] Swee'Pea is Popeye's ward in the comic strips, but he is often depicted as belonging to Olive Oyl in cartoons.

There is no absolute sense of continuity in the stories, although certain plot and presentation elements remain mostly constant, including purposeful contradictions in Popeye's capabilities. Popeye seems bereft of manners and uneducated, yet he often comes up with solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to the police or the scientific community. He has displayed Sherlock Holmes-like investigative prowess, scientific ingenuity, and successful diplomatic arguments. In the animated cartoons his pipe also proves to be highly versatile. Among other things, it has served as a cutting torch, jet engine, propeller, periscope, musical instrument, and a whistle with which he produces his trademark toot. He also eats spinach through his pipe, sometimes sucking in the can along with the contents. Since the 1970s, Popeye is seldom depicted using his pipe to smoke tobacco. [45]

Popeye's exploits are also enhanced by a few recurring plot elements. One is the love triangle among Popeye, Olive, and Bluto, and Bluto's endless machinations to claim Olive at Popeye's expense. Another is his near-saintly perseverance in overcoming any obstacle to please Olive, who often (if temporarily) renounces Popeye for Bluto.

Thimble Theatre and Popeye comic strips

Thimble Theatre/Popeye
Author(s) E. C. Segar (creator, 1919–1937, 1938)
Doc Winner (1937, 1938)
Tom Sims & Bela Zaboly (1938–1955)
Ralph Stein & Bela Zaboly (1954–1959)
Bud Sagendorf (1959–1994)
Bobby London (1986–1992)
Hy Eisman (1994–present)
Website www.popeye.com
Current status/scheduleNew strips on Sundays, reprints Monday through Saturday
Launch dateDecember 19, 1919
End dateJuly 30, 1994 (last first-run daily strip, Sunday strips continue)
Syndicate(s) King Features Syndicate
Publisher(s) King Features Syndicate
Genre(s)Humor, adventure

Thimble Theatre was cartoonist Segar's third published strip when it first appeared in the New York Journal on December 19, 1919. The paper's owner, William Randolph Hearst, also owned King Features Syndicate, which syndicated the strip. Thimble Theatre was intended as a replacement for Midget Movies by Ed Wheelan (Wheelan having recently resigned from King Features). [52] It did not attract a large audience at first, and at the end of its first decade appeared in only half a dozen newspapers.

In its early years, the strip featured characters acting out various stories and scenarios in theatrical style (hence the strip's name). It could be classified as a gag-a-day comic in those days. [52]

Thimble Theatre's first main characters were the lanky slackerish Harold Hamgravy and his thin flapper-influenced girlfriend Olive Oyl. After the strip moved away from its initial focus, it settled into a comedy-adventure style featuring Hamgravy, Olive, and Olive's enterprising brother Castor Oyl. Olive's parents Cole and Nana Oyl also made frequent appearances. [44]

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. [53] Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye was shot many times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell's, but survived by rubbing Bernice's head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip, but, owing to reader reaction, he was quickly brought back. [45] [52]

The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was taken up by many more newspapers as a result. Initial strips presented Olive as being less than impressed with Popeye, but she eventually left Hamgravy to become Popeye's girlfriend and Hamgravy left the strip as a regular. 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. Eventually, he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out west. Castor's appearances have become sparser over time.

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 soft-spoken and cowardly hamburger-loving moocher who would "gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"; 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 doglike animal from Africa with magical powers. In addition, the strip featured the Sea Hag, a terrible pirate and the last witch on Earth; Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag's henchwoman and continued as Swee'Pea's babysitter; and Toar, a caveman. [46] [44]

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 made only one appearance. Segar signed some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, his last name being a homophone of "cigar" (pronounced SEE-gar). Comics historian Brian Walker stated: "Segar offered up a masterful blend of comedy, fantasy, satire and suspense in Thimble Theater Starring Popeye". [46]

Thimble Theatre became one of King Features' most popular strips during the 1930s. A poll of adult comic strip readers in the April 1937 issue of Fortune magazine voted Popeye their second-favorite comic strip (after Little Orphan Annie ). [46] By 1938, Thimble Theatre was running in 500 newspapers, and over 600 licensed "Popeye" products were on sale. [46] The success of the strip meant Segar was earning $100,000 a year at the time of his death. [46] The strip continued after Segar's death in 1938; a series of artists performed the work. Following an eventual name change to Popeye in the 1970s, the comic remains one of the longest-running strips in syndication today.


Thimble Theatre had a number of topper strips on the Sunday page during its run; the main topper, Sappo, ran for 21 years, from February 28, 1926, to May 18, 1947. (Sappo was a revival of an earlier Segar daily strip called The Five-Fifteen, aka Sappo the Commuter, which ran from February 9, 1921, to February 17, 1925.) For seven weeks in 1936, Segar replaced Sappo with Pete and Pansy – For Kids Only (Sept 27 - Nov 8, 1936). [54]

There were also a series of topper panel strips that ran next to Sappo. Segar drew one of them, Popeye's Cartoon Club (April 8, 1934 – May 5, 1935). The rest were produced by Joe Musial and Bud Sagendorf: Wiggle Line Movie (September 11 – November 13, 1938), Wimpy's Zoo's Who (November 20, 1938 – December 1, 1940), Play-Store (December 8, 1940 – July 18, 1943), Popeye's Army and Navy (July 25 – September 12, 1943), Pinup Jeep (September 19, 1943 - April 2, 1944), and Me Life by Popeye (April 9, 1944-?). [54]

Artists after Segar

Tom Sims and Bill Zaboly's Thimble Theatre (December 2, 1951) Thimbledecem11951.jpg
Tom Sims and Bill Zaboly's Thimble Theatre (December 2, 1951)

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, [55] successively, handled the artwork during Sims's run. Eventually, Ralph Stein stepped in to write the strip until the series was taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1959.

Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. [54] Sagendorf, who had been Segar's assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar's classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. 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. [56] What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it sometimes took 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. [57] 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.

On January 1, 2009, 70 years since the death of his creator, Segar's comic strips (though not the various films, TV shows, theme music and other media based on them) became public domain [58] in most countries, but remain under copyright in the US. Because Segar was an employee of King Features Syndicate when he created the Thimble Theatre strip, it is treated as a work for hire under US copyright law. Works for hire are protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. [59] Even after the strips enter the public domain, trademarks regarding Popeye remain with King Features, as trademarks do not expire unless the ceased to be used, and King Features has used the trademark continuously since the character's debut.


Comic books

Bud Sagendorf's cover of Popeye #50 (Oct.-Dec. 1959) shows Popeye with his corncob pipe, single good eye and girlfriend Olive Oyl. Popeye-comic-book-cover.jpg
Bud Sagendorf's cover of Popeye #50 (Oct.–Dec. 1959) shows Popeye with his corncob pipe, single good eye and girlfriend Olive Oyl.

There have been a number of Popeye comic books, from Dell, King Comics, Gold Key Comics, Charlton Comics and others, originally written and illustrated by Bud Sagendorf. In the Dell comics, Popeye became something of a crimefighter, thwarting evil organizations and Bluto's criminal activities. The new villains included the numerous Misermite dwarfs, who were all identical.

Popeye appeared in the British TV Comic becoming the cover story in 1960 with stories written and drawn by "Chick" Henderson. Bluto was referred to as Brutus and was Popeye's only nemesis throughout the entire run.

A variety of artists have created Popeye comic book stories since then; for example, George Wildman drew Popeye stories for Charlton Comics from 1969 until the late 1970s. The Gold Key series was illustrated by Wildman and scripted by Bill Pearson, with some issues written by Nick Cuti.

In 1988, Ocean Comics released the Popeye Special written by Ron Fortier with art by Ben Dunn. The story presented Popeye's origin story, including his given name of "Ugly Kidd" [60] and attempted to tell more of a lighthearted adventure story as opposed to using typical comic strip style humor. The story also featured a more realistic art style and was edited by Bill Pearson, who also lettered and inked the story as well as the front cover. [61] A second issue, by the same creative team, followed in 1988. The second issue introduced the idea that Bluto and Brutus were actually twin brothers and not the same person, [62] an idea also used in the comic strip on December 28, 2008, and April 5, 2009. [63] [64] In 1999, to celebrate Popeye's 70th anniversary, Ocean Comics revisited the franchise with a one-shot comic book, titled The Wedding of Popeye and Olive Oyl, written by Peter David. The comic book brought together a large portion of the casts of both the comic strip and the animated shorts, and Popeye and Olive Oyl were finally wed after decades of courtship. However, this marriage has not been reflected in all media since the comic was published.

In 1989, a special series of short Popeye comic books were included in specially marked boxes of Instant Quaker Oatmeal, and Popeye also appeared in three TV commercials for Quaker Oatmeal, [65] which featured a parrot delivering the tag line "Popeye wants a Quaker!" The plots were similar to those of the films: Popeye loses either Olive Oyl or Swee'Pea to a musclebound antagonist, eats something invigorating, and proceeds to save the day. In this case, however, the invigorating elixir was not his usual spinach, but rather one of four flavors of Quaker Oatmeal [65] (a different flavor was showcased with each mini-comic). The comics ended with the sailor saying, "I'm Popeye the Quaker Man!", which offended members of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers. [66] The Quaker Oatmeal company apologized and removed the "Popeye the Quaker Man" reference from commercials and future comic book printings. [66]

In 2012, writer Roger Langridge teamed with cartoonists Bruce Ozella, Ken Wheaton, and Tom Neely (among others) to revive the spirit of Segar in IDW's 12-issue comic book miniseries, Popeye, Critic PS Hayes reviewed:

Langridge writes a story with a lot of dialogue (compared to your average comic book) and it's all necessary, funny, and entertaining. Bruce Ozella draws the perfect Popeye. Not only Popeye, but Popeye's whole world. Everything looks like it should, cartoony and goofy. Plus, he brings an unusual amount of detail to something that doesn't really need it. You'll swear that you're looking at an old Whitman Comics issue of Popeye, only it's better. Ozella is a great storyteller and even though the issue is jam packed with dialog, the panels never look cramped at all. [67]

In late 2012, IDW began reprinting the original 1940s–1950s Sagendorf Popeye comic books under the title of Classic Popeye.


In January 2019, in celebration of its 90 years of character, King Feature Syndicate launched the webcomic Popeye's Cartoon Club. In a series of Sunday-format comics, a wide assortment of artists depicted the characters in their own styles in one comic each, including Alex Hallatt, Erica Henderson, Tom Neely, Roger Langridge, Larry deSouza, Robert Sikoryak, Jeffrey Brown, Jim Engel, Liniers, Jay Fosgitt, Carol Lay, and Randy Milholland. [68] At the end of the year, Milholland's Cartoon Club comic was declared the number one comic of the year on King Features' website, Comics Kingdom. [69] From February through April 2020, Cartoon Club ran an additional five comics by Milholland. [70] [71] [72] [73] [74]

From May 28 through July 6, 2020, Popeye's Cartoon Club ran daily comics from Randy Milholland, [75] making Milholland the first person to write a daily-update Popeye comic for King Features since 1994.

Theatrical animated cartoons

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor

In November 1932, King Features signed an agreement with Fleischer Studios to have Popeye and the other Thimble Theatre characters begin appearing in a series of animated cartoons released by Paramount Pictures. The first cartoon in the series was released in 1933, and Popeye cartoons remained a staple of Paramount's release schedule for nearly 25 years. [47] William Costello was the original voice of Popeye, a voice that was replicated by later performers, such as Jack Mercer and even Mae Questel. 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 absent. Thanks to the animated-short series, Popeye became even more of a sensation than he had been in comic strips, and by 1938, polls showed that the sailor was Hollywood's most popular cartoon character. [76] [77]

Although Segar may have used spinach as a prop a few times, it was Max Fleischer who realized its potential as a trademark. In every Popeye cartoon, the sailor is invariably put into what seems like a hopeless situation, upon which (usually after a beating), a can of spinach becomes available, and Popeye quickly opens the can and consumes its contents. Upon swallowing the spinach, Popeye's physical strength immediately becomes superhuman, and he is easily able to save the day, and very often rescue Olive Oyl from a dire situation. It did not stop there, as spinach could also give Popeye the skills and powers he needed, as in The Man on the Flying Trapeze, where it gave him acrobatic skills.

Bride and Gloom

In May 1942, Paramount Pictures assumed ownership of Fleischer Studios, fired the Fleischers and began reorganizing the studio, which they renamed Famous Studios. The early Famous-era shorts were often World War II-themed, featuring Popeye fighting Nazi Germans and Japanese soldiers, most notably the 1942 short You're a Sap, Mr. Jap . In late 1943, the Popeye series began to be produced in Technicolor, beginning with Her Honor the Mare. 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, which was bought out by United Artists in 1958. Through various mergers, the rights are currently controlled by WarnerMedia's Turner Entertainment.

In 2001, 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 aired 135 Popeye shorts over 45 episodes, until March 2004. The Popeye Show continued to air on Cartoon Network's spin-off network Boomerang.

While many of the Paramount Popeye cartoons remained unavailable on video, a handful of those cartoons had fallen into public domain and were found on numerous low budget VHS tapes and later DVDs. 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 20 years. King Features instead opted to release a DVD boxed set of the 1960s made-for-television Popeye the Sailor cartoons, to which it retained the rights, in 2004. In the meantime, home video rights to the Associated Artists Productions library were transferred from CBS/Fox Video to MGM/UA Home Video in 1986, and eventually to Warner Home Video in 1999. In 2006, 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. Three volumes were released between 2007 and 2008, covering all of the black-and-white cartoons produced from 1933 to 1943. In December 2018, a fourth volume featuring the first 14 color shorts from 1943 to 1945 was released on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video through the Warner Archive Collection.

Original television cartoons

From the 1950s until the 1980s, Popeye has starred in 29 locally produced children's television programs.

In 1960, King Features Syndicate commissioned a new series of cartoons titled Popeye the Sailor , 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 (William L. Snyder and Gene Deitch), Larry Harmon Productions, Halas and Batchelor, Paramount Cartoon Studios (formerly Famous Studios), and Southern Star Entertainment (formerly Southern Star Productions). 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, 85 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. [78] The 1960s cartoons have been issued on both VHS and DVD.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea and Wimpy were featured prominently in the cartoon movie "Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter", which debuted on October 7, 1972, as one of the episodes of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie . In this cartoon, Brutus also appears as a turban-wearing employee of the nemesis, Dr. Morbid Grimsby.

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, 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 reprise her role as Olive Oyl, but was rejected in favor 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 Comedy 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, 1979. In the UK, the BBC aired a half-hour version of The All New Popeye Show, from the early-1980s to 2004. The All New Popeye Hour throughout parts of the 1980s contains segments on Popeye featuring Popeye's nephews (Pipeye, Peepeye, Pupeye, and Poopeye) in which were later advertised as PSAs on mostly independent and future FOX Television Networks (more commonly during the SuperStars campaign off of owned-and-operated FOX stations such as WFLD in Chicago, Illinois) that were originally produced for CBS's original program.

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 the taste of spinach, but eats it to boost his strength. Maurice LaMarche performed Popeye's voice; Mercer had died in 1984. The show lasted for one season.

Popeye as he appeared in Drawn Together Lemonaidswalk3.jpg
Popeye as he appeared in Drawn Together

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, describing the production as "the hardest job I ever did, ever" and the voice of Popeye as "like a buzzsaw on your throat". [79] 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, Lions Gate Entertainment re-released Popeye's Voyage on DVD with redesigned cover art.

Web series

On December 2, 2018, a Popeye web series named Popeye's Island Adventures produced by WildBrain subsidiary WildBrain Spark Studios was premiered on its official YouTube channel. [80] [81]

Theme song

"I'm Popeye the Sailor Man"
Song by William Costello
later by Jack Mercer
Composer(s) Sammy Lerner

I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm strong to the "finich"
'cause I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man

Popeye's theme song, titled "I'm Popeye The Sailor Man", composed by Sammy Lerner in 1933 for Fleischer's first Popeye the Sailor cartoon, [82] has become forever associated with the sailor. "The Sailor's Hornpipe" has often been used as an introduction to Popeye's theme song.

A cover of the theme song, performed by Face to Face, is included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits , produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records. A jazz version, performed by Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet, appears on their 2009 Summit Records release Underdog and Other Stories.

Playground song parodies of the theme have become part of children's street culture around the world, [83] [84] usually interpolating "frying pan" or "garbage can" into the lyrics as Popeye's dwelling place [85] [86] and ascribing to the character various unsavory actions or habits [87] [88] [89] [90] that transform the character into an "Anti-Popeye", and changing his exemplary spinach-based diet into an inedible morass of worms, onions, flies, tortillas and snot. [91]

Other media

The success of Popeye as a comic-strip and animated character has led to appearances in many other forms. For more than 20 years, Stephen DeStefano has been the artist drawing Popeye for King Features licensing. [92]


Popeye was adapted to radio in several series broadcast over three different networks by two sponsors from 1935 to 1938. Popeye and most of the major supporting characters were first featured in a thrice-weekly 15-minute radio program, Popeye the Sailor, which starred Detmar Poppen as Popeye, along with most of the major supporting characters—Olive Oyl (Olive Lamoy), Wimpy (Charles Lawrence), Bluto (Jackson Beck) and Swee'Pea (Mae Questel). [93] In the first episode, Popeye adopted Sonny (Jimmy Donnelly), a character later known as Matey the Newsboy. This program was broadcast Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights at 7:15pm. September 10, 1935, through March 28, 1936, on the NBC Red Network (87 episodes), initially sponsored by Wheatena, a whole-wheat breakfast cereal, which routinely replaced the spinach references. Music was provided by Victor Irwin's Cartoonland Band. Announcer Kelvin Keech sang (to composer Lerner's "Popeye" theme) "Wheatena is his diet / He asks you to try it / With Popeye the sailor man." Wheatena paid King Features Syndicate $1,200 per week.

The show was next broadcast Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7:15 to 7:30pm on WABC and ran from August 31, 1936, to February 26, 1937 (78 episodes). Floyd Buckley played Popeye, and Miriam Wolfe portrayed both Olive Oyl and the Sea Hag. Once again, reference to spinach was conspicuously absent. Instead, Popeye sang, "Wheatena's me diet / I ax ya to try it / I'm Popeye the Sailor Man". [94]

The third series was sponsored by the maker of Popsicles three nights a week for 15 minutes at 6:15 pm on CBS from May 2, 1938, through July 29, 1938.

Of the three series, only 20 of the 204 episodes are known to be preserved.

Feature films

Popeye (1980)

Popeye Village in Malta, built as a location set for the feature film Malta - Mellieha - Triq tal-Prajjet - Anchor Bay+Popeye Village 01 ies.jpg
Popeye Village in Malta, built as a location set for the feature film

Director Robert Altman used the character in Popeye , a 1980 live-action musical feature film, starring Robin Williams as Popeye. A co-production of Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions, the movie was filmed almost entirely on Malta, in the village of Mellieħa on the northwest coast of the island. The set is now a tourist attraction called Popeye Village. The US box office earnings were double the film's budget, making it a financial success. However, the film received mostly negative reviews.

Upcoming animated film

In March 2010, it was reported that Sony Pictures Animation was developing a 3D computer-animated Popeye film, with Avi Arad producing it. [95] In November 2011, Sony Pictures Animation announced that Jay Scherick and David Ronn, the writers of The Smurfs , are writing the screenplay for the film. [96] In June 2012, it was reported that Genndy Tartakovsky had been set to direct the feature, [97] which he planned to make "as artful and unrealistic as possible." [98] In November 2012, Sony Pictures Animation set the release date for September 26, 2014, [99] which was, in May 2013, pushed back to 2015. [100] In March 2014, Sony Pictures Animation updated its slate, scheduling the film for 2016, and announcing Tartakovsky as the director of Hotel Transylvania 2 , which he was directing concurrently with Popeye. [101] On September 18, 2014, Tartakovsky revealed an "animation test" footage, about which he said, "It's just something that kind of represents what we want to do. I couldn't be more excited by how it turned out." [102] In March 2015, Tartakovsky announced that despite the well-received test footage, he was no longer working on the project, and would instead direct Can You Imagine?, which is based on his own original idea, [103] but it too was cancelled. [104] Nevertheless, Sony Pictures Animation stated the project still remains in active development. [105] In January 2016, it was announced that T.J. Fixman would write the film. [106] On May 11, 2020, it was announced that a Popeye movie is in development at King Features Syndicate with Genndy Tartakovsky coming back to the project. [107]

Video and pinball games


Marketing, tie-ins, and endorsements

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 by collectors, but some merchandise is still produced.

Games and toys

Popeye (including Olive and Sweet Pea) appeared on former Dickinson Theatres gift-certificate advertisement trailers. Popeye is a former mascot of Dickinson Theatres, a decade before Dickinson Theatres went out of business.

Retail foods and beverages
Popeye on a Spanish Republican Air Force Polikarpov I-16. Museo del Aire Polikarpov I-16-Mosca.jpg
Popeye on a Spanish Republican Air Force Polikarpov I-16. Museo del Aire

Popeye's Origin and The Popeye & Friends Character Trail

Chester, Illinois, Segar's hometown, has an abundance of proof that the bartender and laborer Frank "Rocky" Fiegel (born in Chester, Illinois, January 27, 1868) was the real-life inspiration for the character Popeye. His parents Bartłomiej and Anna H. Fiegiel had come from the area of Greater Poland Voivodeship, then part of Prussia, and migrated to the United States, Illinois.

He had a prominent chin, sinewy physique, characteristic pipe, and a propensity and agile skill for fist-fighting. [120] [121] [122] Fiegel died on March 24, 1947, never having married. His gravestone has the image of Popeye engraved on it. [123] E. C. Segar regularly sent money to Fiegel (as a thank you for the inspiration) according to Elzie's assistant, Bud Sagendorf, and the local Chester businessmen that saw the checks, and Popeye historian Michael Brooks. [44]

The town of Chester erected a statue of Popeye in Segar's honor in 1977 and began the Popeye & Friends Character Trail in 2006, adding new statues honoring the other Thimble Theater characters each year.

This Character Trail is spread throughout Chester and includes (with unveiling dates):

Additional hometown residents of Chester have served as inspiration for other Segar characters, including Dora Paskel, an uncommonly tall, angular lady who ran a general store in town, who was the origin for Popeye's gal, Olive Oyl. She even donned a hair bun close to her neckline. William "Windy Bill" Schuchert, a rather rotund man who owned the local opera house (and was Segar's early employer), was the seed for the character J. Wellington Wimpy. He even sent out his employees to purchase hamburgers for him between performances at a local tavern named Wiebusch's, the same tavern that Fiegel frequented and where he engaged in fistfights. [121] [125] [44]

Conjecture presented in a 2009 book raised the idea that while living in Santa Monica, Segar might have based some of Popeye's language on a local fisherman; even though the article never made a definitive claim. [126]

Cultural influences

Culturally, [127] many consider Popeye a precursor to the superheroes who eventually dominated US comic books. [128]

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." [129] [130] Note, however, that under normal (uninfluenced by spinach) conditions, Popeye has pronounced muscles of the forearm , not of the biceps.

In 1973, Cary Bates created Captain Strong, a takeoff of Popeye, for DC Comics, [131] as a way of having two cultural icons – Superman and (a proxy of) Popeye – meet. [132]

The 1981 Nintendo videogame Donkey Kong, which introduced its eponymous character and Nintendo's unofficial company mascot Mario to the world, was originally planned to be a Popeye game. Mario (then known as Jumpman) was originally supposed to be Popeye, Donkey Kong was originally Bluto, and the character Pauline was originally Olive Oyl, but when Nintendo was unable to acquire the rights to use the actual franchise characters, it decided to create original characters instead. [133]

The 1988 Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures film Who Framed Roger Rabbit featured many classic cartoon characters, and the absence of Popeye was noted by some critics. Popeye (along with Bluto and Olive Oyl) actually had a cameo role planned for the film. However, since the Popeye cartoons were based on a comic strip, Disney found they had to pay licensing fees to both King Features Syndicate and MGM/UA. MGM/UA's pre-May 1986 library (which included Popeye) was being purchased by Turner Entertainment at the time, which created legal complications; thus, the rights could not be obtained in time and Popeye's cameo was dropped from the film. [134]

The Popeye dance

The Popeye was a popular dance in the dance craze era of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originating in New Orleans around 1962, the Popeye was performed by shuffling and moving one's arms, placing one arm behind and one arm in front and alternating them, going through the motion of raising a pipe up to the mouth, and alternate sliding or pushing one foot back in the manner of ice skating, similar to motions exhibited by the cartoon character. According to music historian Robert Pruter, the Popeye was even more popular than the Twist in New Orleans. [135] The dance was associated with and/or referenced to in several songs, including Eddie Bo's "Check Mr. Popeye," Chris Kenner's "Something You Got" and "Land of a Thousand Dances," Frankie Ford's "You Talk Too Much," Ernie K-Doe's "Popeye Joe," Huey "Piano" Smith's "Popeye," and Harvey Fuqua's "Any Way You Wanta." A compilation of 23 Popeye dance songs was released in 1996 under the title New Orleans Popeye Party. [136]


Initially Popeye's chief superhuman characteristic was his indestructibility, rather than super strength, which was attributed to his having rubbed the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen numerous times after being shot. Popeye later attributed his strength to spinach. [137] [138] The popularity of Popeye helped boost spinach sales. Using Popeye as a role model for healthier eating may work; a 2010 study revealed that children increased their vegetable consumption after watching Popeye cartoons. [139] The spinach-growing community of Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue of the character in recognition of Popeye's positive effects on the spinach industry. There is another Popeye statue in Segar's hometown, Chester, Illinois, and statues in Springdale and Alma, Arkansas (which claims to be "The Spinach Capital of the World"), at canning plants of Allen Canning, which markets Popeye-branded canned spinach. 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. [140]

A frequently circulated story claims that Fleischer's choice of spinach to give Popeye strength was based on faulty calculations of its iron content. In the story, a scientist misplaced a decimal point in an 1870 measurement of spinach's iron content, leading to an iron value ten times higher than it should have been. [141] [142] [143] (In fact, the error was not a slipped decimal point, but a measurement error.) [144] This faulty measurement was corrected in the 1930s, but the myth of extraordinarily high iron content persisted. [141] [144]

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 she was usually a fairly nice character.

Eugene the Jeep was introduced in the comic strip on March 13, 1936. Two years later the term "jeep wagons" was in use, later shortened to simply "jeep" with widespread World War II usage and then trademarked by Willys-Overland as "Jeep". [145]

Events and honors

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 strives to entertain devotees of all ages. [146]

In honor of Popeye's 75th anniversary, the Empire State Building illuminated its notable tower lights green the weekend of January 16–18, 2004 as a tribute to the icon's love of spinach. This special lighting marked the only time the Empire State Building ever celebrated the anniversary/birthday of a comic strip character. [147]

Thimble Theatre/Popeye characters

Characters originating in comic strips by E. C. Segar

Characters originating in comic strips by Tom Sims and Bela Zaboly

Characters originating in comic strips and books by Bud Sagendorf

Characters originating in comic strips by Bobby London and others

Characters originating in the cartoons




Television specials

Live-action feature film

DVD collections

Theatrical Cartoons:

TV Cartoons:

Related Research Articles

Olive Oyl Character from Popeye

Olive Oyl is a cartoon character created by E. C. Segar in 1919 for his comic strip Thimble Theatre. The strip was later renamed Popeye after the sailor character that became the most popular member of the cast; however, Olive Oyl was a main character for 10 years before Popeye's 1929 appearance.

Bluto Fictional character from Popeye franchise

Bluto is a cartoon and comics character created in 1932 by Elzie Crisler Segar as a one-time character, named "Bluto the Terrible", in his Thimble Theatre comic strip. Bluto made his first appearance September 12 of that year. Fleischer Studios adapted him the next year (1933) to be the main antagonist of their theatrical Popeye animated cartoon series.

J. Wellington Wimpy Fictional character from Popeye franchise

J. Wellington Wimpy, generally referred to as Wimpy, is one of the characters in the comic strip Popeye, created by E. C. Segar and originally called Thimble Theatre, and in the Popeye cartoons based upon the strip. Wimpy debuted in the strip in 1931 and was one of the dominant characters in the newspaper strip, but when Popeye was adapted as an animated cartoon series by Fleischer Studios, Wimpy became a minor character; Dave Fleischer said that the character in the Segar strip was "too intellectual" to be used in film cartoons. Wimpy appears in Robert Altman's 1980 live-action musical film Popeye, played by Paul Dooley.

E. C. Segar American cartoonist, 1894-1938

Elzie Crisler Segar, known by the pen name E. C. Segar, was an American cartoonist best known as the creator of Popeye, a pop culture character who first appeared in 1929 in Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre.

<i>Popeye</i> (film) 1980 film by Robert Altman

Popeye is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by Robert Altman and produced by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions. It is based on E. C. Segar's comics character of the same name. The script was written by Jules Feiffer, and it featured Robin Williams as Popeye the Sailor Man and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. Its story follows Popeye's adventures as he arrives in the town of Sweethaven.

<i>Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor</i> 1936 animated short film directed by Dave Fleischer

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is a 1936 two-reel animated cartoon short subject film in the Popeye Color Feature series, produced in Technicolor and released to theatres on November 27, 1936 by Paramount Pictures. It was produced by Max Fleischer for Fleischer Studios, Inc. and directed by Dave Fleischer, with the title song by Sammy Timberg. The voice cast includes Jack Mercer as Popeye, Mae Questel as Olive Oyl, Gus Wickie as Sindbad the Sailor, and Lou Fleischer as J. Wellington Wimpy.

Castor Oyl Fictional character from Popeye franchise

Castor Oyl is a fictional character, created in 1920 by cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar for his comic strip Thimble Theatre, now known as Popeye.

<i>Popeye and Son</i>

Popeye and Son is an American animated comedy series based on the Popeye comic strip created by E.C. Segar and published by King Features Syndicate. Jointly produced by Hanna-Barbera and King Features subsidiary King Features Entertainment, the series aired for one season of thirteen episodes on CBS. It is a follow-up to The All New Popeye Hour. Maurice LaMarche performed the voice of Popeye in this series, while much of the cast of The All New Popeye Hour reprised their respective roles with the exception of Daws Butler. However, Nancy Cartwright voiced Woody in the series in which she was trained by Butler. It is also the first set of Popeye cartoons that were produced since Mercer's death in 1984. Following its original run on CBS, this series reran on the USA Network in the 1989–90 season and on The Family Channel from September 1994 to December 1995.

<i>Popeyes Voyage: The Quest for Pappy</i>

Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy is a 2004 American-Canadian computer-animated Christmas television special produced by Mainframe Entertainment for Lions Gate Entertainment and King Features Syndicate, in association with Nuance Productions. The special, created to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Popeye the Sailor comic strip character from E. C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, first aired on Fox on December 17, 2004, and was rebroadcast on the same network in December 2005.

Poopdeck Pappy Fictional character in Popeye franchise

Poopdeck Pappy is a fictional character featured in the Popeye comic strip and animated cartoon spinoffs. Created by E. C. Segar in 1936, the character is Popeye's father, who is between the ages of 85 and 99.

Swee'Pea is a character in E. C. Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre/Popeye and in the cartoon series derived from it. His name refers to the flower known as the sweet pea. Before his addition to the animated shorts, the name "Sweet Pea" was a term of affection used by main character Popeye. In the cartoon We Aim to Please, he addressed girlfriend Olive Oyl that way.

Alice the Goon is a fictional character in E. C. Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre and in the Popeye cartoon series derived from it.

<i>Popeye the Sailor</i> (film) 1933 American film

Popeye the Sailor is a 1933 animated short produced by Fleischer Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures. While billed as a Betty Boop cartoon, it was produced as a vehicle for Popeye in his debut animated appearance.

Bud Sagendorf American cartoonist, 1915-1994

Forrest Cowles Sagendorf, better known as Bud Sagendorf, was an American cartoonist, notable for his work on King Features Syndicate's Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye comic strip.

<i>Popeye the Sailor</i> (TV series)

Popeye the Sailor is an American animated television series produced for King Features Syndicate TV that was released between 1960 and 1963 with 220 episodes produced. The episodes are grouped by the production studios of Larry Harmon Pictures, Rembrandt Films, Halas and Batchelor, Gerald Ray Studios, Jack Kinney Productions, Paramount Cartoon Studios, and Italy-based animation company Corona Cinematografica.

<i>The All New Popeye Hour</i>

The All New Popeye Hour is an American animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and King Features Syndicate. Starring the comic strip character Popeye, the series aired from 1978 to 1983 Saturday mornings on CBS.

<i>Popeye the Sailor</i> (film series) 1933 American film

Popeye the Sailor is an American animated series of comedy short films based on the Popeye comic strip character created by E. C. Segar. In 1933, Max and Dave Fleischer's Fleischer Studios adapted Segar's characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. The plotlines in the animated cartoons tended to be simpler than those presented in the comic strips, and the characters slightly different. A villain, usually Bluto, makes a move on Popeye's "sweetie," Olive Oyl. The villain clobbers Popeye until he eats spinach, giving him superhuman strength. Thus empowered, Popeye the sailor makes short work of the villain.

Sea Hag Fictional character in Popeye franchise

The Sea Hag is a fictional character owned by King Features Syndicate. She is a tall, masculine looking witch featured in comics/cartoons as a nemesis to the character Popeye. The Sea Hag was created by Elzie Crisler Segar in 1929 as part of the Thimble Theatre comic strip.

<i>Popeye</i> (1990 video game)

Popeye (ポパイ) is a Japan-exclusive Game Boy video game based on the comic strip of same name licensed from King Features Syndicate.

<i>Popeye: Rush for Spinach</i>

Popeye: Rush for Spinach is a Game Boy Advance video game based on the comic strip of same name created by E. C. Segar, licensed from King Features Entertainment. It was developed by French studio Magic Pockets and published by Namco in 2005, and Atari (Europe) in 2006.


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Further reading