Wednesday, July 2, 2014

In honor of the Chester Baskerville Society, and also to Brad's earlier post.

Popeye: 10 things you never knew

Popeye first appeared 85 years ago, in a comic strip by the cartoonist Elzie Segar. Here are 10 unexpected facts about everyone's favourite one-eyed sailor

Three views of the famous cartoon character Popeye
Three views of the famous cartoon character Popeye Photo: ALAMY/EVERETT COLLECTION/REX
1. Popeye and Olive Oyl were real people
Well, they were based on real people. When Elzie Segar introduced Popeye in a 1929 comic strip, he drew his inspiration for the sailor from a character from his hometown of Chester, Illinois – a one-eyed man named Frank 'Rocky' Fiegal. Fiegal, who shared Popeye's fondness for fighting and pipe-smoking, was apparently rather flattered by his link to the cartoon: when he died in 1947, his gravestone was inscribed with the words "inspiration for Popeye." Olive Oyl was based on another of Segar's neighbours – a very tall, slim woman named Dora Paskel, who usually wore her hair in a bun.
Dora Paskel, believed to be the inspiration behind Olive Oyl (PICTURE: AP)
2. He convinced American kids to eat spinach
As all Popeye fans know, whenever the sailor feels in need of some extra strength, he simply downs a tin of spinach, and instantly sprouts bulging biceps. During the Great Depression, a 33% increase in spinach consumption was widely attributed to the character's popularity and his famous fondness for the green stuff. Rather endearingly, spinach was also listed as the third favourite food of American children at the time (after turkey and icecream). However, the cartoon's link between spinach and rapidly expanding muscles actually had its roots in a scientific mistake: due to a misplaced decimal point in an 1870 medical journal, many people in the Thirties believed spinach held 10 times more iron than it really did.
3. He was the first cartoon character to get his very own statue...
...also thanks to the spinach. A full-colour Popeye statue was erected in Crystal City, Texas, in 1937, to celebrate the boost to the region's spinach-growing industry. Meanwhile, earlier this year, billionaire casino tycoon Steve Wynn paid $28 million for a statue of Popeye by the artist Jeff Koons.
4. He didn't always rely on spinach for a boost
In Segar's very early comics, Popeye gained his superhuman strength by patting the head of a magical creature called a whiffle hen. The whiffle hen – known in the comic strip as Bernice – granted good luck to anyone who rubbed her feathers. In one early storyline, Popeye is shot at a casino (presumably not one of Steve Wynn's), and uses Bernice's powers to regain his health.
5. He was originally just an extra
The very first time Popeye appears, in a 1929 newspaper comic strip called Thimble Theatre, he's a sidekick rather than a star. Popeye creator Elzie Segar's stories originally revolved around the lives of Olive Oyl and her extended family (including a brother known as Castor Oyl). However, when the Popeye character was introduced, he proved so popular, Segar was soon forced to make the strip all about him.
Bluto, Olive Oyl and Popeye, in one of the early cartoons (PICTURE: ALAMY)
6. He turned the Empire State Building green
In 2004, the Empire State building was illuminated in green (as in, spinach-green) light to celebrate the 75th birthday of the famous cartoon character.
7. The voice of Popeye ended up marrying the voice of Olive Oyl
Popeye was first turned into a series of short animated films in 1933, with the character making his big-screen debut alongside another famous cartoon, Betty Boop. The films usually saw the sailor compete with the villainous Bluto for the affections of Olive Oyl – Popeye's capricious, usually angry, often unfaithful sweetheart (exactly why Olive Oyl inspired such devotion from one man, let alone two, remains a mystery). From 1935 onwards, Popeye was voiced by the actor Jack Mercer, who went on to voice the character for the next 40 years. Between 1938 and 1942, Mercer was also married to Margie Hynes, who provided the voice of Olive Oyl.
8. He gave us the word "wimp"
In the original Popeye comic strips, Segar introduced a cowardly, overweight, hamburger-loving character named J. Wellington Wimpy (reputedly based on one of Segar's former bosses). The character later inspired both the insult "a wimp", and the restaraunt chain, Wimpy's.
9. He has his own themepark
In 1980, Robert Altman released Popeye, a live-action film adaptation of the Popeye cartoons, which starred Robin Williams as the sailor in his first-ever big-screen role. The film was produced in Malta, and, after filming wrapped, the set was turned into a tourist attraction, known as Popeye Village. Visitors to Popeye Village can experience rides, shows, a Popeye museum, and, rather appropriately, a boat trip.
10. The famous Popeye themetune is based on Gilbert and Sullivan
The Popeye the Sailor Man tune, which accompanied the original cartoons, was composed by the Romanian-born US songwriter, Sammy Lerner. Impressively, it took him less than two hours to devise the song. The melody is loosely based on the opening lines of the "I am a Pirate King" song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1880 operetta, The Pirates of Penzance.


  1. Thanks for the info. I didn't know most of it. Enjoyed Brad's original post, too.

    1. Brad's post got me thinking a lot about the fun meetings I would some times go to in Chester with the 'Chester Baskerville's'

    2. Thank you for the tribute to our favorite one-eyed sailor, Popeye. Rebecca Hawke's first item needs further explanation .... the inspiration for Popeye was Frank "Rocky" Fiegel, who died a pauper in 1947. He was buried in an unmarked grave next to his mother and sister. We led the campaign to erect the monument you see there today, which features a carved image faithful to the original Popeye character Elzie Segar drew. This early image reveals a stunning likeness to the only surviving photo of Fiegel. The artist was known to send checks to his "model" until Segar died in 1938. Additionally the real life influence for J. Wellington Wimpy was Segar's former boss, William "Windy Bill" Schuchert. The original comic strip featured the antics of Cole Oyl's family (primarily his daughter, Olive Oyl, and his son, Castor Oyl). Daddy Cole's name came from Chester's patriarchal family, headed by Charles Briggs Cole. When you add to the fact that Chester was at one time considered the castor oil capital of America, it becomes obvious that it is easier to deduce the inspirations for Segar's iconic cartoon creations than it is to prove what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had in mind when fashioning Sherlock Holmes' supporting cast!!!